Much like Blade Runner 2049, Last Jedi is in a precarious position. If it follows the trend set by Force Awakens, then it will use Empire Strikes Back as a template. The only problem is it could never surpass or follow up one of the best movies ever made. That is what we all thought two years ago at the start of this new trilogy. The only way the film could succeed is if it was just good or separated itself from Empire’s long shadow. Did Last Jedi come into its own or crumble under impossible expectations?
After finding Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, tries to convince him to train her and join the war against the First Order. Meanwhile, Finn, played by John Boyega, goes on a mission to help the remaining Resistance fleet before they are destroyed by an even greater foe.
Normally I try to see movies on opening day to keep my opinion fresh and untainted. Given my current circumstances, however, the chatter about Last Jedi was too much to ignore. Everywhere I went on the Internet people were complaining or praising the film like a passive aggressive grandmother with Asperger’s. And after finally seeing it, I do not see where anyone is coming from. Last Jedi has issues that hurt the overall experience, but nothing that warrants such apprehension. It is like people want to hate it for hate’s sake. I think everyone also had entirely different expectations going in, which I cannot get into without giving away spoilers.
Skip to the end if you want my recommendation.
For one thing, if you wanted answers for questions raised in Force Awakens, prepare for disappointment. Whatever answer you think made sense for Rey’s origin, Snoke’s deal, and Luke were wrong or remain unanswered. Last Jedi takes your expectations and grinds them into dust. Like a suspense thriller it almost lies to you by giving you answers that are unsatisfying but brilliant. Given what Force Awakens established and the trend of following the original trilogy, you are almost playing yourself going in because the movie pulls the rug right from under your feet. In this way it takes some pretty big risks and I cannot commend Last Jedi.
Bringing up the visuals seems redundant because most films look good (not really), but Last Jedi is the exception. It is a mix of good CG, puppetry, and practical effects that are some of the best I have seen in a while. The fact puppets were even used in such a big budget movie blew my mind. And then there are the costumes. It baffles me that such artistry and talent was not applied to the Clones in Attack of the Clones, who were all CG. The armor and weapons in Last Jedi are so well designed and realized, I want to make them all myself. And thank God they finally introduced cortosis. Rogue One also had fantastic practical props, but this time everything around the cool stuff has substance and feels like it matters.
Being the second act in a trilogy, the characters in Last Jedi were put through their paces. Force Awakens was our chance to get to know everyone and now we have to see them struggle. However, this is only the case for about two of the three characters, excluding Poe. Rey and Ren had a lot to do and changed in so many ways, but Finn did nothing. He woke up from his very short coma, teamed up with Random Asian, and went on a little quest that accomplished nothing. He remained stagnant as a character with the illusion of change. He had a lot going for him as a reformed Stormtrooper who did not know what he was doing and went nowhere.
Another issue was the humor. Though not as bad as everyone says, there was little too much of it spread throughout Last Jedi. With the story and tone, a prank call joke and one-liners felt totally out of place. It was especially jarring when a morally disillusioned Luke messed around with Rey during her training. Some parts were fine, but I could not tell if I was watching a Marvel movie or Star Wars. For something that has a good handful of serious moments and characters that fail, having more jokes than necessary pulled me further out of the experience. It would have been all right if it were just Finn being funny because that is his character.
Poe’s side of the story with the Resistance could have been done better, or cut out completely if I am being honest. He stays on the last ship fleeing a pursing First Order fleet as fuel runs out. While Poe tries to be proactive and save everyone, an annoying Blue-Hair (I know her hair is purple; that’s not what I mean), played by Laura Dern, holds him back for seemingly no reason. I understand you need conflict for story to happen, but a little logic would have helped. Blue-Hair could have told him what was up or given a good reason not for revealing her plan. Maybe she was afraid of a possible security leak or she had no idea what to do and did not want to say because she was afraid. I would accept that over what we got. Instead, she comes off like your typical Blue-Hair and a terrible commanding office.
I should not bring this up because I hate nitpicking, but I hate the name “Resistance” as a determinate for rebel elements in fiction and real life. Having a real, unambiguous name for a political faction is better than a name that could mean anything. Resistance implies it is against the Establishment, whatever that may be. In this trilogy the problem is the Resistance is the Establishment, the New Republic, and not the standing army. It feels more like a militia with how underpowered it appears. In the original trilogy they were called the Rebel Alliance and it made sense because they were fighting the Empire, a larger, consolidated political body compared to the Alliance. The Resistance should have a name to fit its idea; something like “The Old Guard” or “Republican Guard” because they continue the fight against elements of the Empire.
Other parts bugged me, but not enough to warrant an entire paragraph for each one. Phasma still did nothing. She showed up for five minutes, fights Finn, and probably does not die. For a character that received so much hype before her debut, there is nothing to her, like the videogame Destiny… both of them. The second to last fight was horribly shot. It was a two-on-eight battle with cuts between the minority and it did not look good. There was so much going on I have a feeling the director did not know what to do. The individual kills were neat, but the whole thing was very awkward.
The performances were also improved from Force Awakens. With a story designed to test the characters, the actors had a lot to do. Rey had to confront the truth that everything she was led to believe was more or less false. Kylo had a similar transformation, but took a different route. In fact, the two had a lot more screen time together and showed surprisingly great chemistry. Both Ridley and Driver brought their all and I cannot wait to see what they do next. The standout was Hamill as an older and very different Luke. The part is suited to his age with 40 years after the start of his character’s journey. He has seen more of the world and grown wiser, but also aware of it. Luke is lost in fog of disillusionment and Hamill kills it in one of the few live-action roles I have seen him in recent memory.
With so much noise on the Internet, it is impossible to ignore the chatter surrounding Last Jedi. Some people call it a piece of feminist garbage, an Alt-Right masterpiece, or a bloated mess about 90 minutes too long. There are so many loud voices that it is hard to form your own opinion, even before you have seen the movie. I almost stayed home for fear I would hate it until I came to my senses. For you, good reader, I can only recommend you see for yourself, and make up your own mind. No one can live their life and make decisions according to the opinions of others. That is just plain stupid and Last Jedi was not bad at all.
But if you are convinced by the rabble online, I wrote a book you could read instead. It is free until the 23rd on Amazon for Kindle. If “Lord of the Rings with guns” sounds awesome to you, follow the link below.