Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally meets with the legendary Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and hopes to bring him out of his retirement in order to join the Resistance’s battle against the First Order. However, she learns the lesson to never meet your heroes, all while the Dark Side beckons her. Elsewhere, Poe (Oscar Isaac) butts head with Resistance leadership, as Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance mechanic Rose (newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) travel to a new world to recruit the help of a code breaker.
I really, truly, unashamedly loved this movie and just about everything that it does. I have heard a wide range of opinions on this movie and why it doesn’t work for some (too long, the universe feels too small, its the Disney blockbuster-ification of a beloved franchise). I understand and can empathize with most of it (except people who are mad that their headcanon isn’t true because those people are the worst). Even understanding all of this, one viewing in, I am still pretty much head over heels in love with this movie. I don’t think it reaches the heights of the franchise’s first two releases, but I don’t know if anything ever can. For me, this film holds its own in a beautiful and new way.
Before I got into detail about what I liked (which is a lot), I do want to touch on some of my issues with this movie. First, and this is what most immediately comes to mind, there is a moment in this film that requires a tremendous leap in our suspension of disbelief when it comes to what the Force is able to do. Nothing we have seen or heard of prior to this film gives us any indication that the Force is this powerful. I think it is something that potentially could have been explained, although I imagine that dialogue would feel very clunky. It’s not a moment that ruins the film (at least not for me), but it is certainly one that still gives me a tremendous amount of pause when I reflect on this movie.
The other issues are more on a macro-plot level. First, Finn and Rose’s plot is less about Finn and Rose and more about the setting that surrounds them. Canto Bight, a casino planet filled with those who have been profiting off of the current war, allows us to see a part of the universe that we have never encountered before in the franchise. We have seen soldiers, politicians, bounty hunters and slumlords. To my memory, we have never seen this level of opulence and it’s really striking. However, I wish that our main characters got more to do, especially after the positive steps that The Force Awakens (and, on some level, Rogue One) took to give minority characters more of a say in the franchise. Boyega and Tran’s main role on this planet is to interact with what is around them and give some on the nose dialogue about how war profiteering, child slavery, and animal cruelty is bad. It doesn’t really challenge either of them in any meaningful way (Finn is quickly brought down from his initial excitement over the riches around him). The overall setting intrigued me enough that this stretch never left me feeling bored, but Boyega and Tran’s characters deserved better than this sequence gives them.
Finally, the timeline of this movie throws me through a bit of a loop in a way that no other Star Wars film really has. Luke and Rey’s plot seems to be disconnected from, timeline-wise, the film’s other major plots. I don’t think this would bother me as much as it does if the film’s other plotlines did not feel like they were on such a tight deadline. This really isn’t something that had bothered me prior to sitting down to write this, but this is where I am now. I’m sure other movies outside of this franchise (perhaps, even inside of this franchise) have conflicting timelines, but for whatever reason, this one is really getting me down. I don’t have a whole lot else to say on this other than what I have already stated, but I think it’s significant enough to state.
Enough negativity. I was so glad to come back to these characters, especially those introduced in The Force Awakens. Ridley falls right back into the character of Rey, bouncing between driven rebel, dejected student and torn heroine with ease. She also meets the challenge of going toe-to-toe with one of the most iconic characters of all time, with the added complication of Hamill giving what is likely his best performance as the character. This is the first extended look that we have had had Luke in over 30 years (both in our world and the timeline of the universe), and he is no longer the hopeful hero we remember. After his failure with Ben Solo, he’s understandably disenchanted with the Force and the ways of the Jedi, in a way that actually ties back nicely to the maligned prequels. His first moments in the film correspond with the first moments that the audience realizes, to paraphrase an oft-used line in the trailers, “this is not going to go the way [we] think.” Elsewhere, Isaac’s Poe is back to his old ways of sass-talking First Order leadership, and it was refreshing to see his recklessness have serious consequences. I think Isaac is one of the most talented actors we have right now, and I’m not convinced that this franchise is properly mining that skill yet, but at least this arc is more satisfying than what he had in The Force Awakens. The late Carrie Fisher gets to go out on a memorable performance as General Leia Organa. Despite getting comparably little to do, Boyega’s charm and excitement to be in Star Wars are still palpable with almost every moment that he is on screen. Finally, on the villainous side, Adam Driver is still performing Kylo Ren well, in a way that his childish outbursts of rage are still believable and threatening, and he makes compelling arguments for the Dark Side, in ways that a person sensitive to the Force could easily fall for his charm.
The new characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Like I said, I wish that Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose got more to do, especially since this is the first female person of color in this franchise who is not hidden through performance capture (Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata is barely in this movie, but it’s a fun little moment). Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo is basically just there to butt heads with Poe until they give her a moment of a character played by Laura Dern (no spoilers here, but it’s a front-runner for my favorite moment of any Star Wars moment. Director Rian Johnson (Looper) and company’s decision to cut to complete silence and focusing on beautiful images after the moment allow it to stand out in a wonderful way). Finally, Benicio Del Toro is everything that I wanted from Benicio Del Toro in a Star Wars movie. From what I have to believe was an actor’s choice to stutter his lines, to portraying what is arguably the most compelling single character the franchise has offered us since its original run, I could not get enough of DJ, and I hope we’ll get to see him again in 2019.
The movie has some wonderful technical decisions as well. Force-connected conversations between two of our characters cut out all background sound, leaving nothing but their dialogue, allowing an essential otherworldly feel to an intense back-and-forth. Also, this is, in general, a very pretty movie, with the gorgeous battle of Crait standing out, as plumes of red dust explode out of the salt-covered planet service. Another shot, featuring Luke watching flames is a fitting moment for a movie that takes significant steps towards being its own animal, while still being connected to the classic franchise from the 70s and 80s.
That leads me to the film’s overall arcs, which I’ll touch on in the vaguest terms possible. To me, it feels like Johnson (who also wrote the film) was given a surprising amount of creative control on this movie, especially considering the behind-the-scenes drama of both Rogue One, who had a different director handle post-production and Solo, where Phil Lord and Chris Miller were outright replaced before filming finished. The Last Jedi feels different than anything we’ve seen before in the franchise, for better (in my opinion) or worse (in countless other’s opinion). This movie takes risks when it comes to what has come before it, both in the original franchise, the prequels and even its most immediate predecessor. The advertising’s choice to use Luke’s line “This is not going to go the way you think” basically acts as a warning to the fans as well. Entire arcs implied by The Force Awakens are waved away as entirely unimportant. The foundation that the franchise rests on is pretty severely shaken. These moves are risky and leave us unsure of where we will find our heroes and villains in Episode IX. After The Force Awakens left us feeling like we were in a familiar place, to leave The Last Jedi in what feels like uncharted territory is incredibly exciting. Now it’s up to Force Awakens director JJ Abrams to lead us even further into uncharted territory.
Well. At least it isn’t Colin Trevorrow anymore?
References The Last Jedi Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Wars:_The_Last_Jedi Images Cover Photo http://www.mockingbirdcinema.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/thelastjedi-3.jpg Canto Bight https://nerdist.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/canto-bight-615x266.jpg DJ https://theplaylist.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Benicio-Del-Toro-Star-Wars-The-Last-Jedi-1200x520.jpg Dancing Finn and Rey https://media.giphy.com/media/xUPGGJln5lP5lYqKxW/giphy.gif