What’s that? An opinion resting somewhere between loving The Last Jedi and hating it? Madness!
A new Star Wars film is in theaters, and everyone loves it! Or everyone hates it! Per the internet, it’s definitely one or the other with no room for viewpoints in between, but since when have we ever taken the internet seriously? My own thoughts lean positive with some reservations, and my non-spoiler review can be found here, I wanted to dig a little deeper without worrying about ruining anyone’s surprise.
To that end, here are six things I liked and six things I didn’t in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Luke and Rey’s Island Vacation
After two years of anticipation — what would the first exchange be as Rey (Daisy Ridley) hands Luke (Mark Hamill) his legendary laser sword?! — the tone between these two is immediately and perfectly set when he takes the lightsaber from her, pauses, and tosses it nonchalantly over his shoulder. It sets their interactions on edge from the very first moment by telling viewers to toss their own expectations away too. We know there will be a training montage, right? Nope. It’s shut down almost as soon as it begins when Luke discovers Rey’s openness to the dark side. We know he’ll reluctantly join her cause and begrudgingly decide to join the fight, right? Nope, he sends her packing, and even when he does show up to fight… he doesn’t really show up to fight. Toss in a bipedal sea cow that refuses to break eye contact with Luke as he milks her and guzzles the frothy bounty, and you have a winner.
Kylo and Rey’s Psychic Snapchat
Their last face-off left Kylo (Adam Driver) scarred and Rey unscathed — a fanboy complaint from The Force Awakens that the film smacks down quickly with an obvious critique by Snoke (Andy Serkis) — and their next is teased here through a series of “psychic” connections. They can see each other and communicate, and it’s here where the already buzzing bond is strengthened. Rey senses his doubt, Kylo senses her rage, and the two are brought together for a galaxy-changing reunion. And what a reunion it is!
Kylo and Rey Meet Snoke
It comes one film early in this trilogy, but when Kylo brings Rey before Snoke in his beautifully-designed chamber it’s meant as a clear reminder of Return of the Jedi‘s fateful meetup with Dark Vader, Luke, and the Emperor. Knowing that, the expectation is that Kylo’s conscience will force him to step in and save Rey from the creepy old CG man — and he does, but as the film has already made clear by this point, it’s here to subvert your expectations of the familiar. Kylo saves her by killing Snoke, and the two join forces — in the film’s absolute best sequence — to fight off Snoke’s crimson guards, but Kylo’s desire to tear down the rebellion remains intact leaving the two enemies once again.
Luke and Kylo Exchange Blows
Once again, past films tell us what to expect here, and once again, writer/director Rian Johnson ain’t having it. Luke and Kylo — master and student — meet just as Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader did at the end of Star Wars. Brief dialogue is followed by drawn lightsabers, but rather than a quick fight that ends with Luke allowing himself to die for a greater cause it’s revealed that Luke isn’t even there! It’s a blow both to our own expectations and Kylo’s impotent rage. Not only is it a surprise, but it strengthens the film’s main theme that our fate rests in our own hands, the hands of everyday people becoming heroes, as opposed to those of a legendary “one” based on lineage or destiny.
C3PO’s Yammering Kept to an Absolute Minimum
This one’s kind of self-explanatory.
The Nod to “Hardware Wars”
The close-up of a spaceship’s undercarriage fills the screen as steam blasts and the craft lifts off… to reveal that it’s actually a clothes-iron steaming a First Order uniform. It’s quick and may feel to some like a cheap gag, but for those of us who grew up watching HBO in the early 80s it’s a perfect blend of nostalgia and laughs.
Poe’s Rebuke Exists Solely for the Audience
We get it. Poe (Oscar Isaac) is the new Han Solo, a daredevil rogue who breaks the rules on his way towards getting things done, but that solitary path just ain’t gonna cut in anymore. The opening attack on the rebel base sees him lead a heroic charge that gets other pilots killed and a stern demotion from Leia (Carrie Fisher). The lesson is clear that sometimes he needs to press the brakes and respect those above him. Later, though, he once again decides to go against the orders of his female commander, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), and he’s once again very sternly rebuked for it. The lesson is the same — stop mansplaining your way through space and listen to a lady once in a while. That would be fine (albeit redundant) if it was that simple, but in this instance Holdo had been unnecessarily keeping a very important plan not only from him but from nearly every other rebel on the ship. They’re all fearful that death is imminent, they see no hope, and their leader isn’t telling them a damn thing. The only reason to hide her plan from them is to hide it from us, the audience, and that’s poor writing. Poe’s actions are completely justified, but once again the film uses it as a way to chastise him, and for those keeping count that means both of his big beats in the film have been negated.
Finn. Does. Nothing.
Look, the presence of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) is great, and there’s no denying the positive real-world reaction to the introduction of an Asian-American heroine into a blockbuster franchise. It’s just unfortunate that it comes as part of a subplot to nowhere. She and Finn (John Boyega) sneak away to find a master code-breaker to help them hack the First Order’s tracking device so the rebels can jump to safety. Things don’t go according to plan, and they end up with DJ (Benicio Del Toro) instead. That’s fine in and of itself — plans change on the fly all the time — but they’re caught, fail to disable the tracker, and then manage to be the only survivors of a flight deck firebombing that leaves hundreds dead. They make it back to the rebels having added nothing to the story or film. Worse, their action actually dooms hundreds, if not thousands, of rebels on fleeing ships as DJ informs the First Order about their plan. So instead of saving lives Finn and Rose have actually ended them. The argument being made elsewhere typically ignores that last part and suggests that the pair accomplish two things: they free the giant racing animals, and they inspire the next generation via the stable kids who witness their action. One, it’s an island, so the beasts will be rounded up again almost immediately (which is fitting for their pointless adventure). And two? The kids are later seen recounting a glorious tale of the rebellion, but instead of sharing Finn and Rose’s adventure they’re glorifying Luke. Our plucky duo had no lasting effect.
This is an odd one as it results in a beautiful yet hokey image of Leia — frozen and suffocated in open space — floating peacefully back to the ship and safety. We know she has the Force inside her as evident by her powerful empath abilities, but this feels like a stretch doesn’t it? Again, it’s tough as knowing Fisher died towards the end of production means this is her goodbye, but this feels cobbled together as a very weird way to keep her out of the action for a long period of time.
An Unnecessary Length
There’s nothing inherently wrong with long films — and at 152 minutes this is a long film — but that length is felt whenever it flips away from Rey, Luke, and Kylo. Its sense of drag is symbolized onscreen rather literally with the world’s slowest space chase as the rebels chug along sedately with the First Order on their tail.
Spaceballs Outtake That Opens the Film
The Star Wars franchise has always been home to humor both funny and cheesy, and that trend continues here with some fantastic laughs alongside some lame duds. Typically, though, films will ease into the humor, particularly if it’s not representative of the intended overall tone. The Last Jedi drops viewers directly into spoof territory in the opening moments as the back and forth between Kylo and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) leaves you ready for expecting the former to don a giant dark helmet at any moment. Hux remains a punchline throughout the film, but opening things with their “Who’s on first?” routine sets an immediate tone the film doesn’t match.
So Armor Only Works If You’re a Captain?
The awesome-looking Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) returns only to be quickly killed (a nod to Darth Maul perhaps?), but before she goes we’re treated to a blaster shot bouncing off her armor. This makes sense as that’s its purpose, but through the history of Star Wars the poor, dumb Stormtroopers have been weighed down by the world’s most ineffective armor. It’s never stopped a blast, and still doesn’t here for these schmucks, but apparently the silver variety actually works. I’m no tactician, but maybe the First Order could have won this never-ending war by now if they outfitted all of their troops with the armor that actually works (and doesn’t get dirty so easily).
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