Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Resistance are seemingly outmatched by the forces of The First Order, under Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). They also seem to have developed new powers to track Gen. Leia Organa’s (The late Carrie Fisher) ships in hyperspace, previously thought to be impossible. Despite the heroics of Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), lives are lost. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has a chance to destroy the ship his mother Leia is on, but gets conflicted about it. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has arrived at the current home of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and finds him an aging, broken shell of a once powerful force of good. He has refused to train any more Jedi after what he feels was failing his last pupil, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. Although somewhat pleased to see old friends Chewbacca, R2D2, and C3P0, Luke refuses to train Rey. In fact, he appears to be completely disillusioned with the Force, Jedis, the whole lot of it. He wants to be left alone to die. Whilst attempting to change Luke’s mind, something weird begins to happen to Rey. She starts to find herself communicating with Kylo Ren through telepathic visions, and finds Kylo Ren tells a different story as to why he and Luke parted ways than the one Luke has been telling. Interesting, very interesting. As for ex-Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), Poe sends him on a secret mission of his own, with mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) tagging along as they search for a supposed master code-breaker at an alien casino, of all places. A needlessly purple-haired Laura Dern turns up as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo of the Resistance, who butts heads with the rather cock-sure Poe.  

Although I still find myself defending any scene in “The Phantom Menace” that doesn’t involve Jar-Jar Binks, my feelings have soured quite a bit over the years on the second and third of George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. I also nearly left the “Star Wars” universe entirely with Lucas’ pathetic, insulting cash-grab, the (poorly) animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” movie. Thankfully, J.J. Abrams restored faith in my “Star Wars” universe with the wholly entertaining and occasionally surprisingly deeply moving “The Force Awakens”, and I had a bloody good time with the retro “Rogue One” as well. They were fun movies in a way that Lucas seemed to move away from a bit with his anti-septic, far too CGI-oriented prequels. I still like the prequel trilogy a lot, especially “The Phantom Menace”, but these two more recent “Star Wars” films not only tapped into something emotional in me as a fan with connections to certain characters, but they mostly stayed away from CGI (though the CGI creatures were indeed one of the few flaws in “The Force Awakens”), or at least didn’t do away with real, tangible sets that never looked too clean or artificial.

Now comes director Rian Johnson with this 2017 sequel to “The Force Awakens”, and…everybody’s gotten fucking weird about it. Although there are some negative reviews out there, critics have mostly praised it, many greatly so. Fans…not so much. It’s got a 57% rating among fans at “Rotten Tomatoes” as opposed to currently 92% with critics. So clearly something’s going on in regards to what the two groups (if you can really lump people into those two groups neatly) want or expect from a “Star Wars” movie.

Y’know what I want most out of a “Star Wars” movie? Entertainment. And I got it in spades for 2 ½ possibly too long hours. Sorry fans, but you’re doing it wrong. This is only a hair lesser of a film than “The Force Awakens” or the standalone-ish “Rogue One”. I really, really liked this movie. It had an interesting plot, interesting characters, interesting twists and turns (predictable as some may be, spoiled as others might’ve been). I understand some of the criticism (including Mark Hamill’s own widely misread, and eventually clarified- or walked back- comments on the direction of his character), agree with one or two bits of it, but nothing spoiled the fun nor removed the grin from my face for what was a surprisingly funny, and only occasionally dark episode in the new trilogy. These films aren’t made entirely for me, that was the original trilogy. These films are made for the younger generation, whilst bringing the rest of us in too. And since the previous “The Force Awakens” pilfered from “A New Hope” as a way of giving older fans a “Star Wars” story to their liking (and even then, people still griped. Those same people probably griped about this more original work, too. Sad, really). Go into this film with a similar understanding to mine and you should, if you allow yourself to, have a jolly good time with this action-packed, twisty middle entry into the new saga.

Let’s get to some of the most controversial stuff first, and obviously if you haven’t seen the film yet ***** GO AWAY UNTIL YOU HAVE, WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? SURELY I’M THE LAST PERSON ON THE PLANET TO SEE THIS ***** I think the criticism about the depiction of Luke Skywalker and to a lesser extent Leia, is way off base. I honestly had zero issues with how Luke was depicted here, though I do understand the other side of it, even if I don’t agree. Mark Hamill really hasn’t gotten that much better as an actor over the years, but he doesn’t need to be here. He’s Luke Skywalker, he just is. This may or may not be Luke Skywalker as you want him to be, but I could see this as the same guy, who has simply gone through a lot of shit for a lot of years and he’s not going to be the exact same guy. So no problems for me whatsoever. His final moments in the film are rousing, funny, bad arse, and finally in his last scene…well, let’s just say it calls back to my favourite image from one of the scenes of “A New Hope” and the image combined with the music will get me every single time. Nearly teared up, not going to lie. It may not be where I would’ve written Luke to have arrived at here, but I still found the character and his arc fascinating.

For the most part, Carrie Fisher is an absolute laugh riot and a delight as the tough-as-nails Gen. Leia Organa, and great to have around. Her one-liners (several written by her fine self) are priceless, and it will never, ever be OK that Carrie Fisher is no longer with us. I have no doubt Leia would’ve had a pretty plum role in the next film, and I’m not sure how they’re going to fill what will be an obvious void. On the downside, one of the worst scenes in the entire film comes from an initially interesting idea: Leia showing her Force capabilities. Let’s just say Mr. Johnson appears to be a fan of the TV work of Sally Field, and while I’m rather partial to her cutesy self too, it’s the last fucking thing anyone needed to see in a “Star Wars” film. Clever idea, shocking execution. I’m with the naysayers on that one. Sorry.

While I’m speaking negatively, I may as well turn my attention to the absolutely adorable Daisy Ridley (seriously, off-screen she comes across Anna Kendrick levels of cute), and series lead protagonist Rey. Ridley, charismatic as she is, still happens to be a bit wooden for such a lead role. True, Mark Hamill’s no master thespian either as I said above, but Ridley’s definitely the weakest link of the four young leads. And so is the character of Rey, if I’m being honest. The others are more interesting, but more importantly, the cries of ‘Mary Sue’ about her in “The Force Awakens” should probably sound much louder here. She barely seems to get any training and yet she’s wielding that lightsaber like a mofo, not to mention having acquired ace piloting skills too. Wasn’t quite buying it this time around, I’m afraid. I also think her character gets a bit lost in the shuffle at times in the film, which really ought not be the case.

Smaller gripes would be that a) At 2 ½ hours, Johnson probably could’ve and should’ve cut things down a bit. The extended sequence at a casino probably being the chief area where some chopping should’ve been done. In fact, whilst I wouldn’t consider Benicio Del Toro’s character and performance an outright flaw, I don’t think he proves terribly helpful to the film. Del Toro is back to his irritatingly mannered and affected Fenster ways here as a roguish weirdo master cracker/thief. I wouldn’t have missed his presence at all if excised completely. Meanwhile b) I also think the film relies way too much on CGI this time around. Overall there’s still a lived-in quality to the scenery and props, but some of the CGI characters I could’ve done without (Some I enjoyed, though, as you’ll discover below).

Before getting back to the positives, there were elements to the film that whilst not flaws, I can’t say I felt terribly strongly about in a positive manner either. Chiefly Snoke. Of all the villains we’ve gotten in this new trilogy, Snoke (a solid but unmemorable motion capture job by Andy Serkis) is the least interesting and least effective. He’s just sort of there, and he’s ultimately a disappointing enigma. All the rumours about who his real identity might be ended up being for nothing. He’s OK, but nothing to get excited about. I also think we may as well just say right now that Captain Phasma is the new Boba Fett: Awesome-looking, but utterly, utterly useless. A shame. Meanwhile, I’m not entirely sure we needed an appearance by the ghostly CGI Yoda, and I don’t think the film finds quite the right beat to end on. It’s not quite “Return of the King” levels of never-ending, but I would’ve liked it to end a bit earlier nonetheless.

On the upswing, the story really is interesting and engrossing throughout, and for the most part the writer-director juggles the story strands effectively. Johnson also proves to be a fine director of action, and whilst I won’t say there’s any iconic action set pieces here, they’re exciting and well-done as was the case last time. As I said earlier, the film is a lot more humorous than I was expecting, and aside from flying nuns, it was intentional humour. Whether it’s Chewbacca getting the absolute shits with the adorable (and thankfully sparingly used) Porgs, BB-8’s surprising abilities throughout (he’s much, much better this time around), or the interplay between Leia and the cocky and insubordinate ace pilot Poe (the always fine Oscar Isaac navigating potentially murky waters well, never forgetting that we’re meant to like the guy) it’s a film that always remembers to keep things light and entertaining enough. I also enjoyed the somewhat romantic interplay between reformed Stormtrooper Finn and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). I thought for sure I’d find the latter annoying, like I feared with the Porgs, but no, she’s actually really terrific and John Boyega is possibly even better here than last time.

For me though, the villainous duo of Domhnall Gleeson’s sneering, wimpy General Hux and Adam Driver’s tantrum-throwing, emo Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren (AKA Ben Solo) are the series standouts. Gleeson’s wonderfully campy, shit weasel of a performance continues to be a source of glee for me. Every time the guy gets bitch-slapped or choked out by Snoke was a definite highlight. Kylo Ren, perhaps the most misunderstood character by some fans (i.e. He’s not meant to be Darth Vader-level, at least not yet!) is just as interesting here, if not more so. Constantly tortured and conflicted by the forces of light and darkness, you know that the guy who killed Han Solo is unlikely to wholeheartedly join the rebellion here, but he’s a far more complex villain than the series has previously had. Driver sells every facet of the character perfectly. The one thing I really did like about Rey’s character here was her connection to Kylo Ren, which although difficult to explain unless you’ve seen the film, is really interesting stuff.

Smaller pleasures here include a much better showing for series mainstays R2D2 and C3PO, who even get to interact a little bit with Luke and Leia, the latter for comedic purposes. I also think the music score by the inimitable John Williams resonates more than his work on “The Force Awakens”, bringing in familiar themes whilst also giving us a few new musical moments. Also, look out for one direct, but well-done homage to “A New Hope” involving a somewhat self-sacrificing diversionary tactic by one character, albeit with a half twist this time (one that may or may not be to your liking, but I liked it).

Look, all I can say is that I had a bloody good time with this one, just as I did with “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One”. I’m not among the people who think this is the best one since “The Empire Strikes Back”, those people are probably on some very spectacular substances. However, it’s undeniably fascinating, highly entertaining, and haters…I have to say you’re doing a very fine film an incredible disservice. You’re awfully tough to please if you feel so strongly in a negative sense about this film that you wouldn’t give it a positive rating. Opinions are individual of course, but this film hasn’t ruined your childhood, George Lucas probably did that already with the “Clone Wars” movie. Disney (for all their flaws), if anything have restored some of that childhood for me. You may not agree with all of the decisions that have been made here, but for me personally, I saw nothing beyond a dopey Sally Field impersonation that I had major objections to. See, I was too busy having fun…remember fun?

Rating: B


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