Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Movie Review

movie reviewBurn it to the ground! It surely is one of the most complicated tasks of our time, to continue a series of movies that is so beloved (almost religious) by such a crazy amount of people. Yep, Star Wars. So much mythology, so many characters, so many details! Now imagine you want to give it a new spin. You want to try to not only build on what came before but also enhance it by doing new stuff and play around a bit. Subverting expectations is something you could try, to find an entry point for something new. That ‘new spin’ you’re looking for. J.J. Abrams’ ‘The Force Awakens’ (TFA) played it pretty safe. A lot of familiar beats in that film. No question. Still, I enjoyed the film a lot and also noticed the new stuff – the film trying to open up new opportunities for future installments. But the main point it had to fight with was the resemblance to Episode 4 – A New Hope. Still, fans were into it and a lot of fan theories (which I personally couldn’t care less about) showed how invested fans were for the next film. Episode 8 – The Last Jedi (TLJ) tries and goes down an almost entirely own path. It seems the makers of the film listened to their audience. At least to a certain degree. But did the film in itself succeed? Let’s see what a new director (Rian Johnson) can bring to the series and if he is able to build on what we were left off with in the previous film by J.J. Abrams.

The first surprise is that this film starts exactly where we left the previous film. It feels like almost no time has passed between the films. After the desperate but successful attack on Starkiller base, what’s left of the Resistance/Rebels/Alliance (the good guys) evacuates the base they were stationed on in the previous film. All while a New Order fleet (led by General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)) is trying to block the good guys from jumping into hyperspace and escape. Which brings up a continuity problem (one of many in this film). After some nice space battle action the Rebel fleet escapes. Unfortunately the New Order has a device that makes it possible for them to locate the Rebel fleet. Soon after the Rebel fleet jumps into safety, a New Order fleet shows up right behind them. That includes a super massive flagship. So now it’s Hux, Kylo Ren and Snoke right at their tails. The small rebel fleet (very very small) manages to get out of effective laser range of the New Order. The shields of the rebel fleet hold but their engine energy slowly drains. So a cat and mouse game starts. Which brings up another plot hole. Why doesn’t the New Order just start some of their fighters and long range bombers to catch up to the rebel fleet that outpaces the capital ships of the New Order? As far as I can evaluate the situation in that scenario… the rebel fleet would have been toast… space toast. In a matter of minutes. Not to mention some inconsistencies (story wise) with the shields on that rebel ship. So instead we have this cat and mouse scenario going on for almost 3/4 of the film. It maintains a certain level of suspense but feels odd at the same time.

In the meantime Rey (Daisy Ridley) met up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and tries to talk him into training her. He refuses. His standpoint now is that the force (as a whole) is the root of all evil. And I’m completely on Luke’s side here. Even if the Luke we’ve seen up to this point doesn’t really represent the Luke Skywalker I grew up with. Rey doesn’t stop trying to convince him to train her and follows Luke across the island. We meet the Porgs and I actually like these guys. They (for me) represent the humour parts that work in the film. And there are too many that do not hit the mark at all. Luke changes his mind and tries to teach Rey at least some basic things. tries to make her understand his standpoint in regards to the force. That’s something we should have seen more of though. I’m very conflicted about the portrayal of Luke in this film. Luke’s character swings back and forth between the Luke we know and some other character. The argument is that we’ve not seen him for so long and people change. Still. Mark Hamill does a fantastic job with what he’s working with though. I liked his performance a lot. He managed to give Luke some depth and here and there we get that version of Luke we learned to love.

While Rey is with Luke and the rebel fleet fleeing from an overwhelming display of force by the New Order, it’s time to start a subplot for Finn (John Boyega) and a new character named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). Finn wants to get Rey and after some misunderstandings with Rose they ultimately decide to find a way to disable the tracking device that enables the New Order to find and track the rebel fleet. For that they visit a ‘Casino Planet’. This (estimated 45 minute) plotline leads to nothing. It introduces the character of Rose, which I actually enjoyed a lot. She’s a good addition to the set of characters and the chemistry between Finn and Rose works too. But that’s not the actual problem here. Instead we should ask ourselfes why this plotline got included in the film. More screentime for an asian character to make this movie more attractive for asian markets? Sounds cold but plausible, right? I mean, it’s Disney we’re dealing with here. They try to cover up this very weak plotline with some political and social statements about the rich, poor and the face of war. It’s very on the nose and wreaks of poor writing. This whole subplot does. Finn and Rose meet a codecracker named DJ (Benicio Del Toro) who helps them with their task. DJ is a neat character too! But in the conclusion of that subplot he is completely wasted. This Finn and Rose part felt incredibly like the prequel movies. Even down to the overall CGI’y look of the Casino Planet. Very uninspired writing. I’m sure that part already got cut to the shortest possible result. But I feel there are at least another 5 minutes we could lose there.

We learn that Kylo and Rey seem to have a certain way of connecting through the force. While on the island with Luke, Rey and Kylo talk out some things that ultimately lead to Rey leaving Luke behind. She begs Luke to come with her but he refuses. A decision I can understand at this point in the film. Rey voluntarily meets up with Kylo on Snoke’s flagship. This meetup eventually leads to a confrontation with Snoke. This is probably one of the stronger parts of the film. The back and forth between Snoke and Rey. Kylo’s reactions to what’s going on. You may say whatever you want about the results of that confrontation… but it’s effective. I’m very split about this direction. The scenes between Rey and Kylo are the best though. Both actors do a good job of portraying the conflict between them.

Things on the last remaining ship of the rebel fleet become tense as the fuel levels fall. Luckily they managed to come close enough to a planet that contains an old rebel outpost. They begin to leave the ship while Finn, Rose and DJ are on Snoke’s flag ship and manage to find the tracking device. Unfortunately a betrayal happens. Which almost entirely renders Finn’s and Rose’s subplot useless.

Then one of the most epic scenes in Star Wars history happens.

For a moment it seems like Kylo and Rey team up. Finn and Rose manage to catch up with the rebels that managed to escape to a planet that was their destination right from the beginning. Everything is ready for a final battle. And a battle we get. Along with (again) one of the stupidest character moments. However, I don’t want to go into every little detail and stop the plot discussion here.

After seeing that film I feel that there will be Fans 1.0 and Fans 2.5 (Fans 2.0 would be the folks who grew up with the prequels I guess). The film doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it, almost literally, wants to burn down what came before it. And while I’m not entirely opposed to that… I really feel it could have been done with a little more respect. Not just respect for the previous material but also respect for the fans of that material. There are parts of the story that I felt were useless and could have been avoided. There is this mutiny element on the fleeing rebel ship that could have easily been avoided by the leaders just telling their plans to everyone. Wouldn’t a competent leader do that in a dire situation just to avoid unnecessary complications? There weren’t many people left anyway! Just tell them! No, instead we create some artificial conflict. A conflict that plays out kind of fine in the film but falls apart as soon as you think about it. We need to keep some characters in the dark because otherwise they would have zero character growth in this film. Character growth and how it’s handled is a general issue in this film.

Talking about respect for the material. Give Admiral Ackbar a better death! Some might argue it’s a ‘non-character’. But enough fans have read enough books (of the old, now cancelled, extended universe (thanks Disney)) where he did play a larger role. Let him initiate that wonderful epic scene I mentioned earlier! There is no need to introduce a new character just for that. Well, ok, it’s Disney… they probably want to sell some stuff with that new character. Sometimes it’s too obvious. Or is it just to diversify the cast with more females? I don’t care. All I know is that they had a perfect character for that scene and felt the need to go with someone no one ever heard of.

From a technical point of view there is almost nothing to complain about. Almost. I think it is certainly one of the most beautiful SW films yet. Some great camera angles and well composed shots. John Williams composed a nice score for it. The sound design is pretty much flawless (Dolby Atmos really brought out the best in that department). Only the writing could have been better. It is weird how at the end of the film our characters have undergone a change… but not necessarily grown. Some of them end up where they started. Even after an 2 1/2hr movie where tons of things happen. The Casino part feels staged and too much. Unfortunately the film splits up the characters we had fun with in TFA. Finn and Rey had such a nice chemistry in that first film and they don’t share anything in this film. Rey and Poe seem to meet for the first time ever at the end of this film. Which is completely odd. That said…

…I must say that I did like the film a lot better after a second viewing. It doesn’t change my opinion about it and I still stand with the flaws I pointed out. The casino part still felt misplaced. The humour still fell flat most of the time. Character development still felt weird. However, I was able to see through it a little better and here and there understood what the makers were going for. And it will be interesting to see where they go now. They managed to establish a clean slate. It could have been done more smoothly. It’s not the feared re-hash of Empire Strikes Back and now the third movie can pretty much do what it wants. I can even imagine them doing a time jump of a couple of years. And that’s as far as I am willing to venture into ‘fan theory’ town. Did the film make me jump up and say: “oh! now I really want to know how it continues!”? Absolutely not. The film left me indifferent. Much contrary to TFA… which definitely made me want to see more.

For now, let’s see where this almost clean slate brings us.

A 7.7/10 for me. Yes, it may be a surprising high vote after reading my review. It’s always easier to write about stuff you didn’t like. But there is some good in this film too. This film planted a seed for something entirely new. We may agree or disagree with elements of the film… but the fact that from now on it can really become its own thing is worth honoring. I feel it’s one of these films that need time. And I’m willing to give it that time.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi on IMDb

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