WARNING: As was true of my review of Force Awakens, the first part of this review will be spoiler-free and the second part – the part overflowing with juicy spoiler fruit – will be clearly labelled with some obvious alert. Maybe I’ll use a big warning sticker or a string of garbled text or some sort of pornographic picture. But where will I find pornography on the internet?
THE VANILLA REVIEW (NO SPOILERS):
When Force Awakens came out, I had waited a month or so before before going to see it, but I have been looking forward to The Last Jedi so much that I couldn’t wait that long. It’s rare that I’m motivated to actually see a movie in a movie theater, let alone within days of it’s premier, where it’s certain that I will be forced to rub elbows with random strangers who likewise can’t wait until the madding crowds dissipate. But the trailers did their job, especially the ones featuring a very moody and tormented Luke Skywalker, and so I attended the first matinee I could.
And the trailers didn’t lie. There’s A LOT of moodiness in this film. Be prepared for many scenes of characters audibly grappling with their emotions. This is a departure from previous Star Wars movies, where emotion-grappling dialog was mostly reserved for force-users. In Last Jedi, everybody (with a few exceptions) gets a chance to emote. Honestly, I thought it was a bit much, but there were certainly scenes where it was necessary and handled well.
“There but for the grace of God, go I…”
Consequently, the movie is noticeably more cerebral than Force Awakens, but that doesn’t mean it lacks action. Indeed, there are plenty of scenes of breathless chases and teeth-rattling explosions. However, the movie inexpertly combines the slow scenes and the fast scenes simply by making the movie looooong. Two and a half hours long. Too long, in my opinion.
It sounds like I didn’t enjoy the movie, but I did. Everything that a Star Wars fan wants is here. Our heroes are scrappy and undisciplined, like Star Wars heroes should be. Our villains are over-the-top and pointlessly cruel, like Star Wars villains should be. Space ships duel and blasters blast and lightsabers… well they do the impractical things they do, often in delightfully inventive ways.
But I will admit the movie did not meet expectations for me, but mostly because of the many hopes I had pinned on it from writing my Force Awakens review. More on that in the spoiler section. But aside from that there was needless repetition and some distracting plot holes. Nothing big enough to sink the movie, but I just think the script needed some significant tightening up.
I can’t guarantee you’ll love it, but I can guarantee you’ll have a good time. The plot is mostly a departure from the Star Wars mold, which I feel is a good thing and necessary in order for the franchise to stay healthy, but in its execution it stumbled a bit. There is one entire subplot I thought the movie could have done without, but by the end the film emerges as an authentic Star Wars experience, which means it’s worth the watch.
THE DARK CHOCOLATE REVIEW (WITH CREAMY SPOILER FILLING):
It’s true that I enjoyed the movie. I didn’t lie about that. Even at two and a half hours, I wanted it to go on, regardless of its faults. There’s some compelling stuff that kept me going throughout. I’ll come back to this by the end, but for now I have some grievances, which I shall air now.
I so much wanted this movie to be Luke and Leia’s swan song. I wanted to see Luke grapple with his failures, give the lightsaber back to Rey and tell her where to shove it and then reluctantly, but awesomely, resolve to take one last adventure to keep hope alive. These things he did, so I can’t complain on that front. Unfortunately, Leia did little more than sleepwalk (almost literally in one scene) through this movie. And now that Carrie Fischer is dead, I’m disappointed that we’ll never see the full tragic arc of her character’s life. As I had observed in the prior review, Leia had given every full measure but the last to her cause.
And yet, with all these personal sacrifices before her, she seemed only shaken by the loss of a few bomber pilots. This is my biggest grief with this movie. This woman should have at least one scene where she grapples with the cost or doubts her convictions. She’s lost everyone close to her in this struggle, not to mention her entire home planet, and the war only seems to go on. Can we get at least some sort of “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” soliloquy for this poor woman? When Luke finally showed up and he and Leia are on screen together, I was hoping for some sort of brief exchange where they finally admit to each other their darkest fears that maybe the whole struggle hasn’t been worth it at all. And then they look at each other and decide to give a Beckett-like “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” shrug and decide to keep fighting.
But instead we were given “Sorry your kid is a dick. Imma go kill him/No problem” bullshit. But then later on my hopes were raised again that Leia could do or say something a little more meaningful than what she was given. It was when Luke was confronting Kylo and the resistance people went to look for an exit. I was expecting Leia to say “You guys go ahead, imma stay and watch my brother do his thing”, having a moment to understand his sacrifice – understanding all the sacrifices – and then either escape or bring the damn mountain down on Kylo’s head, like a super-powered mother giving her misguided savant of a son a time-out of mythological proportions.
But most importantly, I never got to see her acknowledge just how much this war has costed the galaxy and everyone in it – whether it’s worth it and whether the rebellion, like the Jedi Order, should just get flushed or WHAT.
And I’m pissed.
Because I know that shit was coming. Fischer wanted it. That’s documented. Maybe not the soliloquy thing, but at least the swan song. They did it for Han and they did it for Luke and knowing J.J. Abrams, a proven stalwart advocate of powerful female characters, the next movie was going to give it to her. She wanted a big send off and now we’ll never get it. I’m sure they’ll kill her character in some decently meaningful and not too CGI’d way, but we’ll never really get Fischer/Leia’s voice howling at the void of space about the cruelty of fate, the heavy mountain of duty and the fear that all has been futile, but regardless she resolves to fight on into death because it is all she has ever known and she cannot escape how it has defined her very existence.
“I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands and wrote my will across the sky in stars.” – T.E. Lawrence
No, we’ll never get that. I’m pissed. And I miss Carrie Fischer.
But that’s not entirely the movie’s fault. Life is very often far shorter than any of us would like. I’m sure no one in production wanted anything but to make Leia the very embodiment of the themes of liberty and resistance to oppression. But the script is partly to blame, because as much as I like how the plot structure tries to depart from typical “rebels have to destroy an even bigger gun” Star Wars, this movie could have been so much more.
First of all, this movie suffered from not having a Poe/Finn/Rey adventure. If these three are our new trio of heroes, they need to have at least one movie where they’re together. And at the end of this movie, we still haven’t had that. And now we have this Rose character. Why? Did we need her? I understand she introduces and reinforces the reasons of why the rebellion is still fighting this losing war, but did we really need that? Couldn’t that have been Leia’s cross to bear? Shouldn’t it have been?
Basically, I think the whole casino planet side-plot was a useless waste of time. Benicio Del Toro’s character (loved him) could have easily been found in the doomed Mon Calamari cruiser’s brig. Maybe he was there because he was caught double-selling weapons to both sides and Leia took exception to it. Or maybe he was selling rebel secrets to the empire. The entire excursion to the casino planet was a waste of time – time that extended the movie beyond a reasonable point. This is not a Tolkien epic adventure! This is Star Wars! Keep it simple and quick and episodic, please.
And why couldn’t the reason the First Order had the ability to track the rebels have been the beacon on Leia’s wrist? I was honestly surprised that it wasn’t. It seemed to make perfect sense to me. She gave one to Rey. She probably had given one to Kylo at some point when he was with Luke at the doomed Jedi Academy. After killing his father, he could have reverse engineered the thing to track down his mom. There was no need for this stupid casino planet excursion!
Do I need to write these scripts myself? God damn it, Hollywood! Don’t make me come out there!
And why did Laura Dern’s character (loved her) withhold the plan to flee to the abandoned base from Poe? There was no need at all. Everyone else on the bridge, and obviously all the transport pilots, seemed to be aware of it so it clearly wasn’t a secret. The whole thing came across as being clearly set up by the writers to make the casino planet side plot necessary, but why?!!?!? We as an audience gained nothing from that whole series of scenes!
I… I stand corrected.
And then when we see the escape plan start to unfold, it gets spoiled anyway by Del Toro. I actually like the feints the movie throws at us like this. We get set up to expect a Star Wars-like desperate escape or brave raid and then get an equally Star Wars-like “Nah, but no.” I give the movie full marks for those kinds of twists.
But still, we didn’t need the casino planet as a venue for any of those. And we didn’t need the Ben-Hur races to let us know that the First Order is corrupt.
Speaking of the First Order, why is it named that? Who is Snoke? How did he get to be a force user? Oh, wait. He’s dead? Never mind, I guess. I mean, I love the scene with Snoke and Rey and Kylo. The resolution is basically what I wanted to see from my review of Force Awakens, but with the crazy lightsaber tricks it was even better than I was expecting. However, I was hoping for more on Snoke before he bought it. Guess we’ll never get that now.
And how did Snoke connect Rey and Kylo? He had never met Rey, so bridging their minds didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Also, if he could touch her mind like that, couldn’t he sense where she was? Why was Skywalker’s location a mystery to him at that point? Maybe that’s nit-picky, but if I had more on Snoke I could’ve made all sorts of excuses for it in my mind.
Adam Driver was great again and I’m thankful he got rid of the mask. His face is capable of carrying the meaning of an entire scene. He was a little over-the-top at times, but he committed to his character’s motivation of “burn the past” in a very convincing way. Of all the characters, his was the most believable, even when he was doing his best “fire everything!” impersonation.
Daisy Ridley delivered a good performance, but I often felt confused about Rey’s motivation. It seemed unclear for most of the movie, almost like the writers couldn’t decide what Rey really wants to get out of Skywalker, so they just let Snoke manipulate her. I felt she was a little shackled in this film. The scenes with her and Luke should have been much more powerful. When Luke asked her why she was there, she answered with a disappointing “I’ve always felt something inside of me…” Why no mention of the visions she had when she found his lightsaber? To the audience those were compelling visions. The movie seemed to gloss over the whole thing with her saying “sometimes I see things.”
Don’t get me wrong, though. I loved the reveal that Rey’s parents were nobodies. It’s tempting to want another Skywalker, but if you want the franchise to move forward it needs to step away from the established lineages at some point, so this was a welcome revelation. If that’s what it was. Kylo could have been lying after all. The push and pull between those two is something I thoroughly enjoyed and am looking forward to more. There’s all sorts of tension there and the scenes Driver and Ridley share are riveting. Sparks will fly!
Get it? But seriously, these kids are cute together. They should buy a moisture farm somewhere and settle down.
But Luke… Growing up, I was always a bigger Luke fan than a Han fan. Maybe because I usually like to buck the trend, but also because I have a soft-spot for characters who have a difficult time with expectations. Han could always be Han and everyone loved him for it. Luke, however, had to be the Guy Who Does The Thing. He never wanted it. Never asked for it. And finally when he did ask for it, by trying to restart a new Jedi Order, it blew up in his face. I loved every minute of Mark Hamill’s performance and although Luke died almost exactly as I thought he would (although the astral projection trick was delightfully unexpected) I’m sad he won’t be there in body anymore. I wanted the last Skywalker’s death to mean a little more than buying time for a rebel escape. Of course, Leia is still alive, but Carrie Fischer is not, so I’m worried the Skywalkers go out with a whisper instead of a bang. After all, Luke Did The Thing by redeeming Anakin, but that doesn’t seem like anything now. Leia should have been the one that toppled/redeemed Kylo or at least lured him to a place where Rey could do it. Maybe there’s still room in a draft of Episode IX to make that happen without too much CGI work. We’ll see.
Not as pissed now.
As for the rest of the crew… Finn was boring. It’s not his fault. The writers threw him into a stupid side adventure that had an impact on his character’s development that seems of dubious worth to the story. I mean, he already learned how to be personally brave in Force Awakens and now in Last Jedi he learns how to be cautiously courageous? Was this something anyone was asking for? And the fight he had with Phasma seemed tacked on and uninspired. I hope Phasma survived. I want her to come back and kill Hux (because he’s become too ridiculous) and take his place. Then Finn can fight/confront her one last time while Rey is fighting/confronting Kylo.
Okay, I’m setting up expectations again. Sorry. But still…
Poe was entertaining. He had plenty of action and Isaac brought great energy to the screen. His character was involved in a head-scratching series of events revolving around the stupid casino-planet plot, but that’s not his fault.
The droids were furniture. Okay, BB-8 was a little more interesting than that, but I don’t know… I might be getting tired of the whole “super-droid saves the day” thing.
And for the love of Jumanji, is there a single Disney movie that DOESN’T have a scene with a small herd of animals breaking tables?!?!?!?
I know the balance of what I’ve written makes it seem like I hated the movie, but I’ll repeat what I said earlier to be clear: My main problems with the movie had to do with it not being the movie I wanted it to be. Although I’m disappointed by that, I can honestly say I had a good time enjoying an authentic Star Wars adventure and I’m looking forward to the next one – just this time with less detailed expectations. I’ve learned my lesson.
Happy Holidays, everyone!
“I don’t want my life to imitate art. I want my life to be art.” – Carrie Fischer
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