Evening and morning my friends, as I sat down to begin this post, two things became self-evident: one – this review would be more of a postmortem take on The Last Jedi as it’s hard for me to believe ANYONE missing this film on opening weekend and two – there is such an excuse as “The dog ate my homework.” In this case, “homework” is my carefully crafted and hilarious review you all were sure to enjoy and toast and the “dog” happened to be WordPress not saving drafts well.
Since what I labored on for a few hours, then watching it be whisked away like the embers of a bonfire in the middle of a “Forest Moon”, you’ll get an abridged version of my thoughts.
You’ve never looked at that scene that way before have you? At the time of
Revenge Return of the Jedi, you had just witnessed a daring space battle, redemption, a glorious lightsaber duel, and the defeat of the Evil Empire. You weren’t thinking about the murderous Ewoks or the reveal of barely avoided incest between the Skywalker siblings, you were enjoying the ride and your endorphins were flowing: you were high on an exciting conclusion to a brilliant trilogy.
Well, overlooking of those little things was something Director Rian Johnson did not want you to do again.
A Star Wars film has familiar beats to it and even though there have been changes, like last year’s brilliant Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the main saga has stayed relatively close to the core “Hero’s Journey” ever present in all forms of media. This is by no means a bad thing. The “Hero’s Journey” has endured since the age of The Iliad because when well told, it’s both enjoyable and familiar.
The Last Jedi was not interested in being familiar.
While I’m sure you’ve already seen the film and are just reading for my take on the film, I’m going to be completely “Spoiler-Lite”. I want you to enjoy this film as much as I did and do so without an exciting plot point divulged. There are certain things that I cannot get around:
But I’ll keep the real meat for you to dine on while in the theater.
With that being said, I absolutely adored how Johnson flipped everything you expected in a Star Wars film on its head…while lifting rocks and balancing a Muppet.
I was so impressed that at every turn, your expectations were met with a very unusual wall. Think of the highlights of the Star Wars films:
- Daring Side-Missions
- Epic Lightsaber Duels
- Massive Space Battles
- Odds Stacked Against Key Characters
- Heart-Wrenching Defeats or Deaths
This film had all of that, but in each Star Wars “Moment”, Johnson and the writers were there to flip the script on you.
Watching The Last Jedi unfold and seeing these moments blown up (sometimes quite literally) was a delight. You will cock your head at so many moments throughout this film and wonder if you’re watching Star Wars at all. It was these turns on the classic Star Wars formula that, in my opinion, make The Last Jedi one of the more enjoyable entries in the entire saga.
There is a very strong current of tempering expectations, seeing there is somewhere in the middle between The Light and The Dark Side of the Force, that not everything is as neat and tiddy that many people expect. This is core to The Last Jedi. And it also allowed the Star Wars Universe to grow and swell beyond our cast of characters we’ve known for a while now. I think that’s a feat worth celebrating and however you feel about The House of Mouse overseeing this beloved franchise, you have to wonder how massive are Kathleen Kennedy’s balls are to let her filmmakers make unprecedented changes to this Galaxy Far Far Away.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some real head scratching scenes that just plain didn’t work, but they were mere blips on the sonar (yeah, still seems like they use that kind of tech) compared to the rest of the film.
Other than challenging the audience to accept a fresh take and delivery of what a Star Wars film is, The Last Jedi was funny. You can easily see Lucasfilm and the team taking a page out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s playbook here. Again, as I watched, there wasn’t the dumb slapstick of Jar Jar aimed directly at kids, but grown men and women laughing fully. It really reminded me of seeing Thor Ragnarok earlier this year. A series that had a little humor in it written anew with sharp dialog and brilliant wit. You’re not going to find any cringe inducing lines throughout the film.
Everyone did a stand out job here. For my money, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver killed it in this one. Their interactions were some of the most brilliant points in the film. And that’s saying a lot when you have Mark Hamill chewing up every scene and line of dialog he has throughout the film.
Other highlights were from the next class of Star Wars heroes: Finn, Poe, and Rose – the latest addition to the franchise. These actors have such excellent chemistry together that when they are conspiring together or going off on their own missions, you forget that this was scripted. Finishing each other’s sentences, brightening up at the sight of one another, and building to those heartfelt moments that are so signature in Star Wars lore, each one of them pulled it off in stride.
I really had a hard time with one character in particular: Carrie Fisher. Not only was I deeply saddened every time she was in front of the lense, but I was disappointed with how they handled her. Again, no spoilers, but they had an excellent opportunity to write her out of the film, completely heartbreaking and classy, yet they took another road that I felt was forced. And it’s all the more difficult to criticize because of my love for the late Carrie Fisher, but Leia’s role in the film was disappointing and her character was criminally used. Sadly, this is one of those times when someone should say, “Oh yeah, well, you do better.” to which I can honestly say, “I would have.” and not be arrogant.
Setting aside this misstep, and a couple others: why the hell was Benicio del Toro in this film? The cast was strong. I especially enjoyed Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo. She truly commanded her scenes and lended a much needed strong voice throughout the film.
The Effects or Action
All you need to know is in the title of the film, Star Wars. And they emphasized the “Wars” part of that title.
Honestly, the opening space battle was one of the best in the entire franchise. It was funny, pulse pounding, and over all too quickly. We can thank Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron for the killer battle. The franchise always spoke of how amazing Anakin was as a pilot, but Poe puts his antics in the prequels and even as Darth Vader to shame.
Of course we also had Andy Serkis portraying Supreme Leader Snoke with his unparalleled motion capture performance. While Serkis is great, Snoke skated a little too close to “The Uncanny Valley” for my liking. I really believed they could have realized Snoke using practical effects, but I am still trying to hold onto that art form in film.
While space battles and character design is a big part of what Star Wars is all about, you can’t subtitle the film The Last Jedi without lightsaber battles! The quotient of lightsaber duels & battles vs. film run time is up to each fan’s taste, I air on the side of more is better, but growing up with every single wrapping paper tube turned into a lightsaber by my imagination, I am probably on the high end.
Suffice to say, the ratio landed somewhere in the middle. Not as heavy as Revenge of the Sith or Phantom Menace, but not as light as A New Hope either. What was on display was more quality over quantity, but the choreography was nice and there were some rather violent maneuvers throughout. I do believe they left something truly epic on the table and left this reviewer wanting and I expect people to be similarly cheated.
If you didn’t see The Last Jedi this weekend, for goodness sake, go see it next weekend. And if you did see it this weekend, go see it again! I know I cannot wait to get on this roller-coaster again and enjoy all the seconds of the film I might have missed by blinking.
While The Last Jedi was no Empire Strikes Back, it certainly is in the upper echelon of quality in the eight film franchise thus far. And most importantly, it left me looking at my phone immediately to see if it’s December 2019 yet.