This will be a straight up “Star Wars Ep VIII The Last Jedi,” post and that’s it. There will be spoilers but they will all be here in this post and nothing else added on. I want to make sure I review this movie alone without any other content. If you are trying to avoid spoilers you can just skip this review and you won’t be missing any other content.
That being said, there will be spoilers all over this thing so stay away if you don’t want to read my untethered fan ramblings on this movie.
Also, If you want to keep it unspoiled, for goodness sakes, it’s January. Go see it already.
“Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” is on track to claim a place as my Favorite Star Wars Movie, which is saying a lot since I have watched the original trilogy, countless times as a child and adult.
So, What is so great about “The Last Jedi?”
So very much. It isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination but, to me, its failures are so completely annihilated by its successes that I forget all about its weaknesses. For a time.
My favorite thing about the movie is The Force.
To me, the force is what makes “Star Wars” distinct from other Sci-Fi stories or films. It is the power wielded only by a few which has a tremendously tempting nature to use it for evil. Even when Luke is being trained on Dagoba, he faces the temptation to the dark side with no influence from and Sith at all. The force itself is the temptation.
The main conflict of the “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” is not whether a new Death Star will be built (though that is certainly a concern), but whether a man, Darth Vader, who has succumbed to the dark side of the force, can come back, and whether his son, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, “Star Wars: A New Hope”) can resist the temptation to despair at his friends inevitable death and join the Dark Side.
The Climax of that film centers on this battle: Luke strides in confidently, knowing he will never turn to the dark side, but when confronted with the prospect that the next person Darth Vader will target is his sister, he taps into the dark side to defeat his father. Only at that moment does he realize he is about to become the new Darth Vader and he throws away his lightsaber.
Vader, on the other hand, sees that his son has mercy on him and that the Emperor intends to torture him to death. He realizes that he can save his son in a desperate act which defeats the Emperor and allows him one chance before he dies to see his son face to face for the first time.
But with the prequels, (or the films that shall not be named), the force has been not only demystified, it has become almost a passive, universal presence in the Star Wars universe. It’s more akin to magic than what it was in the original trilogy.
People wield it like it is nothing. It takes little effort to resist the dark side. We are introduced to countless Jedi who are never even confronted with the temptation to the dark side at all. The one person who is, Anakin (Hayden Christensen, ”Jumper”) , succumbs to it so willingly that I wouldn’t even say he attempts to fight it at all. It is just a one way ticket down the hill steadily throughout Episodes 2 and 3.
There is no tension about what he will choose or whether he will take others with him because everyone’s decisions seem to have been made a long time ago.
In “The Force Awakens,” we have the start of a return to the Force working the way it used to work. Fewer users, for one, but it still isn’t seen as a real temptation to Rey, the main character.
In “Last Jedi”, however, the Force is back in Star Wars.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, “Silence”), Rey (Daisy Ridley, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”), and Luke all struggle with the force. While they are practitioners and even masters of the force, this does not make them invulnerable. On the contrary, The more powerful they are, the more tempting it seems to be.
Kylo is tempted at times to join the light side but also to betray Snoke (Andy Serkis, “Black Panther”), which he ultimately does, and Rey is tempted to give in to the dark side in order to find her place and a teacher which has been denied her up till this point. Luke has been tempted to kill his student because he senses the dark side in him and is so afraid of it that he has closed himself to the force completely, abandoning everyone he loves because of his fear.
These internal conflicts are the most compelling thing in Star Wars, as far as I’m concerned. I will gladly trade seeing new alien races and planets for new levels of internal struggle any day.
As long as I’m already kind of discussing them, I might as well get into the next thing that I love about this movie. The characters.
There are a lot of characters in this film that I like, so I am going to go down the list and highlight the stand- outs.
Rey. Rey was kind of interesting to me in the last movie but in this film her character really develops into someone I like and want to see more from. Seeing her desire for a teacher and an understanding of her history to help her know who she is and where she fits in the universe is really compelling, especially as she finds out that she really comes from nothing at the same moment as she is being offered acceptance from Kylo Ren. For a moment there I thought she was going to go to the dark side.
I’m really interested to see where she goes in the next movie since Luke is now gone and there really is no one to teach her, unless he force ghosts to teach her.
Also, Daisy Ridley really shines in this role. She has some more interesting acting work to do in this film, especially opposite Adam Driver, who we will get to in a moment. She has to simultaneously play the naive learner to Luke as well as the confidant threshold guardian to Kylo Ren. That complexity is very well portrayed by her. Then she sees that Ren, who she thought had turned from the dark to the light, has not turned, she pleads, “Don’t do this,” and I felt like crying with her, it was so moving.
The next character is Kylo Ren. Ren is really the star of the show for me. He’s the most compelling character and seems to answer a question that was never really asked in the previous versions of Star Wars. If we know what being tempted by the dark side looks like, what about being tempted by the light? Or another way, when Luke senses good in his father, Darth Vader, what is he talking about?
Kylo Ren is so incredibly conflicted about who he is and the things he is doing that, when he yells things like “I am a monster,” one wonders whether he means it and is proud, is just fronting and trying to convince himself, or is saying it out of guilt. We see a character who thinks he is rejecting the dark side as well as the light side, thinking he is doing something unique and unseen but in the end simply succumbs to the temptations of the dark side to rule and destroy.
To top it all off, Adam Driver is impossibly powerful in the role. When he asks Rey to come with him, tells her that she is nothing but he doesn’t see her that way, you get the feeling that, unlike the Emperor or Snoke who deceive people into the dark side, He really means it and is appealing to his true feelings as a way of not bringing her to the dark side, but just to his side which happens to be dark.
Next on the character rundown is Luke Skywalker. Many people are bothered by how different he feels from the original trilogy. I couldn’t disagree more. He feels to me like a very natural outgrowth of the person he was in the previous films. A man who succumbed to temptation once and is torn apart by it and what it cost. Someone who knows the folly of the Jedi and is disillusioned but not beyond hope.
Rey reaches out to him and opens the door for his old master, Yoda to teach a final lesson, which inspires him to take a final stand, not in a way that would force him to kill but in a way that allows him to help yet not compromise his conviction without being absent completely and just bowing out of saving the ones he loves.
Since I just mentioned Yoda, I loved seeing him as a puppet and acting like the old Yoda, making jokes and teaching in a simultaneously lighthearted but serious way. He’s nothing like in the prequels where he always seems so serious and almost never joyful. Like being a Jedi is boring and no fun. This Yoda felt like the Yoda I thought was so funny when I was young and grew up loving.
Next, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Annihilation) is finally a character I care about. When Force Awakens came out, I got a little excited when I kept seeing Lego and other toys that featured him. After all, the dogfighting in space was always pretty cool and one of my favorite aspects of Star Wars.
But then the movie came out and I felt like I got to know next to nothing about him. He seemed like a glorified plot device to tell Finn’s story. But in this film their roles are reversed and I finally get to know Poe and watch him grow from a brash, shoot first, hotdog flying ace to the sort of leader about whom Leia (Carrie Fisher, “Blues Brother”) can say, “follow him.”
His story is really compelling to me and I don’t know if that’s because his story seems to be about a more subtle lesson that appeals to my maturing (read growing older) taste and feelings about life.
Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), is the only new character I’m going to mention just because I really found her to be a breath of fresh air. Her stalwart dedication to the resistance and disdain for cowardice and greed were basically absent from the force awakens but, especially playing opposite Finn (John Boyega, Pacific Rim: Uprising), she just seemed like the right amount of sweet and salty to go with a sour character like Finn who has never appealed much to me .
The last character I’m going to highlight is General Leia. Not because I found her character interesting but because of Carrie Fisher’s passing. As a little boy, I didn’t identify with Leia as a character and never grew up to care for her the way I did Han Solo. When Carrie Fisher died, I didn’t feel the pang of sadness that many did.
But somehow in this movie, even though at the time of filming no one knew she would be passing, Rian Johnson has managed to say goodbye to her in a way that I found especially moving and helped me realize how much she would be missed, and how much of a contribution she made to the film series that basically defined my childhood.
When Luke says goodbye to her, and the camera lowers and the sun shines behind her, I felt like I was saying goodbye.
The Light Side
Another thing I loved about this film were the themes that were presented. I loved the lesson that Poe and Rose teach, that the Resistance needs more than heroes. It needs people who will continue to hope and do the thankless hard day-to-day work that must be done, though it receives no fanfare or medal as its reward.
In an age where we disdain anything older than five years, and anything that happened in a year with 19 in its first two digits is regarded as ancient history, I appreciate that this film, while not chaining itself to a sense of absolute adherence to the past, still respects it and wants to learn from and honor it. Rey may not feel like she needs to learn on the Jedi Island anymore, and Luke may feel like the Jedi Tree stands for a corrupt and mistaken order, but they both still want to save the Jedi texts, and respect and listen to their masters’ words, if not always following them to the letter.
The last theme that I was surprised to see was in Poe’s story. Respect authority. In a film that centers on a Resistance/Rebellion, a large part of this movie is dedicated to the idea that there is a difference between the evil that the First Order represents which must be resisted and the frustration that leadership dynamics may cause but are not evil and should not be resisted in the same way.
This is such a subtle thing for a film like Star Wars to tackle and one that I think is born of the age we live in where many feel a tremendous distrust of all authority based solely on the fact that it is authority at the same time as many feel like they should obey authority even when it is patently evil. (read into this what you will)
With this conflict in our culture, it is refreshing to see a mainstream blockbuster release that tries to hold up balance as the standard, calling the lock steppers to hold their authority figures accountable and being willing to rebel if necessary, and calling the anarchist authority hating cynics to follow those authorities who may know things we don’t.
The last thing I want to praise about ”Last Jedi” is the Cinematography. This movie is simply gorgeous to watch. Every few minutes there is a shot that could have been a movie poster or even an art print on your wall.
I especially love some of the climactic sequences of the film. When Luke walks out of those giant doors, red dirt scars on the ground and blaster fires burning, it looks like a shot straight out of Kurosawa’s “Ran.” In fact I think Rian Johnson’s love of Kurosawa is on display all over this film. The way Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker’s backstory is told is very reminiscent of “Rashomon.” His use of background and foreground action is stylistically similar to Kurosawa, and the fight between the guards and Rey and Kylo feels like classic Samurai cinema.
As brilliantly classic as some of the cinematography, it is also very innovative. The mirror sequence in the cave, the bomber run which opens the film, and the light speed collision are all imaginatively modern and only possible with today’s technology and a vision that seeks to build on the entire history of film technique rather than simply mimic it.
The Dark Side
This is not all to say that the film is flawless. In fact, it has some pretty large weaknesses, in my opinion, and even more weaknesses in other nerdfans’ opinion.
The first major weakness I want to highlight is the most complained about thing online as well- the Casino planet subplot. It is woefully boring and the preachiest part of the film.
Many fans complain that this subplot doesn’t work because it has no real consequences in the movie since the plan doesn’t work, but that is the one part of it I do like. One of the themes of the film is that heroics don’t always win the day. In order for that lesson to be felt, heroics have to fail. When people complain about this, I think the thing they are really complaining about, but maybe aren’t articulating well, is that they don’t like the theme of the movie. I do.
My problems with this sequence are more about the nature of the casino world itself. It just seems unimaginative and mundane. Because of this, it doesn’t seem to jive with the rest of the film which is so creative. Instead, the casino feels like it was filmed at the wizarding world of Harry Potter. The casino looks remarkably like a Vegas casino and Finn is inexplicably smitten by it, seemingly, simply to allow Rose to pontificate about arms dealing.
Speaking of which, Rose says that the only business that gets people this rich is dealing weapons. Really? That is a super weird economy. I understand that weapons dealing might make you rich, but I suspect the casino owners, or the trade federation, or the banking clan, or any number of other industries would make plenty of money. What a weird view of the Star Wars universe. All rich people got that way by being evil.
This sort of reductionistic storytelling leads to one of my least favorite moments in the film. The hacker telling Rose that the Rebellion buys weapons from the same people as the empire does. Her being blown away by this made her appear almost stupid to me. Also, and this is my larger issue, the director tells this instead of showing it.
It’s not unbelievable that Rose and Finn might have found an arms dealer that was willing to help them who they later saw dealing with both rebels and the empire. The key word in that sentence being “saw.” It is always more interesting to see something happen rather than have it told straight to a character, but that leaves room for ambiguity and interpretation, and here is no room for that when a director wants to preach rather than persuade or entertain.
The other issues I had with the film are smaller. The first is Leia’s force resurrection. I just don’t buy it. Surviving the vacuum of space is just stretching it for me. Maybe if the scene had been edited to imply a shorter period of time spent in open space I could have bought in a little harder, but then there is the CGI in that scene. It just looks bad, and Leia flying to the door seems so poorly composited and imaged that it almost looks cartoonish.
The last of my issues is the sense of humor in the film. This is super nitpick. Star Wars isn’t a comedy series. It has comedic elements but the humor is always born of one of the characters being funny.
The humor in “Empire Strikes Back” for example, is because Han and Leia are uncomfortable stating their feelings, and keep clumsily trying to push each other in their own ways. When they finally kiss, 3PO, who has no understanding of tender moments and is a chronic interrupter, breaks the mood with what he thinks is great news but couldn’t be further from the humans’ minds. The director isn’t telling a joke for the sake of making the audience laugh, though that does happen. He’s letting a scene play out the way those characters would act.
In “Last Jedi,” I felt that the humor bordered on being a skit at times. Poe’s opening transmission to Hux (Domhall Gleeson, Ex Machina) could be an SNL sketch, and it seems like every time the movie has you feeling trepidation, or tender, or angry, it cracks a joke at you. I’ve heard some people say that they love the way the director breaks up the tension with the humor, but I don’t want that in my Star Wars. Are we afraid to feel or something? Would the duel at the end of Return of the Jedi be better if after going ham on Darth Vader, Luke had said, “How do you like them space apples?”
The humor just seemed off to me. But that is a major nitpick so try not to hate me for it.
Fandom and Religion
So the last thing I want to do in this review is address some of the internet fan complaints and comment a little on internet fandom and fan ownership of Intellectual Properties.
One of the complaints that I’ve heard is that the film seems oddly structured. One of my best friends feels that the fight following the death of Snoke should have been the climax of the film and wants it to come later in the movie. Obviously, I disagree. If Rey is the only main character in the film, then he is sort of right. But she isn’t.
Kylo Ren is as much a main character as she is, and even her character arc for the film isn’t really over after that fight. If you want a cliffhanger for the next film, sure. This is where you put it. But this is a film, not the season finale of a TV show. The death of Snoke and the temptation to go with Ren is, in writer’s terms, the ordeal or belly of the beast, not the moment of resurrection. That is when Rey realizes her true place as a Jedi and opens the path for the rebels using the force. She literally rescues them with the elixir she received from Luke Skywalker.
Ren’s story is more complicated because he is the antagonist, but follows some of the same structure and killing Snoke is not his climax either. Snoke is NOT his greatest obstacle. His past is. His old Master is. Luke Skywalker is. He finally becomes the dark lord he has been seeking to be by standing against his master and refusing to forgive him. This has to happen for him to complete his journey in this film.
All of this only works for me because we see so much more of Ren’s inner life than we ever did of Darth Vader’s. Where Darth Vader is a straight up Antagonist, Kylo Ren is more of an AntiProtagonist. I know. I’m playing word games but I think it is an important distinction and I needed a different word than Anti-Hero because Ren isn’t that.
Another gripe fans have with the movie is that Luke doesn’t feel like the hero he was in the original trilogy. I already said a little about this but in answer to this complaint I’ll go further so get your fan and nerd rage comments ready. I’m saying it. Luke Skywalker wasn’t a good character in the original trilogy. He passed for one because of the time Star Wars was released but, by today’s standards, he is a 2-dimensional hero.
If he had been a monolith of good in this film, never doubting the force or people’s motivations, we would have been bored out of our minds. The most interesting characters get more complicated as they grow, not less. I like this Luke far more than I ever liked the guy who blew up the death star and cried more after an old guy he picked up in the desert earlier that day died than when he saw his adopted mother and father of 18 years, burnt to a crisp.
Another complaint I’ve seen online is that the movie doesn’t answer two big questions. Who is Snoke? And who are Rey’s parents? “The Force Awakens” builds up these questions to be the keys to knowing what is going on in the Star Wars universe and how after “Return of the Jedi,” the First Order came to power and what happened with Luke. There’s just one problem though.
It’s not true. There is zero teasing about Rey’s parents in that movie. Not once does anyone question who Snoke is in that film. “The Force Awakens” never asked or teased or built up those questions. The internet did. Buzzfeed did. Fan forums did. Reddit did. Just because you want to know how something happened doesn’t mean anyone has an obligation to tell you or that it would even be a good idea. Remember when everyone wanted to know how Darth Vader fell from being a Jedi to a Sith Lord or what the Old Republic was and how it fell? Getting answers to those questions was boring and I’m not convinced that this would have been very different.
People complain that Snoke was in one movie then died in the next and the same for Phasma (Gwendoline Christie, The Darkest Minds). What a waste they say. The Emperor is barely in “Empire” and dies in the next movie. Same for Boba Fett. I don’t understand why people are so upset about it.
I have a theory and it is only a theory, but I think that there are fans who are more in love with the idea of the Star Wars universe, more than they are with the Star Wars films. They lack any sort of objectivity and need the films to reflect their own idea of what the larger Star Wars concept entails. They are as big of fans of books that were written haphazardly under a liberal license agreement, and video games that are not canon, and toys that were churned out faster than the Star Wars Christmas Special. The very idea that people think there needs to be something called Canonical Star Wars is ludicrous to me and belies the real issue.
The word canon originally meant rule and was classically used in reference to the Bible to call out which books were “Canonical” or binding or the rule we measure other writings and traditions by. It is a religious term. And the problem I see in the fan communities reaction to “The Last Jedi” is that people have made Star Wars into a religion. When a new movie comes out they all become canon lawyers and theologians, judging what in the film adheres to the ancient way established in the late 1970’s by the messiah George Lucas and the apostles Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand, Dave Filoni, and J. J. Abrams.
Religion is meant to stay the same over time, to preserve and hold true to a tradition. Art should grow and evolve as the culture around it does. Stories should comment anew on the society which tells them and when fans stop treating Star Wars like a great story or film and start treating it like a Religion, they doom it to stagnation and obscurity, betraying the very thing they love.
So I hope you enjoyed my longest dissection of a film thus far. I’m sure you have your own thoughts and I would love to hear them and discuss them with you.
This Review is taken from Episode 6 of the True Myth Media podcast.
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