Movie Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The billion-dollar franchise opens with a “Can You Hear Me Now” joke. It was less funny and more stupefying in that it made the characters involved seem stupid. The humor of the franchise with the exception of Stars Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) seemed not based in stupid things like how this movie opens. Arguably, the design of the Death Star or Star-Killer Base has been the subject of stupidity, but that can simply be a trapping of science-fiction or outer-space adventures. Action-adventures in general traffic in stupid villains or villains that are easily duped, but the opening joke paints the whole thing as a potential farce, more in line with Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs (1987) than George Lucas’ original trilogy. Except, even Lucas leaned more into that farce in his prequels, but it’s played so stupidly here as to take one out of the narrative. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t slip that far down again.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper and Brick), this movie picks up where Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) left off. Despite being highly entertaining and fun, The Force Awakens was criticized for basically being a beat-for-beat remake of the original Star Wars (1977). This movie suffers the same. The two sequels to that 1977 film were The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983). If The Force Awakens were a rip-off of the 1977 film, then this movie is a rip-off of both the 1980 and 1983 films combined. It’s as if the first half of The Empire Strikes Back were attached to the ending of The Return of the Jedi in order to make this, and it’s frustrating to see not many new ideas, story-wise, coming from these Disney-owned movies.
In the 1980 film, Luke Skywalker leaves the rebel forces led by Princess Leia to find Jedi Master Yoda and train in the ways of the Force. This movie has the same thing. The only difference is that Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, is the one who leaves the rebel forces led by Princess Leia and this time the Jedi Master is Luke Skywalker himself, not Yoda, but there is an obvious nod to Yoda here. In the 1980 film, there’s a moment where we see Luke’s spaceship under water. Here, again, we see another ship of Luke under water. In the 1980 film, a group from the rebel forces is tricked by a scoundrel named Lando Calrissian. The same thing happens here, except the scoundrel is played by Oscar-winner Benicio del Toro (Traffic and 21 Grams). In the 1980 film, Luke learns that a past event didn’t happen the way he thought. The same is true here for Rey, except that past event isn’t actually about her, which diminishes Rey as a character and if anything, Johnson puts Rey in the background and made what was a strong female lead in The Force Awakens so minor, if not forgettable here.
In the 1983 film, we were introduced to cute little animals that became instrumental in the fight. This movie introduces two types of cute little animals. The first is the porg, which seems like a type of bird. The second is the vultpex, a crystal fox of some sort. In the 1983 film, Luke Skywalker is taken by Darth Vader in handcuffs to the Evil Emperor where Luke is threatened to be turned to the dark side or be killed, while at the same time the rebel forces look as if they’re about to be all killed. The 1983 film cuts back-and-forth between these two things until Vader ends up betraying the Emperor. Needless to say, the same thing happens here, except swap Darth Vader for Kylo Ren.
Adam Driver (Inside Llewyn Davis and Silence) co-stars as Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren who in many ways is a better character than Darth Vader. The 1977 and 1980 film only portrayed Vader as this scary villain. This movie however, Ben is given more dimensions to be. He’s the abandoned son, the spoiled brat and now the betrayed student. That last thing, the betrayed student, is a new dimension that this film illuminates. There’s also a psychic link into Ben’s mind that also illuminates his character in ways that we never got with Vader. It allows us to feel the conflict he has, which makes the choice to stay loyal to Snoke, this movie’s Evil Emperor, or not more compelling.
Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina) also co-stars as Poe Dameron, a fighter pilot with the rebel forces who is perhaps a little too gung-ho for Princess Leia. He never wants to give up, even when the odds are against him. He always wants to be a hero or look like he’s a hero, despite it endangering everyone even more. He has to learn to fall back sometimes and not be so brash. His conflict with Vice Admiral Holdo, played by Oscar-nominee and Emmy-winner Laura Dern (Wild and Big Little Lies), was exemplary, but all he wanted was to know what her plan was. Her refusal to tell him made for good melodrama but seemed ridiculous in the long run. Yet, Isaac’s performance is so great and he’s so handsome that he’s just fun to watch, the most fun of all the characters. He’s the second-most interesting next to Kylo Ren, as well as the second-most sexy, given we see Kylo Ren shirtless.
John Boyega (Attack the Block and Detroit) reprises his role of Finn, a former storm-trooper who now works for the rebel forces. Of all the characters that feel useless, Finn appears to be at the top of the list. Boyega is so good-looking and talented, but, there’s a point when Finn could have died and I was a little okay with it. He’s paired with a rebel fighter named Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran. The movie tries to inject a romance between the two that doesn’t work. Rose is there to provide context and show what the rebels are fighting against, but Finn and Rose’s side adventure feel like a distraction from the main action in a movie that drags on by the end.
Speaking of action, I wasn’t that impressed with the action here. The first action sequence is energizing and a nice thrill ride, but everything else pales in comparison to the inventive sequences in The Force Awakens. Yes, The Force Awakens copied-and-pasted its final action sequence from the 1977 film, just as this one copied-and-pasted some of its sequences from the 1980 and 1983 films. Yet, The Force Awakens did manage to pull off some clever and exhilarating things like the Millennium Falcon flying through the husk of a crashed Star Destroyer and that wasn’t the only trick up its sleeve.
Yes, this movie has tricks up its sleeve, including one involving Luke Skywalker, but still this movie doesn’t have that same exhilaration. A slow-moving chase sequence is rather emblematic of the problems with the pacing of this movie. There is also a nitpick I have that really left me frustrated and with more questions than anything. Talking about this nitpick constitutes a spoiler, so be warned.
Carrie Fisher returns as Leia Organa, formerly Princess Leia and now General Leia, the leader of the rebel forces. Fisher died in December 2016 after she finished shooting this movie. Plans were to have her appear in the next one, but now that option is off the table, presumably. The movie could have killed her character off and solved the potential plot-hole that will occur in the next film. In fact, the movie does kill her off. However, Leia uses the Force to survive an explosion and being blown into outer space with no space suit. Yet, later when some rocks are in the way, she can’t or doesn’t use the Force herself to move them. It simply reinforces the fact that the previous movie never established what her powers were.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 32 mins.