“The Mandalorian” Season 2 Finale!

SPOILERS FOR THE MANDALORIAN AHEAD!

How The Mandalorian‘s second season finale will be judged largely depends on what happens next, in either the sequel season it sets up with a not-so-subtle cliffhanger ending, or the spinoff it teases in an unexpected post-credits scene (or…are they are one and the same?), because what we got is very clearly not the resolution to a self-contained original story, but rather the prologue to a wider saga spanning the Star Wars universe. But right now, for this one blissful moment, my feelings are deeply conflicted yet generally positive…because you simply can’t do what The Mandalorian season two finale did in its closing minutes, and not excite the Star Wars fan in me.

The Mandalorian
The Mandalorian | deadline.com

Just as in season one, when Din Djarin (voiced and played by Pedro Pascal) had to assemble a team to defeat the unnamed Imperial client on Nevarro (the true identity of whom will likely remain one of the series’ many minor, irritating, unsolved mysteries), this season’s finale revolves around assembling a small gang of heavily-armed misfits and saving Baby Yoda – or Grogu, or The Child, or whatever you want to call him. Djarin had already gained the allegiances of Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), and Cara Dune (Gina Carano). The last piece in the puzzle is the Mandalorian princess Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), who plays a pivotal role in the events of the finale, even though…well, it’s complicated, in a weird and somewhat unsatisfying way.

It’s nothing, however, compared to the intricacies of Mandalorian societal structures, which continue to grow increasingly messier the more we learn about them – today culminating in a face-off between Bo-Katan and Boba Fett where the two are barely able to resist from killing each other on the spot. The reasoning for that goes back a long way, to the animated Clone Wars series, in which it was revealed that most Mandalorians regard the entire House of Fett as outsiders to their creed and community – and Boba specifically as something entirely alien, due to the bounty hunter having been created inorganically as an identical clone of his father, Jango. Bo-Katan, who cast stones at Din Djarin for unknowingly belonging to a group of religious fanatics, now taunts Boba Fett with questions about his “donor”, and comparing him to other clones she’s known (and yes, that’s extremely hypocritical and uncharacteristic of her, since clone armies were instrumental in putting her in power after the Siege of Mandalore), causing a scuffle between Fett and Bo-Katan’s second-in-command, Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks). Fett, in turn, is utterly dismissive of Bo-Katan’s goal to unite the Mandalorian clans behind her and retake their ancestral home planet of Mandalore, which the Empire supposedly desecrated. In the end, the promise of finally being able to confront Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) and win back the Darksaber is what convinces Bo-Katan to join: though Din Djarin valiantly tries the “they-took-the-Child” route with her. It’s worked for everyone else, and it seems to be almost be enough for Bo-Katan, but the show is painting her as a low-key antagonist to Djarin for whatever reason, so they can’t have her be too kindhearted.

This is one of two instances in The Mandalorian so far (the other being Ahsoka’s refusal to train Grogu because of attachments) that I would be tempted to classify as character assassination if the term hadn’t been hijacked by trolls who use it broadly to mean anything that ever happened in the sequel trilogy. There’s a difference between character assassination and character development that a lot of people don’t get: and Luke Skywalker’s journey in The Last Jedi, for example, is a textbook example of the latter. Character development is organic and typically serves a thematic purpose; whereas assassination is a shortcut used lazily to rush the story forward (in Ahsoka’s case), or to force a conflict where there was none (in Bo-Katan’s case). What’s particularly frustrating is that audiences who don’t know Bo-Katan from the animated series’ will now remember her best as the borderline ruthless, prejudiced, ambitious-to-a-fault schemer she is here.

Laying out an elaborate strategy for how to infiltrate Gideon’s star-cruiser, the gang sets out in a small Imperial shuttle stolen from its previous pilot (played by Thomas Sullivan, whom I immediately recognized from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.). The Mandalorian somehow has time to flesh out his character, and give him a pointless back-and-forth with Cara Dune, where he manipulates what I guess are supposed to be her traumatic memories of the destruction of Alderaan. The event has now been referenced twice this season, and, leaving aside the fact that Carano’s acting does nothing to convey the trauma of its aftermath (the dialogue literally mentions her shedding a tear, while Carano’s eyes are dry), it’s honestly just weird that people keep bringing it up in-universe.

Omid Abtahi briefly reprises the role of Dr. Pershing, the other occupant of the stolen shuttle, but there’s no time to interrogate him about Grogu’s exact midi-chlorian count. The fact that he was on his way to and not from Gideon’s cruiser bodes well for Grogu, as it implies he may not have had a chance to extract any further samples from the child (Gideon later confirms he’s taken his own samples of the child’s blood, but, well, that will be insignificant in the long run).

Director Peyton Reed is at his best while orchestrating the high-stakes, action-packed break-in – a stark contrast to his Ant-Man movies, which have mostly been low-stakes, filled with comedic action scenes and sight gags. Between this and the exhilarating spider chase he directed earlier in The Mandalorian‘s second season, he’s definitely given himself an upgrade before his next Marvel film, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania. His exceptional use of each character’s individual strengths makes for a very memorable string of fight scenes, and there’s a real sense of urgency and danger, even though most of our heroes are encased in beskar steel, which is nigh on impossible to shatter, dent, or damage in any way.

The Mandalorian
Din Djarin and Grogu | polygon.com

Din Djarin finds this out the hard way when he singlehandedly takes on Gideon’s elite platoon of robotic dark troopers – even with one of these super-sized metal juggernauts repeatedly hammering his face backwards into a wall with the force of a small battering ram, it’s the wall that gets broken to bits and Djarin who escapes unscathed, thanks to his beskar steel helmet. Hilariously, he’s then able to temporarily eliminate the dark trooper threat by blasting them all out an airlock.

While Bo-Katan and her all-female team storm the ship’s bridge looking for Gideon, Djarin accidentally but predictably encounters the Moff personally guarding his most prized possession, Grogu, with the Darksaber in hand. Finally, we can see why Lucasfilm hired Giancarlo Esposito for this role, as the ex-Imperial sneakily manipulates the conversation, feigning disinterest in the Mandalorian political situation while freely offering the child to Djarin. Although Djarin initially buys into his lies, it takes all of five seconds for Gideon to reveal his true colors and start hacking ferociously at Djarin with the Darksaber. The beskar steel gifted by Ahsoka Tano finally comes in handy, allowing Djarin the means to fight back in one of the series’ most hyped-up duels. The whole sequence is over suspiciously quickly, however, and Gideon is soon captured and dragged up to the bridge after being disarmed by Djarin.

When they reach the bridge, we find out just how cunning Gideon has been – possibly at the expense of established Star Wars canon. It was revealed a while ago in Rebels that, to wield the Darksaber and claim it as one’s own, one must first defeat the previous owner in combat. Or, at least, that was the case until Sabine Wren yielded the Darksaber willingly to Bo-Katan…who soon after lost it to Gideon himself, and spent years hunting him down, trying to make up for her failure and render her claim to the sword irrefutable. Gideon, by intentionally losing to Djarin, has now created a situation where Bo-Katan “can’t” take the sword unless she wins it in combat…from Din Djarin. Except she can. Sabine Wren set the precedent. Djarin offers it to her several times, only for Gideon to interject each time with a gleeful reminder of how Mandalorian law supposedly works. My best guess is that Bo-Katan blames her willingness to defy tradition and take the sword freely for all her failures, and for that reason won’t do so again. This whole thing is weirdly reminiscent of the Elder Wand debacle in Harry Potter.

It’s at this moment that the dark troopers return, flooding back onto the ship and charging towards the bridge, all while Gideon gleefully torments his captors with quips and boasts. His menace is rather undercut, though, by the sheer stupidity that compels him to grab a blaster and aim for Bo-Katan, who, reminder, is wearing beskar steel. He gets knocked unconscious by Cara Dune, and that’s literally the last we hear of him. A humiliating defeat for a villain that had just come into his own.

In the chaos, a single X-Wing fighter appears out of nowhere, heading for the cruiser. At first, I assumed it had to be the New Republic, come to save the day and convince us that a Rangers Of The New Republic spinoff series is actually necessary, but once the ship is confirmed to be flying solo and lands without communicating with the bridge, I figured I knew who its occupant had to be. Reed draws out the big reveal, forcing you to agonize and wrestle with your emotions and your “this can’t be happening” impulses, even as all the visual clues add up. And the brutal, beautiful suspense makes it that much more conflicting when the smoke clears, each and every dark trooper has been obliterated, and the person standing there is indeed Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)…but is also very much not.

The CGI replacement for young Luke – which uses Hamill’s digitally de-aged voice and likeness – is perhaps not quite as unnerving as the CGI Princess Leia in Rogue One, but nowhere near the seamless, stately elegance of CGI Tarkin in the same film. CGI Luke’s eyes are haunting and slightly unfocused, and his voice doesn’t quite seem to match the movement of his lips. He is, of course, revealed to be the Jedi that Grogu contacted back on Tython, but when they meet at last, Grogu waddles over immediately – only to spend most of the scene talking to Luke’s sidekick, R2-D2, in an excited chirping language matching the droid’s beeps, boops, and bops, while CGI Luke stands to the side; his ghastly top half purposefully out of frame, his lower half standing too still, like a background character in an animated movie.

The Mandalorian
Luke Skywalker and Grogu | menshealth.com

Disturbing digital effects aside, the Luke reveal is emotional and brilliantly executed, and it makes sense that he’ll be the one to train Grogu in the ways of the Force. But of course saying goodbye is hard: and so Djarin removes his helmet willingly, revealing his face to Grogu for the first (and hopefully not last) time. The puppet’s tiny claw reaches out to touch Djarin’s cheek, wide eyes take in every feature of his face…and yes, those muffled sobs you hear are mine. What can I say? I love character development.

And with that, CGI Luke sweeps Baby Yoda into his Ken doll arms, and takes off, concluding the second season of The Mandalorian. So much is still unresolved! Moff Gideon is defeated, Din Djarin commands the Darksaber and must now either embrace a new destiny or pass it on to Bo-Katan, and Grogu is headed to Ach-To, I guess. Oh yeah, and Boba Fett and Fennec Shand are getting a spinoff (or maybe just taking over The Mandalorian), which we’ll discuss in greater detail, in the second half of my finale review.

Because this show is so frustrating, one just wasn’t enough.

Episode Rating: 7.5/10

“The Witcher” Season 2 Full Cast Revealed!

Yes, we’ve been receiving a steady influx of casting updates from both The Witcher‘s official social media accounts and outside sources for a couple weeks now, and Netflix themselves recently revealed a long list of new faces joining Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra and Freya Allen in the fantasy phenomenon‘s hotly-anticipated second season, but there was something missing: all these cast lists and leaks were incomplete without an actor locked in for the critical role of Vesemir, which was why I refrained from covering any of those castings – until today, now that Vesemir too has been cast.

The Witcher‘s second season has already begun production, and filming is currently underway. Most of the characters we now know and love (or hate, in certain cases) from the first season will be returning, including Joey Batey as the bard Jaskier, who became a viral sensation; MyAnna Buring as the steely sorceress Tissaia; Mahesh Jadu, Lars Mikkelson, Mimi Ndiweni, Anna Shaffer and Therica Wilson Read as the mages Vilgefortz, Stregobor, Fringilla, Triss and Sabrina, respectively; Eamon Farren as the villainous Cahir; and Tom Canton as the Elf-King Filavandrel. But The Witcher‘s second season will feature the debut of characters both new and well-known, and a number of fan-favorites from both the source material (the Polish fantasy novels), and the thing that everybody thinks is the source material but isn’t (the incredibly popular video game trilogy).

The Witcher
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Kristofer Hivju, best known for portraying the lovable barbarian Tormund Giantsbane on Game Of Thrones, is set to play Nivellen, a character best described as a much more terrifying version of Disney’s The Beast. Transformed into a ghastly were-bear by a priestess’ curse, Nivellen hides in his mansion in the woods, until the day he catches a man stealing a rose from his garden which leads to…you get the idea, right? Basically, only true love can lift Nivellen’s curse, and true love is in short supply in The Witcher‘s dark and monster-infested world. Hivju, with his large, bearish build and bushy facial hair, will be the perfect fit for this role.

Agnes Born plays Vereena, who will appear only in the season’s first episode. Without giving away too many spoilers, Vereena is one of several women who come to lift the curse laid upon Nivellen: but she has her own secrets, and she’s not quite the Belle to Nivellen’s Beast.

Mecia Simson will take on the role of Francesca Findabair, the Elven queen of Dol Blathanna and one of the Continent’s greatest sorceresses. In the books, she lives a life of secrecy, and not much is known about her origins or her fate, but it seems that Netflix will try to flesh out the character further, as their breakdown for the character mentions her having a strong bond with her child. I have faith in showrunner Lauren Hissrich’s ability to develop complex and nuanced women, and I hope that Francesca will be another one to add to the list alongside characters like Yennefer and Ciri (of whom, the former is one of Francesca’s rivals). Simson has already been spotted onset, in scenes with Filavandrel.

Aisha Fabienne Ross will portray a minor character named Lydia van Bredevoort: the personal assistant of Vilgefortz, Lydia will likely have a small but pivotal role, as her breakdown specifies that she “Carries out a horrible deed”. Lydia is horribly scarred, but uses magic to create the illusion of a beautiful face for herself.

Three young Witchers will show up: their names are Eskel, Coen and Lambert, and they will be played by Thue Ersted Rasmussen, Yasen Atour and Paul Bullion, respectively. Coen is likely the most important of the three, as he will be responsible for helping to train Ciri in the ways of the Witchers.

No actors have yet been cast in the very important roles of Sigismund Dijkstra the spy, or the sorceress Philippa Eilhart, both of whom will probably be major players in the events of Season 2. However, the most crucial character in this season has just been cast today, and that is none other than the legendary Witcher, Vesemir.

Vesemir The Witcher
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Geralt’s mentor, Vesemir was briefly mentioned during flashbacks in Season 1, but has yet to appear onscreen: and soon after the first season’s success, the internet collectively decided that Mark Hamill, of Star Wars fame, was the best choice to play the coveted role. Hamill, being a cool, casual guy, was completely onboard with the idea, as was Hissrich – and supposedly, the two entered talks to negotiate a deal. Either the deal fell through or it never happened in the first place, because Hamill will not be playing Vesemir: that role will instead go to Kim Bodnia, best known for his work on Killing Eve. Bodnia isn’t quite as recognizable and eye-catching as Hamill would have been, but he’s still a well-respected actor who is more than capable of carrying what are sure to be the second season’s most powerful dramatic moments.

What do you think of the cast for The Witcher, Season 2? Who are you most excited to see in action? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” Non-Spoiler Review!

If I was both confident enough and proud enough to say that The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie, then I definitely have no qualms about admitting that The Rise Of Skywalker, while similarly reviled by a sizable portion of the fandom (already!), is an entertaining, thrilling, emotional and bittersweet conclusion to one of the greatest stories in cinematic history. Rise Of Skywalker as a whole is not quite on the level of Jedi for me, at least not yet, but there are several moments and scenes in the movie that have quickly taken their place on my list of all-time franchise favorites. And don’t worry, I won’t spoil any of them here.

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The movie starts out very slow, and for the first ten or even twenty minutes, I grew increasingly worried that the Skywalker Saga might conclude in a very unappealing way. Director J.J. Abrams received a lot of flak from the Star Wars fandom for largely pulling the plot of The Force Awakens from A New Hope, without even bothering to alter many of the little details. I can assure you that Rise Of Skywalker does not follow that same copy-and-paste method, or if it does, then it pulls from so many of the Star Wars films that it’s much harder to guess, at points, where the story is headed. For instance, while there are certainly elements of Return Of The Jedi (as many of us had suspected), there are also hints of several other films in the canon, including, most shockingly, Revenge Of The Sith. If you are a fan of Sith, or the Sith in general, I think you’ll find a lot to love about this movie, as it sometimes veers into territory previously explored only by tie-in comics, novels and video games. But don’t worry, fellow wielders of the Light Side of the Force! There’s plenty of Jedi magic and mind-tricks to go around in this finale to their long, often troubled history, including some new techniques and tactics that are both epic and unpredictable. And as for the film itself, it starts getting good once the two powers, as represented by the characters of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), begin to clash.

These two have always had the most tumultuous and exciting journey in the sequel trilogy, and Skywalker is no different: once again, the focus is mostly on them and the powerful, fiercely difficult relationship between them. It’s often unclear just how much Abrams is using of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, but the tense, will-they-won’t-they dynamic between Light Side user Rey and Supreme Leader Kylo is definitely something that has been carried over from Jedi into this new film, despite Abrams being against it initially.

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In my recent reviews of all the eight previous Star Wars movies, we’ve discussed the theme of duality – the idea that the universe is ruled by the balance of all things: life and death, Jedi and Sith, good and evil. And at almost every crucial moment in this movie, duality makes an appearance, whether subtly or, to my surprise, in the dialogue itself. Rey and Ren, with their opposing ideologies but mysterious attraction, are the theme’s most obvious physical representation, but be on the lookout for it many other places: without giving it away, I’ll just say that it’s very apparent in the film’s third act and final scenes.

Now, how good is the payoff to this forty-two year long journey that we, as fans, have witnessed? Abrams obviously isn’t going to be able to tie up every loose end or finish out every character’s story, but he does his best with what he has. In many ways, the film itself has had to do that as well: the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher in 2016 prevented her character, the beloved Princess Leia, from having a particularly prominent role in the movie; something that is especially sad after watching the entire Skywalker saga, and seeing all the accumulated hints and clues that point to her being the Chosen One. But Abrams masterfully uses everything at his disposal, employing all the old footage of Leia that he can, and giving her not one, but three important moments in the movie. There are appropriate sendoffs to a number of fan-favorites, from the exuberant Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) to petulant C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) – the latter, especially, having a large and hilariously funny role in this movie.

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The humor is provided by many of the characters, but especially the supporting cast of Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and the droids. It’s sometimes apparent that Abrams is straining to have that same “holy trinity” dynamic that was seen between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia and Han Solo, but this particular trinity actually works best when they’re apart: onscreen together, their relationship is a bit of a messy, especially when you take into consideration the film’s rapidly changing romantic dynamics, which we will talk about in the spoiler review. Suffice it to say, characters like Poe and Finn are fleshed-out enough that they can sustain subplots, and Rey is too busy hanging out with Kylo Ren to actually spend much time with her co-stars: the trio does argue a lot, but their best moments are undoubtedly when they’re joking around in their sarcastic, super-witty fashion.

As for the locations they visit and the new characters they meet, some of them are interesting and entertaining, others less so. Jannah (Naomi Ackie) and Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), two new female characters who were hyped up in the film’s marketing, are largely unimportant to the story, but still have more screentime than Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), whose large role in The Last Jedi perhaps gave off the impression that she would continue to be a lead character: but her role, which had been bombarded by angry fans, has been cut down to a mere handful of appearances. Honestly, if you didn’t remember her from the last movie, you would probably just think she was another one of the nameless extras who populate the film’s many crowd shots. The coolest and funniest new characters have to be diminutive mechanic Babu Frik (voiced by Shirley Henderson), who pops in with a number of unexpected but delightful jokes, and Richard E. Grant as the sinister, leering General Pryde.

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But the antagonist you’ve all been waiting for is, of course, the one and only Emperor Palpatine, portrayed once again by the fabulous Ian McDiarmid. Obviously, there are a lot of spoilers involved in this character’s return and sudden rise to power, but it’s not too much of a shocker to know that yes, he’s evil and just as terrifying as ever. He may lack the element of surprise now, but his inevitability is frightening all on its own. He’s still the master manipulator that he always was, and his talents are put to good use in this film, which finally shows him once again using the unlimited power that he wielded in Revenge Of The Sith.

Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker is not a perfect movie, not by any means. It will be met with backlash, fan outrage, and more of the division and debate that has defined the Star Wars brand in recent years. But it’s time to move past all that. This is the end of the Skywalker Saga: forty-two years ago, Luke Skywalker started an incredible journey across galaxies, through the deep, uncharted expanses of space, to new planets and star systems: and we followed him. We followed his father Anakin from purity to darkness, and stood by his side as he fell through the ranks of the Jedi and tumbled into the embrace of the Sith. And now, with The Rise Of Skywalker, we’ve followed his apprentice on her quest to finish what the Skywalkers started, and bring balance and order to the universe, with all the guidance of a thousand generations of Jedi. Will you follow her to the end, as you followed Luke and Anakin? Will you finish out this story?

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The choice is yours, and I’m not going to try and push you one way or the other. All I can say is this: if you do make the choice to see the film in theaters, be prepared to cry, and allow yourself to cry. There are moments when you’ll tear up because something is sad or emotional; there are moments where you’ll cry out of relief or pain; and there are many, many moments in this film where you’ll just start crying because…we’ve done it.

The final word in the story of Skywalker has been spoken.

Movie Rating: 9.8/10

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Review!

We are officially in the last leg of the long journey to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, which means that the mighty Skywalker Saga, a story spanning forty years across films, books, comics, cartoons and video games is finally coming to a close – which in turn means that it’s time to reflect on that nine-part saga and take a good long look at the films that predate and inform Rise Of Skywalker‘s epic conclusion.

To do that, we’re going to have to discuss spoilers for each of the eight films in the Saga, so…SPOILERS AHEAD.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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If you’re reading this review, you’re probably aware that this film has sparked a very hostile, very aggressive reaction from both its defenders and detractors. The division in the Star Wars fandom over whether or not The Last Jedi is good, bad, or even an actual part of the series’ canon, has overshadowed many of those who attempt to talk about the film without suddenly veering into angry rants. You see, the thing is: there is no right answer, because opinions are subjective. Subjectively, The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie: there, I said it. I’ll also say this – it’s a masterpiece of cinema, and, apart from a few iffy bits, a great film. And you don’t have to believe, listen to, or even acknowledge what I’m saying.

I do hope you’ll at least take some time to listen, though, because Jedi is a film I feel passionately about, and I hope my arguments for why are at least understandable.

The movie came at a crossroads in the saga’s history, and it’s not surprising that the story reflects that, touching on themes of evolution, and the process of adaptation: if you read between the lines, it’s not hard to see that Jedi is speaking directly to the fandom, and addressing the glaring generational divides within its ranks. “They are what we grow beyond”, Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) says at one point, and it’s like he’s talking about the new generation of Star Wars aficionados. If only the transition of power could be so peaceful in real life!

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Unfortunately, Star Wars has always had a problem with a particular group of fans known as “gatekeepers”. These are typically the fans who grew up with the films back in the 70’s or early 2000’s, and now claim to be experts on the franchise. They can probably recite the names of several obscure Outer Rim planets, or give you the entire history of the Old Republic with textbook accuracy, or tell you the life-stories of every single person and alien inside the Mos Eisley cantina in A New Hope. The problem comes about when they start lecturing new, less experienced fans about how they’re the “real” fans, the films were made for them and their enjoyment, and anything that disagrees isn’t canon. The character of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who lectures the film’s heroine with a long-winded tirade about how she’s “a nobody” who doesn’t belong in the illustrious saga of the Skywalker family – he’s like the ultimate worst example of a gatekeeper: the type who doesn’t want to see women or minorities in “his” story.

But it’s not just diversity that gatekeepers have been afraid of for years: but also a new group of fans and movie-goers in general, who want to see the story branch out in new directions or take bold, new risks, rather than repeating past hits and highlights for the next decade. And director Rian Johnson has made a film appealing to those people – The Last Jedi is strongly reliant on the idea that there is no one Star Wars story: everybody has their own opinion on the beloved series, and that’s good. There are no right answers. There is no right Star Wars. It’s a theme he reinforces in many different ways, sometimes loudly, sometimes more subtly: since I previously mentioned Kylo Ren as a gatekeeper, let’s turn the tables and look at the villain’s mirror image and moral opposite, the mysterious Rey (Daisy Ridley). She’s been asked time and time again who she is, where she comes from, what makes her so special – but what she learns to accept in this movie is that, yes, as Kylo said, she’s a nobody, probably nothing more than the daughter of some nameless pair of scrap-traders on the desolate heap of Jakku. She (and we, the audience) have been waiting patiently to see who Rey’s parents will turn out to be, but the big revelation is that they don’t matter: because in the original Star Wars, long before “I am your father” or much less midi-chlorians, had been conceived, anybody could be a hero, no matter who they were or what background they came from. At the very end of the movie, we see it once again in the shape of a young, Force-sensitive boy on Canto Bight, who looks up at the stars with eyes full of wonder: this movie is as much about him as it is about anyone, because it’s a story about passing the torch from generation to generation, and about the legends we inspire in our lifetimes that will influence a new group of heroes.

Many people claim that The Last Jedi‘s overarching theme is best exemplified by Kylo Ren’s singularly pessimistic line: “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” I could not disagree more. Jedi never once tells us to forget our past – in fact, on multiple occasions, it requires its cast of characters to confront their own pasts and learn from past failures. I mean, Yoda himself says it: “The greatest teacher, failure is”. That’s at least one of the themes of The Last Jedi – that you can’t run from your past, you need to embrace it and see if you can learn from it. If you can find a balance and live between your past and your future, then happy will you be.

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Review! 8
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And that word, “between”, is what will lead into the next section of this review, because I say so and I don’t have a better lead-in. The idea of duality has always been present in Star Wars, present in almost every aspect of the galaxy’s society, as we’ve discussed; but Jedi is the first film to tackle the theme head-on and explore the gray area in between any two things. It’s something most noticeable in the parallel journeys of Rey and Kylo Ren, who find themselves being pulled away from their respective sides of the Force and towards each other, in some neutral zone between the Light and the Dark, between Jedi and Sith, between Good and Evil. The struggle is great for both of them, as neither one truly understands what is happening, or why they are being called to each other. In their haste, they mistake it for a semi-romantic attraction (I don’t ship the “Reylo” pairing, and I think it works best when you look at it as merely an idea that Rey and Kylo got stuck in their heads during their many telepathic encounters: it’s notable that after they actually meet in person, neither one shows any romantic interest in the other). Rey and Kylo are very hesitant to inch away from their own separate corners of the Force, and even in their epic showdown neither one offers to turn, as they both had thought the other would: instead, they spout their own propaganda at each other. It’s Kylo who, surprisingly, comes closest to the truth when he begs Rey to join him in a world where there are no Jedi, no Sith, no First Order, no Resistance. But – surprise, surprise – his idea for how to achieve that perfect world involves intergalactic genocide. In the end, neither Kylo nor Rey is able to make the first move towards establishing a balanced universe, and Kylo ends up retreating back into the shadows, becoming Supreme Leader of the First Order and doubling down on his attempt to destroy the Resistance. But the meeting of these two champions still gives us reason to hope for a universal oneness someday – in their coup against Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis) Rey and Kylo stand back-to-back and fight side-by-side, without a side. They swap lightsabers for a minute, using opposing sides of the Force to fight. Even when they do move to fight each other, neither one is able to claim Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber for their own, to the point where the saber actually splits in half rather than choose an allegiance. These two are wholly separated, but also connected by a powerful bond. Whether we’ll see them stand together in Rise Of Skywalker or go their separate ways, is anyone’s guess.

But based on what Johnson started in his film, I wouldn’t count out the possibility of Rey and Kylo joining each other in the critical gray area between Good and Evil. In The Last Jedi, morality is a societal construct, and one that means little when held up to scrutiny: as codebreaker, jailbreaker and turncoat extraordinaire DJ (Benicio Del Toro) reveals, both the First Order and the Resistance are buying their weapons from the same suppliers, who in turn squander their money on the lavish – and possibly illegal – pleasures of Canto Bight. While we’re on the subject, I have to ask whether anyone actually likes the character of DJ, or wouldn’t have preferred if Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico‘s (Kelly Marie Tran) paths had led them to the person they were actually looking for in the first place, the Master Codebreaker all-too briefly portrayed by Justin Theroux?

Even heroes like the once-mighty Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) make questionable choices: arguably the biggest shocker in the movie is when it is revealed that Luke, in a moment of weakness, went to kill a young Kylo Ren as the boy slept. Many fans argue that this is a betrayal of Luke’s character, as we had previously seen him risk his life to try and bring Darth Vader back from the Dark Side. I get where they’re coming from, but it’s also not like Luke hadn’t exhausted much of his strength and stamina fighting Vader. He probably wasn’t too keen on the idea of spending the remaining half of his life struggling to redeem his nephew’s soul. And let’s not forget that, while under Palpatine’s corrupting influence, Luke did try to brutally murder Vader and started lopping off his limbs. Luke has always been a wild card: it’s in character for him to be conflicted.

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Review! 9
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It’s the same situation within the ranks of the Resistance, where people are more concerned with doing the right thing than looking like heroes: the violet-haired Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) even has to squash a mutiny led by “trigger-happy flyboy” Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), after he decides to disobey her orders and make up a new plan on the fly, as he so often does. The film at first makes us think that Holdo is a villainous or morally questionable character because she doesn’t tell her plans to Poe, but ultimately turns the tables on us and reveals that it was Holdo, all along, who had the right idea, and that she didn’t reveal her plans because Poe had been demonstrated earlier in the film to be unruly and unmanageable, and she knew he would never follow through with her last-ditch, self-sacrificial plan. But with the help of a little Leia ex machina, everything gets sorted out and Holdo proceeds to enjoy one of the coolest death scenes in film history, as she flies a spaceship at light-speed straight through the attacking First Order fleet, cutting star destroyers in half with blinding accuracy. For more on why Admiral Holdo is actually the best character in The Last Jedi, you can check out this article here.

Sadly, there’s another prominent theme in this movie: that of saying farewell, and going out on a high-note. Carrie Fisher, who had portrayed the indomitable Princess Leia Organa since 1977, passed away at the age of 60 just a year before The Last Jedi opened in theaters. When the film came out, it was clear that Carrie went out on a high-note, finally getting to use the Force in one of Jedi‘s most memorable moments. While there is suspicion that she will have a small appearance in The Rise Of Skywalker, it’s comforting to know that at least she got to be a true Skywalker before her passing.

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Review! 10
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In-universe, however, it’s Luke Skywalker who gets an epic send-off, using the last of his strength to distract Kylo Ren long enough to let the Resistance escape through his fingers. His death, alone and at peace, watching the sunset just as he did forty years previously when his journey began on Tatooine, is poetic and beautiful. Though he had been troubled in life by his own failure to stop the spread of evil, he was able to leave the world knowing that he had done his best. Think of it this way: at least he got a death scene. Poor old Admiral Ackbar was simply pulled out into the frozen vacuum of space without any warning. Luke also had the good fortune to die in some of the best lighting Star Wars has ever produced – seriously, what happened to the days of moodily lit, smoky underground space-pubs and dark Death Star corridors? Nowadays, a respectable Skywalker wouldn’t be caught dead walking around without at least two different setting suns shining down on him and perfectly illuminating him from every possible angle. And I haven’t even mentioned the cloak: I mean, let’s be honest here, Aragorn and Harry Potter wish they had cloaks like Luke Skywalker’s – the final scene of it blowing away across the oceans of Ahch-To is so sad in part because that beautiful accessory is going to land somewhere in the water where it’s impossible to salvage. Most of the scenes of Luke’s beautiful island hermitage were filmed on the remote island of Skellig Michael, off the coast of Ireland. Everyone likes to rant and complain about Luke turning into a weird old man drinking green milk and hunting giant codfish, but why don’t we ever talk about the fact that he lived, undisturbed, for however many years, in one of the most gorgeous places in the Star Wars universe? I mean, seriously, if you’re going to get angry, at least get angry about the fact that he never had the courtesy to invite anybody to his island getaway!

Speaking of which, let’s just run through some of the locations visited in The Last Jedi. Aside from Ahch-To, which, admittedly, is pretty lonely aside from the random group of Jedi nuns and a couple hundred adorable porgs, we also visit the glittering vistas of Canto Bight, the Star Wars version of Monte Carlo, and the planet Crait, a snowy planet covered in blood-red soil which allows for some of the most family-friendly goriness we’ve ever seen in Star Wars, even under the Lucasfilm banner. Maybe you don’t like the movie, maybe you hate the themes, the characters, the whatever…but can we all agree that these locations are amazing?

The Last Jedi also includes some epic action sequences: most notably an opening battle that rivals the similar opening of Revenge Of The Sith, except that this one has the instantly lovable, resilient Paige Tico (Ngo Thanh Van) giving up her own life to save the Resistance, and not a bratty teenage nightmare named Anakin Skywalker. Thus, this battle actually tops the opening battle of Sith in my opinion, and gets the film rolling along at breakneck speed. To add onto that, why don’t we give enough credit to the complexity of Rose Tico’s character, at least at first? There she was, having just lost her sister, and she finds Finn trying to flee in one of the escape-pods to go look for Rey (as if she needs his help). While Rose really doesn’t have anything to do beyond that initial scene, it’s infinitely amusing to watch her zap Finn into unconsciousness to prevent him from “deserting” – and, even though we never actually see any real deserters, the scene indicates that multiple people have tried to run from the fight, making the Resistance feel like an actual army rather than just a bunch of the most perfect, fearless people in the galaxy teaming up to fight evil.

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Review! 11
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There are multiple disappointing moments in the film beyond the usual ones that get brought up all the time, like about how “the escapade on Canto Bight serves virtually no purpose”, or “Snoke’s backstory was never explained”, two things that are certainly problematic. But in the name of originality, and mostly because I’m just a big Gwendoline Christie fan, here’s a complaint that doesn’t get brought up as much: the huge waste of a character that is Christie’s Captain Phasma. While it’s already frustrating that Christie was forced to hide under a heavy suit of metal throughout her time in the franchise, it’s even more annoying that, while male metal-clad characters like Darth Vader and The Mandalorian all get cool action scenes despite being helmeted and hidden, Phasma was never able to do anything truly impressive with her limited screentime. If they weren’t going to use her in any way in The Last Jedi, why didn’t they just leave her in some random trash-compactor on Starkiller Base back in the last movie? How did she even get off of Starkiller Base before it exploded? I have a lot of questions.

If you allow me to continue talking, I will begin to ramble, and rambling leads to meandering, which leads to whatever it is I’m doing right now. And that is why I must now say goodbye to you, dear reader. We’ve worked our way through more than four decades of Star Wars history to get to this point, and we’re finally here, at the end of all things. Very soon, I will have the pleasure of being able to see The Rise Of Skywalker, and I can only hope it lives up to not only my expectations, but those of fans around the world – some of whom have been waiting for this movie since 1977. Think about that, for a moment, and then consider the message of The Last Jedi, a movie that, at its core, is simply trying to make sure that the fire of rebellion never goes out.

Never stop watching Star Wars. Never stop sharing it with new people. Never stop fighting for hope and freedom, in any way you can. The Last Jedi reminds us that we are all part of the Skywalker Saga – no matter who we are, where we come from, or what we look like. Star Wars belongs to all of us, and that will never change.

May the Force be with you.

Movie Rating: 9.9/10