Not-Quick Critique: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

After the devastating blow given by the First Order in The Force Awakens, The Resistance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leaves their base to escape their impending capture. A small group led by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) decide to mount an escape plan to stop the First Order from tracking them when they enter lightspeed, sending Finn (John Boyega) and lower level Resistance member Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) off-ship to another planet in order to find help. Poe is left to deal with the commanding officer Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), who comes across as overwhelmed and incompetent. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to convince a jaded Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) back into the fray, whist she shares an unwanted psychic connection with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the personal servant of First Order Supreme Leader Lord Snoke (Andy Serkis).

In an article I wrote over a year and a half ago, I talked about how this sequel trilogy of Star Wars was about the creators reflecting on the impact Star Wars has made. This is why people felt The Force Awakens was so derivative, because director JJ Abrams was drawing from his own experiences growing up with these movies. I also hoped that we extended passed the idea that they should just worship themselves and do something to shake up the formula. This film kind of gave me what I wanted, and I really enjoyed it for the most part. Flawed, to be sure, but it’s everything I was hoping this series would be going forward.

For one, it takes the idea of legacy and bloodlines that they base a lot of their mythology on and really brings it into question. They even do so for the binary good vs evil idea, though not nearly as successfully. The Last Jedi is a treasure trove of ambition and solid building from the idea that the altar of Star Wars does not need to be so genuflected towards. It takes the outdated views of lineage and how we worship certain concepts and people and seriously brings them into question.

Mostly embodied through our former protagonist himself. Luke Skywalker is a strikingly different character than what we’ve been used to. Disillusioned, aloof and completely dismissive of the Force and Jedi lore, he takes both Rey’s and our expectations and completely shoves them aside. And I kind of love it-it’s great to see him haunted by the choices he’s made and even the ceaseless pressure of being Luke Skywalker. There’s a lot of meta-commentary throughout the story, and what makes Luke’s role work is its willingness to take the character in places we haven’t seen before and Mark Hamill’s excellent performance. I won’t dare ruin where he goes from here.

The same holds true for Rey, who gets one of my favourite reveals in the series. There’s a concerted effort to contrast her own journey with Kylo Ren’s, symbolised rather heavily by their psychic link, and what I admire about is that there’s no easy answers for Rey. She spends most of the movie either being frustrated or proven wrong, or even facing up to her own denial and self-absorption. This is contrasted with Kylo Ren, who rather openly admits his failings and uses that honesty to attack Rey’s insecurities. Their dual storylines work really well in tandem, and eventually lead to one of the best fights in the movie. And it’s not one you’d be expecting.

The action is pretty impressive inasmuch as they hold off from it. Outside of one or two jarring moments, they work out pretty well and feel more tactical and war-oriented in nature. Like the previous movie Rogue One, this one really attempts to feel like a ‘war’ movie and you get that back-and-forth with the main plotline simply about getting away from an enemy that’s just so much more powerful than them. It also leaves us with one of the coolest scenes and visuals in Star Wars history, but again, I shan’t dare spoil it.

So, like I said, there are some readily apparent flaws. The structure is really wonky. At 150 minutes, the story jumps from plot thread to plot thread, and introduces just a bit too much to tell a tighter, more coherent story. This leaves a few new characters being undercooked and underutilised, and their place in the film is kind of underexplained. The comedy is really off-it feels a bit too modern at times for Star Wars, and there’s a bit too much bathos in a lot of moments, especially with those fucking Porgs. The casino subplot, while I understand its relevance, goes on way too long, is goofy for such a sombre film and has a really awkwardly shot chase scene.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is challenging and strange in a lot of ways, but takes a 40-year old franchise in directions that honestly really work. It’s fun when it needs to be, has characters you genuinely care about and one of the best final acts I have seen in any film all year. While not everything in the movie holds up and this almost felt tailor made to be divisive, it’s ambition is to be admired, and it’s a thoroughly satisfying experience once you cut away the fat. Very happy to go where this series is going, and I gladly anticipate Episode IX.

8/10

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SPOILERS FROM HEREON OUT!!!!!!!! Gonna go into a few thoughts on some spoiler-filled things, and I will be giving away a lot, so you have been warned:

-Luke throwing his lightsabre away was great. Completely established what this movie was gonna do in that one bit, especially with how much reverence it got in TFA

-Poe’s snarking at Hux did not work for me at all. I got seriously worried when I started hearing it. Thankfully it’s mostly that one scene.

-I like Rose. Excellent new addition to the cast and they gave her part weight due to her history working on one of those aristocratical planets. Didn’t buy her romance with Finn at all, though.

-Adam Driver continues to be one of the best actors in the cast, and I love where they took Kylo Ren. The big deep realisation we have about Ben is that he really isn’t that deep. He’s just a self-centred, power hungry monster, and I hope they don’t pull some redemption bullshit next movie.  This is a way better direction to take.

-Opening bit aside, loved everyone shitting on Hux.

-Yoda’s appearance got me worried at the start-his first shot was weirdly lit and made the fact that he was a puppet too apparent. I warmed to it (hah!) as it went on, and it’s probably one of the best moments in the film. Though, like, he has the power to create lightning as a ghost? What?

-Luke nearly killing Ben in a moment of madness is absolutely gonna split the fandom. I think it works as Luke is kind of impulsive and doesn’t think things through, plus him trying to live up to his legacy and trusting his instincts more than his judgement is what causes him to be in that position and he instantly regrets it and stops. But I know this will not please everybody.

-Carrie Fisher is magnificent in this film and her scene with Mark Hamill made me cry. Though the Force pulling in space thing was weird. It looks really goddamn fake, too.

-Finn is awesome. Just needed to remind you of that.

-I hear a lot of people complaining that Poe was never told about the evacuation plan. Yeah, he was demoted for insubordination? He’s a soldier, he needs to follow orders because his brashness got people killed. It’s his arc in the film, and Holdo has absolutely no reason to trust him (and she was right to).

-The superfluous characters I mentioned to push more thematic and certain plot stuff are Holdo and DJ, though the former gets a bit more and that amazing lightspeed assault. They just seem to be there to further other plots and characters rather than having a presence in the movie itself, it’s weird.

-Snoke was a pointless character who got an annoying death. How they telegraphed it was insanely on the nose and eye rolling. Not unhappy he’s gone.

-While I’m here, fuck what they did to Phasma. They completely made her a joke in Force Awakens, barely use her here and then have her die unceremoniously. Gwendolyn Christie deserves better and she had a lot of potential. Great one-liner from Finn, though.

-Rey’s parents being revealed to be drunks who sold her for money is one of those things I hope stays that way. Thematically perfect reveal and reinforces a lot about Rey as a character, totally on board with it.

-Luke. Goddamn, Luke. I don’t know if I’m entirely on board with his hologram plot, but I love his one-liner to Kylo, his conversation with Leia, his wink to C-3PO and him looking at the twin suns before he died. Everything about his departure was so satisfying and I was really invested in seeing such an iconic character put to rest.

-Actually, a lot of the callbacks are way better handled here than in The Force Awakens or Rogue One. Seeing the Leia recording helps enforce the plot, and I loved the explanation where blue milk comes from.

-The salt planet was great, even with the plodding line to explain that it’s a salt planet. Great one for the visuals, which are top-notch throughout the film, btw.

-I adore the final shot. Cheesy? God yeah! Perfectly Star Wars? You better goddamn believe it.

I’m gonna stop now before I go overboard (too late). Hope you enjoyed the movie!

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