Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Review
The biggest movie event of the year has finally happened. The next chapter in the Star Wars saga is here and it is divisive to say the least. The Last Jedi is one of the most unique chapters in the entire series, for better or for worse. Continue reading to see my thoughts on the movie itself and my response to the criticism. There will be MASSIVE SPOILERS throughout. Do not read unless you have seen the movie!
Star Wars literally means the world to me. I wrote about how it shaped my life back in May for the 40th anniversary. You can read about that HERE.
Let's start with the criticism. When The Force Awakens came out in 2015 the number one criticism was that it was a virtual carbon copy of A New Hope from 1977. People were asking why Disney bought Star Wars if they weren't going to do anything original with it. When The Last Jedi rolled around, people criticized it for being too different. People said Star Wars is about symmetry and that it should reflect a lot of The Empire Strikes Back. Well, which one is it?
I've evolved in my film consumption. I enjoy having conversations with people who have an opposite opinion of a movie that I have. It makes for a fun discussion if it can be had maturely, and rationally. I've gotten a little of that for The Last Jedi. I respect people's opinions if they tell me what they didn't like and more importantly why. But to the people who don't like it because "there are too many women, and they make the men look bad", go lick a toilet or something and stay out of the conversation please.
When I watched The Last Jedi I didn't get the movie I thought I was going to get, and that is okay. When I walked in, I wanted a Darth Vader-esque Rogue One scene for Luke Skywalker. But I understand why we didn't. If you boil down the film to its core it is about one thing - failure. Every character fails at what their intended purpose is. They survive merely on luck. Rey can't get trained by Luke properly. Finn can't shut down the hyperdrive thing, nor did he really win the battle against Phasma, he lucked out. Ben can't turn Rey. Poe can't be the leader Leia wants him to - and then when he is, it is the wrong choice. Holdo fails in getting everyone secretly to Crait. Luke fails in nearly everything, from his relationship with Rey, to burning down an old tree. Failure is front and center in the film, and because of that, it does mirror The Empire Strikes Back. It just isn't a beat for beat remake, and that is a good thing.
The Last Jedi took your expectations for a Star Wars film and flushed them completely down the toilet. It broke the repetitive, safe circle it has been riding for 40 years and it finally was able to do something unexpected, allowing the franchise to grow and evolve. Sure, it's jarring to some people, and I think at least a little bit of the backlash will lessen over time, when they can embrace the change.
Having said that, The Last Jedi is not a perfect film. It drags a little bit in the middle, and would have done better with being 10-15 minutes shorter. The biggest thing, for me, was some of the humor though. The Last Jedi is legitimately funny - like Thor: Ragnarok funny. I would say about 95% of the humor worked for me. Everything with BB-8 was hilarious and added some much needed levity to a heavy story. The amateurish "boob-milking" scene didn't land, neither did Luke throwing the lightsaber when he finally took it from Rey. I didn't mind Luke acting silly when describing the Force to Rey - Master Yoda did the same thing to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back (parallels, yo). I would have never thought, not even in my wildest dreams, that I would ever hear a "your mom" joke in a Star Wars film. For me, the jury is still out on that one. I will need to watch it again to make a decision.
I'm not sure if plans changed, or things got blown out of proportion, but I thought Snoke would be around for the entire trilogy. I do know that the theories and speculation about him were at ridiculous levels. But to me it seems that Snoke was a J.J. Abrams invention that Rian didn't want to deal with (like Kylo's helmet). But the tables will turn next time, when J.J. Abrams has to deal with things like the Porgs - that is if Chewbacca hasn't eaten all of them by then. Other than that, all of the characters had fantastic journeys. They evolved into better, stronger versions of themselves with space to still grow in Episode IX. The new characters were welcome additions as well, I hope we see much more of Rose Tico, and the journey of spite-to-love that I had about Admiral Holdo in a very short time was unexpected. Benecio Del Toro's slicer character DJ didn't make much of an impact. He was used solely for story purposes, but he was charismatic in the screen time that he did have.
Carrie Fisher tragically passed away last year making this the final thing she was ever in. It is common knowledge that Episode IX was supposed to be her movie. The Force Awakens was Han's, The Last Jedi is Luke's, and Leia had IX. That obviously won't be the case anymore, so it made her scenes in this more poignant. Leia is the epitome of what a strong female character can and should be. It was difficult for me to watch her knowing she isn't here, but I loved her role in this, trying to groom better leaders, and never ever wavering in her hope. Leia is one of the most important characters in the sagas history, and this film didn't let her legacy down. I don't know how they will handle her character in Episode IX, but no matter what, it won't do her justice.
Something potentially problematic I noticed about The Last Jedi is that it relies heavily on The Force Awakens. It has the least amount of time between chapters, Rogue One notwithstanding. It almost serves as an epilogue to The Force Awakens; sort of like how Quantum of Solace is for Casino Royale. You could go into The Force Awakens ice cold, and be completely entertained. The success of telling the story of The Last Jedi absolutely depends on your knowledge of the events of The Force Awakens, and picks up mere moments from where The Force Awakens ends. For something as culturally important and enormous as Star Wars this poses less of a problem than most franchises. But it could still potentially alienate some casual viewers, maybe not completely since there is still fun to be had, but it would be nearly impossible to catch all of the nuance that was presented without that knowledge.
The Last Jedi is one of the most beautifully shot films on the saga. Rogue One was a product of two different directors and The Force Awakens was made to feel like a George Lucas style product intentionally. This was the first film in the Disney era that had one constant - and unique vision. Having been a fan of Rian Johnson's work before (Brick, Looper, a few phenomenal episodes of Breaking Bad), I was excited to see what he would bring to the galaxy far, far, away and I was not disappointed. The scene where Laura Dern's Admiral Holdo puts her ship into lightspeed toward the other ships absolutely FLOORED me. I sat in stunned silence with my mouth open for the entire duration of that scene. My entire theater was in abject awe. No applause, no cheers, no exclamations, just a few gasps and then complete and utter silence. It was the most beautiful scene I have seen on the big screen this year, and with Blade Runner: 2049 and Coco having come out, that is quite the feat.
There was a healthy balance of fan service (cameos, nostalgia, callbacks, etc) and innovative, fresh story telling. It was more balanced in that aspect than The Force Awakens was. I adore The Force Awakens. It is insanely rewatchable and 2 hours of happiness for me. I really enjoyed The Last Jedi too, but for different reasons. I wanted more stories, not the same ones over again. I like that they are moving in different directions and taking risks. The risks for me, paid off. For example, I love that Rey and Snoke are nobodies. I didn't want them to be Palpatine clones, or Kenobi descendants or anything like that. For being a universe, the Star Wars one is quite small. Everyone is closely related or affiliated with each other. Making Rey nobody is the right choice, it expands and enhances Star Wars. The last thing we need is to make the universe even smaller than it already feels. Same with Snoke. Him being a tool for Kylo Ren's development - and nothing more is the right choice. He is a powerful being, strong in the force, but he's not Plagueis reborn, a Palpatine clone or anyhing like that, which makes me like him even more.
I need three or four more viewings of The Last Jedi to really get a handle on the whole thing, and be able to place it within the lexicon of the saga. But I truly loved what Rian Johnson attempted to do, it is a strong story about failure and never ever giving up no matter how dire the situation is, which is a great message in today's landscape.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theaters everywhere now.