The story here involves Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeking to learn the ways of the Jedi from Luke Skywalker and convince him to return to the battle between good and evil going on between the Republic and the First Order, while the Republic/Rebel fleet led by General Leia Organa and fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) tries to escape to safety and former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) goes on a side mission with a new ally Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) to take down the First Order ship that is following them. And Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) continues down his path to mastering the Dark Side under the abusive tutelage of his master Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).
If I had to briefly describe Star Wars: The Last Jedi I would say it’s about journeys, both physical and spiritual. And not just for Rey like we were expecting. Rey, Poe, Finn, Kylo Ren, and even grizzled old vet Luke Skywalker all end up in different places than they were at the beginning thanks to the lessons they learn throughout the film, and when it’s all said and done they all realize something about themselves that they didn’t know at the outset. And we get one last look at Carrie Fisher as General Leia a final time. So how was the trip for me? Let’s see.
Luke’s story arc was great. My main worry going in to this one was that he would get killed off without his character getting a full journey. With Han dead and Carrie Fisher’s passing ending anything they can do with Leia going forward I would have been super pissed if Luke did not get the reverence I felt his character deserved. Thankfully they did that here. And the spin they put on Luke’s training of Rey was a good changeup from Luke’s prior training with Yoda.
Kylo Ren’s arc was something else I enjoyed. After repeated viewings of The Force Awakens I was not a Kylo Ren fan. Despite doing a real dastardly thing in killing Han Solo he came off like a real buster when it was all said and done. He got redeemed as a villain here in my book, and not in a way that made him cooler than any of the heroes. You’re not supposed to become enamored with the villains, so it’s crucial that they don’t get too cool. And Johnson put a nice twist on the Vader-esque internal conflict within Ren like he did with Rey’s Jedi training.
The lessons learned/moral of the story were well done also in my opinion. The original trilogy largely focused on running from, forgetting, or overturning your big failures and not facing up to or embracing them. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda never truly accepted that yeah, they messed up but it’s not the end of the world. Instead Obi-Wan tries to steer Luke to fix the mess without telling him everything while Yoda just doesn’t want to mess up again. Here Luke starts off having taken that same route and has to learn that to truly correct our missteps we have to accept having made them in the first place and then stay on the playing field.
The other big lesson, for Poe Dameron, plays out in fine fashion as well. Poe combines Luke’s initial eagerness to rush in and save the day with Han’s recklessness once he gets there. And he has to learn that true heroic leadership includes knowing when to make the less daring move even if it looks cowardly or futile. General Leia and Vice Admiral Hondo (Laura Dern) are the teachers here, and they do a good job. Character growth outside the Jedi was not explored much in the original trilogy (save for Han Solo of course) so it was good to see here.
It was too long, 2 hours and 32 minutes. Now that’s only 15 minutes more than The Force Awakens, but that 15 minutes makes a difference. It didn’t drag for me but by the time it was over it really felt like they could have cut out some stuff. Were it up to me I would have changed up the whole thing with the fleet, and the side mission for Finn and Rose, so that it was leaner and more coherent. It meandered at times and given where it all ended up they could have consolidated a lot of went on there.
Captain Phasma…….oh, Captain Phasma. For the second movie in a row she got shortchanged. She’s quickly turning into the Boba Fett of this trilogy, a cool costume and persona that never gets fully realized in the actual movies and has to get fleshed out in other media (her 4 issue comic miniseries is really good and I’ve heard good things about her novel) to reach her true potential. I really wish we would get more out her in the films than we do.
Lastly, things sure did move fast as far as the war between the Force Awakens and now. We go from the Republic/Resistance ruling but having taken on a lot of water as they were fighting off the First Order to being on their last legs against the now ruling evildoers in apparently a few days. That should have taken at least months to transpire but we pick up with Rey and Luke immediately from where we left off at the end of Episode VII. Somebody has to explain that to me, man.
It seems a good bit of people aren’t taking too well to this installment. Right now it’s clocking in at a shockingly low 57% fan rating on Rotten Tomatoes. From what I’ve gleaned on social media the big beefs seem to be with the various fork in the road moments that Rian Johnson served up, and which side of the fork he chose to go with. That, and expanding force powers beyond what had been previously established. To which I say………..get over it already. Johnson obviously decided that the various fan theories and speculation afoot in regards to Rey’s origins, Snoke’s identity, Finn’s coupling choice, and several other matters weren’t what he preferred to go with. And good for him. Fan fiction usually sucks anyway, even mine.
The big complaints about The Force Awakens were mainly about it being too close to the original film; so now that they choose to make some hard breaks from that you’re mad because they didn’t stick to the script enough? Good grief. This is why creative people be they filmmakers, writers, or wrestling bookers need to be careful how much they listen to fans. Because we are inconsistent as hell and don’t know what the heck we really want. We want new and different, but only within constraints that we deem acceptable. And that makes it a lot easier for pretentious movie critics to drone on and on about formulaic cookie cutter franchises dominating everything.
So eat your vegetables, people. You’ll be ok with it in time. No one is obligated to just take what you say you want or speculate about and regurgitate it on film. This sense of ownership over not just the movies themselves but the creative process has got to go. It’s poisoning everything from movies to TV to wrestling. Just watch and enjoy, will you? You cant do this stuff better from your couch than the people getting paid to do it now. No you’re not going to like everything you watch or read but walking in with such specific demands before it’s even released that you’re bound to be disappointed takes all the fun out of it for me.
Not perfect, no movie is, but really good in my opinion. I felt like the serious points were not just touched upon, they were dove into and allowed to truly manifest. This is a more adult Star Wars than the original trilogy but it’s still close enough for younger people to enjoy it. It is a movie that’s going to take more than one viewing to truly get all the details, but in a good way. Another winner for Lucasfilm, and a step up from Episode VII. Final grade: 9.0
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW (January 2019) – The timeline thing is hard to look past after repeat viewings. There’s just too much from the end of Force Awakens through the end of this film that takes place in too short a time to make sense. That’s good for losing half a point off my original grade so we’re down to 8.5 now.