Review of the Week–Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I don’t often preface these reviews with spoiler alerts, but here it is: SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t yet seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi for any reason, don’t read any further for your own happiness. I don’t want to be responsible for any hurt feelings here. Well, other than those I might offend when I rip the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise apart in the next few paragraphs. I just felt like I needed to talk about it because it was very timely and, well, I just really need to talk about it.

Okay, you all still with me? Cool. Moving right along…

Going into The Last Jedi, I had high expectations to meet. The second space in any given Star Wars trilogy always has The Empire Strikes Back to live up to, which is pretty much the gold standard of the entire franchise in my view. Besides which The Force Awakens was a less than inspired beginning for a new series of movies. There wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong with it, per se…other than the fact that it was basically a shot-for-shot, line-for-line remake of A New Hope. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but that’s what it was. It was like comfort food: safe, feel-good, and ultimately kind of bad for you. So I was really, really hoping The Last Jedi pushed some boundaries and had some more out of the box thinking than its previous installment.

Long story short, I got what I wanted…partially. The Last Jedi proved to be an incredibly frustrating outing in the Star Wars saga simply because I don’t know where it ends up landing for me. It’s like it was half an awesome movie, and half a terrible movie. Exactly half and half. On the bright side, I can say the scale of the story and the action scenes were more epic than anything Star Wars has done so far. The visuals and sense of grandeur was completely overwhelming, and the spectacle of the thing made certain I never checked my watch even once during the unforgivably long two hours and thirty minutes. In the end, though, I think the director was trying to do way too much in a single movie. There was easily two films’ worth of material here, and it was a shame that some of its potential felt squandered.

I rarely ever do this because I think it’s a bit lazy writing-wise, but I felt like my feelings on The Last Jedi merited a bullet-point list to really lay them out in full detail. Let’s start with the good stuff.

PROS

  • Much in the vein of The Empire Strikes Back, this movie featured the rebels pretty much losing everywhere they went, which ups the stakes for the last installment of the trilogy very nicely and brings out the best in the characters when they’re under stress. Also, I know I said it before, but the visuals and effects were out of this world, literally. Very well done, all of it.
  • Mark Hamill: official MVP of The Last Jedi. I honestly never thought much of Hamill as an actor in the original trilogy because Luke was such an archetypical, run of the mill hero type on the usual hero’s journey arc. It pretty much could have been anyone in that role and we never would have known the difference. That said, Luke Skywalker in this movie was a total brooding badass, and it was awesome. Hamill’s scenes, whether they were with Rey, Ren, or even the ghost of Yoda were automatically the best ones of the film. His charisma stole every scene he was involved in, and his lightsaber duel with Ren at the end was straight-up amazing. We got to see this guy wasn’t perfect and was just as flawed and human as the rest of us. Ultimately, Luke, who had shut himself off from the world and all the friends trying to help him, ended up learning that maybe the problem wasn’t with the world, but rather with himself. Hats off to Hamill for what probably was his last appearance in Star Wars.
  • Honorable mention out to all the great cameo appearances in The Last Jedi. First, there was Laura Dern, who did the best with what she was given as Vice Admiral Holdo and of course did a solid job in an understated but actually very important role. Wish we had gotten more from her. Moving on, Benicio del Toro as DJ was basically the Lando of the story, who seems like a good guy until he betrays the main characters to save his own skin. But was it just me, or did his exit leave something indescribable hanging in the air? I’m not saying he seemed to regret what he did (he clearly had no problem hanging Rose and Finn out to dry), but he seemed to genuinely like the adorable BB-8 (and I think the feeling was mutual) and his departing words seemed to oddly leave things open. Maybe they’re setting him up to return, having seen the error of his ways, and be the new Han Solo or something? A guy can hope. Finally, as we all know, Carrie Fisher won’t be appearing in Star Wars again due to her untimely death, but she kicked the crap out of the Princess Leia role one more time. RIP and rock on, Carrie. Leia was the original kick-ass female character in sci-fi, and she continued the tradition in fine style this time around.
  • As in the last film, most of the main characters pulled their weight and remained strong. Finn was sort of sidelined, which was slightly disappointing, but he finally got his revenge on Captain Phasma in the final battle and was given new dimension as he tried to desert the rebels and then ended up overcoming all odds to save the day. Is he the new Han? I promise I’ll stop now. In addition, it’s sometimes hard to introduce new characters in the middle of things in a way that means something, but that Rose Tico…wow. Where did she come from? Newcomer Kelly Marie Tran really put the emotional heart of the movie on her back and carried it all the way to the end. I really hope she’s not dead! And is it wrong that I’d much rather her and Finn end up together than Finn and Rey? I just feel like after everything they went through, they were meant for each other.
  • Both Rey and Kylo Ren broadened their horizons in this movie, both through their secret Force conversations and their actual scenes together, battle or otherwise. Ren proved he wasn’t just a whiny brat who only cares about power, and Rey deepened with her attraction to him and the dark side overall. While they may have gone their separate ways in the end, the fact is they’re both lonely people looking for someone to help them find their place, and I’m all but certain their paths will converge again down the line.
  • When Disney chose to take some risks in this movie, man, they didn’t fool around. Pretty much 99 percent of the rebels dead? Geez, that’s intense. Rey coming this close to joining the dark side? Is it wrong I’m upset that didn’t actually happen? Luke Skywalker coming this close to murdering an innocent kid in cold blood? I’m shocked Disney even let that part by the censors. Rey’s parents being no one important, after all the theories out there? Nice plot twist. I like it. I also think the overall theme of the movie was very boundary-pushing, just as I had hoped for: the idea that the Force can’t be binary and that in order to end the cycle of violence between light and dark, Jedi and Sith, someone has to have the courage to cross that line and hold both sides within themselves. In addition, anyone can have the Force, and there doesn’t have to be anything special about them. No “chosen ones” in this batch: just ordinary folks trying to figure it out. I’m hoping Ren/Rey will have what it takes to make that final leap in the next movie.
  • That last scene with the kid, the Force move on the broom, and the lightsaber moves…pure genius. Is this implying that there are more Force kids out there like Rey and Ren just waiting to be activated and claimed for one side or the other? I don’t know, but even if there was no story point to it, it really spoke to the inner kid and aspiring Jedi in me and that’s what really matters. I loved it.

Okay, that’s a lot. Now, let’s get to the bad stuff.

Cons

  • I’m all for a movie being more like The Empire Strikes Back, but oh, look! Another Hoth base battle! Except the planet is salt instead of ice! With walkers and speeders! How original! God, that made me roll my eyes.
  • What’s with the relationship between Luke and Leia? I mean, they mentioned each other a couple of times, but that was about it. They’re supposed to be siblings, plus Force-bonded in whatever weird way they are. You’d think that would merit more than a few cursory lines of dialogue. How about how Leia feels about Luke basically abandoning her when she needed him and failing her son in such profound way? And how she explains that little Force trick of hers to survive being exposed to vacuum and fly back inside the freaking ship? You’d think she went to Jedi school or something for that. I’m just saying, for as ragtag as the rebels are in this film, you’d think they would need all the help they can get, including Leia and her big Force guns. I think a lot more attention should have been paid to this relationship, as if you didn’t get the background information you never would have known Luke and Leia were even related. It was weird and it bugged me, a lot. But then again, they did make out once. So who am I to judge?
  • Is anyone else mad about how Chewie, R2, and 3PO got shafted in this movie in terms of importance in screen time? Chewie was cursory window-dressing at best (no details on how he’s dealing with the grief of losing his best friend Han), and the droids barely appeared once and contributed exactly nothing to the plot. Not good enough.
  • What was the purpose of the field trip to Canto Bight? Other than adding some more color and excitement in a movie I think was already too packed with sensory overload for comprehension, it was pretty much unnecessary. It could have easily been done on board the rebel carrier, for crying out loud.
  • Character let-downs: Poe Dameron and Supreme Leader Snoke. I know a lot of people, myself included, had a ton of conspiracy theories surrounding Snoke’s “true” identity. Was he Jar-Jar Binks? Was he a reincarnated Emperor Palpatine? Someone more obscure that we knew from the original trilogy? Whatever. The point is, he’s dead now, and we have no answers, making him, barring a huge reveal in the last movie, a big fat nothing. What a completely and utterly pointless character in every way. It really failed to inform us on a critical element of the story, which is how he turned Ren to the dark side, and didn’t serve even a role in adding depth to Ren’s character. He was generic bad guy number one, that’s all. And putting Rey and Ren in contact with each other on purpose? What a rookie bad guy mistake. Seriously. As for Poe, I liked his brashness and upbeat attitude in The Force Awakens, but things took a bad turn in this movie with him being generally a jerk, disagreeable with pretty much everyone who was trying to actually do things that mattered, and in the end committed mutiny for nothing. And then Leia forgives him? What? And how do you even presume to know what she would have wanted in the first place, dude? Ugh. Poe was incredibly unlikeable and frustrating in this film and only seemed to be there to be the cause of all the problems. He came off as stupid, mean, and downright disastrous. Never let this guy near the captain’s chair ever again.
  • I had a huge problem with the central conceit of the plot, which is the chase between the fleeing rebel cruiser and the pursuing First Order fleet. Things really would have been over for the rebels if the First Order was made up of people who actually know what they’re doing and weren’t completely moronic and incompetent. Who looks at a situation where all your enemies are clustered on one single ship, where you can wipe them out once and for all, and instead of putting everything you have into smashing them like a bug, instead settles for, “Nah, it’s not a big deal. I think we’ll just cruise along and take some potshots here and there. See what happens.” Huh? Don’t you have, like, all the resources of the old Empire at your disposal? Was it too much trouble to call one more star destroyer out of their busy schedule to jump in right in front of the rebel ship, cut it off, and blast it apart in the crossfire? Or at least speed up your ships a little to cut the distance between them? Come on. I get that all stormtroopers are terrible shots because they have to be, but this is ridiculous.
  • One word: porgs, man. Porgs. Even the Ewoks had plot value in addition to being a blatant cash-grab. I’m not saying they weren’t cute and cuddly, but still…what?

My Rating: 6/10

Like I said before, Star Wars: The Last Jedi was half a good movie, half a bad movie, and while there was more good than bad slightly, I think my rating reflects its true nature. This is a very divisive film which fans will be arguing about the merits of for years to come, so in the end, I think I’ll leave it up to posterity. But please, if you think I’m off base with any of my criticisms, I’d love to hear about it. Maybe there’s something I missed that will make me like this one more.

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