If there’s one thing that the last two weeks have reinforced for me, it’s that the age of social media (that we currently live in) can be a double-edged sword. Social media – the whole of the Internet, for that matter – has been able to connect millions of people around the world. With those connections come the revelation of millions of opinions on a variety of subjects; many that you will agree with, and many which you will disagree. And while the age of social media gives us the ability to see outside of our own echo chambers and into a vast world of differing views and opinions, it has also caused a regression; instead of embracing these opposing outlooks, many of us have instead retreated even more into ourecho chambers. Instead of seeking out differences for the purposes of knowledge and spirited debate, we only seek out perspectives that coincide with our own. Now, this can apply to practically any subject in the entire world (and I’m purposely ignoring the orange elephant in the room when saying this), but for the purposes of this “review,” I’m talking specifically about STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.
To date, I have seen THE LAST JEDI at total of three times, which for some historical reference, is the same amount of times that I saw THE FORCE AWAKENS two years ago. Quite frankly, I was sure of my opinion of THE FORCE AWAKENS after the initial viewing, and the second and third viewings just solidified my stance. However, with THE LAST JEDI, I walked out of the theater like many fellow moviegoers and/or Star Wars fans: feeling just a little bit weird. So much so that I honestly didn’t know how I felt about it. Even after discussing the film with family and friends of mine the next day, there were things that I liked, and things that I hated. So I really couldn’t put myself squarely in the ‘Liked It’ or ‘Hated It’ column. I knew a second viewing would be a necessity for me so I could let everything about the film sink in better. The second viewing put me on the right path, and the third viewing helped solidify my stance. That stance being: THE LAST JEDI is just…okay.
Set, for the most part, immediately after the events of THE FORCE AWAKENS, THE LAST JEDI sees Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) come face-to-face with Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill) after being sent by General Leia Organa (played by Carrie Fisher) to convince Luke to join the Resistance in its fight against the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (played by Andy Serkis) and Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver). And that’s pretty much all I can give you as far as a plot summary without going into spoilers. While outlining this review, I realized that trying to review a Star Wars film without going into spoilers is a bit futile, but in order to be fair to those who still have not gotten around to seeing it (and those people are out there), I’ve decided to discuss the film purely on a technical film standpoint without going into specific plot points.
The thing that struck me the most about THE LAST JEDI, and probably the thing that I admire the most about it, is how ballsy this film really is. Director Rian Johnson (who also wrote the film), if reports are correct, was given complete creative freedom by Disney, and it seems that his intention was to pour gasoline on everything that we know or think we know about Star Wars, light a match, and burn it all to the ground. Whether I or anybody else agreed or disagreed with the direction that Johnson took the film, and by extension the franchise itself, is irrelevant. You just can’t help but show at least some admiration towards someone who just so brazenly walks in and shakes everything up. As a result, not only did the film come across very jarring with many of the directions it took, but I felt (like many do) that it allowed for an expansion of the Star Wars mythology by allowing us to question everything about it. And the film’s window into this line of questioning comes through the character of Luke Skywalker.
As seen in the film’s trailer, Luke Skywalker infamously proclaims that, “it’s time for the Jedi to end.” Why does he feel this way? The film’s line of reasoning, while seemingly at odds with everything the Star Wars universe has told us about the Jedi for the past 40 years (and I completely understand why many fans don’t like this), does make sense if you really think about it – you’d be lying to yourself if you said otherwise. And what’s interesting is that the film isn’t randomly making stuff up to get this point across – it’s right there in the previous films (specifically, the prequels). Mark Hamill gives the performance of his career as Luke Skywalker, a man elevated to legend status, who in reality, has little to show for it since RETURN OF THE JEDI. You can tell that Hamill was really absorbed into the character – and was really happy to be assuming the mantle of Luke again. While this version of Luke was now 30 years older than when we last saw him, with 30 years’ worth of memories, there were many instances (particularly in the climax) where glimmers of the old Luke Skywalker refreshingly surfaced, and Hamill hit it out of the park.
While Mark Hamill had the runaway best performance of the film, the rest of the cast did pull their weight adequately. Daisy Ridley as Rey had a tremendous outing, and her scenes with Hamill helped move the film along dramatically. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren probably had the second-best performance of the film behind Hamill, playing probably the most fascinating character in Star Wars history – the emotionally conflicted villain who is constantly being tug-of-war’d between the light and the dark side of the Force. Oscar Issac as the flyboy Poe Dameron had a great showing as well. Supporting players such as John Boyega as Finn (more on him later), Laura Dern, and Benecio Del Toro – while not having much screen time, all had good performances to their names. And last but certainly not least, as the final performance in Carrie Fisher’s storied career, it was both thrilling and depressing to watch Princess Leia on the big screen. She is a cultural icon that will surely be missed not just by Star Wars fans or even Hollywood, but by the entire world. And she left behind a wonderful performance that encompassed everything that Princess Leia was about.
Other aspects of the film that I enjoyed were its visual effects, which created as great and as immersive a Star War experience as one could ask for, and the John Williams score, which showed a lot more emotional depth compared to the score for the previous film. There are also quite a few exhilarating action sequences (my favorite one takes place in a throne room – that’s all I’m going to say). The special effects, score, and action scenes are normally the things about a Star Wars film that are always consistently good, and THE LAST JEDI was no exception.
Having said all of that, I do have a major issue with this film. While I did say about that I admired the brazenness of the film to go in different directions (and I did like some of these), there were some that I did not like. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about them without going into spoilers. I have seen a lot of Star Wars fans who, like me, did not like these particular events/revelations; there are also Star Wars fans who did like them, and for the exact same reasons that I didn’t like them. This, to me, speaks to the overall divisiveness of THE LAST JEDI. However, the one sequence/storyline that I have seen practically universal dismissal of is the one regarding the characters of Finn and Rose (played by Kelly Marie Tran). Not only does their “mission” stop the film dead, it gets more and more boring and pointless with each viewing. This storyline takes up about a good 30 minutes of screen time, and whenever the film has to switch back to it, it just kills its pacing and makes the audience impatient. While it’s easy to sit here and say that cutting out those 30 minutes would save the film, in the end, it is important to the film’s ending, so here we have a filmmaker’s ultimate dilemma. But I think the payoff to that storyline is what really kills any impact that it was probably meant to have.
Since it seems, on paper, that there was more about this film that I liked as opposed to hated, you’re probably asking, “Why is THE LAST JEDI just ‘okay’ then?” Honestly, the creative direction of the film was the biggest factor in this. Even now, as I mentioned above, there were things about the story that I just didn’t like. It almost felt as if THE LAST JEDI was two films squeezed into one, and seemed to almost rush from one “big” moment to the next without any regard to logic or proper buildup. Yet I also realize that there are people who like/love the film for these same reasons, and I’m okay with that. I think a lot of the online arguments about THE LAST JEDI stem from people simply forgetting that opinions are just that: opinions. Everyone views films differently, and as such, are entitled to their opinions on it. If you liked the film, great; if you didn’t like it, that’s also great. That’s not to say that you can’t debate with someone; as long as you realize that in the end, their opinion is their opinion, there’s nothing wrong with a friendly movie debate.
In the end, I will still recommend this film, especially to Star Wars fans. To the casuals, it’s still worth a watch, though if you’re not well-versed in Star Wars mythology, it may confuse you at different points. But overall it’s still adequate escapist entertainment that always equates to a good time at the movies. Maybe with future viewings of THE LAST JEDI, I will come around to a lot of the changes that this film has instituted; maybe Episode IX will make everything fall into place better, but right now, THE LAST JEDI doesn’t make my personal Top 5 Star Wars films. But to its credit, it’s not for a lack of trying.
STAR WARS : THE LAST JEDI
2017 ● 152 Minutes ● United States
Color ● English ● Lucasfilm
Cast: Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, Andy Sekis, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Domhall Gleeson, Laura Dern