The Last Jedi might be the most polarizing and controversial Star Wars movie ever made. I considered doing a spoiler-free review of the film, but soon realized that whatever I came up with wouldn’t be worth a dang. Whether or not you will like the eighth installment of the Skywalker Saga largely depends on what kind of Star Wars fan you are. The best way to approach this post, in my opinion, is to simply list my thoughts on the movie. I think every reaction or takeaway from the film is valid, and I’ve spent hours poring through the conclusions of others- from friends and family to my go-to Youtubers like Angry Joe and Emergency Awesome. Because my thoughts on this film are so mixed, I’ve been able to actually enjoy opinions that are not only infused with zealous outrage but also wildly different from one another. The Last Jedi has received almost universal acclaim from movie critics, but its audience ratings are shockingly low, and one only needs to scroll through Twitter to see just how the film has struck a nerve with the Star Wars ultras. All I can do at this point is offer my impressions and see how they hold up in this blood-soaked arena. Needless to say, there will be MAJOR SPOILERS for The Last Jedi.
- For starters I need to quickly establish the kind of Star Wars fan I am. Ultimately I would have preferred that Disney loosely adapted the books of the Expanded Universe and given us a darker sequel trilogy featuring deranged, murderous clones of dead Jedi Masters and a Luke Skywalker struggling against a burgeoning libido and the dark manipulations of the restored spirit of Emperor Palpatine. That doesn’t mean that I’m a “true” Star Wars fan, because I believe that you can take whatever you want from the Star Wars universe and enjoy it in whatever way appeals to your specific tastes. But it is relevant information going forward, because The Force Awakens left me very jaded- a fact that invariably affected my experience with its sequel.
- When I exited the theater I was warm with the Star Wars afterglow. I enjoyed it as a piece of cinema and the events of the movie occupied my thoughts for the rest of the weekend. But things get complicated when we realize that we aren’t just judging this as a movie; we’re judging it as a Star Wars movie. And that’s why it’s so hard to tell you whether you’ll like it or not- it all depends where you’re coming from.
- One thing I did note was how much of a departure this is from The Force Awakens. And this, I think, is one of the biggest dividing factors of the film, and perhaps the best indicator of whether or not you will like it. The biggest criticism of The Force Awakens was that it was too familiar. The effect of its sequel however, is one of not being familiar enough. A lot of people won’t like this film on the basis that it doesn’t feel like a Star Wars movie. There are three aspects of the film that I think are alienating fans- the portrayal of established characters, the approach to humor, and the apparent change of emphasis in regards to its themes.
- Luke Skywalker has always been my hero, and I actually liked the portrayal of him as flawed, cowardly and emotionally-jaded. For me, it made him more interesting and compelling. I don’t like any character in any fictional universe to become so powerful they border on godlike. A lot of fans wanted Luke to have “a badass scene” but it wouldn’t have been a movie of much substance if they built the plot around making the old characters do all the ass-kicking for the new ones. I liked the way Luke became one with the force and ended up being badass in a much more subtle way. However: the complaint I am most sympathetic to is also the biggest one- the idea that Luke would try and assassinate his nephew instead of saving him. It doesn’t make too much sense that the same guy who surrendered himself to Darth Vader (the most powerful Sith Lord in history) in order to turn him back to the Light would later be so afraid of the dark potential in his student that he’d go so far as to slit the throat of his sleeping nephew- the only child of his twin sister and best friend. I like the idea of a darker Luke, but they were too vague and rushed in developing his character. How did he get to that moment of weakness? What’s so terrifying about Ben Solo’s potential that Luke would go bat-shit crazy and think the best solution is carving him up into little pieces of pubescent angst?
- As for the humor, I had a similarly mixed reaction. Rian Johnson opted for the kind of comedy that works so well in the Marvel movies- jokes that are sharp, slick, trendy and capture the zeitgeist of the modern world. Jokes that could easily work word for word in any genre of film. However, I think this shift may have upset the immersion of some scenes, due to the fact that the humor feels too close to our own world. Usually Star Wars has a brand of campy “sci-fi comedy” that doesn’t feel at odds with its fantastical environment, a humor that feels unique to its galaxy and couldn’t really be replicated outside of it- perhaps best epitomized with sassy lines such as “scruffy-looking nerf-herder” or “I’m programmed for etiquette, not destruction!”
Lines in The Last Jedi like “Put me on hold” and “Never said it was a page-turner” perhaps threatened the immersion a little too much. The sequence at the beginning, in which the former is used by Poe in his exchange with Hux, really didn’t work with me. It felt like a parody of Star Wars. Part of it has to do with the fact I don’t like the Hux character at all. Instead of the next Grand Moff Tarkin, we’ve got a bunch of clean-skinned college students cosplaying to that effect in control of the Imperial fleet. The dialogue, in conjunction with the casting for Hux and the other officers, made it feel like a Star Wars fancy-dress party rather than a tense moment of battle. We need someone with presence filling the Hux role, someone like Woody Harrelson or Jeff Daniels, who could replicate the sense of terror that Peter Cushing brought circa 1977. As for the “page-turner” remark, nothing undercuts the willing suspension of disbelief faster than the idea of Yoda kicking back with a copy of Big Little Lies.
I will say, however, that I liked the scene where Chewie was about to eat the roasted porg in front of its family. That worked, and I also appreciated the acknowledgement that everyone’s favorite walking carpet has to eat, and those fangs more than likely aren’t for chomping down berries.
- The third aspect of the movie that really seemed to anger the fanbase is what I like to think of as the changing or evolving themes of the sequel trilogy. George Lucas envisioned 4 trilogies, 12 films, and had written story treatments for what he said was a “family saga”. It’s been assumed that Disney’s sequel trilogy would similarly be a continuation of the Skywalker line. I think everyone was expecting Rey to be a Skywalker, and many people took to the internet to vent their frustrations at the fact her parents were basically two junkies of no name worth mentioning. Personally, I didn’t mind it, and the idea that the Dark Side mirror-thing was going to reveal some secret affair Luke had in-between the films would surely have been too far-fetched. I do like the idea that anyone can be special and that to be a hero is not contingent on having the right genes. It’s a good message and it makes Star Wars a little more Humanist and a little less Christian. I especially liked the scene at the end where the little slave kid uses the force. Taking the final image away from the legendary heroes and focusing on some random orphan was a nice touch, and it felt different to the end of other Star Wars movies like A New Hope and The Phantom Menace which were less nuanced.
- I don’t think fans of The Force Awakens will like The Last Jedi, because the movies don’t gel together very well at all. One might reasonably think that Rian Johnson hasn’t even seen episode 7. A lot of the hype that the first film in the trilogy builds up is discarded in the 2017 sequel. Again, I had a mixed reaction. On the one hand, I disliked The Force Awakens, so I appreciated the idea of drawing a line under it and trying to diminish it. However, it is nevertheless part of an overarching narrative and a lot of the sins of the previous movie hold back the latest installment. Starkiller Base- perhaps my least-favorite element of episode 7, is rendered almost meaningless. What did we accomplish by destroying this absurdly overpowered superweapon? The movie starts off with the Resistance reduced to about 4 ships and the entire galaxy under the thumb of what is ostensibly a remnant of Palpatine’s Empire. It might make sense if there had been a significant time gap between the two movies, but Rey’s storyline seems to take place exactly where episode 7 left off. It’s a bit of a mess and I think a definite theme of the complaints against the movie is one of questions going unanswered. Even the flashbacks to Kylo’s fall to the Dark Side still feel rushed and lacking in detail- perhaps that might have made for a better first installment of the trilogy. Now we’re two-thirds of the way through the sequel trilogy and we still have no idea where the First Order came from or why they are so powerful. Maybe it was intentional on Disney’s part to set up The Force Awakens as being a retelling of the same story only to subvert that in episode 8, but if that’s the case it could have been handled better. A lot of fans were pissed about the abandonment of episode 7’s teased concepts such as The Knights of Ren, the big reveal of Rey’s parentage, Snoke’s power and origins, et cetera. I’m torn, but I can definitely understand the reaction.
- One of the biggest talking points of the movie was the twist of having Supreme Leader Snoke getting lightsabered up the biscuits. His assassination at the hands of his apprentice Kylo Ren outraged many fans who were looking forward to seeing more of the mysterious, powerful figure teased to us in episode 7. I’m not gonna lie, but this was actually my favorite part of the whole movie. It felt like they were driving a lightsaber right through The Force Awakens’ bushy front-bottom. I was never a fan of Snoke and I thought his death was a great way to subvert the formula. I think many people expected a retread of Return of the Jedi for the end of this trilogy, which would end with Rey and a redeemed Kylo joining forces to take him down. I’m glad they didn’t go down that route. Ultimately, it’s Kylo we’re interested in- it’s his journey that the new trilogy wants to showcase. Snoke is uninteresting as a character- a wholly evil villain who served his purpose in seducing Ben Solo to the Dark Side. The entire scene felt very Game of Thrones-esque, and it sets up the potential for Kylo to ascend to the position of the main villain, which he was always meant to be. Snoke was only important insofar as he affected Kylo’s character arc, and his death was the greatest thing Disney have done yet. As I said earlier, I don’t like any character to be godlike- I’m a fan of surprising and understated deaths like Boba Fett falling into the Sarlacc Pit, Yoda dying of old age, or Palpatine getting thrown down a massive hole. Not every powerful character needs an over-the-top send-off where they take down a dozen enemies and finally get defeated after a 20-minute fight scene. Yawnarama.
- Last week I wrote a post about the necessity of realism in fantastical stories. One of the things that did bother me about The Last Jedi was the disturbing presence of what I now call “Walking Dead Logic” in honor of a beloved show that decided to shit all over itself in its latest season. I was annoyed by the fact that Poe was able to simply destroy all of the Dreadnaught’s turbolasers in just one small ship and render it completely defenseless. It was too contrived an attempt to show off his piloting skills. Revenge of the Sith was able to make Obi-Wan and Anakin seem like great pilots whilst still ensuring that they weren’t untouchable, and the opening space battle of that movie is an example of how to create real tension by making the heroes’ feats greater in the face of tangible adversity. The surrounding Star Destroyers just sit there, and the idiots on the bridge can do nothing but mutter “Oh no, he just destroyed all our turrets”. Why aren’t TIE fighters already keeping them safe? Why is it that, later in the movie, the Supremacy is able to shoot past the resistance capital ship that is supposedly out of range at transport vessels FURTHER AWAY? Sorry, but if the audience is having to ask these questions you’ve got the immersion thing wrong again.
- In conclusion I liked The Last Jedi but it was not perfect. My favorite scene was the fight with the Praetorian Guards. It was well-choreographed and I liked how the fighters gave both Rey and Kylo a good run for their money; their skill reflected what you’d expect from elite super-soldiers. The horse-things on Canto Bight were cute and majestic, loved seeing them run free. As for the Yoda scene, I liked it on the whole because it gave Luke a Mufasa moment that was genuinely a well-written and complex piece of character development. I also liked that they stuck to the eccentric version of Yoda from the original movies- whose genius is offset by the way living as a hermit shitting in the woods has severely addled his brain. Lastly, I want to say how much I liked the more nuanced exploration of the force and the idea that the Jedi are hypocritical and imperfect. That was interesting and added to the lore in a good way.
Thanks for reading. What are your opinions on The Last Jedi? Comment below! I want to get as many opinions as I can and all are welcome here at TumbleweedWrites.