"The Last Jedi" is a bolder and darker take on the "Star Wars" episodic cinematic universe that isn't scared to take some chances.
Whereas J.J. Abrams's "The Force Awakens" may have played it safe (minus Kylo Ren killing his father, Han Solo), following a previous template of how a "Star Wars" movie should feel, "The Last Jedi" is allowed to breathe under the assurances that the fandom is happy these movies are back. That allows director and writer Rian Johnson to take the film's major characters to unexpected places.
Johnson's masterstroke is his handling of Mark Hamill's return as now-reluctant Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. Hamill was limited to a quick appearance at the end of "The Force Awakens," but his roll in "The Last Jedi" is meaty and impactful.
Johnson gives us a look into the soul of the greatest Jedi there ever was and forces Skywalker to revisit the moments that led to his self-imposed exile. Luke is joined by apparent Jedi apprentice Rey (Daisy Ridley), who quickly realizes if she's ever going to truly learn the ways of the Force, she's going to have to help Luke realize they're worth teaching again.
Despite the newness of this trilogy and its new generation of stars, Hamill's presence is what makes this movie special. He brings it all: Humor. Sadness. Pain. Those hoping he'd get another shot at the action won't be disappointed, and credit goes to Disney and Lucasfilm for keeping those moments out of the trailers, so it didn't feel like you'd already seen the movie, which happens a lot. But for all the excitement of Hamill potentially breaking a sweat in this film, it's the quiet moments that shine.
Johnson doesn't give us a Luke Skywalker who swoops in and realizes he must save the day right away. Instead, Luke is a man of regret. The best advice he can give to an eager-to-learn Rey are the mistakes he made along the way. Those mistakes give "The Last Jedi" a bit of shock-value and show Luke as all too human with the ability to sometimes make the wrong choice.
Luke's doubts in himself cast a shadow over Rey's development into a Jedi. It's no secret from the trailers that there's a moment where Kylo Ren, who Rey still shares a mysterious connection with, reaches out his hand to her. That might have seemed shocking at first, but what leads to that moment is probably "The Last Jedi's" biggest surprise of the entire movie.
The internal struggle of dark and light within Kylo Ren continues. The would-be Sith legend who had no trouble executing Han Solo in "The Force Awakens" struggles when given the same opportunity to take down his mother, Leia (Carrie Fisher). Driver's performance within a performance is something to see.
Of all the characters in this movie, Kylo Ren is the toughest to figure out. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) believes Kylo's true inner-Vader is there for the embracing. Rey feels her connection with Kylo has shown her things he can't see. But only Kylo Ren truly knows for sure, staying one step ahead of everyone, just like grandpa Vader would.
Driver is solidifying his character as a true next-generation Vader. The kid gloves are off, but the uncontrollable attitude and squiggly red lightsaber remain.
Outside of the big three (Luke, Rey and Kylo), several other characters are given a chance to shine and have an impact on the plot. That also explains why this movie is 2 ½ hours long. Finn (John Boyega) brings more heroics alongside newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his swashbuckling-in-a-jet attitude gets him in trouble. There are, of course, plenty of fun BB-8 moments and Fisher, as Leia Organa, shows that Luke isn't the only one strong with the Force.
Johnson has been handed the "Star Wars" ball and played a beautiful game (before passing back to Abrams for episode IX). "The Last Jedi" is exactly the type of "new" "Star Wars" film fans expected when Disney announced there would be more "episodes." This film plays on the power of the past with the promise that things will only get more exciting in the future.