REVIEW: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

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The mammoth success of 2015’s “The Force Awakens” shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Star Wars fans had ten years of anticipation built up since the last movie and when Disney purchased the property from George Lucas they immediately began touting a new installment. Now just two years later (not counting last year’s stand-alone film), an incredible $450 million for the latest episode’s opening weekend indicates the fire hasn’t died down one bit.

“The Last Jedi” is the eighth film in the series proper, the ninth Star Wars film overall. And while it has been intensely popular and profitable, the reactions have been all over the map. Some have heralded it “the best Star Wars film since Empire” while others are petitioning Disney to have it removed from canon. Regardless of where you land, everyone has to agree that “The Last Jedi” continues the franchise trend of epitomizing the ‘space opera’ concept.

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J.J. Abrams hands over the reins to Rian Johnson who both writes and directs episode VIII. Johnson has shown himself to be an intriguing filmmaker as evident by his movies “Brick” and the sci-fi mindbender “Looper”. But a Star Wars film is an entirely different animal, heavy with high expectations and an extremely passionate (and vocal) fanbase.

Johnson’s story offers franchise fans plenty to smile at and just as much to chew on. Several scenes call back to the original trilogy and the inspiration is undeniable. “The Force Awakens” not so subtly but effectively followed the blueprint of 1977’s “A New Hope”. You could say Johnson’s film is a melding of “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Return of the Jedi”. The structure of some scenes are so similar you can’t help but recognize it.

But fear not, this is no ‘copy and paste’ rehash. Johnson has numerous fresh strokes and narrative angles that makes “The Last Jedi” feel completely of its own. Some of Johnson’s decisions have stoked the ire of certain fans, but he’s clearly trying to develop his own take on the universe. Because of this a couple of characters handed off by Abrams don’t quite get the attention. Is it because they don’t completely fit within Johnson’s vision? I’m not sure.

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“The Force Awakens” ends with Rey (Daisy Ridley) finding Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote island. Johnson drops his anchor and spends a lot of time on the island with Rey trying to convince Luke the Rebel Alliance needs him. She also seeks his help in understanding the Force and the powers she has discovered. But Luke has become a disillusioned hermit conflicted about his own legend and convinced the time of the Jedi has passed. Hamill’s performance may be his best yet and Ridley is such an asset. The two share several good scenes – some funny and some emotional.

Elsewhere in the galaxy the young rebellion led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher) is forced to evacuate their base after Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the menacing First Order arrive. The pursuit that follows takes a big chunk of the film and includes the return of impetuous hot-shot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), former stormtrooper turned resistance superstar Finn (John Boyega), and droid-of-all-trades BB-8. Fisher brings out a whole new layer of humanity to Leia that’s hinted at in the previous film but truly realized in this performance (sadly her last following her recent passing). Speaking of new layers, Kylo Ren has several of them and Johnson has made him into the most intriguing character of the new series.

“The Last Jedi” is the longest Star Wars film by a good 15 minutes and unfortunately you can tell. The first half has some big moments but it’s also a bit slow getting its footing. Johnson spends a tad too much time on the island only giving us baby steps of progression with Luke and Rey until finally getting in gear in the second half. The pursuit segment also has a few stumbles particularly involving a side mission with Finn and a new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). Aside from some pretty obvious logistical issues, their mission lacks energy. It also features a pretty bad CGI-heavy chase sequence that felt completely out of sync with the rest of the movie.

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At the same time there are many more things Johnson gets right especially in the second half where the intensity really amps up. I especially love the stress on characters and the personal bonds many of them share. And there is also the connections between the old and the new. I’ll be intentionally vague but this can be tricky ground for a filmmaker. Johnson nails it and none of these moments feel contrived or meaningless. Some had me wanting to cheer. Others brought tears to my eyes. The film also ends with an exhilarating final sequence that leaves the story in an interesting place, ready to be picked up in episode IX.

I can certainly understand fans having a lot of questions. I do myself. But that’s a big part of the fun when it comes to a Star Wars movie – wondering and speculating. “The Last Jedi” has some early pacing issues and a few things that simply don’t make sense. But it’s still a fantastic Star Wars experience filled with excitement, emotion and nostalgia. It also features a few of those truly great moments that franchise fans will forever link with this film. I know I won’t forget them and my inner fanboy is getting a bit giddy just thinking about them.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4-stars

31 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

  1. This one will keep people talking for two years until the next episode. I’m pretty sure not all the talk will be supportive. Obviously the crazies will be out en masse, with resentment and ridiculous demands. I thought almost everything with Luke, Rey and Kilo Ren worked, everything else was hit or miss. I’ll need a to see it again to help me process.

    • I am a diehard Star Wars fan but don’t agree with a lot of the outrage. Lots of the anger seems to be centered around the handling of Luke. I actually liked it and thought it added an interesting dynamic to that character. Almost tragic in a sense. And Mark Hamill really dives into it. My only gripes deal more with holes in logic and some early pacing issues. Otherwise it’s a fun installment. Seeing it again tonight, this time with the family.

    • Thanks Brittani! Seeing it again in a few hours. Really anxious to see if my handful of gripes hold up. Because, like you, I like it more just thinking about it.

  2. I’m in the camp that really liked it as I don’t understand why people complain about the length. I found it a bit refreshing as it wanted to take some risks in exploring themes and having characters embark on different adventures to see that there is so much about the galaxy that is complicated. Especially as there’s an air of cynicism about war. The casino sequence is excessive but I think that’s the point because it is this decadent world full of people who don’t really care about who wins or loses just as long as they make money out of this conflict.

    I also liked the fact that it also took the time to explore the idea of failure which is a great teacher as it allows characters to face their mistakes and learn from them.

    I think this will be the most polarizing film for now as I’m sure the third will get fans more riled up. At least it’s not the fucking prequels which insults you with a lot of heavy-handed ideas about politics and other kinds of bullshit.

    • I have no issue with it being long. My issue was that I could tell it was. For me Luke and Rey spend too much time on the island. Several of their interactions in the first half do little to move their story forward. And I don’t mind stories branching out. I kinda like that. But aside from some logical gaps, I felt the whole Casino world mission was the weakest part of the film and it did no favors to the Finn character. And the excess of the ‘haves’ is a nice touch, but the glaringly obvious CGI space horses were too much for me.

      All of that aside, I think the film deserves a lot more credit than some are giving it. It’s one heck of a ride.

  3. Nice review Keith. I really enjoyed The Last Jedi. I liked The Force Awakens, but that film was essentially a remake of the original. Although Last Jedi does cobble some parts from both Empire and Return of the Jedi, its plot feels more original than TFA and its ending more deserved. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next installment.

    • Just got back from seeing it a second time. I still by my criticisms but I found them to be less of an issue. There are a couple of story questions I simply can’t reconcile (plotholes perhaps), but overall it is even better a second time through.

  4. I don’t hate it but I was a bit disappointed . I was not completely on board with the story of Luke at all . Having said that , Hamill acts with relish and saves it for me . I was frustrated with the Snoke story and the mystery we were led to believe from Awakens and then just tossed aside . Then Rey’s parents were just a bunch of addicts more or less . Ok , I can live with that but once again , I think there is clear continuity issues from Awakens . But it also appears that there really was no mapping out a basic 3 stage story arc and it’s flying by the seat of its pants .
    Then the introduction of Rose was like why ? I didn’t find her compelling at all and the whole Casino scene seemed pointless and was cringeworthy during the stupid chase scene . I also was not pleased with the new Admiral justing showing up and I found her annoying. Her sacrifice meant nothing to me , it should have been Admiral Ackbar and would have given fans a hero we knew and felt something for , instead of just killing him off screen . Another scene I was like what , was Mary Poppins in space with Leia . Where I was sitting there were a few other fans that chuckled as well . Then that General Hux , was he like comic relief or what.
    It was too long , some of the humor was dumb and poor Finn and Poe . Poe came across as an idiot and Finn was underused. Plus another irritant, could we not have had at least a memorial of some kind for Hans . I would have preferred that instead of the casino scene .
    What saved the movie for me was Hamill , Driver and Ridley . All stellar performances. So my score runs like this 6 for the movie, 9 for the performances mentioned with an average of 7.5 .

    • Thanks for the thoughts. TLJ definitely has a lot to unpack. Just a few things: I liked the Luke angle simply because it showed a deep scarred humanity to him. I like how it subverted expectations of him as legendary THE Jedi master. The Snoke story is a puzzling one. I’m not sure if Snoke simply doesn’t fit into Johnson’s vision. I do like how it propelled Kylo (who I think is the most compelling character in the new series). Also, I really like that Rey isn’t linked to Han, Luke, or Leia. I think having her parents who they are could have some serious impact. I liked Rose better the second time I saw the film. Not an exciting character though. And I absolutely agree about the Casino world chase scene. Ugh. Also agree about Laura Dern’s character just popping up and suddenly given command. It seemed completely out of the blue. I did appreciate her sacrifice, but 100% agree about Akhbar. Hasn’t he done enough to deserve command??? And How about this: Why didn’t the Admiral tell Poe about their plan? She kept it hidden from him which led to a mutiny. Think about it. If she had told Poe when he repeatedly asked about a plan Finn and Rose wouldn’t have sought a codebreaker, wouldn’t have met DJ, and wouldn’t have been betrayed. The transport ships could have made it to the planet. Also the mutiny slowed down the transport launch enabling the First Order to get the information and blow several transports out of the air. Anyway…I actually like Hux. I find him a punching bag but also a bit maniacal. I like the struggle between his militaristic vision and the Sith’s. Also as a Han guy I would have loved to see a little more of a tribute. The dice were a nice touch though.

      Anyway, such fun talking about these movies.

      • I think at the end of the day , this movie will leave many hardcore fans very unsatisfied . My problem with Hux is he felt like almost a different character than compared to Awakens . The dice were a nice subtle touch but man , one of most iconics Star Wars and sci-fi characters and no a proper salute still gnaws at me . I really wanted to love this movie but I really think Johnson could have introduced some new twist without deconstructing much of the mythology of Star Wars. I think this movie will end up tied with Revenge of the Sith in my Star Wars list , the best of the prequels . I will say my excitement for the next one has been dampened but wait and see JJ correct some of what I think were misfires by Johnson .

      • It’s definitely been interesting watching the range of opinions. I did think about something. Wasn’t Akhbar killed in the incident that incapacitated Leia? That would explain why he wasn’t given command. It was a bummer that he was basically killed off-screen.

  5. I definitely agree that the movie was slow getting its footing. The A, B, and C plots were totally obvious and the C plot (Finn & Rose at the casino) was kindof pointless. Although I did think the film was remarkably shot and I truly appreciated the story. I enjoyed TFA more, but I think TLJ is a better film for its originality among other things. Great review!

  6. Awesome review Keith, I feel you pretty much nail the head on ‘The Last Jedi’. I’m supportive of some of the creative risks Johnson took (and that’s certainly needed in any long-running franchise) but part of me does feel that ‘The Force Awakens’ was stronger overall.

    There were some incredible visual treats but I’m with you on the pacing, it felt like there at times momentum was gathering only to be lost in the next moment – the Finn/Rose side mission didn’t help (glad someone else thought the CGI chase was a bit off). Also, some of the humour felt forced and unnecessary (could this be the Disney effect? The same thing seems to bother me with the Marvel films), in the original trilogy those moments were actually funny and never felt out of place but not so much here.

    All in all, an interesting, often exciting approach but I look forward to J.J. Abrams’ return for Episode IX.

    • Thanks Chris! Definitely some pacing issues and some logic problems that I just couldn’t reconcile. Still a good installment. And I’ll give it credit, I did seem to enjoy it even more during my second viewing.

      • What were your thoughts on the Luke treatment. It seems many people were upset at how he was written. Personally I liked it. It showed the humanity of Luke. And since Jedi are taught to suppress emotion, it makes sense for him to cut himself off from the force considering the deep emotional impact of what he faced.

      • I too was fine with it Keith, we’d already had Luke’s journey as a hero in the original trilogy and I felt it was right to do something surprising and unexpected with him. As you point out the way he was depicted in TLJ made him more human and relatable…even a Jedi can be fallible and have regrets.

      • Exactly. And it goes hand-in-hand with his statements that there were problems with the Jedi’s way of doing things. He experienced it first-hand.

  7. Much has been written concerning Lukes journey in this movie but the only thing that saves this whole thing for me was the force of Hamill’s performance. He comes across as coward, selfish and woe is me at the beginning. By cutting himself off from his sister , friends etc… more or less by running from the mess he made . Now Johnson has every right to take him there , its his story but for me it doesn’t fit right with the Luke of the past . I have zero issue with him being conflicted , guilt ridden etc.. but that whole story felt off . Hamill even felt so , although he has back tracked .

    But I will attempt going forward to stop thinking about it because the more I do sit around with other Star Wars fans , the more we begin to really pick it apart lol . But that is the passion of fans concerning anything I guess .

    • That’s interesting. I never saw him as a coward or selfish. I saw as broken and disillusioned. I saw him as someone who was overwhelmed by the emotions of the situation he endured. And since the archaic Jedi system he had been taught in failed him, he cuts himself off from the force. I really liked the mental and emotional complexity he’s fighting.

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