Review - 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been one of the hardest films in recent memory for me to form a firm opinion on. Mostly, that's a good thing as I think Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a highly competent film that has an eye towards the future, verses its predecessor, The Force Awakens, which had its feet firmly in the past.
The Last Jedi picks up directly where The Force Awakens left off; Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks guidance from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a Jedi who has lost hope and prefers to remain in exile. Meanwhile, Snoke's fleet is hot on the trail of the rebels, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) must take it upon themselves to find a way to escape the First Order and lead the rebels to safety.
For the record, I've seen The Last Jedi twice as I felt it necessary for this review. Upon my initial viewing I enjoyed the movie, but felt that there was something missing, and was bothered by a handful of the decisions made throughout the lengthy two-and-a-half-hour stretch. That said, I felt like my thoughts on the film had yet to be solidified because there were aspects of this movie that I couldn't pin-point as to whether I liked them or not. Upon my second viewing I was much more satisfied with Rian Johnson's take on Star Wars. I realized that what put me off about the film the first time were my expectations of what I thought a Star Wars film should be, and I was initially off-put by how said expectations were completely subverted.
While The Last Jedi certainly has its fair share of problems (of which I will get into later), I ended up coming to the conclusion that this is, in fact, the most "Star Wars" film since at least Return of the Jedi. When I thought back on the original trilogy, I began to realize that the best facets of those movies were the moments when they shattered your expectations. Back when audiences first saw The Empire Strikes Back, nobody could have foreseen the twist coming when (Spoilers) Vader revealed himself as Luke's father. That reveal completely changed the entire dynamic of the story going forward. There are similar, yet completely different revelations in The Last Jedi that I never in a million years would have been able to predict.
It's ridiculous to think that there is such strong backlash for a film simply on the basis that it didn't end up the way people expected it would. Isn't the element of jaw-dropping surprise the very thing that has always kept Star Wars relevant and memorable? Now I'm not going to defend every single decision Rian Johnson made, but for the most part, I loved being jerked around in directions I didn't expect. This is what makes The Last Jedi such a divisive, yet completely refreshing experience. I also believe that while it might not have the best reception today, it will age like a fine wine and be revered as one of the best Star Wars films in the future.
The characters in The Last Jedi are also more well-rounded and flawed than they were in the previous film, which makes them much more interesting and relate-able. Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, still doesn't quite earn the power she so easily possesses, but she's more conflicted and actually makes blunders that any normal human might make. While her arch isn't quite as satisfying as I would have liked, I was still able to buy her as a believable hero. Oscar Isaac who plays Po Dameron is also given a lot more to do here. In The Force Awakens he was sort of a second-rate Han Solo. Here, his adept skills as a pilot are still on display, but a light is shone on the danger and potential death he inadvertently brings to anyone following him into battle. Finn, played by John Boyega, probably gets the shortest end of the stick here. He gets an arch and his character does progress, but the section of the film he is involved in for the most part turned out to be fairly superfluous. Now we come to Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. This character is without a doubt my favorite part of this film, and I think Kylo Ren may actually be my favorite Star Wars antagonist thus far. Adam Driver could have easily turned this character into a cackling Saturday-morning-cartoon villain, but he strikes the perfect balance and his rage and pain is palpable. He's the perfect villain. He's the character you feel for and want to see turn back to the light, but also know that his actions may have already pushed him passed the point of no return.
As for the legacy characters, we have two big ones here. Most everyone on this planet knows that this is Luke Skywalker's big day in the sun, and he's once again portrayed by the one-and-only Mark Hamill. While I can't say I quite agree with the direction taken with the character, Mark Hamill gives it his all and I was sold by the end. I won't give anything away, but Luke is a much more conflicted and reclusive soul than he was when we last saw him in Return of the Jedi. He also has a great dynamic with Rey, though I wish they had had a little more time together. Then we have Carrie Fisher in her last performance before her tragic death. Knowing that Fisher is no longer with us added something to the film, and made her performance seem all the more priceless. It's also fortunate that she had a bit more to do here than she did in The Force Awakens. Fans of the legendary Leia Organa will not be disappointed.
Despite my love for Rian Johnson's work on The Last Jedi as a whole, there were still some decisions made in this film that dragged it down. There's a subplot in this film that takes 20-30 minutes that is the definition of pointless filler. That's not to say that it wasn't fun to watch, but it didn't serve the plot in any meaningful way. Another small issue I have is regarding the progression of some of the characters. While I love how every character is more well-rounded, there are characters that change and become more powerful way too quickly. Big moments occur at the end of this film that would have felt more significant if I were more invested in the involved party's struggle to get there. In addition to this, I think there is a smidge too much humor in this movie. I'm not opposed to Star Wars films being funny, bu the humor here reminded me of something I might expect in a Marvel film, and it felt a tad out-of-place in the Star Wars universe.
Aesthetically, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is about as close as you come to flawless. Rian Johnson has crafted an absolutely beautiful film, and while I would have liked a bit more planet-hopping, I was happy to spend time in such a well-realized world that managed to be entirely different while still feeling like Star Wars. The score by John Williams is also amazing, even if most of the themes simply carried over from the previous film.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a film that has polarized audiences, and I can see why as there are certainly some questionable bumps in the road throughout the film. That said, I think those flaws are only skin-deep and Rian Johnson has his eyes set on the future, not the present. I firmly believe that this film is in it for the long haul and will end up being looked back on as one of the greats. Go into The Last Jedi with an open mind and you might just be delighted by what you witness.