Well…’The Empire Strikes Back’ is in no danger of being unseated as my favorite film of the SW franchise. I love that movie! This newest addition to the series? I like it…a lot…I’m just not sure I love it…yet. It’s probably going to take some time and some more viewings to really solidify how I feel about ‘The Last Jedi’. This is the opening weekend, and I wasn’t sure I was going to brave the throngs of geeky movie-goers who were undoubtedly going to flock to the theatre to be separated from their $16 to be whisked away to more fantasy sci-fi adventures A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away. But then, on yet another dreary, wet and grey Vancouver morning, I decided ‘What the hell.’…and trotted down to the local multiplex for some (hopefully) kick-ass Star Wars action.
‘The Last Jedi’ picks up soon after the events of 2015’s ‘The Force Awakens’, with the remains of the ‘Resistance’, led by ‘General Leia Organa’ (Carrie Fisher), fleeing their base as the vengeful First Order, led by ‘General Hux’ (Domhnall Gleeson) and ‘Kylo Ren’ (Adam Driver) arrive to exact revenge for the destruction of Starkiller Base. As the battle and subsequent escape ensue, we then catch up with ‘Rey’ (Daisy Ridley) as she tries to get through to ‘Luke’ (Mark Hamill) on his far-off island of solitude, to convince him to return to the Resistance to help his sister rebuild the rebellion. Along the way, she discovers more about herself and her abilities than she’s prepared for, leading her into many different conflicts.
This is a good Star Wars sequel. While I do like what JJ Abrams did with the ‘cleansing’ of the franchise (after Lucas had gotten in there and sullied his own grand creation with the dreaded Prequels), there’s still just a touch of ‘fan fiction’ for me with that one. Plus the fact that the filmmakers took the safe way out and tailored a movie that was a beat-for-beat copy of 1977’s ‘A New Hope’, which, aside from new ‘coat of paint’, didn’t offer up tons of ‘new’, as far as the franchise went. I am happy to say that ‘The Last Jedi’ DOES opt to take a few risks along the way, and I was pleasantly surprised by what Writer / Director Rian Johnson (‘Looper’) had come up with, and executed.
I’ll first just get the obvious out of the way: this flick looks great! There are some beautiful shots and compositions, along with a couple key moments that SHOULD go down as ‘iconic’ (a gorgeous shot involving a MASSIVE stricken ship instantly comes to mind). The integration of the CG and live-action was almost flawless, which we should just expect with Disney, by now, and the all CG sequences, like the many, grand space battles were great. Some of the 3D was nicely done, but some also felt a little ‘flatter’ than they could’ve been. Special effects aside, Rian Johnson proves that he has a very good eye for stylish visuals and I’m legitimately interested to see what he contributes to Disney’s next trilogy in the SW universe.
The cast is also top-notch. On top of Hamill, Fisher (RIP), Ridley, Gleeson and Driver, we also get ‘Oscar Isaac’ back as that rogueish ace pilot ‘Poe Dameron’, John Boyega as former stormtrooper ‘Finn’, Andy Serkis as ‘Snoke and Lupita Nyong’o as ‘Maz’. New faces in the crowd include Laura Dern as ‘Admiral Holdo’, Benecio Del Toro as ‘DJ’ and Kelly Marie Tran as ‘Rose’, among a good number of other familiar faces.
Of course John Williams score is great…again. I really liked his incorporation of select cues from the Original Trilogy and I loved how he used ‘Rey’s Theme’, from TFA (and one of my favorite pieces of ‘new’ Star Wars’ music) here.
Of course no movie is perfect…and this one had it’s flaws, IMO. Some of the jokes (which admittedly are in EVERY SW movie) fell flat on their faces. There was a scene at the very beginning where ‘Poe’ trolls ‘Hux’ during a ship-to-ship radio communication, doing a “Holding for General Hux” joke, that I found almost cringe-worthy, and a lil too ‘JJ Abrams’. There were a few others that stood out as well. Speaking of ‘standing out’, there’s an extended sub-plot following ‘Finn’ and new Rebel character ‘Rose’ as they infiltrate a casino on some luxury planet that felt Earth-like enough to almost feel lazy. And while I understood it’s place in the story, it felt like this could’ve been shaved down or omitted, maybe in an effort to beef up the 3rd Act, which felt somewhat rushed to me. Reflecting back on it now…I’ll admit that the overall pacing felt a little ‘off’ and could’ve used some tightening. This was one area where the Original Trilogy soared! All three movies are exceptionally well-laid out and they never feel as though they’re suffering from ‘lag’. Both ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’ have moments that cause a little ‘tune out’ action to occur. Truthfully, of the most recent SW movies, I think ‘Rogue One’, for all the tinkering that movie went through, still feels the most like a SW movie, in it’s construction.
All in all, ‘The Last Jedi’ is a damn good entry into the Star Wars franchise and I like some of the risks it took with it’s story and characters. The visuals are amazing, the cast is solid, the music is great and the story tries some new things with it’s structure and content. It was also not afraid to kill off characters when the story called for it, new ones AND old ones. It does get a little too jokey sometimes, there are definitely ‘beats’ noticeably taken from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, it feels strangely bloated AND oddly simple all at once, and a few questions marks are left hanging over the movie…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are undeniable plot holes and lapses in logic (some are dumber than they should be), but the sting of these imperfections was definitely softened by many of the very slick visuals. Seeing it in 3D was cool, especially for a couple of key shots that surprised me (all about that fucking First Order ship and what happens to it!!) with their ‘iconic’ potential. If you’re a Star Wars fan, like I have been all my life, ‘The Last Jedi’ is DEFINITELY a worthy episode, that I look forward to seeing again. I know there’s cool little things I undoubtedly missed the first time around and there’s cool things that I definitely saw…and would love to see play out again. It’s a fun flick to see in the theatre and I can easily recommend it on that level. It’s not my favorite Star Wars movie…but it stands a good chance of becoming one of them…after a few more viewings.
*Being that this is tragically Carrie Fisher’s last performance, I’m VERY interested to see how they handle her absence in the next one, given how this one ends. Just saying.
*Edit- Now that I’ve had a few days to ponder how I feel about ‘The Last Jedi’, I think it’s safe to say that, while I do like some of the visuals and ‘cool Star Wars shit’, this latest SW entry bothers the hell out of me…and actually pisses me off…a lot (very much like how I feel about ‘Prometheus’). Not only does it piss on many aspects of the ‘The Force Awakens’…it totally shits on almost everything about The Original Trilogy…especially the characters (‘Luke’ in particular). I enjoyed the flick on a purely superficial level (hence the ‘positives’ in the review above), but when the credits rolled, and I had time to ponder, I felt insulted, and actually a little betrayed. Frankly, I’m astounded Lucasfilm green-lit THIS script. The movie is competently-made but the story brims with stupidity and narrative clumsiness, not to mention a certain animosity toward the core audience, probably in a misguided effort on Rian Johnson’s part to be edgy and unpredictable. He succeeded…just in almost the worst way possible. IF I end up adding this to my Blu ray collection (completist, that I am), it will ONLY be for some select scenes, and shots of ‘cool Star Wars shit’.
**Given how many people are reacting this badly to ‘The Last Jedi’, so soon after release, it wouldn’t surprise me AT ALL, if Disney abruptly opts to remove Rian Johnson from the new SW trilogy they’re planning, similar to what they did to Colin Trevorrow when his flick ‘The Book of Henry’ was savaged by the critics while he was working on pre-production on SW Episode 9.