I was late in watching The Force Awakens. That film, which is the seventh in George Lucas' Star Wars saga, dropped in December of 2015, and I promise you I didn't press play until January of 2017. It's not that I wasn't trying to see it, either. It was primarily the fault of the various pundits who made sure to comment on how much the film was essentially A New Hope for new schoolers. And while it definitely gave off those vibes (Rey really is just a new Luke, right?), I didn't necessarily subscribe to that line of thinking. Or, rather, I understood the need to reinvent those tried-and-true characters for a modern age. Then I heard about The Last Jedi.
Now, being a movie lover of a certain age, most of my life has been spent with people proclaiming The Empire Strikes Back as not only the greatest entry into the Star Wars franchise but being heralded by many as one of the greatest films of all time—period. Empire made me truly understand how story arcs across multiple films work, and appreciate that every hero needs an equally awesome villain. That said, with the knowledge that Star Wars movies are going to keep happening until Disney is tired of making them, the obvious question folks had after The Force Awakens was done was: "So, the next film is basically going to be Empire Strikes Back 2.0, right?"
I'm not making this up: one mashed-up Empire Strikes Back trailer laid out how similar the two films seemed, with people theorizing how Kylo Ren fills the Darth Vader slot, Rey fills Luke's (right down to the issues about being pulled in opposing directions of the Light and Dark sides of The Force), and older Luke being The Last Jedi's Yoda, trying to teach Rey the ways of The Force. Add on to that Adam Driver's quote about Last Jedi have a different "tone" than Force Awakens, and the fan theories wrote themselves. This meant only one thing: I had to take my old ass to the theater and enjoy the fuck out of this movie, all the while trying to figure out: is The Last Jedi just The Empire Strikes Back, Pt. 2?
Warning: There might be mild spoilers to Star Wars: The Last Jedi past this point. You've been warned.
The short answer is... kind of. In my
expert opinion, though, that's selling a film of this magnitude extremely short. The meat and potatoes are there, sure. Rey picks up where she left off in the previous film, searching for Luke to figure out this Force shit. That would, of course, make Luke her Yoda, although with a much less-memorable way of speech. Rey and Kylo Ren are both being tugged at from opposite sides of The Force, which was a part of Darth's speech to Luke during their epic battle in Empire, and only came to more of a head in Return of the Jedi. Empire did a great job of exploring what The Force truly is, and with The Last Jedi, that power is examined once again. There are also journeys to distant planets that delve into the seedier side of life, as well as Princess Leia and The Rebels being in some kind of danger. Oh, and Chewbacca's at the helm of the Millennium Falcon following the tragic death of Han Solo at the hands of his own son in Awakens.
Where things differ between the two films is The Last Jedi, for better or for worst, packs a lot more story. Some of the treks are a bit long in the tooth, but on the flipside, this film is packed to the gills with WAR. That's not to say there wasn't action in Empire, but The Last Jedi found a way to slide tons of battles, duels, and space chases into its two-and-a-half-hour runtime. It's also just wall-to-wall funny. Humor has played a big part in the Star Wars saga, including the interactions between the droids and anyone else. But instead of the laughs being relegated to quirky asides from Harrison Ford or weird alien beings (we're looking at you, Jar Jar Binks), there are one-liners and hilarious moments galore in The Last Jedi—again, for good or ill depending on what you're looking for. That's not to say that the film doesn't get serious; shit finds a way to get REALLY real numerous times, but there's an intriguing balance of the (comedic) force throughout the film.
Ultimately, where Empire set up the glorious third act in the original trilogy, The Last Jedi takes steps to truly establish the future of the series overall. For the sake of not spoiling the film on this very page during its opening weekend, I won't elaborate further but if Disney's plan is to keep churning out more chapters in this space opera for years to come, they needed to orchestrate enough change within the world being built to drive the franchise's future into the stratosphere. With The Last Jedi, you get just that, right next to boatloads of action, comedy, and emotion. You'll travel to a galaxy far, far away for a very familiar outline, but the gut-punch of quality cinema will take you to a completely different and exciting destination.