Published on December 15th, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant0
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Is Star Wars: The Last Jedi the greatest thing since sliced bread (The Empire Strikes Back = sliced bread) or just another Star Wars movie?
Note: I won’t post spoilers here until after the main review, at which point I’ll also warn you first.
I tried desperately to avoid any reviews of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. All I kept seeing was the phrase, “the best Star Wars movie since Empire.” While the movie is certainly worth the price of admission, I can’t fall in step with that hyperbolic comparison. We’ll unpack what we can without spoilers, but The Last Jedi’s strengths are also sometimes its undoing.
We catch up with our heroes and villains after the events of The Force Awakens, with the main Rebel force, a rag tag Battlestar Galactica-style fleet, on the run from The First Order. Meanwhile, we pick up where we left off with Rey, handing Luke his lightsaber, trying to convince him to come back to join the rebellion and light the spark of hope for the galaxy.
The look of the film is amazing (aside from some dips into the uncanny valley with Supreme Leader Snoke). There are some spectacular set pieces. We’ve come a long way from plastic models superimposed on blue/green screens. When the world is this well crafted, it really helps to suspend your disbelief so you can buy into the story that much more.
In terms of the story, there are some delicious twists and even some answers to questions we’ve been seeking. Certain parts of the movie reminded me more of Return of the Jedi than Empire, so I can’t wait to see where the last film will go — the end of The Last Jedi sets up an interesting path for the story and characters. There is depth to the story, even if it’s occasionally clumsy or cheesy, it has the emotional core that sets Star Wars apart from other franchises.
All this said, the story itself is a bit busy and muddled, not streamlined like most of the earlier films. There are too many characters, some new, some old, being given busywork that sometimes amounts to nothing. They cheat at least one of the relationships, pretty hard. And they bring in things for fan service that don’t necessarily go anywhere. All of this serves to give the film a muddled feeling, like being bloated after you eat too much ice cream. It’s not hard to follow, but there are a lot of little things going on and some clarity is lost in the shuffle. There’s also more than one moment of fridge logic, where you realize after that certain things didn’t make sense.
The Last Jedi also falls prey to this year’s blockbuster trend of trying to jam callbacks or humour in at every turn (see Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Justice League, and to a lesser extent, Thor: Ragnarok). Of course, it’s great to have some comedy, just not when the timing is off or you’re using it so much it steps on heartfelt or tense moments. Yes, humour can be used well with tension, but not if you stop the action to shoehorn unearned KOMEDY in. The humour in The Force Awakens felt a lot more natural. Some of The Last Jedi should be downright grim — the fate of the galaxy is at stake. The humour in Empire came from the screwball romance of Han and Leia as well as Yoda’s antics. But when they open the door on Bespin to find Darth Vader waiting for them, it’s bleak. Han takes a futile shot at him, but in the modern blockbuster, he’d mug to the camera and crack a, “guess who’s coming to dinner” joke. That said, Poe has some of the best comedic moments in the movie.
I do applaud that Johnson takes some chances here, while still within the corporate franchise brand guidelines. I wanted to see a different direction with Rogue One, and it didn’t deviate that far from the template. So I love that Johnson swings for the fences; when it works, it is glorious and it offers surprises that are hard to come by in a studio blockbuster. But when it doesn’t work, it lands with a thud, like he’s trying to lift too many X-wings out of the swamp at once.
Ultimately, I’ll need to see it again to sort out my feelings about the film, but as of my first viewing, I can’t say that it’s anywhere near as good as The Empire Strikes Back. I’m not even sure that it’s better than The Force Awakens (you’ll get no argument from me that Force Awakens is a beat for beat remake of Star Wars, and yet, the movie has continued to grow on me over time. It’s a focused, fun adventure that brings the new and the old together seamlessly). I’d probably say that The Last Jedi is on par with Rogue One, enjoyment-wise. Which is still a pretty good comparison, so calm down.
Now let the arguments and recriminations begin. The haters will chastise me for giving it a good review and the fanboys will curse me for not loving it every second of it unconditionally. But the truth, as it so often is, is somewhere in the middle. (And to make a KOMEDY KALLBACK — the truth depends on a “certain point of view.”).
– I love Rey’s parentage. Maybe this won’t make as much sense in 30 years when no one cares who Rey’s parents are. But I love that Johnson whips us up into a frenzy about it, on screen and off, and then has the most subversive answer ever. Some will see this as anti-climactic and that’s fair. But I thought it was great.
– I loved seeing Yoda and Luke again, but it felt like fan service, because it could have been something more. It’s a great idea that’s not fleshed out well. Yes, it gives Luke some perspective that he needs at the time, but it also raises more questions than it answers. Did Yoda then teach Luke how to astral project to face Kylo Ren? Could we have seen him learning that instead of another story thread that didn’t pay off as well? This contributes to that sense of scattered bloat. (And if he was astral projecting, how did he leave the little set of dice from the Falcon with Leia — maybe objects can be sent across time and space? Maybe send a bomb across time and space to blow up The First Order ships then? Again, that fridge logic that keeps me up at night. I won’t even mention how fast Rey gets from place to place compared to everyone else).
– I can’t decide how I feel about Luke trying to kill his student. A Jedi would not do that, so while it makes the story deeper and more interesting, it rings a bell of untruth. Killing a student would be giving in to the dark side of the force — after all, it’s giving in to the fear that Ben/Ren would be powerful and evil. I think this is an excellent story point, but something the idealized Luke of the first trilogy wouldn’t do. It’s the whole point of his arc in those films — he’s the one that doesn’t succumb. Not that things can’t change over time. Can you feel the conflict within me?
– So, Rose was in love with Finn after knowing him for a couple of hours? Did he have a clear arc from coward to hero? It seems like that’s what happened, but I didn’t feel it was super clear. Maybe it will come into focus to me as I rewatch the movie. But their whole arc felt like busywork. They are sent off on a goofy adventure, and while it was good to have some more locations, ultimately, their story goes nowhere. What’s the point of Benicio Del Toro? Do we need another new character when we can barely get Chewbacca on screen? I do like that Johnson subverts our expectations and they fail at their mission, but it feels like Finn is sent into a holding pattern with a new character whose name I really had to think about to remember.
– Hey, it’s Chewbacca! Hey, where’d Chewbacca go? Hey, it’s Threepio! Hey, Where’d Threepio go? Hey, it’s R2D2! Say, where did R2D2 go? And so on.
– I love that you are waiting the whole movie to see how they’ll write Carrie Fisher out — and they don’t. They even fake you out once (though, I didn’t realize a force power was to breathe in a vacuum or not die from freezing, but whatever. Maybe she had a force bubble, I don’t know).
– And conversely, you think that Luke will be the only one from the original three to be in the third movie, but he vanishes into a puff of smoke. (I’m guessing he’ll be a blue ghost in Episode IX, but we’ll see).
– Seeing that Millennium Falcon shadow was awesome. Also, Rey throwing the lightsaber to Ren in that slick move where the guard gets it in the face actually made me shout in the theatre. “OH YEAH!”