Believe it or not, only two major spoilers are given away in this review as long as it is. And even then, one is not a spoiler as it is clearly laid out that this character is destined to make the choice they do. If you dare read the long version, so be it, you were warned. If you want the skinny, here it is (without spoilers);

-Yes, it will answer most of the questions you have from “The Force Awakens.” 
-It is the most emotional Star Wars film to date.
-It really is Mark Hamill and Adam Driver’s movie, as both deliver mesmerizing performances.
-It is not a retelling of “The Empire Strikes Back.”
-It is so original in its storytelling that it is at mind-blowing and overwhelming.
-Yes, you will need to see it a second time.


Balance between good and evil.

Balance between right and wrong.

Balance between the light and the dark.

The concept of the yin and the yang was at the heart of the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

“A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force, but beware of the Dark Side. Anger, fear, aggression; the Dark Force of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”

Yoda spoke those words as both wisdom and warning to Luke Skywalker of his doomed father, Anakin, in “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Those words of warning should have been central to the theme of the prequel trilogy, which was the story of Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the Dark Side. The concept was muddled down in theories of midichlorians, trade routes, clones and politics of the Senate, the Republic, the Sith, the Jedi. The balance of Light and Dark was supposed to tilt towards the latter, yet even the Light of the Jedi seemed clouded with Obi-Wan Kenobi being the sole sliver of Light in the encroaching Darkness.

Anakin, who was preordained to bring balance to the Force, was not seduced by the allure of ultimate power, but a very selfish need to save one person that he loved. To him, ultimate power was granting life to his loved one, not ruling a galaxy, had Anakin and Padme’s relationship been handled with nuance instead of a bad take on Romeo and Juliet by a freshman cut loose in a creative writing class.

The seduction to the Dark Side never sat right. It didn’t feel right. Sure, Anakin had flashes of anger, as did Luke, Rey and Obi-Wan (how else did he defeat Darth Maul?). It didn’t pull them down the path of the Dark Side. Anakin never walked down the path as much as he seemed to jump off the cliff into the Dark Side.

“The Force Awakens” either hit all the right beats of nostalgia for fans that the prequels didn’t or was rejected by fans for hitting all those beats of nostalgia that only felt like an echoing of “A New Hope.” One thing that can’t be argued is “The Force Awakens” brought back the idea of balance. The Force - the Light and the Dark - were center stage again.

“The Force Awakens” might have been too archetypal, but an argument can be made that it had to be just that to re-establish the central mythology of the Star Wars universe.

The Rey of the Light and Ren of the Dark. The Force was balancing itself out after the death of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader.

The balance brings big payoffs in the form of “The Last Jedi.” The balance of the Force is not only the theme of the story, but balance is very much in play in regards to direction, writing, and character arcs.

And there is no bigger payoff that with the character arc of Kylo Ren. The moody, emo-like son of Han Solo and Leia Organa in “The Force Awakens” is brilliantly seduced down the path of the Dark Side. Writer/director Rian Johnson accomplishes Ren’s absolute consumption by the Dark Side in two-and-a-half hours, where it took George Lucas twice that amount of time to show Anakin’s turn.

In “The Last Jedi,” we see a heartbreaking moment of conflict in his master that leads Ren to distrust those he thought absolute in their convictions. It is a moment of conflict and misunderstanding that is the push that starts Ren down the path of the Dark Side. We see the constant questioning of his role and purpose by his family and Supreme Leader Snoke. It leads to anger. We see the conflict in him as he is confronted by the very bright Light of Leia and Rey. Most importantly, we see the two important moments, and again not to over-emphasize these are small moments, that build to Ren’s ultimate acceptance of the Dark Side. Ren is again betrayed by his new master; then in a moment of a vacuum of dominion, Ren does what his grandfather failed to do he takes control of that ultimate power. He is completely consumed by the allure of the power to control and rule. Given the story beats Johnson hits with his screenplay, Ren’s acceptance of that power is completely understandable as the bullied gets to become the ultimate bully.

It is storytelling in a concise masterful stroke. With extremely strong performances from Adam Driver, Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley, the story is tragic and not melodramatic. You feel the sorrow and dread that washes over Rey as she sees Ren succumb to the Dark Side. It is a horrible moment, yet one that feels completely right in the mythology set up by Yoda in “Empire” years back. It is nuanced. Love and trust in their very real and untidy ways bring down Ren. Anakin was supposed to fall because of love, but his cookie-cutter romance of Padme felt more like an attachment that Jedi are supposed to shun and not real feeling.

Ren is not Johnson’s sole master stroke. He deftly balances each character’s story over the course of the film. Think of how great “The Walking Dead” could possibly be if the audience was made to care about each and every character because there was a real emotion connection established and not manipulation by cheap and shoddy storytelling. Rey, Finn, Poe, Leia and Porgs are hardly mentioned in this review, yet all play very important parts and not once does Johnson forget that or let the audience lose that importance of those characters. Laura Dern’s and Benicio Del Toro’s are new players yet crucial to the new trilogy even if they seem like bit players, their characters are tremendous rounded out for the time they are on screen. Del Toro’s DJ instantly adds a depth to the star wars that invokes the military industrial complex and the need of the war machine to rattle on. It is brilliant little bit of storytelling detail that adds so much more to the idea behind the wars.