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The Last Jedi (Star Wars - Episode VIII) - Movies

Title: The Last Jedi

Director: Rian Johnson

Release Date: December 15, 2017

Timeline: 66 years after The Phantom Menace; 30 years after Return of the Jedi

Additional Reference: 34 years after A New Hope

Runtime: 152 minutes

Credits: Review & Text: Mike Taber; Page layout & Design: Chuck Paskovics

This is a full review. Spoiler warning applies...

Review | Talking Points | Discussion

Just breathe.

Review

 "See you around, kid." SPOILERS.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi will go down as the most divisive Star Wars film to date. I think this film will create more divisions within fandom than The Force Awakens or even the prequels. The inevitable divisions and heated arguments are unfortunate, because Star Wars is what brought us all together in the first place. As good as some of the subsequent films in the saga have been, nothing will recapture the magic of the Original Trilogy. Accepting that allowed me to find even more enjoyment in the other films, from The Phantom Menace to The Last Jedi. This film isn't perfect and even contains some of the saga’s most ridiculous moments, but I couldn’t help but fall in love with parts of it and walked out of the theater with a giant smile on my face. The Last Jedi as a whole is inconsistent and was occasionally frustrating, but I loved or enjoyed so many individual moments and scenes that the film worked for me in the end. R2-D2 replaying Leia’s “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi” message for Luke. Yoda’s return and conversation with Luke. Rey and Kylo’s battle with the Praetorian Guards. Snoke’s death. Luke and Leia’s reunion. Holdo’s hyperspace jump. Luke walking out to face the First Order and brushing aside their bombardment. Rey coming to terms with the identity of her parents. Luke staring at the twin suns in his final moments. As I was walking out of the theater, I was continuously replaying these moments in my head. Honestly, that didn’t really happen with The Force Awakens and the fact that I was so moved by and invested in these moments demonstrates Rian Johnson’s ability to create memorable and wonderful Star Wars moments. While Rian Johnson struggled with pacing and the plot at times, his direction produced some truly beautiful images and moments. This is a gorgeous film. While we’re discussing the more technical aspects of the film, I want to highlight John Williams’ score. Williams’ score for The Last Jedi is a wonderful mix of old and new. It’s the best score of the Disney era. Never doubt the master. I don’t want to dwell on The Force Awakens in a review of its sequel, but the two films are so closely linked. My main issue with The Force Awakens is not the rehashed story, but the haphazard world building and how it returns the galaxy to the status quo of the Original Trilogy (evil empire vs. heroic rebels). The relationship between the First Order, Resistance, and the Republic was never clearly defined and becomes even more distracting in The Last Jedi. So the First Order destroyed the Republic capital and then the Resistance destroyed Starkiller base. When The Last Jedi begins, the First Order has a massive fleet and appears to be the dominant galactic power and the fleeing Resistance has 400 people and a few ships. The capital may have been destroyed, but if the Republic was a galaxy wide government then why wouldn’t there be some remnant of it out there in the galaxy besides the resistance? Yes, this may very well be minutia and nitpicking on my part, but reducing the Resistance to 400 and eventually 20 people makes the galaxy feel incredibly small. It all feels like a forced, convenient, and artificial way of returning to tried and true Empire vs. Rebels set up. Heading into The Last Jedi, a lot of fans were concerned that it would be a “rehash” of The Empire Strikes Back. The film actually shares several similarities with both The Empire Strikes Back (Jedi training, walker assault, splitting up the main characters) and Return of the Jedi (throne room, apprentice kills master, guards with red armor), but it isn’t a simple rehash. Instead, the film simultaneously uses these familiar elements to capture the feeling of Star Wars and subvert expectations. Despite these familiar elements, Johnson’s film took risks with story and character and pushed the saga forward. It didn’t always work, but I am far more interested in ambition than perfection.

   

Johnson’s ambition can be seen in how he handled the Force in this film. Expanding the abilities of the Force can be dangerous because it can be seen as “breaking the rules” or undermine decades of mythology. Regarding the Force, Johnson definitely missed the mark in some moments but his willingness to expand its definition and depict an evolution at least demonstrates a unique vision. Luke’s force projection seems outlandish until you remember that this saga already has Force ghosts. The idea of a “Force projection” works for me and provided a powerful and emotionally resonant end to Luke’s journey in the film. Yoda’s return in Force ghost form might be my favorite moment in the film and I almost jumped out of my seat in excitement. The puppet looked great and Frank Oz was as good as ever in his return to the character. Yoda is my favorite character and as happy as I was to see him, his appearance had to matter. Thankfully, Yoda’s conversation with Luke not only mattered but was integral to Luke’s development and the film’s central themes of letting go and learning from failure. Yoda’s interactions with the physical world also represent an expansion and evolution of the Force, but are still rooted in the familiar. If Obi-Wan’s ghost can sit on a log in the Original Trilogy, then Yoda can hit Luke on the head in this film. Yoda summoning lightning to burn down the tree is greater departure, but it didn’t feel like a gratuitous or irresponsible expansion of the Force. In the end, it was an important moment for Luke and may even represent how Yoda’s knowledge has expanded since becoming one with the Force. As a part of the living Force, Yoda would also know that Rey had removed the ancient Jedi texts from the tree. This is further reinforced by his “she has everything she needs” line. Yoda burning down the tree was a symbolic gesture meant to push Luke’s journey forward. Unfortunately, not all of the expansions of the Force were successful. We have to talk about Leia going full Mary Poppins and flying through space. I’m thrilled that we finally saw Leia use the Force onscreen, but why did it have to be that? That moment elicited audible laughter in my theater, and I don’t think that was the intention. Although I am glad Leia survived that moment and went on to reunite with Luke, if that moment was the end of Leia it would have been an acceptable but difficult one. Of course, the situation is further complicated by the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher. I hate fake-out deaths in general and “Mary Poppins” Leia just didn’t work for me. Even worse, that entire situation was completely unnecessary. What was the point of blowing up Leia if she almost completely recovered 30 minutes later? It allowed Admiral Holdo to assume command which in turn set up her conflict with Poe, but that storyline itself is deeply flawed. The emotional core of that moment is Kylo choosing NOT to kill his mother, and his wingman taking the shot feels unnecessary and just caused problems. In addition, that scene further frustrated me with the nonchalant death of Admiral Ackbar. Ackbar may not be a main character, but he is a fan-favorite and his unceremonious death almost felt mean-spirited. Although it gave us “Mary Poppins” Leia, the focus on the Force is one of the film’s strengths. The Force itself is evolving in this film, which is important for the future of the franchise. Of course we need to stay true to the essence of the Force, but if it never evolves we will be stuck in a repetitive loop forever. That’s true for the franchise as a whole too. For those of you who take issue with the repetition of The Force Awakens, would you not describe it as a repetitive loop unwilling to move on from the past? The sequel trilogy has seen the Force awaken and evolve, perhaps finally emerging and recovering from the Dark Times. Johnson also seems to be proposing a more democratized version of the Force where an individual’s importance isn’t tied to their bloodline. Anyone, from the daughter of two random drunks to an orphan on Canto Bight, can be the hero of this story.

   

Continuing the discussion of the Force, let’s move on to Rey and Kylo Ren. The relationship between these two characters is at the heart of the film and it was handled perfectly. Daisy Ridley and particularly Adam Driver were wonderful throughout the film and always made the connection between Rey and Kylo Ren feel genuine. Ridley also had excellent chemistry with Mark Hamill. The scenes with Luke and Rey were well handled for the most part and it was interesting to compare Rey’s training with Luke’s in The Empire Strikes Back. The psychic connection between Rey and Kylo was one of the most surprising and rewarding developments in The Last Jedi. This connection did wonders to develop their characters and effectively depicted their parallel evolution. Both Rey and Kylo Ren are obsessed with the past, perhaps a self-reflexive nod to the nostalgia driven nature of franchise filmmaking. Kylo wants to bury the past by eradicating it but Rey desperately clings to it. Rey eventually realized that she had to let go of her quest to find her parents and embrace the truth that she has always known deep down. I love the reveal that Rey’s parents were two random junk traders who sold her for drinking money. Frankly, it’s the most interesting, realistic, and emotionally honest option. After The Force Awakens, I had no interest in seeing more of Snoke but I really liked his role in The Last Jedi. Serkis was fine in the role and I liked the reveal that it was Snoke who connected Rey and Kylo. Snoke’s plan to exploit that personal connection and draw Rey out very effectively demonstrated his manipulative nature. However, it was Snoke’s death that really worked for me. Killing the main villain with 40 minutes left in the middle chapter was a bold and unexpected choice, but a welcome one. Snoke’s overconfidence was his downfall and the way that Kylo tricked Snoke was very well done. I don’t need everything about Snoke’s past explained, but they probably needed to vaguely explain where he was during Palpatine’s rule and how he rose to power. It could have been done with a line or two of dialogue. Regardless, Snoke’s death opened up the story and was a key moment in the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren. After Snoke’s death, Rey and Kylo teamed up to battle the Praetorian Guards in a stunning and surprisingly violent sequence. It already ranks among the best fight scenes in the saga and Rian Johnson’s direction was impeccable. Kylo’s attempt to convince Rey to join him as ruler of the First Order sounded familiar, but it was so well done and Driver and Ridley were at their best in that scene. I’ll be very interested to see how the relationship between Kylo and Rey evolves moving forward.

   

In all honesty, I have very few complaints about the storyline involving Luke, Rey, Kylo Ren, Snoke, and the Force. The Last Jedi began to falter with the First Order’s pursuit of the Resistance fleet. This convergence of subplots primarily focused on Poe, Finn, Rose, Holdo, and Leia. This portion of the film has great individual moments and introduced some compelling ideas, but I think Johnson lost focus during this part of the film. As a result, it feels over-plotted and is dangerously close to becoming a jumbled mess. The opening scene of the film however was a great start. The Resistance bombers were a great addition and Paige Tico’s sacrifice is one of the most memorable scenes in a film that features the death of Luke Skywalker. These opening moments are a prime example of personal, powerful storytelling that captured the spirit of Star Wars. As enjoyable as the opening scene was, you can see the beginnings of one of the film’s central issues. Hux falling for Poe’s attempt to stall perfectly encapsulates the general incompetence of the First Order in this film. Hux is practically a parody and was really nothing more than a punchline. Once again, Phasma barely registered and really didn’t do anything. She even managed to die the most cliché villain death possible, falling into an explosion. It’s a shame that they wasted an actress as talented as Gwendoline Christie and the fantastic design of Phasma’s armor. I’m not sure if the slow pursuit of the Resistance fleet worked for me either. Why wouldn’t the First Order have a couple of their ships jump into hyperspace to the position directly in front of the Resistance ships? Maybe I’m just overthinking this though. Poe’s stalling routine also shines the light on the humor in this film. Humor is an essential element of Star Wars. It always has been. Some of the attempts at humor in this film like Poe’s General Hugs and your mother jokes or Finn calling Phasma “chrome dome” fell flat. With that being said, they didn’t bother me very much. There were several legitimately funny moments in the film, and humor is essential to the success of Star Wars. Poe being held accountable for his actions and learning to become a leader was an intriguing and compelling storyline for his character, even if they faltered in the execution at times. When you think about it, Poe only had a small part in The Force Awakens so Johnson was given a virtually blank slate to work with. Starting the film with Poe being responsible for the deaths of dozens of Resistance fighters was good idea. It revealed a reckless character with a myopic worldview who had a lot to learn. Poe’s relationship with Leia was the highlight of his story and it was touching to watch Leia carefully push Poe to become a true leader. Poe’s conflict with Admiral Holdo is a real weakness of the film though. It eventually contributed to Poe’s development as a leader, but it was a frustrating addition that proved to be more trouble than it was worth. Why didn’t Holdo tell Poe and the other officers what the plan was? It would have prevented the Canto Bight detour and Poe launching his own plan that ultimately put the Resistance in danger. A military commander doesn’t need to explain everything to those under their command, but when it became clear that Poe would do anything to interfere with Holdo’s plan why didn’t she explain it to him? The deaths of dozens, probably hundreds, of Resistance fighters are on both Poe and Holdo. Although I have some issues with the Holdo character, Laura Dern was pitch perfect in the role and was responsible for one of the best moments in the film. Holdo jumping into hyperspace and destroying the enemy fleet was an absolutely stunning sequence. The amazing visuals coupled with the silence of that moment created an unforgettable scene. The Canto Bight detour is my least favorite portion of the film. It introduced some genuinely compelling ideas but felt disconnected from the rest of the film. In the end, this detour didn’t really connect or add anything of value to the rest of the film. Rose pointing out that once you look below the glitz and glamor of Canto Bight you can see the animal abuse, child labor, and war profiteering in that society  was an effective moment though. In fact, Rose was a great addition to the saga. Kelly Marie Tran gave an excellent performance and was simply delightful. Finn on the other hand was probably the least interesting character in the movie. His transformation from cowardly ex-Stormtrooper to devoted Resistance fighter sounds good on paper but that potential didn’t really come through in the final film. Simply put, Finn’s character arc felt perfunctory more than anything. Finn had some nice moments and Boyega was likable enough, but Finn just isn’t very interesting to me.

   

The battle of Crait provided an exciting and memorable final act. The design of the planet was beautiful, particularly the use of the red dust. As the battle raged, the red dust made it look like the battlefield itself was bleeding. The arrival of the Falcon was a standout moment and I’m glad Chewie got his moment to shine as he piloted the Falcon during the battle. Unfortunately, Chewie wasn’t given very much to do in the film as a whole. The topic of underused character brings me to R2-D2 and C-3PO. The droids have always been the through line of the saga, but they have been relegated to cameos in the sequel trilogy. Listen, I like BB-8 but his presence has ensured that R2-D2 will remain a background prop in this trilogy. In addition to the disappointing use of the droids, it is outrageous that a character as iconic and important as Lando hasn’t even been mentioned. They had the perfect opportunity to include Lando in this film too. Call Lando and have him point the Resistance to Canto Bight instead of Maz. Easy. One aspect of the battle that fell flat for me involved Finn and Rose. When Rose prevented Finn from sacrificing himself, it felt like she undermined Finn’s character arc to a degree. Sacrificing himself for the Resistance would have been an effective if predictable end to Finn’s story, and I don’t really see where they can go with him. Anyway, my main issue was the out-of-nowhere kiss. A romance between Rose and Finn wasn’t even hinted at before that moment. It was unnecessary and forced. In the end, the remaining members of the Resistance escaped aboard the Falcon. I was thrilled to see that Nien Nunb survived and wasn’t unceremoniously killed like Ackbar. The arrival of Luke signaled a shift in the battle, and I have a lot to say about Luke, but first I want to talk about his reunion with Leia. It’s painful to think that we never got to see Han, Luke, and Leia together one last time. Luke and Leia’s reunion in this film was such a beautiful, understated moment though. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were so good in this scene. Every scene with Leia was a bittersweet experience. I still can’t believe Carrie Fisher is gone, but her final performance was beautiful and deeply moving. Leia wasn’t the focus of the movie, but she had several moments that allowed Carrie to shine. Her final performance is a touching tribute to her life and career. I was shocked that Leia was alive and well and still leading the resistance at the end of movie and I am very curious to see how JJ Abrams will address both the passing of Carrie Fisher and honor the character. Rest in peace, Carrie. May the Force be with you, always.

   

Whether you love or hate the film probably comes down to the portrayal of Luke Skywalker. Luke Skywalker, the mythic hero of the Original Trilogy who even saw good in Darth Vader, failed at creating a new Jedi Order, briefly contemplated killing his nephew, went into hiding, and severed his connection to the Force. I’ll admit that I had trouble accepting this depiction as it was unfolding and certainly understand those who reject it. It seems antithetical to the Luke Skywalker we knew in the Original Trilogy. However, it was a bold choice to depict Luke this way and I think that it was ultimately successful. The two main themes of the film are failure and letting go. These concepts drive and shape almost every character and storyline in the film, and Luke Skywalker is the best example. Luke’s conversation with Yoda may just be the most important scene in the film. Yoda essentially tells Luke that we learn the most from failure, and I believe this is the message at the heart of the film. It’s a simple message, but Star Wars has always dealt with broad themes and I cannot think of a more effective way to explore that idea than applying it to Luke Skywalker. I adore the film’s exploration of what it means to become a legend. Luke explaining that he became a legend and that he believed it is one of the most powerful moments in the film for me. Luke’s story demonstrates the consequences of becoming a legend. Luke inspired a galaxy, but his belief in his own legend led to his greatest failure. For a split second he thought about killing Ben to stop the darkness from spreading precisely because he too, whether consciously or subconsciously, believed in the legend of Luke Skywalker. The weight of the galaxy was on his shoulders and a moment of weakness led to the creation of Kylo Ren and the death of Han Solo. Luke removed himself from the galaxy so he wouldn’t make that mistake again, but he was still consumed by his failure. Hiding from failure and regret doesn’t work though, and he had to learn from them and let go. Luke Skywalker is still the hero we knew in the Original Trilogy, but he is not an infallible legend. To become the legend everyone viewed him as, Luke had to embrace his shortcomings. An unwillingness to face your own failures and look in the mirror gives you Snoke’s overconfidence or the Jedi Order’s hubris. Luke is right that the Jedi failed. The hubris and dogma of the Jedi Order directly led to its destruction, Palpatine’s rise, and Anakin’s fall. That was the point of the prequel trilogy. The very idea of Luke thinking about, even for a second, killing his nephew almost immediately made me want to reject the portrayal of Luke in this film. However I think when you take into account the exploration of “legends” in this film and Luke’s depiction in Return of the Jedi, it is not as out of character as it seems at first. Luke flirted with the dark side throughout Return of the Jedi, from force choking the Gamorrean Guard to attempting to strike down the Emperor. Yet, Luke did not attempt to kill Ben Solo and rejected the Emperor’s dark side temptations. Luke can be tempted by the dark side, but will always reject it in the end. Before we move on to the topic of Luke’s death, I have to commend Mark Hamill’s performance in this film. Hamill has always been an underrated actor and may have given the best performance of his career in The Last Jedi. He surpassed my expectations and rose to the many challenges the script presented to him as an actor. He was simply fantastic. Finally, there’s the issue of Luke’s last stand and death. I did not want Luke Skywalker to die and in all honestly I am still struggling to accept it. At the same time, I haven’t been able to think of a better end to Luke’s journey. Luke Skywalker, “the myth”, walking out to face the entire First Order as the Resistance watches in disbelief is an iconic moment for this franchise. In addition, it is culmination of Luke’s story in this film as he literally faces his failure head on. Luke withstanding all of the firepower the First Order had to offer was another great moment that led to an audible cheer in my theater. Matrix move aside, Luke’s confrontation with Kylo worked beautifully. The whole force projection idea worked for me and I loved Luke’s immediate “no” after Kylo asked if he was there to offer forgiveness. Luke’s “see you around, kid” was the best line of the movie.Not only does it all but assure Luke’s return as a Force ghost in the next film, but it immediately reminded me (and probably Kylo) of Han Solo. Luke dying after using the Force projection was hard for me to take (he just died?!?!), but Kylo already set up earlier in the film that anyone who used a power like that would almost certainly die. I’m not sure if Luke made the ultimate sacrifice when he decided to use that power or if he simply decided to become part of the living Force once his mission was complete. I think it works either way though. Luke becoming one with the Force as he watched the twin suns set is already in the pantheon of great Star Wars moments. It was heart wrenching but beautiful. In that moment Luke is simultaneously the young man who longed for adventure, the old man that had to accept failure, and the legend that inspired a galaxy. Luke’s sacrifice wasn’t about saving the 20 surviving members of the Resistance. It was once again about providing hope to a galaxy that had apparently lost it and inspiring a new generation. This is crystallized in the film’s final moment as the children of Canto Bight recreate the legend of Luke Skywalker’s last stand on Crait. Luke is forever a new hope in a galaxy far, far away.

What Worked

  • Luke Skywalker and Mark Hamill’s performance
  • Rey and Kylo Ren
  • Snoke’s death and the Praetorian Guard Battle
  • The Yoda Scene
  • Subverting expectations and the evolution of the Force
  • The reveal of Rey’s parents
  • Holdo’s hyperspace sacrifice
  • John Williams’ score
  • Carrie Fisher’s final performance

What Didn’t Work

  • Canto Bight detour and Finn’s relationship with Rose
  • Occasionally unfocused and jumbled narrative
  • “Mary Poppins” Leia
  • The incompetence of the First Order
  • R2-D2 and C-3PO relegated to cameos
Back To TopPromotional Material

    

     
     

Back To TopPoints of Discussion
  • The fate of Luke Skywalker
  • Carrie Fisher’s final performance
  • The Return of Yoda and the evolution of the Force
  • Snoke’s Death and Rey’s parents
  • “Mary Poppins” Leia
  • Rey and Kylo Ren’s connection
  • Humor in Star Wars
  • Unfocused storytelling and Canto Bight
External Links:
Added: December 19, 2017
Category: Theatrical Releases
Reviewer: Mike Taber
Score:
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