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‘THE LAST JEDI’ – An Honest, Balanced Review…

The Last Jedi: poster

Needless to say, this is my provisional review of The Last Jedi. 

I say ‘provisional’ because I have only seen the film once, a few days ago.

I plan to see it again, to try to understand it better and see if I feel better about it the second time – which is a distinct possibility. And I usually don’t write Star Wars reviews until I’ve seen the film more than once – however, my sense of confusion from this experience was so strong that I have felt compelled to write this out earlier than I would’ve done.

Writing this review – and thinking all of this through – has actually been a form of post-The-Last-Jedi therapy for me. And I needed that. If any of you out there have also been suffering from post-The-Last-Jedi psychological issues or distress, then perhaps reading through this might help you a little too.

I saw the film on Saturday night. I’ve been aware that there’s been some degree of ‘backlash’ online, but I haven’t looked at any of it, having been mostly off-line for a few days.

I generally approach Star Wars films very kindly, with an underlying desire to enjoy or like them. I am a Star Wars devotee through and through; I have been since I was a little kid and watching Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi over and over again. I love the prequels to this day. And, although I had some problems with The Force Awakens, I generally liked that film and was broadly positive about it.

But The Last Jedi is a mess. At times, it feels like a joke or at least a fourth-wall breaking parody. And at other times, it feels like a really good – or at least very interesting and engaging – film too.

Sometimes it’s brilliant. And sometimes it’s… really not.

And I didn’t go into this film with any negative expectations, but was generally feeling positive about it, excited about the possibilities, and completely open to whatever new direction things might go in. I am not one of those impossible-to-please fan-boys who likes to tear down every new Star Wars film just because it isn’t 1983 anymore.

It’s hard to pinpoint precisely what it was I felt after watching The Last Jedi. Somewhat moved, I would say, by several highly poignant moments or scenes. But mostly just… confused. Not even disappointed (as I didn’t have any specific expectations); but just confused, disoriented, and kind of uncertain as to what I was meant to be feeling or thinking.

I want to make clear here, early on, that our view of this film may change over time – over months or even years. It may grow to look a lot better later on (Star Wars films always age very interestingly – I’m still noticing things in A New Hope I’ve never noticed before and this is forty years later).

But I can only react for now to what I’ve seen and felt now.

And I want this reaction/review to be balanced, level-headed and fair – and not some hysterical, over-the-top ‘This film raped my childhood’ rant that we’ve become all-too-familiar with from many years now of whiny, first-world temper-tantrums. For the record, many or most of those who’re now raging against Rian Johnson and proclaiming ‘the death of Star Wars‘ are the same people who, not long ago, were virtually spitting at George Lucas, demonising the prequels and gleefully celebrating the Disney relaunching of the Star Wars franchise like it was the greatest thing in the world.

I was not one of those people.

I wrote, multiple times, about The Force Awakens, that it was the most depressing and dispiriting Star Wars film to date: primarily because it tore the gut out of Return of the Jedi. In fact, I wrote years ago – when Lucasfilm was given over to Disney – that it was a bad idea to take the saga narrative beyond the Return of the Jedi ending that had stood for decades as the perfect closing page of the Star Wars saga.

When everyone was raving over the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm, I was one of the few voices in the wilderness urging caution. When everyone raved over The Force Awakens, I stood by that initial position – even though I liked that film. Not because there was anything wrong with The Force Awakens; but because Star Wars already had an ending and changing that ending was going to cause problems narratively.

I am therefore not shocked or surprised that things are starting to buckle a little.

None of that is Rian Johnson’s fault. He had to work with the ingredients he was given and within whatever parameters Kathleen Kennedy, Disney and the current Lucasfilm management had imposed on him.

Some of what Johnson does in this film is superb: masterful, even.

And, again, some of it… really isn’t.

Right off the bat: why kill off Luke Skywalker in Episode 8, with a whole film still to go in this trilogy? And yet Leia – despite Carrie not being around to contribute more – continues on into the next film (where we presumably can’t see her)?

But, no, I’ll come back to that.

But, like I said, I want to be clear and fair here. I don’t want this to turn into a bashing of Rian Johnson; because I don’t think he is necessarily the problem. I also don’t think we should knock him for trying to do something different and off-the-wall, which – in principle – was a good idea.

 I wrote in my article about all the previous Star Wars movies last week that all Star Wars films have good things in them – and that remains true of The Last Jedi.


So, in the interests of fairness and balance, I’m going to mention those here first, before proceeding to what will unfortunately become a slightly less-than-charitable appraisal.


I love that they brought back Yoda for that force-ghost scene. It almost made me cry.

 The Last Jedi: Yoda and Luke 

I give all due credit to Rian for being willing to go that way; and it was a beautiful moment. The way that scene unfolded was slightly off-kilter and disorienting; but that was probably a stylistic choice to convey the supernatural or otherworldly nature of that encounter. And it worked really nicely. Johnson’s choice to use the puppet Yoda from the OT was a nice touch too, imparting more of an off-key, otherworldly feel to that whole sequence.

This was a beautiful, beautiful scene.

I liked a lot of the Luke material, particularly in the first half of the film. In fact, most of the Luke material was very interesting, both dramatically and thematically, and Mark Hamill did a wonderful job portraying this older, bitter, jaded Luke Skywalker some thirty years or so after he last portrayed the iconic character.

The problems with Luke came later on – specifically in the finale.

I liked the Leia force-power moment in space. It did come across a little oddly; but, in essence, I like what it meant. I’m giving full kudos to Rian Johnson for going in some of these non-obvious directions, such as having Leia reveal her Force abilities, having Luke reject the Jedi or having Yoda show up when he did. If TFA was often formulaic and predictable, The Last Jedi definitely isn’t that.

 The Last Jedi: Throne Room scene 

Rian Johnson did some bold, interesting things; and created some truly stunning Star Wars moments.

The revelation of Leia having some, latent force powers shouldn’t shock anyone, as it is perfectly in keeping with what we expected for a long time, but never saw until now. Her saving herself from death was a stunning, emotional moment, aided immensely by the swell of John Williams’ iconic Leia theme.

Honestly, the Leia ‘Poppins’ scene is one of the most primal, uplifting, jaw-dropping scenes in the entire franchise: and Rian needs credit for doing something that a lot of other filmmakers would’ve been to scared to attempt. It might be aided by the fact that Carrie’s tragic real-world passing really imbues that scene with additional resonance and meaning: I was expecting Leia to die there – and her using the Force to save herself was both unexpected and triumphal.

I thought Leia had some good moments; and, in general, seeing Carrie in most of these scenes was lovely. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher both did great jobs. In particular, that last Luke/Leia scene near the end was beautiful and got me in the gut: that moment was rendered perfectly in every respect – by Mark and Carrie, by Rian’s staging and placement, and by the musical nuances.

I liked the look, feel, tone and design of the ancient Jedi site Luke and Rey were in. Ach-To was a beautiful, absorbing setting to spend so much of the screen time in. And I like that Johnson went for some of the more odd-ball, quintessentially Star Wars touches, like the weird creatures or the little aliens who act as caretakers of the temple.

Also, some of the humour and little jokes were good. I liked the Porgs – they were exactly the right side of both cute and funny.

There are a lot of visually stunning moments here too; some of Johnson’s visual conceptions and depictions are beautiful and he has a great flair for composition. This film is visually stunning, as a Star Wars movie should be: some of the cinematography – particularly on Ach-To and on Crait – is just breathtaking.

These are some of the best visual experiences in the whole franchise. The tone and color scheme dynamics of the confrontation in Snoke’s Throne Room are another example of truly spellbinding visuals and staging.

There were also other little moments or touches I loved: most of all, Artoo playing back the Princess Leia hologram from A New Hope as a way to motivate Luke. That was perfect: perfect nuance, perfect understanding of character dynamics and history, and the perfect call-back at the perfect moment.

 Luke vs Kylo Ren: The Last Jedi 

And all the emotion and pathos of Luke’s arrival on Crait is so compelling and so perfectly measured. His reunion with Leia was beautiful, his little wink at 3PO, the way all the Resistance fighters rise up and stare in disbelief as Luke walks out to face the First Order, the stirring, building music… it’s all utterly magnificent. And the visual palette and scale of that Crait backdrop as Luke face Kylo is unbelievable.

I have a major problem with how Luke’s story is resolved – which I will get to later. But in terms of this whole sequence – beginning with Luke’s arrival and ending with the surprise reveal that he is really still back on the island – Rian Johnson and his team produced a cinematic masterclass: truly six or seven of the very best minutes in all of Star Wars.


I’ve listed all of those things, because I want to make it clear there is good stuff in this film – and that anyone calling it total garbage is being unfair and overlooking the positives, the same way that people do who think The Phantom Menace is garbage.


The Phantom Menace was never garbage – and The Last Jedi isn’t garbage either.

One thing I did enjoy about Rian Johnson’s story is that it genuinely rides on tension and unpredictability. Not knowing what’s going to happen makes for a good cinematic experience. I didn’t know if Leia was going to die. I didn’t know if Kylo was going to fire that shot or not. I didn’t know if Rey was going to be turned or if Kylo was going to be turned to the Light.

That was all good.

 Rey in The Last Jedi 

The problem is that it is very temporary. That tension and uncertainty only works on the first viewing – after that, you’ve played that card and all that’s left is whether or not the story actually holds together over repeated viewings.

Star Wars films – more than any other type of film – are heavily dependent on longevity and whether they can retain their dramatic quality and integrity over many years. The tension and twists in the Kylo/Rey story are great on first viewing, but a year or two from now will they still play well dramatically or will we be skipping past those scenes?

A lot depends on how this is all played out in the final film.

The big scene with Snoke has a lot of tension, but only on first viewing. Now it seems like a weird sequence. I like that Johnson has Kylo kill Snoke suddenly – it is dramatically effective. And I like that we see Kylo and Rey team up. But it only works for that one sequence. After that, you’re left with the fact that you’ve killed off the mystery element in the trilogy; and you’ve ended up nowhere new with it, because Kylo is still a villain and Rey is still a hero.

Arguably then, we’re right back to where we were – just minus Snoke.

So this whole plot-point doesn’t seem to accomplish anything: and it also puts the next film in a difficult position in terms of where the menace or threat is supposed to come from (assuming, as I do, that Kylo Ren will somehow be redeemed at the end of the trilogy).

A lot of what happens in this film is a case of Johnson trying to mess with expectations: the expectation that Luke would train Rey, or that the mystery of Rey’s origins would be explained, or that Snoke’s origins would be explained, etc Sometimes this works alright, other times it doesn’t. Again, messing around with the expectation that Leia would die was a big part of this film.

And it mostly worked.


The problem, as I said, is that once you’re done messing around with expectations and twists and turns, you’re left with the question of whether the film or story actually holds up for multiple viewings. And it’s not clear whether The Last Jedi does or will.


The other problem is that this story just does it too many times. Those ‘gotcha!’ moments just keep coming, one after the other, right to the very final scenes. After a while, it’s just jarring. It’s a great trick to pull a few times – at key moments maybe – but not when you do it over and over again.

 Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi 

For reasons I’m not sure of, this film keeps breaking the Fourth Wall and winking to the audience; as if it’s so self-conscious about what it’s supposed to be – and about subverting that expectation – that it can’t stop itself.

When Luke tossed the lightsaber over his shoulder, I thought it was a great twist. But that was because I didn’t realise it was going to be a microcosm of the entire film. It’s as though every time the story appears to be saying something or going in a direction, it reverses it and winks at us.


One of the many interesting things Rian Johnson’s story does is the bridging of Kylo and Rey’s minds: or the ‘Force Skype’, if you will.


The strange connection between Kylo and Rey in this film is one of the highlights of the film, though it sometimes feels a little odd as presented. On other hand, it might bode well for my own theory on Kylo and Rey (again, see here).

Why is Rey trying to ‘redeem’ Kylo? It made no real sense. She’s already seen him murder his own father. She’s been tortured by him and had to fight him (after he almost killed her friend, Finn). But here we see her delivering the Padme line from Revenge of the Sith, where she says “don’t go down this path” or something to that effect. It actually probably makes sense in terms of my own theory about Rey and Kylo (see here), but it doesn’t really make sense in terms of this film or the previous film.

I like the idea of Rey hearing two different versions of the same story – specifically Luke’s account of how he thought about killing Kylo and then Kylo’s different twist on the same event.

But why would Rey trust Kylo’s version of the story over Luke’s? Ok, so Luke has been a bit of a disappointment to her – but she’s seen Kylo impale his own father! And so what if Kylo’s version is true and Luke tried to kill him? What is that to Rey? She didn’t even know what a Jedi was until a couple of weeks ago.

And Rey then, bizarrely, echoes Padme’s and Luke’s older lines about Anakin – that “there is still good in him”. On one hand, it’s a nice reference back to the previous trilogies; but on other hand, I’m just not sure it works for Kylo Ren.

 Kylo Ren 

Kylo, meanwhile, is all over the place. I really liked the sequence of him deciding whether or not to open fire on his mother’s ship – this was really good tension and his actual decision to spare her was really interesting. It opened the door for Kylo coming over to the Light somehow – which would’ve been the really brave thing for the writer to do with this film. Whether that would’ve ultimately been a good idea or not is debatable.

But I’m curious as to whether Rian Johnson might’ve wanted to go down the road of having Kylo come over to the Light – but might’ve been told from above not to do go down that path.

But then, having killed Snoke, he then just ends up firmly back on the Dark Side again. Suddenly, Rey is acting like Kylo wasn’t on the Dark Side before and is only just turning now. It’s a little odd and even incoherent.

And it doesn’t work dramatically, because we already saw Kylo going through his light/dark struggle in The Force Awakens and the whole point of the dramatic scene where he kills Han Solo is that that was his decisive act that put him firmly on the Dark Side, resolving the inner struggle.

Therefore the back-and-forth element here in this film falls a little flat: even though the Force-Skype scenes are actually really good and that whole confrontation in Snoke’s throne room is fantastic.

Also, Rey learns nothing in this film.

We’re told she’s no one and that all the mystery about her background was a red herring. I suspect Kylo may have been lying to her, but it’s also possible this is really the truth. The idea that she’s “no one” could, in theory, open up the door for her being another immaculate conception (or even a clone). Or it could be – as according to my theory – that she turns out to be Anakin’s midi-chlorian/Chosen-One re-manifestation.

But an unfortunate by-product of having Rey be a nobody might be to make The Force Awakens less interesting. Particularly given her lines in that film about her background being “a big secret”. I’m ok in principle with the idea of the main protagonist being a ‘nobody’ – but it just doesn’t seem to fit well with the previous story.

On this front, I’m willing to assume more is to be revealed about her in the next film.

 The Last Jedi: Snoke and Kylo Ren 

And why kill off Snoke?

On one hand, I think that moment was very good in terms of tension and unpredictability. And I never liked that character anyway. However, they’ve probably made a mistake by removing the only genuinely mysterious character or element from the story so early. What’s really bad about this though is not simply killing off Snoke – but that we’ve gotten absolutely no explanation of who he was, where he came from, what he was trying to do, what his powers were, or how he came to be in that position in the first place.


Could no one come up with a backstory? Are they devoid of ideas?


I mean, you could still kill off Snoke, but at least have some kind of mythology to this stuff. Likewise, there’s no explanation for the ‘Knights of Ren’ and there’s only the briefest look at what went down with Luke, Kylo, the new Jedi Temple and all of that stuff that is so crucial to where this narrative is now.

And all of the problems from TFA continue.

There’s still no sense of how big the First Order is or of how big ‘The Resistance’ is. Is this a galaxy-wide thing or some kind of localised problem? The (original) Republic was huge, remember, spanning massive stellar distances. So was the Empire.

Yet these two tiny factions are fighting it out for the future of the galaxy? Does it really come down to these two tiny fleets, one pursuing the other to Crait? And the best hope is a lone, solitary code-breaker? Are those the stakes?

Where’s everyone else? Doesn’t anyone else have any stakes in this?


Parts of this film also feel like a dog’s dinner: more incohesive and imbalanced than any previous Star Wars film, in my opinion.


There are plot holes, things that don’t make sense, things that aren’t explained, and the sequencing feels off-the-mark. There is an extraordinary amount of wasted screen time on things that don’t matter; and some of the red herrings seem a little pointless (Benicio Del Toro’s character, for example).

There are also a lot of plot conveniences or oversights;

 

  • Holdo destroys Snoke’s ship with the hyperspace maneuver, but every significant character on that ship – Rey, Kylo, Finn, Rose, Hux, BB8 – all survive.
  • Finn and Rose don’t manage to recruit the master codebreaker, but still find someone else who can do the exact same thing that the first guy was supposedly the only guy in the galaxy capable of doing. AND he just happens to be in their cell: AND he has the means to break them out, but for some reason waited for them to arrive before liberating himself.
  • When Rey and Kylo have their Force tug-of-war for Luke’s lightsaber, Kylo apparently passes out and loses consciousness – but Rey doesn’t. Rey then somehow manages to steal Snoke’s shuttle and escape… and later reappears on the Falcon with Chewie. How did she find Chewie again… and what happened to Snoke’s shuttle?
  • Finn and Rose manage to steal a First Order ship too… and are able to make it to the base on Crait just before the door closes. And BB8, despite being a spherical object, manages, on his own, to get into and operate an AT-ST.
  • When Finn is making his suicide run on the door-cracking weapon, Rose is able to intercept and derail him – despite clearly being some distance behind him in the previous shot.

 

The list could be longer, but you get the point. There are a lot of plot details that just don’t work: or get glossed over. One or two is fine; but when there are too many, you start to get pulled out of the movie experience.

It all then builds to a finale that is confused and baffling to say the least.

Finn’s arc is difficult to make much of on first viewing. Captain Phasma has turned out to be a wasted, pointless character, who is brought back only to be killed off in an anti-climatic duel with Finn. I can’t believe people were calling her the ‘new Boba Fett’.

Even BB8 – who I loved in TFA – is annoying in this film (BB8 is literally the ‘Mary Sue’ of this movie). The arc for Benicio Del Toro’s character seems unclear and confused.

And the detour to Canto Bight seems like it kills the momentum of the film and takes up too much screen time. Poe’s whole Canto Bight plan doesn’t really make much sense anyway – which makes the amount of screen time taken up by it feel even worse.


The point of Finn and Rose going to the casino was to find a specific code-breaker character: bizarrely they find someone else instead, who can do the exact same thing, and he just happened to be in the same cell as them. AND he could break out of that cell any time he wanted. What?


And a whole story about needing to get a code-breaker. Isn’t there some droid around somewhere who could do something like that? Did that need a whole sub-story to itself? And the plan itself was such a long shot that it’s kind of baffling that Poe would greenlight it. The fact that Poe then stages a mutiny – and, at two separate points in the film – gets a ton of Resistance people killed should surely mean some kind of court martial?

Instead, in a confusing shift in tone, Admiral Holdo – who Poe mutinied against – shows him affection and tells Leia she likes him. What? The dude got half the Resistance wiped out at the beginning of the film: and then the rest of it wiped out at the end. And now Leia is positioning him as leader of the Resistance – with Holdo’s blessing?

 Laura Dern and Carrie Fisher in The Last Jedi 

POE IS THE REASON THAT ALL THAT’S LEFT OF THE RESISTANCE AT THE END IS A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE ABOARD THE MILLENIUM FALCON.

How does he get REWARDED at the end of this?

For the record, I liked Laura Dern’s character, Admiral Holdo. I get what the point of her character was: essentially, to provide the counterpoint to the macho, fly-boy, Top Gun cliche/trope that Poe Dameron personifies. I also liked Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose for the most part (except towards the end of the film). And I like the way Oscar Isaac plays Poe: but the character is so questionably written in this story, and the conclusion to his arc just doesn’t match the events that lead to it.

Because of Poe’s macho recklessness, not only do countless people die, but Admiral Holdo herself is forced to sacrifice her own life to save the remaining Resistance members.

She gets a great death – it’s a stunning visual spectacle. But I would’ve liked to see her in the next film: especially now that we sadly won’t be seeing Carrie. The story that might’ve made more sense would’ve been for Holdo to essentially take Leia’s place in the next film – as Leia’s lifelong friend and successor and an experienced leader in the Rebel Alliance.

Alas, there will be no Holdo in the next film: and no Leia (I assume), no Snoke, and probably no Luke.


But let’s get to the elephant in the room. Luke.


I actually don’t have too many problems with Luke as depicted through most of this film. That is to say I don’t object in principle to this version of Luke Skywalker.

It was really interesting to get a darker, more troubled and miserable Luke Skywalker. It all makes sense, given the events we’re told about involving his students and his ill-fated Jedi Order. Hamill did a great job, and for most of the film I really enjoyed this version of Luke. He has some of the same quirkiness that Yoda had in Empire Strikes Back – no doubt as a result of his long isolation, just as was the case with Yoda.

This was also why having Yoda’s force-ghost show up was also so poignant.

Some of his talk about why the Jedi need to end was also really interesting; and this is probably the film’s biggest strength in thematic terms, because it also ties back in nicely to the prequels and the fact that Lucas’s depiction of the Jedi was intended to show the failings of an organised religion that becomes too dogmatic and too rule-orientated (as opposed to a more loose, spiritual philosophy that is more adaptable).

Rian Johnson’s script touches on those issues somewhat here with Luke – and it does it well. The idea that Luke repeated all the same mistakes of Yoda and the prequel Jedi and ended up in the same situation they did – that’s all good, really interesting.


My problem is how it ends: and not the confrontation with Kylo itself, which I thought was great, nor Luke’s surprise-twist of being an astral projection – which was an absolute storytelling masterstroke by Johnson – but with literally how it ends. Specifically, with Luke dying.


So, again – what genius decided to kill off Luke Skywalker in Episode 8, with a whole film still to go in this trilogy? And yet Leia – despite Carrie not being around to contribute more – continues on into the next film, even though we’re not going to be able to see her?

But, you know what? Let’s assume they have a plan in mind for how all of this is going to work in Episode 9. Ok, fine. I hope we do get more Leia somehow in Episode 9 – even though we’ve been told we’re not going to.

What was this ending supposed to be?

 Luke and Artoo in The Last Jedi 

As I said already, I LOVE the twist that Luke isn’t really there in the flesh: that it’s a Force Projection. But, dramatically, it only works if the point is for Luke to survive and live on into the next film – that way, you’d argue that he did the projection/deception thing in order both to buy the others time to escape AND to keep himself ALIVE by not risking his actual physical self.

By not coming to Crait in person, he saves the Resistance and his sister, refrains from having to either kill his nephew or be killed by him, and he survives to fight another day. That would be perfect: and the logical course for this ending to take.

But, if you’re going to kill off Luke Skywalker, then what’s the point of doing the astral-projection plot-twist? Why not actually give him a truly epic, bad-ass send-off by actually having him come in the flesh and stage this one last heroic fight?

This whole thing makes no sense to me. I LOVE the initial twist – but I’m baffled by the subsequent twist of having him die on the island.

I just don’t get what the thinking was. I mean, even putting aside the fact that I wouldn’t have killed off Luke this early anyway, you surely have to pick one or the other – either the remote projection trick or a bodily death in a bodily fight.

What undercuts this ending is that Rian Johnson wanted BOTH – and I don’t think the two work together.

We’ve already seen Luke be downtrodden and broken throughout the film. That was all interesting. Did he need to remain in hiding right to the end? Or did the filmmakers really need to have him be half-assed and weak even at the end, just so that Rey could come and lift up some rocks and be the hero instead?

 Luke Skywalker's death in The Last Jedi 

That image of him seeing the Tatooine suns is beautiful – and maybe it was meant to be the final, dying breath of that old Star Wars. Which is fine. And if those were the instructions Rian Johnson had, then – at least in terms of the Luke/sunset moment and the Luke/Leia goodbye – he did a poignant job of it in key moments.

But it still seems odd to have done it in the middle film and not the final one.

There’s just something about this ending that doesn’t work: despite the truly brilliant scenes of Luke’s arrival and his last stand. And I think it’s, quite simply, that Luke should not have died at this point in the story. It doesn’t fit the narrative path the story was seemingly following and it seems counter-productive to the trilogy.

Unlike Harrison Ford and Han Solo, I also doubt that Mark Hamill would’ve wanted Luke killed off in the middle film.


I have to say that this – Luke’s seemingly unnecessary death – is THE thing that undermines my enjoyment of The Last Jedi the most. All the other stuff – the little problems with plot or characters – I could look passed: but the death of Luke Skywalker, the heart and soul of the Star Wars saga, in such a cognitively dissonant manner, is the definitive problem with this film.


Among a number of irritating things in this film, there’s another here at the end: I *hate* that the ‘Resistance’ are now referring to themselves as “the rebels”, as if to say that we’re back in the Original Trilogy and it’s all gone full circle.

It doesn’t make sense. Isn’t the First Order the ‘rebels’? Isn’t the Resistance part of the New Republic – and therefore part of the Establishment?

And, also, I’m getting sick of hearing tedious dialogue about “hope” in all of these new Star Wars movies. We get it – “hope” is a big theme in Star Wars; you don’t have to say it every time.

 The Last Jedi: Porg and Chewbacca 

For that matter, does anyone really understand what’s going on here anymore? Is the Republic completely gone? We only saw three planets being destroyed by the Starkiller in TFA – was that the whole of the Republic? Is the ‘Resistance’ and the First Order now all that’s left? A rebellion against a rebellion? Who’s running the rest of the galaxy? And where’s Jar Jar?

Do you think the people planning these films even know? Or did they just throw a bunch of random ideas and concepts together because Disney was hassling them to get this film finished in time for its ‘Christmas’ release? After all, if your business plan is to churn out a Star Wars movie every year, you can’t afford to give the creatives too much time to fine-tune their ideas. I mean, we know that J.J Abrams was threatened with legal action if he didn’t complete The Force Awakens for a Christmas release date.

Two years is not enough time to write, plan, film, edit and post-produce a Star Wars movie.

Also, so much potential was thrown away.

In essence, we had both Artoo and Chewie on that planet (Ach-To) the whole time that Rey was there, and yet we get only one very brief Luke/Artoo moment and one very brief Luke/Chewie moment.

Was there really no better way to incorporate Artoo and Chewie into the story?

We learn nothing about the ancient books Luke has discovered. We have no idea what’s in them.

The new idea, I assume, is that you don’t need to be trained or be a Jedi to use the Force. Hence, why Rey is so Force-strong without any training. And why, early in this film, we see Rose’s sister able to – apparently – manipulate the Force just slightly. And why, in Rogue One, Donnie Yen’s character was clearly Force-sensitive but not a Jedi.

That’s all fine. But it doesn’t necessarily match up well with previous films.

I also accept that there are probably things going on here that we haven’t understood yet, because they haven’t fully played out.

At least there are questions and mysteries here still – which is a quintessentially Star Wars thing. However, it’s hard to tell whether these questions and mysteries are deliberate (and part of the storytelling plan) or just mistakes and oversights in the writing.

The most bizarre thing about this film is that they’ve managed to take what was interesting in The Force Awakens and undermine it. Rey is much less interesting after this film than she was the last time. Finn and Poe are pretty uninteresting here, and the new characters are ok, but nothing revelatory (though Holdo, I think, should’ve survived for the next film).

Snoke is gone – and wasn’t that good a villain to begin with anyway, same with Pointless Phasma.


What do we have to care about, going into Episode 9 then? I would’ve said Leia; but it’s unlikely Leia is going to be in it.


The biggest problem is that I think they’ve dug themselves into a hole that they won’t be able to get out of with Episode 9.

This film has demonstrated that these characters aren’t developed enough to carry the story. Which is why killing off Luke this early was a questionable move. With no Luke or Leia, there’s not that much to draw us into the next film: since Rey can probably defeat Kylo again fairly easily.

In some ways, what might’ve happened was simply that they got so big-headed from all the gushing praise they got for The Force Awakens (and particularly for the new characters) that they figured they could kill off Luke and focus everything on the kids for Episode 9.

But Star Wars has always – always – thrived when there are adults in the story. Kenobi in A New Hope. Yoda and Vader in Empire. Yoda, Palpatine and Vader in Jedi. Palpatine, Qui-Gon, Yoda, Windu, Dooku and others in the prequels. Han Solo and Leia in TFA. Luke and Leia in this film. The next film is going to have no adults in it – it’s all about the kids. Not even Snoke anymore as the elder villain figure.

And I’m not sure the kids are interesting enough to make that work.

The saddest thing for me, coming out of this film, was the sense – that I’ve never had before – that, like Luke in this film, I might be losing my attachment to what’s going on in Star Wars. As in, it may continue under the name ‘Star Wars’, but that my own connection to it or sense of interest will continue to diminish in all but an academic sense; meaning that I’m just not that invested in the fates or fortunes of these remaining characters or stories.

The more I think about it, the more I’d probably be more ok with it than I first thought. After all, I was resigned to that in 2005 after Revenge of the Sith. I loved Revenge of the Sith, and I was entirely at peace with the idea that it was the final Star Wars film.

As I said before, I was always happy with Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith as the combined end-point for the Star Wars saga.

Or am I overreacting? Maybe. I mean, I still love Daisy Ridley‘s performances, and Adam Driver is compelling as Kylo. Maybe time will alter my perspective.

Maybe The Last Jedi is a film that requires repeated viewings.

We may simply need time to process it, get to grips with it better, understand it more and perhaps even come to love it, even with its flaws. Star Wars has often been that way: I adore The Phantom Menace, but I don’t pretend for a moment that that film doesn’t have problems and misjudgements in it.

And I do think Rian Johnson did some really good stuff here.

Whatever we might think of all the missteps, things like the Luke/Artoo scene, the Luke/Yoda scene or that shot of Luke looking out and seeing the Tatooine suns was a stunning, beautiful tone-poem that resonates with everything that has ever constituted the heart and soul of this mythology.

That’s why I called this at the start a ‘provisional’ review.

I really will need to come back in six months and re-evaluate.

One thing Star Wars movies always do – and which The Last Jedi most definitely does – is inspire debate and division, raise questions and get people talking. Well, we’re going to be talking about or arguing about this film for years to come – so Rian Johnson has, in a sense, made the quintessential Star Wars movie.

 


The reality is, however, that – as I argued years ago – we’re going to have to get used to these kinds of reactions and discussions on a regular basis. Because the moment the decision was taken to change the end-point of the Star Wars story from Return of the Jedi to somewhere else – and to set up an infinite industry of cinematic Star Wars – we were going to end up in this kind of situation.

In the meantime, The Last Jedi is brilliant… at times. It’s also really bad at times too. Whether that makes it a good or a bad film, I don’t even know. I’m not even attempting a ‘rating’ at this point. I’ll write another review six months from now, when I’ve seen the film a few more times.

PS: I loved the Porgs.


 

S. Awan

Independent journalist. Pariah. Believer in human rights, human dignity and liberty. Musician. Substandard Jedi. All-round failure. And future ghost.

16 Comments

    • I actually like the Porgs, Brad 🙂 I thought they were one of the better things.
      But I just read your review – good stuff: you’ve taken it all in much better humour than I have.

      • You like Porgs, but couldn’t eat a whole one, right? 😉
        Yes they are lovely the way they melt your wallet-sorry-heart! 😉 🙂
        Cheers!

        • I genuinely thought they were cute 🙂 And they gave Chewie a genuinely good moment in the film, which he wouldn’t have otherwise.

          • Yes, yes, porgs ARE cute – it’s hopeless trying to deny it 😉
            Actually, th moment in Empire when Chewie hugs Luke is in my Top 10 Fave Moments, but what is No.1?
            Will have to work that out pronto!
            Cheers!

          • Actually, I would one-up you and say the moment where Chewie hugs Leia in TFA is probably even cuter.
            Yes, I’m intrigued as to what your No.1 choice of SW moment would be. The other contributors surprised me with theirs.

          • I liked Th Force Awakens (probably less now, knowing that TLJ doesn’t advance th plotline in ANY way!) but I can’t say that any moment surpassed any from Empire.
            I have selected my choice -my all-time fave moment comes from Th Empire Strikes Back.
            How do I go about this? Please let me know how you want to receive my extended comments
            Cheers!

          • Great. Well, there’s two ways. You can go to the CONTACT page on either of the blogs (on the top bar) and email your text to me – and then I’ll incorporate it into the article.
            OR you can just submit your text as a comment on the article (easier).
            Whichever way you prefer. I look forward to knowing your choice though.

  1. Perhaps it was because I went in hopeful, but ready to be disappointed given the movies beforehand. Or perhaps it was that I just went in with a view to enjoy it if I could (and admittedly without any serious analysis). But enjoy it, I did. There were some seriously big moments, offset by quiet and restraint for counterpoint, which imho, is all too rare these days. Was it flawed? Yes. Could we have done without the code breaker subplot, oh yes definitely (though I do wonder what was left on the cutting floor). But in terms of an echo and feel of A New Hope, for me this has been easily the best movie since the original trio. So I must respectfully disagree with you both. All imho as always.

    • No, I’m glad you enjoyed it Helena. I was just saying to someone else as well that I’m glad there are people who genuinely liked this film. I’m actually a little envious that I’m not one of those people – but I acknowledge that repeated viewings might alter my opinion over time.
      On a totally separate matter – and only because I recall talking to you some time previously about Terry Pratchet – I just watched the Hogfather TV adaptation the other day and I loved it.

  2. I like your perspective here, and you’ve made me change my mind on a few things. However, I know that Carrie Fisher had already finished filming The Last Jedi before she died. And she was going to play a big part in the final installment. So in sense, they’ve dug themselves into a hole because Luke is gone, Carrie Fisher is gone but Leia is not.

    But I have to disagree with you about Luke! I don’t think they were trying to make Luke weak in order for Rey to look stronger. I don’t think there was any hidden propoganda here (unlike Wonder Woman). Luke had been in hiding for years, so he obviously would’ve lost some of his fighting skills and wouldn’t have been able to face Kylo Ren who had been training religiously. Kylo would’ve won, and I personally think it would’ve been sadder to see Luke die in that way. Also, I think he chose to project himself as a younger version of himself for the sake of his sister, and for the sake of the resistance. I don’t think he wanted to face everyone as ‘old man’ Luke. He was able to join the fight again, and sacrifice himself to save everybody. He died in a peaceful way, and I thought his death was fitting.

    Just my opinions though. Nice post. 🙂

    • I see what you’re saying, but my point is that if Luke’s intention was to die anyway, then it would’ve made for a better film for him to come in person. Whereas if he wanted to survive, then it would make sense for him to do the projection thing instead.
      But you make a good point about maybe he projected a younger version of himself for the sake of his sister – I hadn’t thought of that.
      In terms of the propaganda, I think there definitely was a lot of it here – but it wasn’t hidden, rather it was pretty overt. But I’m interested in what you mean about Wonder Woman being propaganda? I really liked that movie, but now you’re making me wonder if I missed something.

      • This movie was hyped up for months as a movie for feminists, and a movie for women. There are lines throughout the movie such as Diana saying she couldn’t fight in a dress, which is a play on how women in actions movies are always wearing ridiculous things that would be impossible to fight in. But then she’s wearing wedged heels throughout the movie. Wonder Woman is a goddess but needs a man to explain everything to her. It’s so annoying to watch her pouty face ask Steve what things mean. She can speak thousands of languages and is very well educated, but she doesn’t know what people do after war? What do the Amazonian women do after war? That should answer her question. And every single character needs to comment on her beauty. It just bugged me that this movie was hyped as more than an average movie when it is just that: an average movie. I wrote a blog post about it if you’re interested: https://nerdthisup.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/wonder-woman-doesnt-deserve-the-praise-its-getting/

    • I am (ish). I fear Thanos is going to be an anti-climaxe. But I’m still excited for the big get-together.

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