So yeah, this movie. I’ve held off on reviewing it for about a year, because so many people have said so many things… and a lot of it has been toxic and nasty. There seems to be very little middle ground with The Last Jedi and I was hoping that a year down the road it might be safe to have a normal conversation about the film. But man, does this movie seem to trigger the haters. I’m having flashbacks to the post Phantom Menace world. Still, I can’t put it off forever. So here are my thoughts on this, the most divisive of Star Wars films yet.
General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) finds the Resistance on the ropes. The First Order lead by the fearsome Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has discovered their secret base, destroyed it and now is relentlessly pursuing them. With limited fuel, ships and personnel, the General finds herself between the Rancor and the Sarlacc Pit (see what I did there). Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Ocar Isaac) and newcomer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) hatch a dangerous plan that may allow the fleet to escape from the First Order.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) journeys with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) to a distant world to find the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Turns out that Luke is a bitter and angry old man who blames himself for the rise of Kylo Ren’s dark powers. Rey does her best to convince him that his twin sister and the Resistance need his help. She also reveals her budding powers with The Force. Luke remains convinced that he will only do harm by restoring the Jedi Order. Meanwhile, Rey finds herself in a strange Force fueled communication with Kylo Ren, and she feels she may have a chance to pulling him from the evil Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) sway. Before it is all over, the fate of the galaxy will rest in the hands of The Last Jedi. Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro round out the cast.
- Impressive, dynamic visuals make this the best looking Star Wars film to date
- Shatters audience expectations
- Creates some truly iconic sequences
- Tries a little too hard to shatter expectations
- One of the storylines feels like nothing more than wheel spinning
- At times feels like it is attacking the previous films and mythology
To be honest, The Last Jedi was what I wanted this episode to be. It veered away from being a copy of The Empire Strikes Back, and at nearly every turn surprised me with the narrative direction. It doesn’t always works, with Finn and Rose feeling like they suffer a frustrating narrative arc. There are some amazing visuals in the film. Kylo Ren and Rey get some excellent sequences together. When all is said and done, the film moves the series in an interesting new direction, and I’m looking forward to see what happens next.
Scores(out of 5)
In Depth Review
At the end of my review of The Force Awakens I wrote the following:
But I will also say that I won’t accept that kind of safe story telling for episode eight. The stage is set for some really interesting plot and character development. I want to see new worlds, new paths and new revelations. I don’t want to see Empire Strikes Back in a new coat of paint. If episode eight forges its new path, than I think those that don’t care for The Force Awakens too much will be willing to accepts its role in the series. But if episode eight continues down this path of manufactured familiarity, we’ll see some disgruntled fans that may be wishing that Lucas were back in the drivers seat.
|Rey is ready to take her next step into the larger world.|
So let’s get this out of the way. The director has said that he wrote the story to deny many of the fan theories out there. It resulted in people feeling like they a) wasted their time and b) are stupid. He was basically trolling a portion of his audience. Never a good idea. The result has been a lot of very toxic and angry commentary directed at a movie that doesn’t really deserve it.
|Luke trolls Rey, just as Johnson trolls his audience.|
Ok, that’s about the last I want to write about the “great debate” surrounding this film. Let’s take a look at the film itself.
Visually, The Last Jedi is probably the most impressive looking Star Wars film we’ve seen up to this point. Director Rian Johnson combined the visual style that J.J. Abrams created in The Force Awakens and adds a bit more of a stylistic touch to the film. Not too surprising from the director of Brick.
|Dammit Ackbar, stop playing Yar's Revenge! We are in crisis mode here!|
Johnson uses the color red through out the film, giving the color a vivid garish quality that adds some weight and threat to the film. In fact, burning, fire and red seem to be seeping into all aspects of the film. During flashbacks we see Luke among the burning training grounds where he lost Kylo Ren to the dark side. When Rey and Kylo face down Snoke’s guards the throne room is wreathed in flames and the guards red outfits and Kylo Ren’s saber move all around Rey, dressed in neutrals and wielding her blue saber. The battle on Crait features a world of red ore and minerals covered in a layer of white salt. All this plays into a key element of the finale of The Last Jedi.
Johnson’s use of flames and red reminds me strongly of a similar use in Akira. We have a film where anger and rage are uncontrolled, and being unleashed. We see this in the performances by members of the First Order and even Poe. The universe is literally burning around the characters, seeming to be consumed by the hatred fueled by the dark side of the force (represented by Snoke and then Kylo Ren). This rage is power and all consuming and our heroes seem to be helpless in the face of it.
|Lightsaber tag is really really dangerous. Play freeze tag instead.|
In many ways, this film is a little less utilitarian in its presentation and a bit more mythical. Images feel more iconic and powerful because of the framing and use of color. It really seems to embrace the fantasy aspect of Star Wars more than the previous few films (such as Rogue One, that went for a much more realistic feel). That works fine in these main storyline films, and I’m happy to see a director really dive into the mythical feel of these movies. Sure there are plenty of space ship battles and melee combat, but the key moments are ones between characters and how they relate to each other. This is not only done with dialogue, but also visually: isolating certain characters in frame, or using angles to create intimidating moments or eerie sequences. Johnson really gives The Last Jedi a unique but completely workable visual aesthetic that is refreshing to see in these films.
|Kylo watching over Rey. Was he manipulator or manipulated?|
It is obvious that I loved the visuals in The Last Jedi; they are the strongest part of the film. The sound work rises to meet that bar. We get a great combo of the classic sound effects with some new sound work. All of it is nice and immersive. Sound is balanced to provide some nice powerful sequences while allowing us to hear the dialogue clearly.
|I swear James Bond is about to enter stage right.|
Those looking for a fresh Star Wars experience from a musical point of view may be disappointed. But Williams keeps things interesting by allowing all the older themes to play off each other and shift in interesting ways. I love Rey’s theme from The Force Awakens and we get quite a few new variants of it in The Last Jedi as her character continues her journey. Kylo Ren’s theme gains more power and menace as the film moves forward.
|Admiral Holdo doubts the veracity of your claim.|
It works well in The Last Jedi supporting the action and emotions. But part of me wishes there was a bit more new musical color in the film. It is part of what gives each Star Wars film a unique personality, and yet tied to the whole. This film score feels like an extension of The Force Awakens, which the film really is. It is a minor issue, but one that did stick out to me a bit. Williams’ work is always top notch and as always works wonderfully in the film. So I can’t fault any of that.
|I said... get off my lawn.|
|Are space slugs supposed to do that? Gross!|
The Last Jedi was Carrie Fisher’s last performance, and she does a fine job as General Leia Organa. She feels like the heart and soul of the resistance and her interaction with Isaac and Dern are handled well. As I already mentioned the scene between her and Hamill is one of the best in the series. It isn’t very long, but both actors really give you the feeling that they are siblings who care deeply for each other and yet have grown distant.
|"I must know... do you still keep in touch with Wicket?"|
So now we come to the main issue with The Last Jedi, the script. We have a story that feels like it is focused on two things, building tension and shattering expectations. I think the script handles the tension elements pretty well, and goes above and beyond when it comes to shattering expectations.
|Finn is the RAD RACER!|
All that said, the concept of where this episode needs to end must be clear. To me, it feels like this was lost somewhere in the writing process. Then remembered at the last moment and shoehorned back in. Both Rey and Kylo Ren have clear arcs that feel like they build to where they need to go. But the Resistance and the characters locked in that conflict feel like they didn’t accomplish all that much. But you could argue that the main point of that storyline is destroy the resistance and create the rebellion.
|The tempest of mystery calls to us and Rey|
For old fans of the original trilogy, we are invested in the heroes and the fate of the rebellion and empire. The Force Awakens never clarifies any of it, and The Last Jedi continues on its merry way. We never get the idea that the Resistance is this small rag tag organization – and if it is, what the hell is the big deal of creating The Rebellion. Is it more than a matter of semantics? If that is the main goal of the second storyline in The Last Jedi and all the events tied to it feel hollow.
|To quote a famous scoundrel, "This deal is getting worse all the time."|
|I would trust Poe to blow up a Death Star, or two.|
Then you have the Rose and Finn storyline. I really like Rose as a character and Tran does some great things with her. She has some really good moments with Boyega, but man, does their whole side quest feel forced and uninteresting. It doesn’t stop the story dead like I’ve seen some folks endlessly complain about. It does end up feeling futile from a narrative point of view, or at least have a very tiny pay off (tied to the rebellion vs. resistance issue). And yeah, you could argue that the whole point of that side story is express how some things in life are pointless and futile… but is Star Wars really the place you want to express that theme? And to do it in a side story gives it even less importance. Star Wars is mythic storytelling; heroes in myths rarely do anything that ends up being pointless.
|Well at least Phasma has a point in this movie... oh wait...|
Finally lets take a look at the theme of the film, because boy is it confusing. The imagery of the movie feels very clear – let go of the past, look toward the future. The script seems to support this in the way it destroys so many of the expectations viewers had about how they felt The Last Jedi was going to play out. It didn’t, and I think that is great. It fits the theme of letting go of the past. But here is the problem with the way the theme is executed here
|I AM suppressing my rage!|
It works a little better with The Force and the Jedi order. We saw how ineffectual the Jedi Council was in the prequels. We saw how old thinking nearly destroyed Luke in the original trilogy. It makes perfect sense to move the Jedi into something new and fresh. And THISis what the new trilogy should have been about. Seeing how powerful and interesting all this material in The Last Jedi is, makes me realize that this is the storyline that should have been explored in greater depth. Drop the First Order and Resistance material that feels all surface and no depth. The Force Awakens feels like a title that never got the movie it deserved.
|Drawing a line in the salt.|
All in all Johnson’s direction is very good. Even when The Last Jedi feels like it is spinning its narrative wheels, he keeps everything moving and visually interesting. He created a very good Star Wars film, one that does some great stuff. I think he should have given the script a few more passes, tried a bit less hard to troll old time fans and fan sites obsessed with predicting the way the series was going to play out (and I admit, I found all that super annoying too, so I understand his frustration). He should have focused his script on telling a compelling story. Instead we have a good movie with one great storyline and one that feels like if flounders around in a visually exciting way. We almost got another Great Star Wars film.
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