Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Reviewed by Eddie Daou
I am a lifelong Star Wars fan (to get a feel for how much I love Star Wars, just know that I saw this movie twice on opening night) and I am absolutely ecstatic with the idea of a new trilogy and movie series. I want this franchise to live on because the possibilities in this universe are totally infinite. My entire childhood I wanted a new Star Wars movie. I longed for Episode VII, and when THE FORCE AWAKENS came out I loved it. It was a fast-paced throwback with tons of amazing moments for fans. It was fun. It was intensely rewatchable. It wasn’t everything the Star Wars fans wanted, but you know what? It was everything Star Wars fans deserved. The new characters were fantastic, the action was really cool, and most of all, it felt like a Star Wars movie. A year later, we got ROGUE ONE, the cinematic equivalent of a Star Wars expanded universe novel. The story is intriguing, but the batch of characters in it were weakly written and the pace irritably slow at times. The real saving grace of the film was its stunning final 45 minutes, which completely blew me away. And now, two years after THE FORCE AWAKENS, we have THE LAST JEDI.
THE LAST JEDI is the most divisive movie in ages, which is definitely something to be expected when you have a movie that constantly switches between so many different tones and storylines, with some being rousing and awesome and others being flat and boring. If had to choose between the “Last Jedi is good” and the “Last Jedi is awful” teams out there? I’d agree that it’s good, but I still have my reservations on some of director Rian Johnson’s choices.
THE LAST JEDI follows three separate storylines: Luke and Rey together on Ahch-To, the Resistance fleet, and Finn and newcomer Rose on their own side mission together. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK did a similar splitting of the characters in its own story, but only much better than in THE LAST JEDI. The problem here is that Luke and Rey’s storyline is absolutely captivating and incredible storytelling, and the other two storylines range in quality from “okay” to “very questionable”. The perfect version of THE LAST JEDI would cut most of the superfluous Finn and Resistance scenes and be a quick, shorter movie only following the best characters and best moments. Every single time Rey, Luke, or Kylo Ren weren’t on screen, I found myself longing for their next scene, and frankly, getting a little bored. While the third act does a great job of tying the three storylines together into one central theme (something many blockbusters forget) it still doesn’t justify how disengaging some of the movie is at times.
But even though what Johnson is doing doesn’t always work, *how* he goes by it is spectacular. THE LAST JEDI is stunning from both a visual level and an action level as well. THE LAST JEDI has more practical effects than any other Star Wars film, and just about every location and alien looks awesome. The effort put in to the practical effects shows on screen in just how detailed every single thing in the movie looks. And Johnson directs every single action scene perfectly. There wasn’t a single fight or space battle that didn’t completely blow me away. THE LAST JEDI even has one of the best and coolest lightsaber battles in the entire series. The action scenes just totally blew my mind with how inventive and genuinely cool they were. Even the cinematography is outstanding. The opening shot of the Canto Bight casino is going to be an instant classic Star Wars visual, and many of the closing shots were just beautiful and perfect from visual and story standpoints. On a level of pure filmmaking craft, THE LAST JEDI gets a perfect grade.
As a fan of THE FORCE AWAKENS and all of its new characters, I was dying to see how their storylines would be continued in this movie. And while I absolutely love the development of Luke, Kylo, and Rey in this film, and I’ve grow to like the new character of Rose and her message, I have to say that I was majorly disappointed with how they handled Finn and Poe Dameron in this movie. Their storylines give them missions with absolutely no point to it. It’s just artificially constructed fodder; creating conflict just to give them some “busy work” while the main storyline does all the heavy lifting.
Performance wise, THE LAST JEDI is incredibly strong. Even though they don’t have much to do, John Boyega and Oscar Issac are clearly still having fun in their roles. Series newcomer Kelly Marie Tran does a good job standing out as Rose as well. But the best performances are the central 3 characters. Rey is an amazing lead hero, and Daisy Ridley does an absolutely awesome job in her role. Adam Driver is fantastic as the layered villain of Kylo Ren, and he’s still the most amazing new character of the new trilogy. But the best performance in the film has to be Mark Hamill. His return to the legendary role of Luke Skywalker. His performance is an amazing balance between gravitas and humor. It’s a truly satisfying return for fans of the original trilogy, and they totally deliver on the return of the original Jedi hero.
There is a perfect version of this kind of blockbuster out there. It even came out earlier this year. It’s called GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2. I know it’s a weird comparison to make at first, but hear me out. Rian Johnson’s goal with THE LAST JEDI is to make a space opera blockbuster different than anything we’ve seen before, leaning heavily into the weirdness of it all, and giving a character-driven blockbuster instead of a story driven one. This loses the Star Wars flavor, and to me, felt more like GUARDIANS 2’s style of going about things. But while THE LAST JEDI fails to give everyone something interesting to do, GUARDIANS 2 succeeds. In that film, every character actually has development, and each storyline is intriguing. In comparison, THE LAST JEDI is much slower, unlike the constant fun of GUARDIANS 2.
That’s the main reason why I believe THE LAST JEDI to, overall, be a disappointment. While it has 5 or 6 absolutely stunning, truly “Star Wars” moments where I was clapping and cheering, it just left me wanting more in the end. THE FORCE AWAKENS gave me cheering moments like those, but didn’t have half as much plodding and exposition as THE LAST JEDI did. It was supposed to be the next EMPIRE STRIKES BACK for the new trilogy, the high-watermark for which we would look at the upcoming Star Wars films. But instead, what we got was a film mixed with perfection and failure. I loved the characters, the action, and the filmmaking craft behind it, but I just couldn’t get myself into the story. The bits and pieces of thematic and storytelling perfection here and there make me feel like there really is a 5-star film buried somewhere in this movie, something that is as good as what most people say. Even though it has its fair share of problems, and isn’t as perfect as some people claim, THE LAST JEDI is nowhere even close to the travesty some people are making it out to be. It isn’t a complete wash; there’s still some bits of gold in here. It’s worth the price of admission for Luke, Rey, Kylo, the stunning third act, and the best final scene of any Star Wars movie (one that actually moved me to tears).
Oh, yeah, and PORGS!