[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Looper. Go watch those movies if you haven’t seen both.]
For some people, the 2014 announcement that Rian Johnson would write and direct the second chapter of a new Star Wars trilogy was about as exciting as the existence of the new trilogy. Johnson started out in features with the high school-set neo-noir Brick, culminating in his 2012 science-fiction story Looper. That thriller, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as the same person, was one of the best films of the year, and suggested so many exciting possibilities for the auteur. But the flip side of joining a monolithic franchise could have downfalls: would Star Wars: The Last Jedi feel like a Rian Johnson film? Or would it not have traces of his distinct personality?
The personality of The Last Jedi is gleefully, readily apparent from the first scene after the opening crawl. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is leading a daring mission to take out a fearsome weapon of the First Order’s, and his plan begins by trolling the uptight General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) with a variation on calling someone and asking “Can you hear me now?” The puckish humor extends throughout other scenes that might seem incredibly tense or major. During the first training session between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Luke razzes her for not grasping what the Force is: when she closes her eyes, he lightly touches her with a leaf, and when she thinks she’s felt the Force, he smacks her with the leaf. Moments like these don’t suck out the suspense as much as alleviate it, as some of the best gags in the series do.
Humor aside, much of the tension in The Last Jedi feels similarly high-stakes not only to the franchise, but to two of Johnson’s most high-profile works: Looper and the climactic Breaking Bad episode he directed, “Ozymandias.” One major setpiece in Looper, where the Gordon-Levitt character realizes the depths of telekinesis that a little boy he’s…
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