The People vs. 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
A Review's Honest Attempt to Play Judge
'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
Well…you just had to want different, didn’t you? You just had to call The Force Awakens predictable and formulaic? It seems Rian Johnson was listening and said fair enough everyone, not-your-father’s Star Wars it is, then. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is what you deserve.
Preparing A Defense
I’m actually ready to go to bat for this movie. My Disney check seems to have gotten lost in the mail, but I’ll do it anyway. I’m honestly blown away by just how much the fans hate this movie. I came out with my positives and negatives, but the situation seems to have pushed me towards being this film’s defense attorney. What’s the saying? No one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans? I’ll take on the fan base that can’t be pleased. To be fair, there’s plenty to complain about in the eighth major Star Wars adventure. But fans seem to have thrown in some of the film’s positives with its clear negatives. Critics are impressed as can be, but 2017 discards the opinions of professionals in favor of us “honest” amateurs. They’re all just opinions, to put this in perspective, but Star Wars: The Last Jedi has made a fascinating study of opinions. Full spoilers of course, as there’s no such thing as a safe Star Wars review before you’ve seen the movie.
The Prosecution's Case
I like to start with negatives when I like the movie, so let’s go over some things we can all agree on. The Last Jedi wastes a considerable amount of time in the first Star Wars casino since Battlefront 2 HEYYYOOO. Finn and Rose embark on the movie equivalent of a lengthy side-quest, and it distracts from the story elements that deserved more time. Benicio del Toro’s DJ is of course a constant exception here. That man is a treasure. This movie wasn’t too long, despite that common criticism. After waiting two years for this film, you really think two and a half hours was too much of your precious time, but two would’ve been fine? Poorly spent time is a different story, and that’s what Finn’s entire plot within a plot boils down to. Maybe toss some of that time to Phasma; that way she doesn’t complete her transformation into Boba Fett. I still have no idea why anyone likes that guy.
Rose felt like she was plucked directly out of Rogue One. And in case you missed my thoughts on Rogue One’s character development, that’s not a good thing. Not to mention how she hit Man of Steel levels of poorly timed kissing. The rebellion is literally exploding behind her and she decides it’s a good time to celebrate her successful sabotage of Finn’s would-be heroics. Way to take a potentially powerful death away from us, and away from a character who continues to have no real place in this story.
21st Century Cheek
Modern blockbusters, particularly Disney (there goes my check) need to realize something. I, as a human being, can survive more than five minutes without laughing. I can even survive moments of tension that don’t end in a joke. Seriously, we can do this. The resiliency of the human soul is an amazing thing. There’s a reason most Best Picture winners are a joyless crusade against smiling. And to think you made it through Han’s entire death scene without a laugh. It was a great scene. Just make tense moments tense from time to time. Marvel is already testing the limits of 21st century cheek. Don’t help them.
The Porg Awakens
I’m sure I’d be able to see Porgs as adorable side characters instead of a shameless plot to sell toys if I didn’t grow up in a jaded, complaint-ridden Internet culture. But I did, so I can’t. Hey, maybe we’ll go back to a simpler, less cynical time now that the Internet’s going away. I’ll at least appreciate the thinned herd of comment sections. As far as creatures so, I actually loved the ice puppies. Ice Critters, was it? Doesn’t matter. Further research has revealed these are Vulptices. I’m happy they weren’t solely designed to stuff into stockings next week. Yoda was a rare display of fan service in a movie that, thankfully, didn’t have much. I did appreciate the use of a puppet, instead of prequel CGI, and the dialogue was more fun than I want to admit. Page-turners, they were not indeed. But it’s still an out of place moment that earns as many sighs as it does smiles.
Compared To Its Predecessor
Have I complained enough to get you to hear me out? I’m saving my two biggest issues for later, just in case. Those were just the rapid-fire problems. The Force Awakens accumulated resentment from fans because it didn’t take any risks with the tired Star Wars formula. The Last Jedi is currently collecting criticism for doing just that. To be fair, The Force Awakens is a more well-oiled machine. There are very few down moments, Rathtar sequence aside. It does lean on nostalgia and shares a few too many elements with the original film, but it’s an entertainment machine. It’s genetically engineered to produce fun via perfect pacing. It’s a cinematic dopamine factory. But it doesn’t necessarily transcend the surface layer of Star Wars’ potential as a franchise. To put it simply, The Force Awakens hit a home run with a safe premise. Rian Johnson said to hell with safe, and the man knew exactly what he was doing. Did you think the planet made entirely of salt was a coincidence? He made that one just for you. Crait was crafted from the very tears of those who wanted and didn’t want change at the same time.
The Last Jedi is less consistent than its predecessor, with one or two moments that shouldn’t even make it past the first round of editing. I’ll be sure to berate those at length once my praise of the film starts to make readers sick. But while The Force Awakens lost some of its fan luster over time, I think The Last Jedi might just gain some appreciation for its sincere attempt to view this familiar universe through a different lens than the one you’ve been so stubbornly used to for decades. Critics love both, but the Star Wars fandom is a different animal. It’s the tiger that attacked Roy Horn after years of smooth sailing. But I think some time and perspective might go over well with the fan majority once they get over the Star Wars version of finding out there’s no Santa Claus. I imagine The Last Jedi detractors were furious with that reveal as well. Luke’s way cooler when he’s not perfect, everyone. We need to accept that.
We Need To Talk About Leia
Okay I’m gonna bash the Leia scene now. It couldn’t wait. I watch credits roll for what seems like hours on end. For Marvel I have to; for others I choose to. It’s a nice time to discuss the immediate impact of a film. And in that time we see hundreds upon thousands of names. And somehow, not one of these names was capable of saving the now dead Carrie Fisher from being turned into Mary Poppins in space. How far we’ve fallen from dear Yondu. The Last Jedi script literally hands us an organic way to write Leia out, one that even gave my boy Kylo a nice moment. I thought, "Okay, this is predictable and was shown in the trailer, but there’s really not much else they could’ve done." So I buy it and even catch a mild case of the feels as the villain is unable to pull the trigger himself. Then Leia’s body floats around and we’re immediately thinking, "Oh, no… Why are they showing this.?" Then the close up, and it’s "Oh, no… Please don’t open your eyes." And she does but, while all hope is lost for this moment, we’re saying "Okay as long as you don’t force pull yourself across the vacuum of space and…Oh, no she’s doing it." This is really happening. They undo a perfectly sensible death scene for reasons unknown while simultaneously creating the most visually baffling Star Wars image since… oh, right… the last time we saw Leia in Rogue One. This character really can’t catch a break since her smuggling scoundrel bit the dust. Carrie Fisher is cinematic royalty, and her every appearance is a genuinely bittersweet pleasure in this new trilogy. There is a silver lining to this ridiculous sequence. Knowing our princess, I’d bet that Carrie Fisher was probably the first one to say this was stupid.
The Defense's Case
We’ll hang onto that last complaint while you suffer through reading why this movie was in fact a great time. Rian Johnson did rip the rug out from under the two biggest Force Awakens questions: Snoke and Rey’s lineage. I personally did not like Snoke as a character at all. When asked what I wanted him to end up being, my answer was dead. So you can imagine how pleased I was to watch his storyline get cut short…or in half HEYYYOOO. Now let’s defend the single best possible outcome for these many Rey theories, and let’s hope god-emperor Kylo wasn’t lying to us. People are angry at the reveal (or non-reveal) of Rey’s origin as if there’s a single possibility that wouldn’t have been clichéd. So they subverted all expectations by doing what I’ve wanted for two years now.
Rey is already too good at everything. We need to bring her back down to Jakku somehow, figuratively speaking. That place sucks and I don’t want to see it again. The idea that Rey comes from nothing partially compensates for the fact that, yet again, we don’t really see her face serious consequences for her actions. Kylo’s mistakes come back to bite him, as do Luke’s, Poe’s, and even Finn’s. But Kylo’s truth bomb on Rey was the first time I found her legitimately interesting, beyond just being a magnetically likable actress. I don’t think anyone’s issues with Rey ever come down to Daisy Ridley’s performance. And they shouldn’t, because she’s again a pleasure to watch. Star Wars is often made fun of, by myself included, for how everyone has to be related to someone else. You make one great twist in the early '80s, during a movie fans didn’t even love at the time, and now it’s some imagined rule that has to be followed every year.
A 'Star Wars' Thanksgiving
It’s about damn time someone new jumped onto the Star Wars scene. This is a galaxy far, far away. It isn’t a Thanksgiving dinner at your neighbor’s house. I had my fill of Star Wars coincidences right around the time people legitimately theorized how Finn could be related to Mace Windu. Gee, I wonder what their reasoning was. I bet they’re both related to War Machine in a crossover event. Rey might be too powerful for any logic in this series, but the idea that she’s a glorified dumpster baby is a better twist than whatever Space Jesus plan you’d mapped out. That trippy mirror scene was beautiful to watch. So sorry Ewan McGregor didn’t come crawling out of the abyss to tell Rey about his romantic exploits around Mos Eisley. “A wretched hive of scum in villainy indeed. But the second I saw your mother… I just knew we were to continue this galaxy’s two-family population.” You know how the Force loves its balancing act. Rey exists to balance Kylo, a need that only became stronger once Luke called it quits. Therefore she’s quite powerful. It’s an imperfect but satisfactory explanation.
The bitter fans don’t love what The Last Jedi did with Luke Skywalker, as if Luke’s many mistakes weren’t what made him interesting in the first place. “Rey’s a Mary Sue, but I’m boycotting Disney products because Luke made a bad decision.” Do I have that right? Was Luke not the superior protagonist because he continues to screw up at every turn, only to defeat his shortcomings? This movie stresses the importance of flawed characters, which is why Rey occasionally falls by the wayside. She’s still a bit too straightforward. Her close encounters with the dark side brush against something more interesting, but Kylo and Luke steal the show as two sides of the same morally grey coin.
Don't Meet Your Heroes
I love The Last Jedi’s take on heroes and romanticized mythology. Logan did the same thing. STOP. No one’s saying The Last Jedi is as good as Logan. Don’t you saddle me with that comparison. Because spoiler alert, Logan’s the (rightful) best picture of 2017. But this pop culture era runs on sexy superheroes and do-no-wrong narratives. Leave it to Luke Skywalker, the hero of fiction heroes, to send our perspective crashing down to something less binary than Tatooine’s suns. I wish this portrayal could usher in a new age of more complicated role models. But I doubt Disney will ever so much as peek outside their comfort zone again after the display we’ve seen from a fan base that claims to want innovation. By all means, complain. It’s clearly a hobby of mine. But let’s aim our frustrations in the right direction. I only wish there wasn’t a handful of head-spinning nonsense that breaks The Last Jedi’s momentum at every major turn. Super Leia, Finn-Rose shipping, and the ill-advised swapping of Skywalker fates get in the way of an otherwise gripping take on the Star Wars story.
A Master And An Apprentice
Kylo’s relationship with Luke could carry an entire trilogy. The prequels had the exact same dynamic in theory, but put a dumpster fire on screen. We finally see the proper version of it, and people still complain. Kylo and Luke are much more layered than the black and white views that Star Wars films traditionally maintain. A villain with occasionally heroic inclinations fuels his burning hatred for a messianic mentor who isn’t so perfect after all. The mentor’s new pupil teeters between sides (or at least should) at every turn. That’s the grey-area Star Wars this generation needs to understand the infinite space between right and wrong. And The Last Jedi is ultimately that movie, if you can ignore the intermittent silliness tugging on your 3D glasses as you try to enjoy the film. Luke certainly took his time, but I was pleased with the portrayal of his character. And I was doubly pleased with Mark Hamill’s performance. I’ve always said that Luke’s vacant expression during the Return of the Jedi finale had some darker undertones. Let’s face it, that man would be royally messed up for the rest of his life after that encounter. Remember all the fans pretending they wanted Dark Side Luke for The Force Awakens? My goodness, were you bluffing. He goes half-grey in this one and everyone loses their minds.
Almost Stuck The Landing
I was literal seconds away from saying they couldn’t have done a better job with Luke. Then they killed him. I guess becoming powerful enough to die via evaporation is an honor in the Star Wars universe. If that’s the case, I’ve revised my stance on wanting to be powerful. For a film that dodged so many clichés and narrative traps, it’s disappointing to see them follow the most obvious possible route. This isn’t the opinion of some betrayed fanboy, still angry his childhood hero is gone. This is a resentment of the fact that Luke died because he was always going to in these new movies. His survival would’ve been the greatest twist of all, and they didn’t do it. Luke dies because… he had to? Because the immediate implication of a new, soft-reboot trilogy demanded it? It’s a disappointingly forecasted turn and, while I’m sure there’s still a plan for him beyond the grave, Luke’s place in this story should still be among the living. They had really nailed his final sequence until its final moments. As he disappears, we stop gasping and say oh right; this is a passing-the-torch trilogy so they had to kill Luke. And stop whining about the Force being able to do new things. Illusions and telepathic communication fit right in with the mythology. I would’ve loved to see you in 1983 for the debut of Force Lightning.
Return Of The Last Jedi
The Last Jedi’s many strengths and weaknesses remind me of Return of the Jedi. Episode VI has some of the strongest emotional climaxes in the entire series, which often rotate around the moral complexity of its characters. Then there’s an entire sequence in which space bears worship C-3PO because he’s shiny while Leia brushes her hair. It takes some degree of work as a fan to overlook the film’s lesser moments. Super-Leia is probably my new Ewoks. But the highs have never been higher in 21st century Star Wars. Kylo’s ascension solidifies his place as one of my favorite villains. He did me the favor of slicing my least favorite character in half, thereby making him the official antagonist of this story. They resisted the temptation to fluff him up, as he and Rey walk into the sunset as predictable heroes. And that tag-team fight scene combined the emotionally raw nature of the original trilogy’s fights while introducing some of the prequel’s ambition, without becoming too silly or overly choreographed. It’s what a Star Wars duel should be.
I don’t think The Last Jedi is a perfect movie. I’m on the fence about whether or not it’s even better than The Force Awakens. But given the hefty allegations against the film, I am decisively in favor of this latest Star Wars entry. This is absolutely the tonal direction I want Star Wars to go in, tension-deflating jokes aside. But if you’re going to make a risky film, one that you know will test fans, you better not include Leia force flying through the vacuum of space. If you’re taking tonal risks, there has to be an executioner in the editing room who beheads anything that’s unnecessary or outright stupid. I guess I wish I could see a Last Jedi that was as smoothly put together as The Force Awakens. The fan thing to say is “maybe that’ll be Episode IX,” but I would be absolutely shocked if Disney does anything original in the next movie. I’m convinced fans have ruined that possibility. With J.J. already at the helm, I’m honestly expecting a literal 3D re-release of Return of the Jedi that ends with “Happy now? Was this comfortable enough for you?”
Return Of The Return Of The Jedi
As a fan who nitpicks movies, I of course hesitate to antagonize fans who are currently nitpicking this movie. And I do apologize if you absolutely loved The Last Jedi and have had to skim through this review’s playful bashing of rabid cynics. I trust that I’ve outlined enough negatives here to convey the fact that my overall praise is a pretty fair opinion. I’m with you, whatever side you may be on, to a clear extent. I once posted a revisionist version of The Force Awakens, and I’ll be sure to do the same this time around. But I wouldn’t dare change the satisfyingly complicated takes on these characters. I’d probably go so far as to further complicate Rey’s mentality so she can catch up to how I feel about this film’s other leads. You can bet Finn and Rose see some narrative changes, and they probably end up dead. Let’s hope Disney, by some miracle, has the guts to commit to this story while delivering a cleaner plot. If they manage that, fans will have nothing left to complain about outside their own hypocrisies. But I seriously doubt that happens. I’ll see you all at Episode IX, Return of the Return of the Jedi.