Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review – “Is the Force with Episode VIII?”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) Review
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher

Star Wars: The Force Awakens left us hanging with some intriguing questions including who are Rey’s parents and what’s going to happen now that Rey has found Luke Skywalker. On the critical side, Star Wars: The Last Jedi needs to take risks and tell an original story in order to address some concerns with the 2015 reboot.

The two years in between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi may have felt like a long time but not as long as the decade between Episode III and VII. Still, for Star Wars fans the anticipation level is very high and The Last Jedi has a plenty of hype to live up to. Overall, The Last Jedi is decent enough in the first half and then hits its stride after the middle section. Fan reaction has been polarizing to say the least.

This post will contain some spoiler-free reaction in the first half and then give spoiler-filled comments on specific events at the bottom. A spoiler warning will be given in advance.

The broad brush of the story is General Leia and the Resistance are on the run from Snoke and the First Order. Meanwhile, Rey is hoping Luke Skywalker will show her the ways of the force but he wants the Jedi to end. The Force Awakens has an exuberant adventurous energy to it. Although there are humorous moments, The Last Jedi has an understandably heavier feel where the Rebels are under siege most of the time.

Sadly Carrie Fisher passed away late last year. I am pleased with how General Leia is respectfully treated. The writers had to work with the material that was already shot. The post production and additional dialogue completed after her passing is not glaringly obvious which is a compliment to Lucas Films. At times, I did notice she doesn’t move around much in her scenes. One of the critiques with The Force Awakens is that certain moments between character at the end where neglected. The Last Jedi does a better job at giving the interpersonal moments, even if it is just a quick acknowledgement, especially with characters who have a long history together.

The trio of heroes that were introduced in Episode VII are at the forefront. Rey’s feistiness is one her strong qualities and it really shines when she wants to bring out the good in people she believes in. Daisy Ridley continues right where she left off with her star making performance in Episode VII. Poe is integrated better throughout the Last Jedi. Poe has his own arc learning the difference between being an impulsive hero and a strategic leader. It’s kind of funny remembering that BB-8 is Poe’s droid because BB-8 spends more time with other characters. BB-8 is so likable, who wouldn’t want to own one? I’ll take a porg too, who doesn’t like BBQ?

Most of Finn’s story is with Rose Tico, she’s a solid new character and the actress is very good. A side excursion that Finn and Rose takes isn’t that integral to the plot though it may help flesh out Rose’s backstory and offer unneeded social commentary. I was hoping to get more scenes of Rey and Finn together because their chemistry was a highlight in Episode VII. Further, Finn’s arc was more clearly defined in Episode VII from storm trooper to reluctant at first Resistance hero. That’s not to say Finn doesn’t get some really good hero moments but his story line isn’t as strongly written as Rey’s.

For some viewers, Kylo Ren came off as an impetuous teenager with temper tantrums in The Force Awakens. I’m skeptical if his characterization in this movie will win over his detractors. Personally, I like Adam Driver’s performance and his scenes with Daisy Ridley allow him to explore another side to Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo. A flashback helps explain why Kylo Ren became who he is. If there was more time, a couple of other flashbacks showing his tutelage under Luke Skywalker and Snoke could have fleshed things out better.

There is plenty of action to go around: battles on land and in space, a fast chase scene, a long slow chase scene, things going boom quietly. However, I wouldn’t say the action set pieces are incredibly original. The light saber sequence that we get is fairly good in terms of choreography. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the “cool factor” and lacks the emotional stakes that should go along with it. Rian Johnson isn’t known to be the most creative/inventive action director. JJ Abrams is better at capturing the vibrancy of a battle. The violence level is what you’d expect from a modern Disney blockbuster; nothing as brutal as Revenge of the Sith. Visually, the effects and CG look pretty good.

The good parts are letting key characters simply interact with one another. Rey and Luke play off of each other well. Rey and Kylo’s connection works too.  Both Finn and Poe have their moments, but their stories are a bit convoluted. Tip-of-the-hat nostalgic nods to Chewy, R2-D2 and C-3PO are nice. These old fan favorites don’t play a big role. The weaker parts is the lack of awesome battles and an all-out light saber duel. The story should have been more focused with bigger emotional stakes for each of the new generation of Rebels. The Last Jedi answers questions fans have been talking about since Episode VII. In addition, all of the story arcs are resolved. Some may find the way events resolve satisfying, others will be sorely disappointed. The Last Jedi is not on the level of the best Star War movies, neither is it the worst.

Warning Full Spoilers Ahead …

A number of story elements are knowing nods to previous episodes, mainly the Empire Strikes Back. It’s not as blatantly overt as replacing the Death Star with the Star Destroyer in Episode VII. There are plenty of parallels, one of which is the parent reveal. When I let it sink in, Rey’s parents isn’t anti-climatic to me. Rey’s vision in the underground cave (word of advice, avoid dark dank holes) makes sense in retrospect. It’s not about who she is or where she came from but what she does that matters.

Rey’s tragic backstory that her parents sold her for next to nothing kind of makes her even more endearing. It’s definitely better than if Kylo reached out his hand and said, “Rey, I am your half-brother. I say “half” because that means we still have a chance … right?” I do like Rey’s connection with Kylo. They are each others yin and yang. By focusing on Rey and Kylo, the franchise is free to discard Snoke.

Got milk? As for Luke flirting with his dark side, once I get over some initial automatic reactions I can begin to appreciate it. As we get older, like Luke, we become jaded and world weary. We look back at our regrets, mistakes and missed opportunities in life. The new generation that comes along, whether it is our children or in this case Rey, helps us to see the world again with a fresh, new pair of eyes. The young, their innocence and spirit, has a way of revitalizing that which is old. I like that Luke gets to have his own personal arc. No one is ever only the boy-scout, everybody has a dark side. Fittingly, Luke continues to learn a final lesson from Yoda. Much more to discuss, we have.

I was unsure what to think when Luke tossed away the light saber in the beginning. It turned out to be a signal of things to come. On one hand I would have liked a real, in the flesh light saber battle with Luke and Kylo. But I’m not upset when it was revealed to be a force projection of Luke. Luke got a fitting farewell, staring off into the sun. I’m satisfied with that. Now that Luke, Hans and presumably Leia in the next episode are departed, the story can take off in any direction with the new generation of heroes.

The Last Jedi is not without some obvious flaws. I came away still liking the core characters of Rey, Kylo, Finn, Poe and BB-8. One difference is that by the end of The Force Awakens I was looking forward to going back into that universe. Perhaps it’s because The Last Jedi resolves so many questions and story threads that I’m not thinking too much about what exactly can happen next. It’s also because I wasn’t completely enthralled. I did enjoy the movie more as it went along. Everybody should be allowed to have their own experience of The Last Jedi. I have a feeling that people on both sides, plus those who are conflicted, will have strong, passionate opinions about The Last Jedi for many years to come.

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