A Short Time Ago Written On A Laptop Not So Far, Far Away…
The Last Jedi-Review
It has been two years since Disney/Lucasfilm released their first entry in a brand new trilogy. Although a well-done introduction, many found the film to play things too safe and rehashed A New Hope. This left many Star Wars fan wondering if the next film in the trilogy would be a simple rehash of Empire Strikes Back?
After Lucasfilm struck back with the successful spin-off film, Rogue One, all attention was on the Rian Johnson-directed film The Last Jedi, set to answer lingering questions from The Force Awakens and bring Luke Skywalker back onto the big screen.
Since its release, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has divided and caused debate amongst fans. This one reviewer for The Exported Film has decided the only way for him to express his own opinion on the film is to write a full spoiler review in order to restore peace and balance to the galaxy…
(In other words, SPOILER ALERT)
Perhaps it isn’t clear from my opening crawl, but I have been a lifelong Star Wars fan. I cannot remember a time before Star Wars and cannot even remember the first time I watched it. Star Wars has always been there in my life and probably always will be (no matter what happens to the series moving forward). I am also not under false assumptions that whatever I write here will “restore peace to the galaxy” (it had a nice ring when I wrote it), but there is a lot to discuss and review. I can’t promise to hit every point in the movie, but I will try to hit the largest that stood out to me and to other fans.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been my most anticipated film of the year (and perhaps of the past two years). I enjoyed both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While both are imperfect, both managed to be well-crafted entries in the expanding saga. Star Wars: The Last Jedi sees Looper director Rian Johnson stepping in as writer and director. The Force Awakens was accused by many to be a simple rehash of A New Hope (an accusation I find very inaccurate), and now we’ve reached The Last Jedi, which is the exact opposite. While this has many familiar beats or (as George Lucas would put it) rhymes, Rian Johnson has managed to subvert expectations and crafted a Star Wars film that is thoughtful, challenging, and daring. The Last Jedi will no doubt anger some fans and while not all the risks pay off, The Last Jedi is a memorable Star Wars entry that makes the wait for Episode VIII a whole lot longer.
Poe Dameron and Leia Storyline
The Last Jedi picks up directly at the end of The Force Awakens with almost no time passing. The First Order has lost Starkiller Base, but now with the destruction of The New Republic, The First Order looks to step on the throat of the Resistance and launches an attack on their base. Following a massive space battle led by Poe Dameron that leads to the death of a large portion of the Resistance fleet, the First Order pursues them through a chase at sub-light speed picking off ship by ship one by one.
This was a surprising direction that The Last Jedi took. Nearly the entire runtime is centered around this slow chase in space which oddly enough gives this movie a lot of urgencies. Every moment of The Last Jedi could the Resistance’s demise. This leads to several thrilling action sequences including the opening bombing run of the First Order’s Dreadnaught-Class Battle Cruiser and Kylo Ren’s assault on Leia’s ship. The attack on Leia’s ship ends up blowing up their hanger, killing Admiral Akbar and shooting Leia into space. This leads to Leia having to use the force to bring herself back to the ship.
This is a moment that has been hotly debating already in the film community and for myself; while I am not 100 percent pleased with the execution of it, her survival and use of the force left a lasting emotional impact on me. Given her survival, a mentor and student relationship between Poe and Leia blossoms and it became one of the film’s emotional core and central to the development of Poe as a character.
Poe Dameron got a little short shifted in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Rian Johnson makes great use of the character giving Poe his own storyline that has lasting consequences to other characters and that allows Oscar Isaac to really cement his place in the Star Wars franchise as an individual character and not just Wedge Antilles replacement.
Finn And Rose’s Storyline
Poe sends off Finn and a new character named Rose to find a master codebreaker on the Casino Planet, Canto Bight. This is easily the weakest storyline of The Last Jedi. While there are some interesting things that occur around the storyline (and does get some pay off in the movie’s final few seconds), the story thread goes on for far too long to get to a place that doesn’t justify its long runtime. While John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran both do a great job in the movie (I quite like Rose’s character), this isn’t a well-executed or even interesting part of the movie.
This leads to both of them being captured on the Snoke’s ship by Captain Phasma. A character that was largely wasted in Force Awakens is once again pretty much wasted here. With the release of the Phasma novel by Delilah S. Dawson, there was more of an expectation that she would be at the forefront of The Last Jedi. However, she only has a brief fight between Finn (that starts off rather exciting and thrilling but is cut too short) and presumed to be dead by the end. Gwendoline Christie deserves a better character to play in the Star Wars universe.
Luke Skywalker, Rey, and Kylo Ren’s Storyline
So while Finn and Rose’s story is perhaps the least compelling in The Last Jedi, the most compelling is Rey, Luke, and Kylo Ren’s storyline. Rey finds Luke, who refuses to teach her. Her powers in the force are growing and need the guidance of a teacher. Luke is burdened by the past mistakes of his own failures with Ben Solo and the actions he almost takes to stop the growing darkness in Ben.
Luke is broken, and this is where Mark Hammill gives perhaps the best performance of his career. Rian Johnson gets every inch of acting talent out of Hammill. This may not be the Luke Skywalker we all envisioned, but this is a more interesting Luke Skywalker than anything in the now-defunct expanded universe ever gave us. The brilliance of Rian Johnson’s writing is how he handles Luke in the final act. Like so many fanboys, I wanted to see Luke come back and have some lightsaber duels. I was initially disappointed by his treatment. However, what I came to realize on the second viewing is that Luke becomes even more than just a hero; he becomes a legend, the kind of legend that the Resistance needed to not only survive but also inspire the galaxy. As Bruce Wayne explains in Batman Begins, “as a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored, I can be destroyed; but as a symbol… as a symbol, I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting.” Luke needed to become a legend to spark hope against the First Order.
In the end, Luke gets a beautiful and heartfelt sendoff; staring into twin suns with John Williams music blaring in the background and finally becoming one with the force.
Daisy Ridley holds her own against Hammill’s brilliance in a performance that really shines even more so than her performance in The Force Awakens. She is tough but still extremely vulnerable. Rey’s relationship with Luke is not so cut and dry either, there is some struggle. This isn’t the classic mentor-student relationship. Director Rian Johnson wisely inserts a lot of distrust and adversity that makes for a far more interesting relationship.
Rey’s relationship with Kylo Ren is even more interesting. Kylo and Rey’s minds become linked together and are able to speak to one another across the galaxy. Rey ends up leaving Luke to seek out Kylo Ren, which leads Rey and Kylo in a throne room scene with Supreme Leader Snoke. In a chilling performance by Andy Serkis, Snoke proves to be even more powerful than imagined and intends on killing Rey to get to Skywalker. In a surprising twist, Kylo kills Snoke, which leads to Rey and Kylo joining forces against Snoke’s Praetorian Guards in an epic duel. This is easily the best scene of the entire movie: it plays through so many different types of emotions, surprises, actions and emotional turmoil. The duel between Snoke’s Praetorian Guards vs Kylo and Rey is the standout action scene of the movie. While there is no lightsaber on lightsaber fight, this is more than worthy of joining the ranks of lightsaber duels in the series (even if it doesn’t quite count as one).
Through all of this, Adam Driver steals the show by delivering a performance. This performance far surpasses the one in The Force Awakens and helps craft Kylo Ren/Ben Solo into one of the most complex and interesting Star Wars characters of all time. The raw anger and rage that Driver is able to deliver will take a few of your breaths away. The emotional conflict that rides throughout his character is what makes him a memorable character. Ridley and Driver are the two biggest standout younger cast actors of The Last Jedi with Hamill being stand out of returning cast members, despite Carrie Fisher also giving an excellent performance.
Rey’s Parents and Who Is Snoke?
Most coming out of The Force Awakens had two questions on their mind: who are Rey’s parents, and who is Snoke? With Snoke’s death, it is clear that the answer isn’t all that important. Despite Kylo Ren killing Snoke being a monumental moment, we as an audience are still left with lingering questions regarding the new baddie. Since this is told from the perspective of characters that already seem to have the knowledge of who Snoke is, the story doesn’t feel obligated to explore that question, which unfortunately leaves us in the dark. If there is one issue that Force Awakens and Last Jedi share, it is the lack of context into the world we are in. This is more of a flaw with Force Awakens, but The Last Jedi does hurt a bit from it as well. Regardless, the decision to kill Snoke is a bold and surprising twist that really pushes Kylo Ren’s character forward and works in the context of the story being told.
The other reveal is even bolder: Rey’s parents are nobody. Some found this answer to be anti-climactic, but for myself, I found this to be once again surprising and a great choice. She is the equal to Kylo on the light side of the force, but she has to overcome her greatest fear of all, which is being alone. Her struggle is not a physical one but an emotional one, and sometimes those are even harder to overcome. This makes Rey into an even more compelling character than she would be if she found out her full name was Rey Skywalker.
All Star Wars movie has been nice to look at, with their excellent visual effects and cinematography. The Empire Strikes Back easily takes the trophy for most well-crafted visual Star Wars film. Rian Johnson manages to exceed all expectations and crafts the most beautiful looking Star Wars film since Empire. The movie is incredibly eye appealing and Johnson has a knack for staging a scene. The production design that puts heavy emphasis on bright red makes the movie especially eye-popping.
A Bold New Direction
I could go on and on about Star Wars: The Last Jedi since it so dense with material. The Last Jedi does have many small things that don’t work well and some risks that are taken aren’t always executed properly. But the vast majority of the movie is strong, bold, and dare I say, poetic. The performances are all excellent, some of the storytelling choices were risky but smart, characters got to grow more, and this also features some of the best action sequences to grace the franchise. Visually, this is the most beautiful Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back and has a lot of value in repeat viewings. You can love this or hate this but for both camps, this is a blockbuster worth talking about and the most challenging Star Wars has been in a long time. Star Wars: The Last Jedi might be flawed but it is still great in spite of those flaws. The Last Jedi is a more than welcomed addition to the saga.