It’s that time again. For Star Wars fans like myself, Christmas has become secondary compared to the annual release of the saga’s latest instalment. As always I went in hyped, heart pounding in excitement as the iconic scroll came up on screen. There have been endless speculations in the 2 years since The Force Awakens. Where does Rey come from? Who is Snoke? What Luke Skywalker will we get when he finally speaks? Etc.
Whilst TFA came under criticism for rehashing A New Hope, this is a different Star Wars movie. The Last Jedi takes all we assume and throws it on its head. Rey’s parents? Nobodies. Snoke? Carved in half like yesterday’s Darth Maul. The Force? Apparently it can make a decaying body fly across space like Star-Lord now, and has a Skype feature.
Rarely has a film divided critics and fans so much, and it’s easy to see why. TLJ breaks away from many unwritten yet accepted rules of the existing universe. And, I think, I loved that.
Not all subplots are created equal
Sure it’s not perfect, and not all subplots are equally compelling. It’s obvious the whole Canto Bight storyline is the weaker part of the movie. It is slow, unnecessarily cheesy, randomly political and ultimately comes off as a distraction from the struggle between Rey and Kylo.
The movie is crowded, and as a result several characters fail to impress. Roz is poorly used and her forced romance with Finn painfully unconvincing. It feel like it’s there because there hasn’t been a Star Wars kiss for a while. Alhough I’m glad Finn wasn’t killed off, ‘that scene’ is one of the cringiest moment in the whole saga.
Maz’s cameo is silly. Everyone was raving at Benicio Del Toro’s casting, but his character also falls short of expectations. Captain Phasma was wasted one last time although she could’ve played a greater part, and potentially added to, the boring Canto side quest. Also, what’s with Snoke’s Hugh Heffner robe?
I don’t take issue with the novel ways in which the Force was used. In fairness, Palpatine shooting lightning from his fingertips was also a little funky and unexpected too. Besides, it’s nice to see new things. That said, seeing Leia fly across space was a stretch, given we’ve barely seen her use powers previously.
I was also surprised to see Luke die, and like many people felt the rules of Force projections were left unclear and confusing. More generally, it seems like too many new powers are thrown in at once. Sometimes, less is more.
Finally, there is an odd finality about this movie. I’m not sure that’s good. TFA raised plenty of questions, and left off on a literal and figurative cliffhanger. It made the wait for the next episode the longest 2 years of my life. Similarly, Empire set up Return of the Jedi with epic darkness. By contrast, this doesn’t contributes much towards the overall plot and direction. It feels like a stand alone story, like Rogue One.
John Williams magic
Overall though, most of the numerous gambles this film took come off. Design-wise, TLJ is a visual masterpiece on par with previous films. The final act set on the mineral planet of Crait has some truly beautiful shots, while the battle scene in Snoke’s throne room might be the best of the new trilogy so far. The silent light speed collision scene was both innovative and breathtaking, while the twin sunset at the end made a wonderful send off for Luke.
The older I become, the more I appreciate the stunning contribution John Williams makes in turning this wacky scifi into a truly emotionally layered cinematic experience. Once again, the score is beautiful. We need to find a way to make this man live forever.
Some critics argue the humour was misplaced and unfamiliarly Marvel-like. I thought it was spot on, and tactfully scattered within a generally dramatic-toned movie. There were a couple of especially comical exchanges between Luke and Rey. I actually liked the Porgs. They were cute, and provided relief in a way the Ewoks and another certain creature from the prequels I won’t name failed to. That was a pleasant surprise.
Carrie Fischer gold
The acting is strong in this one. Every scene with Carrie Fischer was gold. In fact, this ultimate send off may be the pinnacle of her performance as Princess Leia. It is full of the strength, wit and thoughtfulness we’ve become accustomed to. Several of her scenes, including her final moment with Luke, take another dimension in light of the actress’s life tragic passing last year. I’ll shamelessly admit I got emotional at Luke’s promise that ‘no one’s ever really gone‘.
Beyond individual performances, I thought character motivations and development was generally well handled, and taken further than usual within the universe. I like the journey Poe goes through. The Jedi order and the Force were discussed on philosophical levels rarely reached, which was cool.
Although Rey’s character arc didn’t take her where I wanted – I would’ve loved to see her turn to the Dark side – her chemistry with Kylo Ren was mesmerising. The Force connection scenes were among the best in the film.
Director Rian Johnson has come under a lot of criticism for killing off Supreme Leader Snoke without expanding on his backstory, but I think the bold move was necessary to give Ren centre stage in the final act, and set up an epic finale between the two main protagonists.
Though not perfect, The Last Jedi is a well crafted, innovative and emotionally charged addition to Star Wars. It was great to see risks being taken in a way the previous film hadn’t. Disney is gradually getting braver with Star Wars. I hope it will continue to take us new places.
The Last Jedi explores character dynamics and the Force more than any of the previous films, which brings new depth to Star Wars mythology. It is thoughtful in its handling of iconography and legacy. The cameo elements, such as Yoda’s brief return and R2-D2 showing Luke old holograms fed the overall narrative, instead of being mere ‘wink wink’ moment.
While the film doesn’t do enough in terms of answering questions, it sets up the Ren v Rey finale wonderfully. This story is now about new characters. While I hope to see Hamill return as a Force ghost, one feels the necessary hand holding from ‘legacy’ characters is now truly over.
On fanboy frenzy
I wanted to wrap this up with some thoughts about what I’ll call fanboy frenzy. For some time, Star Wars has become this big cult, where followers compete as to who can bash the latest film most, whilst screaming about how their childhood was raped or killed again. Last time round, The Force Awakens was too similar. This time, it’s too different.
We get it, you basically only like 2 movies in the whole saga. Each to their own. That said, I’ll never understand people who complain about theme repetitiveness. Star Wars is always going to have two things: STARS and WARS. It’s not fan service, that’s just what this whole thing is built upon. Star Wars hasn’t changed. You’ve just got older and miserable.
To those unhappy with the original cast being underused or faded out, this trilogy isn’t about their story. To YouTube comment section warriors still dismissing the new films as politically correct essentially because not everyone is a white male, I suspect your problems lie beyond just Star Wars.
This was never more than a visionary genius’ eccentric dream, a space fairy tale about the struggle between good and evil. It was always flawed by the odd but blatant inconsistency (Rogue One is essentially about covering up a massive plot hole), below par acting, slow-paced light saber fights, kissing siblings, toy placement and annoying intergalactic bears.
We don’t love Star Wars because it’s cinematographic perfection, but for the wonderful escapism and hope its universe gives us. The Last Jedi takes us back to there. Let’s rejoice.