Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran
It seems fitting in a year as controversial and divisive as 2017 that the year’s biggest blockbuster would also plunge the debts of fandom into utter chaos and civil war.
Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi” is either the greatest Star Wars film ever made or the worst depending on which super fan you ask and its pretty nuts how much controversy can be generated by a film about essentially space samurai and x-shaped starships.
(”Rian Johnson’s a fucking genius!” “Fuck you! He raped my childhood!” “No fuck you! “Fuck YOU!” *Enraged neckbeard screaming*)
But that’s what Johnson’s film is whether we like it or not, and I think fans all around could stand to calm the fuck down a little as in this reviewers opinion it’s neither a masterpiece or a cancer on the franchise.
The film’s strong moments are very strong but its short-comings are downright baffling as well and the result is a movie I can neither love nor hate and I’m sure this will please no one in the fandom reading this review.
I actually contemplated not writing this at all because honestly discussing this film online has become needlessly exhausting because of the strong opinions on both sides but alas I have a duty to perform and I’ll try to convey my meaning in this long-winded write-up.
Picking up directly after the events of “The Force Awakens,” “The Last Jedi” follows the story of The Resistance as they make their escape from The First Order as they attempt to squash the remainder of their forces after the Star Killer base laid waste to The Republic. Poe Dameron attempts a foolhardy mission to destroy a First Order Dreadnought that ends up destroying a significant portion of The Resistance fighter ships that leads to his demotion as they make their escape. Meanwhile, Rey is trying to snap Luke Skywalker from his doldrums as she believes he could be the catalyst to help turn the tide of the war but Luke believes he has already meddled enough due to his past with Ben Solo and believes the Jedi should end with him.
Since there’s a lot to get into here I’m going to break this down in the same way I did “The Force Awakens” a couple years ago and talk about what I liked and disliked in two different parts.
Also, before we go any further, this is again a case of a film being impossible to review without getting into SPOILERS (I mean, it’s been two weeks too) so proceed forward from here with caution.
You’ve been warned…
(Whiners will be served 10 gallons of green milk from the tit of this creature…)
“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to…”
There’s a fair amount of fourth wall breaking going on in Rian Johnson’s “Last Jedi” script particularly in this line uttered by the film’s primary villain Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo who makes a big leap from “The Force Awakens” here in this movie. Through lines like these Johnson is trying to convey that the world of Star Wars is changing and what we knew before doesn’t apply as much here.
Going into this movie my biggest hope was that this film would turn the lore of this series on its head a little, after all this is the ninth movie in this franchise now and it’s been long overdue for a bit of a shakeup in what we know about the Jedi and the Force. For me at least, this film does this part of the story well.
The force becomes a little more complicated that simply wielding the light and the dark sides of it to pursue one end of dominance over the other. In this we see Luke convey this idea that the Jedi, even as users of the Light Side of the Force, weren’t necessarily as altruistic or as wise as they seemed and as bad as the prequels were they do confirm this belief. The Jedi council were fools who allowed themselves to be clouded in their judgment and a sith lord essentially ended them because they weren’t wise enough to see it coming.
Rey meanwhile is trying to find her place in all this and wants to harness her abilities so that she may become a Jedi too but Luke is having none of it. Rey soon realizes though there’s more to Luke’s past with Ben than he’s letting on, as she discovers in Force connections with Ben. It is revealed in these sequences that Luke couldn’t let the past die, that he grew arrogant with his power, like the Jedi before him and essentially tried to end another era of darkness before it could start by killing it with his “laser sword” as he puts it and in that moment of weakness he inadvertently triggers the next empire of evil through Ben.
As Rey storms off to turn Ben herself, Luke goes to the old Jedi temple where he is greeted by Yoda in ghost form who essentially tells him the same thing that past is the past and that “failure” is the best teacher in all of this. What we knew about the Force before isn’t supposed to be set in stone with the past movies, or the ancient Jedi texts as shown in the movie, how the characters of the previous films fought back against evil isn’t supposed to be the only way to achieve lasting victory. Luke thought he could do it all himself and save the galaxy like he did before and got burned for it and like his previous masters Obi Wan and Yoda, he mopes around instead of actively trying to change what happened.
There are a decent percentage of the fans who chalk this all up to a betrayal of Luke’s character. They’ll say “how can he do such a thing? How can he be so foolish?” but for me this seemed right in line with Luke’s bloodline, which has been responsible for 90 percent of the carnage in the Star Wars universe, the Jedi order being full of problems to begin with and a first time master starting this all again on his own seemed inevitable to me that he would make at least a few mistakes. Like how many times in history have new societies been built from scratch after war perfectly? It made sense to me at least that Luke would screw up a bit and much like how I enjoyed Han Solo being worn down and paternalistic in “The Force Awakens” I liked seeing Luke go through a similar pessimistic world view.
These were welcome changes to the Force, Luke and the franchise’s history that for me at least were enjoyable and one of the film’s stronger points.
Rey-levance vs Ir-Rey-levance
A lot of fan theories were started across the internet in the aftermath of “The Force Awakens” two years ago and most of them revolved around who the hell Rey’s parents were.
The last movie seemed to lean pretty heavily on this at times and emphasized that there was perhaps something important or a big huge twist that would blow fans’ minds but in the end Rian Johnson gave a big middle finger to that and declared Rey’s parents were actually nobodies.
(The average fan looking over two year’s worth of Reddit fan theory blogs after seeing the movie.)
With their theories essentially tossed to side like bantha fodder fans whipped out their torches and lightsabers protesting “How could this be?! We waited two years to be told it was all meaningless?!”
All I have to say is “yup” and honestly I dug this twist probably the most in the movie and I have partly to thank “Blade Runner 2049” for this.
In that movie the character K spends most of the movie trying to find meaning to his life, believing himself to be the child of a human and replicant, destined for some greater purpose only to discover that he was still just a normal replicant in the end.
A nobody from nowhere.
Devastated by suddenly becoming a meaningless statistic again, K all but gives up on the revolution brewing between the synthetics and humans but after remembering the loss of his girlfriend Joi he sets out anyways to save Deckard and turn the tide of the conflict.
(I mean, who isn’t motivated to do great things by tall, naked purple women?)
The essential theme of all this, at least my interpretation, is that you don’t need to be relevant to make a difference in the world and people should stop looking for meaning and start simply taking action instead. Rey goes through this same transformation in “The Last Jedi” and it’s for the most part well executed. Her heritage doesn’t determine whether or not she’s a hero, the fact that she already is gifted in the Force is all she needs to help fight in this war. She can create her own story instead of, again, the past dictating what she can and cannot do.
I had no theories going into this but this was a welcome surprise for me that Rey’s importance to the story didn’t hinge on being a Skywalker, Kenobi or a Palpatine; she was relevant by being herself.
Of course, Kylo could’ve been just fucking with her during this exchange of dialogue and the truth may yet still come out when JJ Abrams resumes the helm of the trilogy in a couple years but I would be very happy if they kept this part of the story the way it is because truly this is a great theme for a story like this and I look forward to watching Rey continue down her own path in the final film.
Kylo “Fucking” Ren
Out of all the characters the one that made the biggest leap for me between films was Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren. I was not terribly fond of the character in the first film and found him completely unintimidating and even whiney like Anakin Skywalker from the prequels.
But Kylo grows on me a lot in this one and this has a lot to do with the great chemistry Adam Driver and Daisy Ridely have together on screen in this film. The two play off each other well, almost like an abusive boyfriend dynamic and it works well during the movie.
He’s less whiney and more angry this time, barely in control of his own rage and manipulative in his exchanges with Rey through their Force speak. Kylo has a great arc though in itself here with again a nod to letting the past die by symbolically destroying the helmet he wears to honor his sith grandfather and forging his own path by killing Snoke (who I will talk about in the second part of this write up…). He’s more assertive here in his feelings and his rage and credit to Driver for really pumping out the charisma in each scene he’s in.
(Also thank you, internet. #BenSwolo)
He’s also mercifully less involved with the slapstick humor of this film than he was in “The Force Awakens” which helps up the frightening level of his power rather than detract from it like before. I would say Driver is far and away the MVP of this film largely because the writing around his character, at least, is much better this time and makes him all the more enjoyable because of it.
There’s other minor things that were decent about the film too, namely the soundtrack, the cinematography (lots of red), a pretty dope sword fight sequence and the greatest Kamekaze sequence in film history (Albeit extremely ludicrous though) but this pretty much concludes what I enjoyed about the film and now unfortunately it’s time to talk about what really didn’t work and this is what keeps this film from being anywhere near a masterpiece for me….
To be continued…
Don’t be afraid, fan boys…