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The Last Jedi: a star-worthy addition to the saga

If any of you know me, you know that I’m one of the biggest Star Wars fans out there. But, why? What makes Star Wars so great? Is it the epic space battles? The lightsaber duels? Maybe that incredible score written by John Williams? While all of those play a factor, to me the most important aspect of Star Wars is its characters.

Iconic and well-developed characters like Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Darth Vader, and Han Solo are what made me care about the original trilogy, whereas terribly written ones like Jar Jar Binks and Anakin Skywalker ruined the prequels.

So when Director J.J. Abrams introduced the world to a new cast of characters—like Rey, a scavenger from the planet Jakku; Finn, a defected Stormtrooper; Kylo Ren, Han and Leia’s son; and Poe, a pilot—in 2015’s The Force Awakens, we Star Wars fanatics were worried that the movie wouldn’t be as good as the original trilogy.

But luckily, The Force Awakens was a worthy follow-up. The characters had intriguing and at times mysterious backstories, and the plot, which tells the classic good versus evil story—this time through the lens of the Nazi-esque First Order and the Resistance against them—was riveting.

The Last Jedi picks up right where The Force Awakens ends, with the evil First Order in control of the galaxy and only the Resistance to fight against them. The Resistance’s hopes lie primarily in Rey, whom they send to find the exiled Luke and convince him to fight against the dark side while she begins her own Jedi training. Because I liked The Force Awakens so much, I entered the theater for The Last Jedi last month with very high expectations. While the movie certainly had faults, it largely lived up to my high hopes.

First, Director Rian Johnson deals with the characters well. He weaves in scenes with Mark Hamill as Luke and the late Carrie Fisher as the beloved Leia. And he develops more prominent storylines for some of the new characters introduced in The Force Awakens and given little backstory. Rey, for instance, has a compelling storyline after The Force Awakens led viewers to question who her real parents are.

Viewers wonder if she is the long-lost daughter of Luke or the second child of Han and Leia or even a relative of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Because The Last Jedi has scenes with the classic characters and other scenes with the newer—and now more developed—characters, the movie strikes a good balance between old and fresh personalities.

Another thing Rian Johnson does very well is differentiating The Last Jedi from previous Star Wars movies. Sometimes scenes from different Star Wars movies feel too similar—of the nine movies released, three have included something like the Death Star as a central plot point—so I was happy not to see too many recycled scenes.

In fact, some scenes in The Last Jedi are the opposite of typical. In many scenes characters use the Force in completely new ways, which I can’t explain in detail without spoiling the movie. The lightsaber battle near the climax of the movie is quite possibly my favorite scene and certainly my favorite battle in any Star Wars movie. The movie feels extra exciting and unique among the other Star Wars films, and it is especially visually appealing on an Imax screen.

However, like all movies, The Last Jedi still has faults. My main criticism is of the scene in Canto Bight, the Las Vegas-like gambling planet. This scene, during which Finn and Rose—another member of the Resistance—carry out a mission for the Resistance, does little to advance the plot and feels like an unnecessary addition.

Additionally, the amount of computer-generated imaging (CGI) used to create the landscapes and patrons of Canto Bight make this scene feel more like a flashback to the prequels, which featured too much CGI and not enough practical effects.

All in all, this is a small fault in what amounts to a fantastic addition to the Star Wars saga. Rian Johnson takes many risks that, for the most part, work out. The major character arcs are expanded, and The Last Jedi tells an original, exciting, and engaging story. Most importantly (at least in Disney’s mind), we Star Wars buffs remain excited to speculate about where J.J. Abrams takes the rest of the story in Episode IX next year.

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