I’m guessing you all have been content over on the Spoil Sports article which would explain why no one has written a review yet (this will be spoiler free unless you are trying to, like me, avoid all information about it), but I feel this is a film that is calling for one. I won’t pretend I’m a completely unbiased person on the matter Star Wars, but I do hesitate to call myself a fan. I like the films (well five of them anyway with a sixth I think of as rising to “fine”) but would hesitate to call myself a fan (I’m more a Rian Johnson fan). I’ve seen the original trilogy maybe twice and no other film in the series more than once. It wasn’t even until I rewatched The Empire Strikes Back a couple years ago that I even thought of one of them as rising above merely good (Return of the Jedi on the other hand did not age well from my childhood memories).
I say all this because when I criticize or praise something related to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I do so not out of the way it affected or affirmed my fandom or ruined my childhood, but simply the way I’d treat any other film. Also, I say all this because for better or worse, I dread dealing with the comments “correcting” me for better or worse even more than I did with Coco (my fears there proving mostly unfounded so thank you and I mean that sincerely). Also, while I know there was a backlash, I have done 0 research into it to avoid clouding my review and also because I frankly don’t want to learn anything about it.
With that nonsense out of the way, onto the actual movie. The previous “proper” film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was a fun film which lived up to the legacy of the original trilogy, but it hasn’t exactly stuck in my head and there was certainly room to build off it and improve it the way Empire did to A New Hope and Attack of the Clones failed miserably to do to The Phantom Menace. To my delight, The Last Jedi did just that. To my dismay, that wasn’t the entirety to The Last Jedi. It really did come across as three films which succeeded or failed to various degrees and to which I feel it is best to discuss the film in each of those segments. Three segments that are neatly divided into the three protagonists of this trilogy; Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron.
Might as well start off with the best and most perfectly executed section of film. Daisy Ridley is just as good as Rey as she was in The Force Awakens and her arc is well rounded as she is tempted by the light and dark side, deals with her parentage in an extremely satisfying manner, and she gets all the best character interactions both with Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker who I’d be fine giving at least an Oscar nomination to (he really does get all the heavy lifting to do in the acting department and is also the funniest lead) and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. Driver was a laughable villain in The Force Awakens, a goofy Darth Vader fanboy who had all the menace of a puppy and brought down the entire film.
I won’t say he’s won me over here and Domhnall Gleeson is still the far superior villain as the sniveling weaselly general who seems straight out of a movie featuring Nazis (which considering the Nazi parallels of the Empire is a perfect move), but his moments with Rey make the best use of his talents and allow him to stretch his range as we see him grappling with his place in the force and the expectations set on him thanks to his grandfather. Snoke still feels straight out of a Marvel movie (not a complement) but at least now feels like a true part of the movie whose existence is crucial to Rey and Kylo Ren’s arcs. This section has just the right amount of building off the teases of the last film and answers enough of the questions all while still setting up the next film in a way that leaves me excited to see what comes next. It feels simultaneously complete and another chapter in an epic story.
Now we move on from the part that justifies that excitement for the movie to the part that is a mess. It’s a plot that can’t decide if it wants to be the lighthearted comic relief or the serious message part of the film. Finn gets a new partner in Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico who’s fine and all, but the two don’t play off each other as well as the film thinks it does leaving the culmination unsatisfying. I got the feeling that the writers are still unsure what they want to do with Finn’s character leaving him with fragments of certain personalities, but none feel all that developed. They also get a number of big, unmemorable action scenes which read entirely as filler. Benicio del Toro is simultaneously a distracting scenery chewer and the one bit of life to these scenes and one day I will be able to tell you if I liked him and his role in it or felt he was overdoing it (I’m leaning heavily to the former).
Poe Dameron or Star Wars: Battlestar Galactica
Good lord was this section interminable. It really did read like an episode of BSG with it featuring counts of how many people were left, a small contingent of resistance to those who won the war, a large main ship with smaller ones in support (on both sides), space battles including plenty between fighters, lots of arguing amongst each other about the proper course of action and of course a reckless pilot beloved by the general who recognizes their true potential and has to learn to learn what it takes to be a leader (Starbuck/Poe). While this may sound like a complement since for the better part of three seasons BSG was great, I’d like to draw attention to the word “seasons”.
None of the characters feel nearly as rounded as those in the Rey section with Leia existing as little more than a tribute to how awesome Carrie Fisher is as if they are afraid of portraying her as anything less than purity personified. Laura Dern’s character felt like a half-baked Laura Roslin stand-in whose character we are told far more about than we see. Also, as people aren’t likely to forget, that show was pretty uneven, and this feels like one of the more groanworthy episodes. For much of this plotline, we are stuck in a bombardment sequence that felt merely like killing time until the other plots could catch up and had me wishing that it had been left on the cutting room floor, a decision to include as much of it as they did feeling at times like an attempt to use every bit of Fisher footage they had without regards to pacing.
But, and this is a big but, for all the film’s faults, they know how to tie shit together. All the plots, for as much as the latter two plots feel like they are stalling for Rey and company, do all connect in the end in a way that feels natural and in the benefit of all three main stories. The final sequences maintain the second episode excitement and darkness of Empire and left me overall feeling satisfied. The film also tones down the references of The Force Awakens, which in that film left me far more annoyed by the clearly inserted moments of [insert cheers of OT fans here] than the A New Hope parallels (I was generally fine with them and found them overstated by OT fans). In fact, they did far more with using those memories to subvert our expectations than in following the plot beats (it might have taken more from Return of the Jedi). The Last Jedi wasn’t trying to be Empire, it just saw what Empire did in the broadest terms and proceeded from there without worrying about having to win over fans put off by the prequels. It had them hook, line, and sinker.
So, I guess after all that, where does The Last Jedi fall in the series ranking and where do I fall on the movie as a whole? The answer to both is truly “I don’t know”. I will say to the movie’s favor that Rey’s plotline may be the best the series has been, there’s something unquantifiable that makes this feel like the biggest film to date, and this is the first film in the series that has me interested in rewatching it, but there is way too much filler for me to think too highly of the film as a whole. Still, I enjoyed myself and what more can you ask of a film?
A Few Vague but Spoiler-y Things That Annoyed Me
- Captain Phasma really is the Boba Fett of these films in every manner from look to how little she does compared to her reputation. Gwendoline Christie makes the most of her role at least.
- That moment that Leia floats through space made me want to throw things at the screen.
- The Porgs are both not as bad as advertised nor as cute as they are supposed to be. They feel like a Disney attempt at making their own Minions (based entirely on the commercials) but they do contribute to a fantastic and pleasantly dark scene with Chewie early on that put a smile on my face.
- Stop saying BB-8’s name so much. You made a likable robot that looks cool and gets a lot of awesome moments, you don’t have to say BB-8’s name repeatedly until it loses all meaning and my mind starts drifting to wondering how much BB-8 merchandise they have to push. Don’t make me think of how accurate Spaceballs still is during your epic film.
- Nothing about Yoda annoyed me, but I want to keep his presence buried here in the spoiler section. It was a small, powerful, and funny appearance that was crucial to Luke’s arc.