Nowadays, it’s obvious that Star Wars has one of the most fickle fandoms in pop culture. Putting movies out over a decade after the much-maligned prequel trilogy can do that to a franchise so beloved, yet so battered by disappointments over the years. The collective love is so strong that it borders cognitive dissonance, and being able to have something to say about a new Star Wars movie is the mark of a person wanting to be seemingly in-the-know, whether they do care or not. With this review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I shall add to that noise.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi walks the opposite path The Force Awakens took—leaving the old for the new. It was Disney’s Star Wars having paid homage to the old Star Wars through Episode VII and taking it to a new direction in Episode VIII. After all, when children are adopted, the foster parents will want to raise them their way. If they were supposed to be raised like with their biological parents, they wouldn’t have been put up for adoption in the first place.
However, many don’t see it that way. The Internet is strewn with disparate arguments regarding The Last Jedi‘s sacrilege towards the Star Wars franchise as a whole are aplenty, from the creative directions of long-beloved characters, how senseless newer characters seemingly are, and whatever plot holes they can stick a needle through. They’re not entirely wrong, but many of them do miss how these seemingly disjointed elements of the movie align with those of the rest of Star Wars.
However, this review is not a complete defense of The Last Jedi. There is one moment in the story that can never be redeemed, no matter what. I’ve tried to reconcile it with everything else, but it sticks out too much like a sore thumb. If there’s a flaw to this film, it’s that particular moment. Here, I explain my position.
NOTE: This is a full review, so here be spoilers. You’ve been warned.
This film was meant to turn a new leaf for franchise, especially since The Force Awakens had mirrored A New Hope almost beat-for-beat. Rian Johnson’s vision is not without controversy, but I liked it for the most part as it was in line with a lot of my own philosophies. Perhaps the reason why I’m not being rabid about this film like other countless nerds on the Internet is because I’m all about that whole burying the past stuff.
However, The Last Jedi left me with tons of questions about even its most basic parts. How did the First Order topple the New Republic? Was Star Killer Base that important to begin with? Where did Snoke come from? How did Ben Solo become Snoke’s apprentice? The start of the plot was jarring for me as it didn’t make enough sense. It was like the continuity was turned in on itself like a Möbius strip.
The Canto Bight side story is the most cited flaw of The Last Jedi‘s narrative, extending its length to more than that of the prequel films by 10+ minutes. Perhaps that part could’ve been made more concise in order to still fit without dragging. It had two purposes—develop Rose and introduce the kids. The former is for creating enough of a connection to make the scene with her saving Finn work, while the latter is yet to be seen in the third film.
Most were bothered by how Luke acted when Rey sought his tutelage. A jaded and cynical Luke Skywalker wasn’t what most had in mind, but it wasn’t exactly something no one could’ve expected. With how it was hinted that Kylo Ren is his nephew and former pupil, those puzzle pieces do fit. Much of the conflict in this arc would then be Luke’s regret over his failure to keep Ben from turning to the dark side.
As for Luke dying of exhaustion from controlling a force projection in another planet, I believe the purpose of that was to show how a lot more powerful the Force is in this trilogy. Thje same goes for force ghost Yoda setting the Jedi Temple on fire. Never mind that Luke actually died since mentors die all the time in Star Wars, and I’d say anyone who didn’t see his death coming is misguided (even with Carrie Fisher’s passing likely counting out a double Skywalker death).
Other than that, all but one scene didn’t bother me. Ben’s ultimate reason for turning being Luke’s apparent murder attempt is something I just can’t look past. Every other thing in this movie is alright with me, but trying to kill a kid in his sleep, no matter how justified the reason, is simply beyond absolution. I do think Luke can be a grumpy old man who has given up, but he should never have been one who would attempt outright murder, even for the right reasons.
After all, this is the same man who believed there was still good in Darth Vader—his own father.
Daisy Ridley as Rey continues to impress, in my opinion. I also like how Rey is being maintained as a classic heroine, and she’s not being sexualized to “sell” her more. That may seem to have SJW overtones, but I just think she doesn’t have to be sold that way in order to make her character work. She is strong-willed and capable while still being compassionate and empathetic. That is all she really needs.
That’s while I still have reservations with how she’s freaky good at fighting from seemingly out of nowhere, making me scratch my head while watching The Force Awakens. Perhaps that’s what goes with the title, so the joke may be on me. However, her way of fighting then was understandably raw, especially with the lightsaber. Then with little to no training here, her technique becomes more refined as if she already had the muscle memory.
There’s little to no gap in time between TFA and TLJ, so I don’t know where that came from. Luke didn’t even teach her how to weild it yet, so perhaps she just has incredible proprioception. She went from barely being able to handle herself with a lightsaber to fighting multiple Praetorian Guards in Snoke’s chamber. Never mind her parents and backstory, but that sudden progression does bother me.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren is brilliant in how the character turns from just an emo kid with a penchant for temper tantrums and a wonky lightsaber into someone who actually has a definite purpose and philosophy. The murder artist formerly known as Ben Solo has realized his own way of the dark side, casting aside the rule of two in favor of one that blazes a trail to destroy the old to give way to the new—something I completely support.
Despite that, he’s still quite an incompetent commander, thus continuing the tradition of bad guys being bad at their job throughout Star Wars (and most movies, for that matter). The only competent person in the whole of First Order is General Armitage Hux, played by Domhnall Gleeson. However, he happens to be the whipping boy, so he’ll always have to answer to someone. It’s understood that the only for First Order to truly win is to make Hux their supreme leader.
How their relationship progressed from just enemies to being able to understand and connect with each other throughout the film was well-executed, I think. Rey understanding that Kylo’s mind wasn’t completely clouded by the dark side just yet and Kylo completing his transition from confused to resolute by the killing of his master and taking the helm of supreme leader was something I couldn’t help but nod my head to.
Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke looks less intimidating here, yet darker at the same time. Showing him in the flesh while he had only been seen as either a gigantic hologram head or a figure draped in shadow is brilliant in that his more human qualities are shown, even when he looks more like a misshapen wretch (something Andy Serkis is quite familiar with). His hubris is both his strength and weakness as while his ego drives his conquests, it also blinds him from his apprentice’s true motives.
Never mind that he doesn’t have a backstory since Darth Sidious didn’t either until the prequel trilogy came about. But Snoke being turned into a red herring with no further setup makes his character less impactful as a result. He’ll still be there as a factor in Kylo Ren’s mindset, as well as the memory of Darth Vader. In a way, Kylo Ren took his words of letting the past die to heart and put it to practice, costing Snoke his life.
However, it does get established that it was Snoke who connected Rey and Kylo Ren in what I like to call “Force Skype”. At the end, they both saw each other through it one last time. If Snoke truly died when he got sliced in half by that lightsaber, they wouldn’t be able to Force Skype each other anymore, right?
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker is the best performance in this film. It was a pretty way for Luke Skywalker to bow out, showing just how powerful he has become while also showing how far the Jedi had fallen. Hamill had reportedly been against this portrayal of Luke, almost akin to what Warner Bros. had done to Batman. But while Batman is made more flexible due to numerous depictions over the years, Luke Skywalker hadn’t been seen on the big screen for decades.
Despite that, Hamill did an amazing job with this Luke Skywalker, and I approve of it. I just have a thing for jaded old men who were once heroes. That’s why I gave Logan a perfect 10. But this isn’t just about “dejection porn” with Luke just drinking green milk all day while waiting for either diabetes or a heart attack to turn him into a grumpy force ghost. This is about how the Jedi and the Force are to be viewed in the future of this franchise, courtesy of Luke’s revelations in this film.
Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa for what’s unfortuantely the very last time is bittersweet. Her fingerprints are all over this movie, from the prominence of her role to the script itself. Now that she’s gone from our world, Leia must also bow out from the franchise itself. How that is to be done is perhaps the one weakness we know of Episode IX. Knowing that she has to die or disappear shapes what we expect from that film, and perhaps they can figure something out to subvert that expectation in a good way.
There’s that part where she actually uses the force to get back in the ship. That’s a sticking point as there was no other indication of her being able to use such power before. All we know is she can sense things, especially with her connection to her brother.
John Boyega as Finn was still good, but I still don’t know what to exactly think about the character. Perhaps you can say he’s like the Han Solo of this trilogy, but not quite. His role in the resistance is providing insider information on enemy infrastructure due to his history, making him convenient for exposition. His main motivation of helping Rey, even if he doesn’t know how to do that yet, drives the narrative along.
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico is what brings more depth to Finn’s arc. She herself has an interesting enough backstory—her sister sacrificed herself for the Resistance and they came from an oppressed people. The latter detail was laid out in Canto Bight, and that should’ve been enough for that subplot. She’s likable enough with her quirks and personality, but that last scene with her kissing Finn after saving him did make me scratch my head a bit.
That was a bit quick, wasn’t it? She thought of him as a deserter at first, but then saw him for the hero he is. Fair enough, this isn’t the first time for Star Wars. However, at least it took a bit more time before Leia took a shine to Han.
Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron is basically Leia’s other son. His character development in this movie is fairly pedestrian, with the brash and impulsive starfighter pilot learning the true meaning of being a leader. However, it’s how he gets to that point that really makes Poe a character worth watching out for. By the end of the film, he had pretty much become Leia’s successor as the leader of the Resistance, and it’ll be interesting how he does in the third film.
Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn “She’s not a bitch after all” Holdo was a highlight for me in a way due to how her arc turned out, culminating in the lightspeed ram scene. I’ve always known her as “that woman from Jurassic Park”, but this role has burned her into my memory. Her scenes with Poe were also weirdly filled with sexual tension. While he and Leia looked more like mother and son, he and Holdo had a different chemistry. It wasn’t just me; other people I watched the movie with had similar reactions.
Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca is as should be expected of the character. The aliens and creatures in the film are quite excellent, although also showed how Disney is going about with monetizing more of the franchise, with the Porgs being the most telling of this. It does look like Star Wars has gotten back to its Jim Henson roots with the Ahch-To creatures being as practical as they can be, or at least that one Porg that sat beside Chewy in the Millenium Falcon’s cockpit.
The same can be said of Frank Oz as Yoda, who wasn’t given the prequel-esque CGI treatment. That brief appearance completes Luke’s transition from grumpy old man to the ray of hope for the resistance. That last lesson Yoda imparts to Luke as the temple burned completes Disney’s intended direction for the Star Wars franchise, and it’s one I’m personally pleased with.
Most would accuse me of not being a true Star Wars fan because of this, and they’d be right—I’m just a casual fan who saw The Empire Strikes Back in the 90s and slept through the prequels. The only Star Wars thing I truly enjoyed was Knights of the Old Republic. Now that I see this new direction for the franchise, I’m now actually interested.
Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma didn’t get enough screentime yet again, even if this movie was already too long. She’s the Boba Fett of the sequel trilogy, yet she meets her supposed end much earlier. However, she did go down fighting and we got to learn more of her capabilities. That whole thing with her armor was neat, although leaves questions regarding how it really works.
That hole on her helmet showed how there’s a human being in that armor and leaves a bit of a possibility of her returning in Episode IX. I’m not too sure about that, but her just being offed in the second film is poor. We should have at least a face reveal before she gets her comeuppance.
Benicio del Toro as DJ is seemingly supposed to be this trilogy’s Lando, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be the same sort of roguish character as Lando in the next film or if he’ll come up again at all. Perhaps Disney just had Benicio del Toro lying around and told him he can be in a Star Wars movie, and all he had to do was put a bit of a twist to his Frankie Four Fingers character from Snatch.
Other supporting characters worth mentioning include Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, who added flavor a good bit of flavor. There’s R2D2 as well, who is now depicted as the equivalent of a senior citizen robot compared to BB-8. I do think while other robots can be replaced, the talking robot has to be one-of-a-kind. If they replace C-3PO with another talking robot, it’ll be a Jar Jar Binks situation all over again.
Then finally, there are the characters whose role in the film were simply to die—Veronica Ngô as Paige Tico and Timothy D. Rose as Admiral Gial Ackbar. The former had a heroic death that adds to Rose’s backstory, while Ackbar died just because he was a supporting character from the Original Trilogy who needed to be put to bed. From how he got snuffed just like that, we see how Disney looks to go forward with Star Wars. A bit of a travesty there, but minor characters get killed off all the time.
In terms of cinematic quality, this film astounds me. From the lightspeed ram scene to the fight scene in Snoke’s chamber, and the showdown between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker (Phantom Luke) on the salt plains, the details and overall cinematography are a treat.
However, the narrative is full of holes. They’re not big gaping holes, but still visible enough to bother a lot of viewers. I myself had been bothered at first, but I was able to reconcile with most of those misgivings. But having to do so in itself makes this film less of an ideal Star Wars experience.
J.J. Abrams now has to do some damage control. Perhaps he had been in-the-know with this narrative the whole time since he’s the executive producer, so he knows at this point what must be done to make sense of what The Last Jedi has wrought upon us.
That’s not to say Rian Johnson made a whole hash of it, but he did have a different idea of what to do with Star Wars from everyone else who are into the franchise. Perhaps Rian Johnson is J.J. Abrams’ hitman and was set loose to breathe new life to the franchise that had been long in hibernation. Apparently, he’s a fan of Knights of the Old Republic, having played it upon release. Maybe that’s why I like most of what he did here.
There was also much to be said about the shoehorned comedy in the film, which messed a lot with the tone. When talking about Star Wars, tone issues are never something one should take seriously since even the Original Trilogy was full of slapstick stuck in between supposedly serious scenes. However, the way it was done here was a lot of faking out that seems to be a signature of New Disney, carried over from the Marvel films—Whedon-itis, as I call it.
I’ve talked about bathos on this blog, and this day and age is all about using it to death to make a movie “more fun” to watch. However, that also makes it more forgettable since the gravitas of the pivotal scenes gets messed with. When a serious situation is made less serious, then it goes to the shitter. However, that’s less of an issue with most of the Star Wars franchise since they usually reserve bathos for action scenes.
Star Wars is already a cheesefest from the get-go, and being a fan means you both take and don’t take it seriously at the same time, as paradoxical as that may sound. However, when those moments start bleeding into the serious moments, that’s when we have problems with gravitas. As for cheesiness, that’s quintessential Star Wars.
Other than that, the film was a foreshadowing clinic, almost exceedingly so like it was meant to be that in the first place. Perhaps that’s one of its problems as that made everything else in the film have to follow a certain pattern, thus the fakeouts and the length, among other things. Personally, that was mostly a good thing since I was enjoying the movie for the most part. But a long running time does not a good film make.
We won’t know just how big this problem is until the third film comes out and everything is potentially made clear. That’s perhaps its biggest problem right there—it needs the third film. The Last Jedi was designed to not be able to stand on its own from the start. J.J. Abrams now has to do some damage control to rectify this.
- Premise of turning a new leaf for franchise
- Rey maintained as a classic heroine
- Kylo Ren makes more sense
- Rose is fairly likable
- Character development for Poe
- Vice Admiral "Not a Bitch After All" Holdo
- Excellent showdown scenes
- Lightspeed ram scene
- Good bow-out for Luke
- Jim Henson-eque creatures in Ahch-To
- Practical Force ghost Yoda
- Paige Tico
- Fake-outs making it longer
- Inconsistencies and tone issues
- Foreshadowing mostly too far ahead
- Rey's refined technique with no training
- Not enough Captain Phasma
- Rose falls in love with Finn out of the blue
- Snoke made red herring with little setup
- Still don't know what to think of Finn
- The codebreaker sub-plot in Canto Bight
- Luke's mistake is a deal-breaker
- Where are the Knights of Ren?
- Leia has to die/disappear in the next movie
- Fake-outs making it longer
It was an 8 for me just after watching it, but that thing with Luke thinking of killing Ben in his sleep bumped it down to a 7. The Force Awakens would've been a 6 for me due to Rey, and this is just a bit better due to the cinematography and overall theme. Perhaps it's much like what I feel about The Empire Strikes Back in the original trilogy.
Rogue One is still my favorite Star Wars film because I'm a try-hard hipster.
Come to think of it, Disney dumped the extended universe upon acquisition of the franchise, so fans should've seen something like The Last Jedi coming from a mile away. Many see this as disappointment, while I see this as to never expect anything specific with this franchise. I do like it when expectations are subverted if it's done well, and this film still does that.
I can say The Last Jedi does better than The Force Awakens by a notch, thus this score. I actually like this better than the previous film, despite the one big flaw it carries that also exceeds that of the previous film. If it had been given more time to stew and mature, then it would've done a lot better. But alas, Disney is on this biennial cycle, which is still not enough for polishing big films like this.
Perhaps the only way to fix it in one's head is to read the books that can patch the holes in one's understanding of the canon. If you're that big a fan of Star Wars, perhaps you'd indeed get into that. As for me, I'd rather see another Knights of the Old Republic that makes use of this canon. Other than that, The Last Jedi is good, albeit far from perfect.
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Also published on Medium.