TL;DR – The Last Jedi is charting its own story and this is where its strengths and faults lie.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Ok here we go, I didn’t think The Last Jedi was a fantastic film, nor did I think it was a really bad film. It was a film which had some aspects that really worked and some things that just didn’t, which made it a fascinating film to watch. However, this was also a problem for me because I wasn’t sure just how I felt about this film, and indeed for the first time this year, I actually went and saw the film twice before writing my review because I wanted to be sure about my feelings. Now in today’s review, I am going to set the scene and then give a general overview, and then we are going to go full spoiler with my analysis.
So to set the scene, The Last Jedi picks straight up from when The Force Awakens (see review) left off. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke (Mark Hamill) hidden away on Ahch-To, the planet that houses the first Jedi Temple. Meanwhile, while the Resistance had destroyed Starkiller Base, its first strike on the New Republic destroyed not only the Senate and the leadership of the New Republic but most of its warships as well. This has meant that there is nothing stopping The First Order under the command of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) romping through the galaxy and taking over, and their first target is the Resistance base. The film actually does a really good job of setting up where everything was left at the end of The Force Awakens and introducing you back to the characters but also at the same time propelling the story forward. However, straight from the start, you can see that there are two split parallel story lines, and this is where the film works and doesn’t work for me. But overall, the characters are strong, the visuals are amazing, it has some of the best laughs and emotional beats, however not all of it works all the time.
Ok now as I said from this point onwards we will be going full [SPOILERS] with my review, so if you have not seen it, be known that we will be discussing the story, the ending, and character deaths, so continue on with caution. Ok to ease us into this review I want to talk about something that I think just about everyone can agree on, and that is how good the visuals were. The Last Jedi, built on the strengths of The Force Awakens, by incorporating a lot of practical features of the sets and then augmenting them with visual effects. A good example of this is the planet of Crait, the mineral planet the Resistance flees too. So to encapsulate the planet they filmed it practically in the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia, but they also augmented it, by adding this red crystalline structure under surface, thus creating a beautiful contrast during the battle sequence. Or the collision with Snoke’s Dreadnought the Supremacy, which may go down as one of the most iconic single shots in the franchise’s history. Hell whilst we are at it, I’ll even go into bat with the Porgs, which in the ‘Baby Groot to Minions Scale of Animated Sidekicks’ falls squarely on the Baby Groot side. As well as this, John Williams’s score was fantastic, though I can’t think of a film where I haven’t said that about his score. I even loved all the little nods throughout the film, like the little hello to Wings in the casino scene, and also how it made everyone search every line of dialogue from Rogue One (see review) for clues.
Ok however, while technically I think this film was amazing, some of the storylines and characters just did not work for me, so in the next section we are going to break the film down into its three narrative components, The Flight from D’Qar, The Battle of the Wills on Ahch-To, and finally The Showdown on Crait. The reason I am doing this is so that we can work through each of these sections separately and pull apart what did and what did not work for me.
So let us start with ‘The Flight from D’Qar’ which in my view is the weakest of the three parts of the film. However, just because I feel that this might be the weakest part of the film, that does not mean it is lacking in fascinating character moments. A great example of this is Poe’s (Oscar Isaac) exchange with Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), which might be some of the best dialogue in the film. After this, we get a really good battle sequence, as long as you don’t think about gravity, and then we escape in the nick of time only to find out that they are not as in the clear as they thought they were. It is here where the big problems of this part of the movie lie, and I’ll go through why they don’t work for me.
Now I know you can’t plan for real life, and I completely agree that this is unfair for the movie when it had no control over it. However, to be completely honest with you, the General Leia (Carrie Fisher) death fake-out just left me feeling numb and really pulled me out of the film. I’m not a fan of death fake-outs at the best of time and this was not the best of time. Also, for me, some of the new characters just fell a little flat. I really love Laura Dern but there was something with Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo that I found to be out of place. I didn’t have a problem with her as an authority figure, or leader, or her plan, though like in a lot of films a lot of the conflict might have been avoided if she just told everyone her plan. It wasn’t until my second viewing till I worked out what it was, it was her hair. Now yes this sounds really superficial but it wasn’t the colour, it was that it remained immaculate after a long siege and the chaos of evacuating the base, and as everyone else gets run down as the situation continues it is put into stark contrast. As well as this, I didn’t really connect with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) as a character, and it felt like some of her character arc didn’t make it to the final cut of the film, and I’m not sure what they were going for with DJ (Benicio del Toro) but it felt like they were jumping all over the place, maybe it will make sense with IX. To add to all of this, the whole sequence really does feel like it exists just to fill in time waiting for Rey and Luke to finish up on Ahch-To.
Now speaking of that let’s take a look at ‘The Battle of the Wills on Ahch-To’ where Rey discovers that some legends don’t always turn out how you expect. Now while I had issues with the other half of the story I really loved what they did here with building tension, and giving the story out in small pieces like a puzzle that we are putting together. First, we have to talk about Luke, who I know has received a lot of flak on the internet for his portrayal here, like it was some giant disservice to the original trilogy. Firstly, look if you want a giant disservice to the original trilogy, you have to look no further than George Lucas’ own work in that regard. Secondly, I think it perfectly fits his character when you see all of the motivations and I think this is some of Mark Hamill’s best work. Why did Luke flee to this completely remote planet, and shut himself off from the force, was it because he lost Ben Solo, no, it was because in a single moment all of his training and self-control evaporated, a terrible moment that caused untold death and destruction. In that moment he slipped into the dark side, and also created Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and thus he did not trust himself to be the leader everyone saw him to be. In that moment he became everything he ever fought, this is on top of the guilt of not seeing what was in his nephew’s heart, so escaped from the world he could no longer serve. So yes Luke is a little odd, but then he has been more or less alone on that island for a number of years, and Mark captures that really well. In his performance, I get hints of John the Baptist, and his traipsing around the island were some of the funniest moments in the film, also you have to love Yoda (Frank Oz).
On the other side of Ahch-To, we have the force battle between Rey and Kylo Ren. I really loved how this unfolded throughout the film, and how the power imbalance constantly shifted between the pair. It is clear from the start that neither of them is sure what is bringing them together, was it the trauma of Han’s murder, or is there something larger at play, it’s the later. However, each of these meetings felt important, and different, starting with the anger and the surprise. However, as they go on each of them feels a glimpse of something in the other, so it becomes a subtle battle to try and convert each other. For Rey, the drive is to find redemption for Ben Solo, to bring him back to the light, and away from the evil thing he has become. For Kylo, he is trying to achieve what he failed in The Force Awakens, to bring Rey into the fold of the dark side, and maybe a bit more. I have to say I really liked Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver’s acting here, playing off each other even when they are not in the same locations. There is so much power in their acting, and they take you on a journey from hatred to cautious interest, to almost flirtatious but not quite, to battling for each other’s souls without letting the other know. Of course, all of this time they are interacting Luke has been there feeling something wrong, and he forces a change in both of them for better or worse.
Finally after everything the film has thrown at us we don’t get a chance to stop and rest because it is time for ‘The Showdown on Crait’. Now, this is where all the storylines crash together over the skies and on Crait, an old Rebel base from the war with The Empire, and hopeful fall-back for the Resistance. So we have Finn (John Boyega) and Rose returning from the Casino planet Cantonica with DJ and after learning that the elite of the Galaxy has been getting rich off building ships for both The New Order and The Resistance. Their aim is to infiltrate the Supremacy and mess with their tracking to allow The Resistance to escape without being tracked to their location. On the Raddus, Poe and Connix (Billie Lourd) are trying to keep Finn’s mission a secret from Holdo, who in turn has not told them of her intentions to sneak The Resistance onto Crait without The New Order knowing, and Leia is still unconscious. Also, Rey is returning from Ahch-To following the beacon, with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) on board the Millennium Falcon, with the aim to turn Kylo to the light side, while he has intentions to hand her over to Snoke, which is exactly what happens. Also, one by one all the ships of The Resistance fleet have been destroyed now only the Raddus is left and it is quickly running out of fuel. So much happens in this part of the film and it is all interlocked, it is not going to give you a moment to catch your breath and that’s fine.
For me this was the strongest part of the whole film because there was no holding waiting for everything to happen, it moved at a quick pace dropping big reveals left and right. The one thing I really liked about the ‘The Flight from D’Qar’ section was the character development for Poe, and here we see it come to a head when he stages a coup to stop Holdo evacuating the ship, which fails miserably. It is here where he finally learns the lesson Leia gave him at the start of the film, though it takes Leia stunning him for the message to get through. This is also when in quick fashion the film waves away nearly every theory people have spent the last two years obsessing about. Who are Rey’s parents? Well, they were no one’s, they sold her into slavery to pay for booze. Who was Snoke secretly? Well does not matter anymore cause he is dead. I really liked this, first because it is a little creepy how obsessed people are with bloodlines in the Star Wars universe/fandom, but also I think it caught just about everyone off guard which is what you need to do at times. Also, this leads to a moment where I audibly gasped in the cinema, when the lightsabre moved and I realised what was about to happen. It is moments like this that keeps Star Wars from being predictable, which is something it will need to do if it wants to be successful in the long run.
It is also in this section when the action ramps up quite significantly, and we get some of the best action sequences in the entire franchise. Kylo Ren and Rey fighting off the Elite Praetorian Guard was I think the highlight of the entire film for me. There was a flow to the fight, the colour contrast meant you could always follow what was going on, it was intense and shows off the skills of the performers, the lighting, the special effects, and the direction. While this is happening in the hold of the Supremacy Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is capturing the team on board, when DJ defects, shock horror, and sells out The Resistance to get away, also shock horror. With transports being shot down, Holdo who stayed behind in the Raddus has one option left to protect, and takes the ship to light speed directly into the dreadnaught. Now does this go against just about everything that had been canonically established with regards to how light speed works in the Star Wars universe, yes, do I care, no, not in the least. This also allows Finn to escape execution, and you might be saying this is quite a coincidence, but getting upset with Star Wars over coincidence, is like getting upset with the Pope for being Catholic. It also sets up the duel between Finn and Phasma, for me one of the disappointments of The Force Awakens was how badly they underused Gwendoline Christie, well they fixed that here. All of this leads to the final battle on the surface of the planet, which I have already mentioned is beautifully filmed. It is here where we get to the heart of what The Resistance should be, fighting for each other, rather than against the enemy, because love is stronger than hate. It is also here where characters confront their biggest fears, failure. At just about every part of this film, people’s plans have failed, and it is here at the lowest point when people come to terms with that. It is also here were Luke arrives and with the last of his energy first show that he is the king of sass, and also distracts Kylo long enough for everyone to escape even though it cost him everything to do it, giving us another amazing battle and the end of his story (yes I know this is not the last time we will likely see Luke).
In the end, some of the things I didn’t like about The Last Jedi are likely to be for reasons either outside of the filmmaker’s control or things that are missing context that will with get in the next film. In many respects, I felt like I did walking out of The Last Jedi like I did when I saw The Two Towers for the first time. But I was also left feeling intrigued, I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be a bit of a time jump between this and the next film which opens up some interesting possibilities. I’m glad they didn’t rush Kylo’s redemption arc, indeed, I don’t even know if he’s going to get one and that is a welcome change. Are The New Order still space Nazis yep, and good, I think the world could do with a bit of a reminder about that. Look to finish up, there are parts about the film I really loved, but there are also parts of the film that just didn’t work for me, but does this mean it was as bad as the prequels, absolutely not, it is not even in the same awful ballpark as them. To be fair some of these voices are the ones you can ignore, they will rail against the film, call it the worst ever, then see it five times in the cinemas and buy all the merchandise anyway. I think in the long run it will be interesting to see where The Last Jedi will fit into the trilogy, will it be its Empire, or will it be something else, something different, charting its own course, and I have a feeling it will be the latter.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Directed by – Rian Johnson
Written by – Rian Johnson
Based on – Characters created by George Lucas
Music by – John Williams
Cinematography by – Steve Yedlin
Edited by – Bob Ducsay
Starring – Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz, Benicio del Toro, Joonas Suotamo, Gwendoline Christie, Billie Lourd, Mike Quinn, Timothy D. Rose & Hermione Corfield
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13