“Let the past die.” “This is not going to go the way you think.” These quotes embody the latest entry of the Star Wars saga. Many of the typical things you know about Star Wars are flipped on their head within Director Rian Johnson’s latest entry in the sprawling saga. These seemingly novel innovations are the fatal flaws of The Last Jedi. Rather than building to a monumental “twist,” the sinuous narrative constantly has “reveals” of varying magnitude. While some of these choices are fantastic, overusing this technique diminishes the meaningfulness of each moment. Fair warning here, this review will cover many spoilers in the film. Additionally, I am a life-long Star Wars fan, so excuse the bias.
Pockets of this film are awe-inspiring, and everything I hoped to witness from a returning Luke Skywalker. Johnson masterfully utilizes Mark Hamill in a disheveled Jedi Master role, begrudgingly reluctant to train aspiring hopeful Rey (Daisy Ridley). Luke has hidden himself away from the galaxy and has no intent to rejoin the intergalactic war. Luke is crippled by his guilt from the failed training of Ben Solo, the now evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The anticipated reveal of the fall of Luke’s Jedi Order is treated with the utmost care and creates intrigue in the audience from that fateful night. Viewing the scene from both Luke and Kylo’s point of view creates an interesting dynamic, while still preserving our “legends.” What is even more interesting, is that these stories are relayed to us by unreliable narrators, forcing audiences to make their own judgment calls on the “truth.”
Luke’s return only grows stronger as he reconnects with the classic puppet Yoda. The crazy hermit returns to destroy the amassed Jedi lore. In a way, this could symbolize Disney’s removal of the original expanded universe in Star Wars canon. In fact, Luke’s actual teachings to Rey are short but impactful. Watching Rey connect to the Force is beautiful, and Luke’s look of abject horror at Rey’s quick descension to the dark side is perfection. Luke even points out the utter hypocrisy of the original Jedi Order, referencing, while also critiquing, the impetus of the prequel trilogy. Luke’s storyline builds to a cerebral standoff between Luke and his former Padawan Kylo. In Luke’s ultimate sacrifice before the “battle” even begins, he seals his own fate, while giving the new rebellion a chance to survive and one day topple the seemingly unstoppable First Order.
While Luke has one of the best resolutions in Star Wars history, Kylo resorts to a cartoon villain. Kylo Ren is the most frustrating character in this new trilogy. All of his scenes with Rey are great, except for a groan-worthy shirtless comment by Rey. Kylo creates a captivating allure to the presence of the dark side, while also providing enough hope for Rey to think Kylo can be redeemed. Even before the Rey and Kylo scenes, the confict in Kylo is further magnified as he can not bring himself to kill his own mother General Leia. While Kylo’s conflict eats away at his soul, he achieves what Vader could never accomplish: killing his master. The Sith always strive for ultimate power, advancing through deceit and conquest. This code motivates Kylo to trick Snoke into his own death.
Snoke is a complete waste. He was a disappointment in Force Awakens and is made an utter joke in Last Jedi, complete with a tacky wardrobe. While his death is a welcome surprise, this clear attempt at a retcon is wasted by Kylo Ren’s aftermath. Ren has not changed at all. In a way, Kylo recreates Vader’s attack on the Emperor. Would it be so pre-determined that Vader would’ve joined the Rebellion if he didn’t die at the end of Return of the Jedi? According to Kylo, the answer is clearly no.
On a side note, the exhilarating team-up of Kylo and Rey against the Praetorian Guards is thrilling and inventive. The unique and varied weapons the guards possess made the new type of soldiers a worthy new addition to the galaxy. The end of this conflict features a dream “Force” tug-of-war with a lightsaber, solidifying the deep divide between Rey and Ren.
Rey’s character is slightly weakened in this episode. The mystery and intrigue she possessed in Force Awakens, has mostly dissipated. Even though her parent’s reveal does not succumb to internet-forum speculation pressure, the reveal does not really have any significant impact on Rey. Moments of the film advance Rey’s character, but overall it feels like she has regressed. At least she will always have her platonic friendship with Finn (John Boyega).
Speaking of Finn, his subplot with newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) is the weakest element of this film. There is an obvious push to force a 1% storyline, revolving around the idea that the Force is sympathetic to struggling children throughout the galaxy, regardless of bloodline. This is totally fine but only further reinforces the predestined biology of the mysticism. Most of Finn and Rose’s adventures take place on the casino planet Canto Bight. This world is full of boring CGI aliens, and I could do without the space horses. One bright spot in their storyline is Benicio del Toro’s character who presents a nice critique on the grey realities of war.
Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has fantastic chemistry with General Leia (Carrie Fisher). His storyline and arc of the hot shot pilot is a bit overdone, but Isaac still does a good job with his material. There is a glaring logic problem between him and Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). The admiral withholds information on her rescue plan leading Poe to take drastic matters into his own hands. A little communication would’ve probably saved the remnants of the Resistance, which are almost entirely wiped out by the end of the film. Furthermore, I won’t even attempt to apply logic to cinema’s slowest chase scene. I actually enjoyed this creative premise, but internally, I was constantly bombarded with questions of how the First Order could not actually wipe them out sooner. Also, speaking of Leia, I think Fisher gives a great performance as Leia, but I could definitely have done without her flying in space, even if it would’ve cut her story short early.
Last Jedi excels at space battles, an area, which found Force Awakens floundering. While both of these movies have great Millenium Falcon runs, Force’s Starkiller base sequences were short and uninteresting. In contrast, Jedi’s choreography is phenomenal. The audience is fully taken into Poe’s cockpit and given a strategic flight plan to disable the First Order’s fleet. While there are some overdramatic moments involving the bombers, these moments are still exciting and set up future storylines in the film. Finally, the light-speed crash is utter beauty and insanely creative, even if the idea of battering a ship did originate in Rogue One.
I will not even bother talking about Phasma. She is given barely anything to do for the second time in a row. At least she has a book…I guess.
Overall, Last Jedi is a great film, but unfortunately can be considered a disappointment in the shadow of Empire Strikes Back and the massive hype created by Force Awakens. Rian Johnson has tested my faith, and I am cautiously speculating on how he will handle the future trilogy of Star Wars films. For now, Last Jedi is worth the watch with tempered expectations.