Family Movie Review: Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (PG-13)

Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal (3.5 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 152 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 10+. The level of violence and the content and themes are fairly similar to “The Force Awakens,” so you have soldiers attacking ships and people, and it’s implied that hundreds of resistance fighters die; lots of hand-to-hand combat and of course a few lightsaber duels, ending in many people’s deaths; ships are blown up or shot down; and the desire of the First Order is to control and oppress the galaxy. Some very lightly implied romantic tension between a few characters, including the setup of what could be a love triangle; some discussions about death, life, and the light vs. dark natures of the Force; and the implication of cursing and one or two slightly off-color jokes.

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is a visual spectacle that expands our understanding of the Force and how it shapes a ‘galaxy far, far away,’ adding to the mythology and lore of this franchise. But the pacing is slightly off and the characters remain slightly underdeveloped.

By Roxana Hadadi

StarWarsEpisodeVIIITheLastJedi ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReview2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was basically a beat-for-beat recreation of “Star Wars: A New Hope,” and its mix of nostalgia, diverse cast, and gorgeous visuals was a delight. And if you were to continue that comparison, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a sort of remix of “Empire Strikes Back,” too, thematically recreating many moments from Episode V. If you wanted to mimic something, picking the best film in the entire “Star Wars” franchise isn’t a bad choice.

There’s a devastating betrayal here, a shameful secret revealed, a hero unsure of their place in the light side of the Force while being drawn to the dark. A lot of “The Last Jedi” is engrossing and emotional—but there’s also the long runtime, uneven pacing, and slightly underdeveloped characters to deal with. “The Last Jedi” is often exceptional, but its desire to do too many things, tell too many stories, and continue expanding its own cast and narrative makes the film fundamentally imbalanced.

“The Last Jedi” opens by catching up first with pilot turned Commander Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who along with General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, who is phenomenal in this, her final role before her death last year) and the rest of the Resistance continues the fight against the First Order, the Empire-like bad guys intent on ruling and oppressing the galaxy. It’s a small group of rag-tag fighters, desperate for freedom and willing to die for it, against an invading militaristic force who doesn’t care about how many people they kill. But Leia is trying to teach Poe that leadership isn’t just about weakening your enemy, but protecting your own people, too—and it’s a lesson Poe needs to absorb quickly as he attempts to rise the ranks of the Resistance.

As Poe is trying to hurt the First Order as much as possible with brute force, Finn (John Boyega), awakened from the coma in which he ended “The Force Awakens,” is desperate to find Rey (Daisy Ridley), the girl from nowhere he befriended who showed an astonishing natural skill with the Force. But even if Rey does come back from her side quest of finding Last Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she’ll be part of a Resistance who is being continuously attacked by the First Order. By accident, Finn meets mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and together they come up with a plan to stop the First Order from finding them so easily—but it’s dangerous, and the Resistance may not think it’s worth the risk.

And finally, there’s Rey, who tracked Luke down to an island on the edge of the galaxy and who beseeches him to come back, to serve not only as a reminder of who the Jedi were but as a guiding force for the Resistance, especially in their combat against Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver), Luke’s nephew and former student who turned to the dark side. But Luke is blunt and disinterested (“Who are you? What’s special about you?” he demands of Rey), and Rey’s own questions about her childhood linger, and suddenly she is experiencing a connection with Kylo Ren that inspires conversation—and perhaps even understanding and empathy—between them. Is Ben Solo totally irredeemable? Or can Rey, whose natural Force talent is so powerful that it concerns Luke, steer him back toward the light?

“The Last Jedi” embodies and expands the concepts about the Force that these films have considered from the beginning: What is the allure of the dark side, and what does it offer that the light does not? How can an individual, as Kylo Ren did and his grandfather Anakin before him, become corrupted and tainted; how does power and talent rot from within? And by positioning Rey, a girl who came from nothing and yet who is committed to using her immense talent for good, against Kylo Ren, who comes from the strongest Jedi lineage and yet whose dissatisfaction with himself leads to destruction, “The Last Jedi” is making a point about where power comes from and who is able to wield it, about the self-reflection required for acting ethically and morally in a world rife with violence and pain.

The film touches on a lot of other things, too, and that’s part of the problem: The narrative is structured so that it jumps between various storylines, and as soon as one wraps up, it jumps away and jumps back, and then there’s a new concern all of a sudden. The story is less smooth than it could be, but perhaps that’s the cost of these mostly wonderful new characters—like Rose, whose hatred for a certain wealthy planet is a commentary on capitalism and the industrial military complex it feeds—and the return of old friends, like Hamill and Fisher, who share one scene together that is a guaranteed tearjerker.

The issues inherent in “The Force Awakens” aren’t solved in “The Last Jedi”—there is still very little backstory and context given, and you just have to accept that the First Order is a stand-in for the Empire, and the Resistance are stand-ins for the Rebels, and Rey is the new Luke, and BB-8 is the new R2-D2, and Poe Dameron is the new Han Solo, and on and on. But the film’s most exciting developments are those characters who are fully new, like Rose and her bond with Finn, and those questions about the Force that push the boundaries of what we thought we knew. In those surprises, “The Last Jedi” delivers.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.