The Last Jedi is a clear passing of the torch for the Star Wars franchise. Where The Force Awakens gives us an introduction to the ‘new generation’ the latest installment gives them the reins, often in heart-breaking ways. A lot of franchises would bluntly force a new cast onto the scene with some hand-waving and mentions of past characters dying. Star Wars seems to be going for more of a transition from the past to the future. This movie takes many of the core themes of the Star Wars universe and ties them into a new struggle with a familiar feel. It is an adventure exploring the light and dark of the world Lucas created, but also the grays in between. It takes many of our expectations and turns them upside down. Many questions are answered from The Force Awakens, but more questions arise and hooks to new tales are set. I’m going to try and avoid a lot of spoilers in this review, but this is a warning now that there may be a few. I’ll do my best to avoid any big ones.
Visually the movie is spectacular. The effects are what one would expect from a modern space adventure. We got a very unique world with a landscape that was familiar and new in the red crystal and salt of Crait. New ships, aliens, and droids hit the screen in vivid detail. We also got one of the most impressive scenes of any space battle I’ve seen with General Holdo’s suicide run through hyperspace. Along with that the score was phenomenal as usual. It wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie without Williams at the musical helm, and he delivered in his usual epic style. Sound design, except for the flash in hyperspace, was pretty standard fare for the franchise. It was certainly a fun, and beautiful movie to watch.
It wasn’t all great, so I’ll get a couple of my complaints out of the way up front. The worst part for me really was Laura Dern’s General Holdo. Not for the reasons you’ve heard from others though. Her character, from her entrance to her execution, was awkward. She was the one character that seemed completely out of place in the entire movie. She’s some well-known general, but not in uniform (I know, neither is Leia but that’s her thing in this franchise, step off her thing Holdo). She’s introduced like we should know her but we’ve never seen her before. Her interaction on screen is boring and half the time she looks like she’s got a lemon in her mouth. Her one moment that was meant to redeem the character was her brave run at the enemy fleet. I know we were meant to care but I just didn’t. I felt more emotion at the death of Rose’s sister, a character with just a couple of minutes of screen time. We weren’t given a single reason to care about Holdo. The moment would have had much more impact with a character we knew and loved at the helm of the cruiser.
Another thing I was mixed on was all the jumping around. I liked seeing the story from the perspective of several characters, but it seemed a little too much. I like to hope what they were going for is to set up several plot hooks for use in later movies, but who knows if that will pan out. I liked the plan to board the ship that was tracking them, but the diversion to find a master thief and so on took us too far from the central plot I think. It was done in a somewhat interesting way but it broke the tension of the chase that we were ultimately supposed to be worried about. I would have liked that part to seem a little more hurried rather than Finn and Rose basically taking a mini vacation at a luxury casino. I did like that there seemed to be more at play, an outside Force guiding them all into place. I just wish they’d kept the tension up a little better through that middle part. I mean, if Battlestar Galactica can build the tension of a harried fleet over 5 seasons, they should have been a little better over the course of this movie.
On the flip side, seeing things from several character’s point of view pulls from a central lesson that Kenobi tried to teach Luke. In Return of the Jedi Kenobi explains that everyone sees their world from different points of view. In his case he was explaining why he said that Vader killed Luke’s father, rather than that Vader was his father. We see the events of The Last Jedi from the point of view of several characters. Poe’s desire to stop the First Order by force and daring. Rey’s drive to stop them by turning Kylo to help the rebels. Finn is practical and sees the rebels as doomed, but he feels he can save at least one of his friends by leading her away from the fleet. Rose, a line soldier who lost her sister but is devoted to her duty. Even Leia and Luke have their own perspective on what is best. Through the story they are all flawed, fragmented, and chasing their own path. It isn’t until the end, with their backs to the corner, that they mend what is broken and find hope. It mimics many of the themes of Empire in that our heroes, all pursuing their own agendas, fail to stop the coming darkness. It ends in chaos, but a spark of hope.
That’s one of the story elements that seems consistent through this new trilogy. Repetitive themes in mythology aren’t uncommon, and used from time to time in story telling. The aforementioned Battlestar Galactica almost had a mantra, “All of this has happened before and will happen again.” In Hinduism they believe that cycles repeat themselves but that your Jiva from your previous live is not the same Jiva that inhabits your body in this one. The Force Awakens was very much like A New Hope, so much so that it was criticized for copying the original movie. I hoped that there was a purpose to it. It seems that there was. Not every choice made in TFA mirrored those in ANH, and while The Last Jedi has some elements similar to Empire it is not as close of a comparison. The characters in this story make different choices again and it will be interesting to see how those choices play out in the next and future movies. Of course we want our heroes to win, but what will be the cost? Will they be able to redeem Kylo as Luke redeemed his father? Will Rey follow Luke’s path and become a teacher, or remain solitary in fear that more Jedi would lead to more Sith?
We were also introduced to a new character that I did like. Rose Tico is a maintenance worker in the resistance, and loses her sister who sits a gunner seat in a bomber. Too often a Star Wars story can get wrapped up in its heroes and forget the ones that make that world work. In Rose we are introduced to her through her hero worship of Finn. Literally seeing one of the heroes of the story through the eyes of an average person in that world. Then they give her a personality and a devotion to duty that we don’t usually get with characters like this. They generally get inserted to show us how awesome the heroes are and then they’re forgotten or killed off. It also helps remind us that all the people, soldiers, pilots, gunners and so on aren’t just disposable pieces to be blown up for the story. While we watch our dashing rogues, hot-shot pilots, and powerful jedi do their thing there are hundreds of others just doing their jobs and caught up in this conflict. Giving one of them a story, and an actual personality gave them a stake in the game we wouldn’t have considered otherwise.
There were some seriously emotional parts of the story as well but the biggest was with Luke. His character didn’t sit well with a lot of people but I connected with it a bit. Failing our children is always a fear for anyone who is a parent or in a parental role. I can’t think of any bigger failure for a jedi than their student turning to the dark side. It caused Kenobi to avoid Luke for all those years, afraid that he had failed Anakin and would fail his son too. Luke didn’t just lose one student, but all his students. A small repetition of past events, and something that had to be devastating to him. He closed himself off, hiding himself from Kylo and the First Order, but also from the Force itself. When he does open himself back up he demonstrates a power that surprised even me, and I’ve read a lot about Star Wars. I won’t deny that the final scenes with Master Luke brought a tear to my eye.
Anyway, this is Star Wars, and I could ramble on for a few thousand more words I’m sure. The movie had some issues with pacing in the middle, with breaking the tension of a desperate chase. It also had a couple of characters I didn’t care for, most notable Holdo but also Hux. Overall though those things did not bother me enough to ruin the movie for me. I had a great time and left a very happy Star Wars fan. Many of the expectations I went in with (even through I tried to go in with zero) were flipped upside down. I couldn’t help but guess at what they were doing in the trailers, and in most cases I guessed wrong. I was surprised and shocked (in a good way) several times, and after becoming tired of predictable movies I’m always happy when I’m surprised. There is clearly a heated debate over the movie, even as I write this, but it’s having a huge opening weekend. Reviews are mixed from critics and fans. My advice, go in with an open mind and as few expectations as you can. It’s not the best of the saga, it will take a lot to unseat Empire, but it is one of the better ones I’ve seen. I’ll be going back again very soon.