“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” dir. Rian Johnson
WARNING! There will be MAJOR SPOILERS for “The Last Jedi” in this review.
Please, do not continue to read beyond this point if you have yet to see the film. You can click HERE for my spoiler-free thoughts on “The Last Jedi.” For everyone else, this review will be where I discuss the film in detail, going in depth about the things I liked and disliked about the newest episode in the “Star Wars” saga. I’ll be going through each individual character and their contributions to the story as well as the major set pieces. I’ll also be talking about points that many fans have taken issue with as well as points I just want to bring up on my own. With that warning out of the way, there’s plenty here to discuss and after now having seen “The Last Jedi” three times and loving it more and more with each subsequent viewing, I’m excited to talk specifics about why this film works so well.
Right up top, let’s begin with the crawl. Nothing was going to beat sitting down to watch “The Force Awakens” and that rush of excitement reading the words, “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” That being said, this crawl still set the tone wonderfully for the opening sequence. Supreme Leader Snoke and the First Order have the Resistance exposed in the midst of evacuating their base on the planet D’Qar. Another great addition was that John Williams used the same brief tune from the beginning of the original “Star Wars” that follows the iconic main theme.
First character I want to discuss is Rey. Leading up to the release of “The Force Awakens,” fans have speculated ad nauseam about her lineage. Is she Luke’s daughter? Is she related to Han and Leia? Is she a Kenobi? Is she somehow related to Jabba the Hutt? The theories were endless. Turns out, her parents were nobodies; drunks that sold her off for drinking money. Instead of having an immediate connection to someone we already know in the galaxy, she comes from nothing. This answer is absolutely perfect! This ties in so beautifully with one of the great themes of “Star Wars” that an individual isn’t made up of who they’re related to or where they come from. Greatness can come from anywhere. To fans that are so frustrated that she isn’t a Skywalker or a Solo, wondering how it’s possible for the Force to be so strong within her, just look at the long history where the Jedi didn’t inherit the Force from their lineage.
Next up is Luke Skywalker himself, where I have a lot to say. After the literal cliffhanger of the last film, one of the biggest questions going into this film was about the first exchange between Luke and Rey. Fans waited for two years to find out what happens next. Director Rian Johnson, in a clever display of meta-narrative, tells the audience to throw out all expectations by having Luke throw the lightsaber that belonged to both him and his father over his shoulder. Many have criticized this moment as being a cheap way of getting a laugh out of the audience, but it fits perfectly with the character that he’s become in the thirty years since “Return of the Jedi.”
A lot of people are angry about the portrayal of Luke in “The Last Jedi,” but Johnson has written a version of this character that has aged and grown since the original trilogy. In the flashback showing that when he saw the darkness that had consumed Ben Solo, Luke had the impulse to kill him in his sleep, but immediately was filled with regret as soon as he turned on his lightsaber. For some reason, people forget that he has always been an impulsive character. When they point out that he refused to kill his father in “Return of the Jedi,” they forget that when Vader mentioned the possibility of turning Leia to the dark side, Luke starts swinging like crazy, slices his arm off, and nearly kills him, only to be stopped when the Emperor asks him to take Vader’s place at his side. It’s not like Luke has never been dark so it doesn’t make sense why anyone would be taken aback by him almost killing Ben.
On that note, let’s talk about Kylo Ren. He’s quickly becoming one of the most compelling characters in the entire “Star Wars” saga and his development here is particularly riveting. At the end of “The Force Awakens,” he was filled with so much conflict that has carried over so well into this film. The scenes of him communicating with Rey showed terrific chemistry between Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley as they deepen their respective characters. He’s the perfect symbol for another fantastic theme of the film that Rian Johnson is trying to convey with paving a new past without relying on the past. Instead of aspiring to be a new Vader like Snoke wanted him to become, he’s becoming his own force to be reckoned with. I’m beyond excited to see where his character’s arc concludes in Episode IX.
Supreme Leader Snoke had a fantastic introduction in the last film as this ominous figure ruling over the First Order. Rian Johnson has delivered on the promise set by J.J. Abrams, showcasing his incredible power he possesses with the Force. He’s the one that creates the bridge for Kylo and Rey to communicate and we see his incredible Force powers that he uses to threaten General Hux, Rey, and Kylo. Andy Serkis brings this menacing character to life so well through truly amazing motion capture that improves from “The Force Awakens.” As for his death, it was a shocking, yet satisfying moment that garnered cheers from the audience at all three viewings I attended. His backstory wasn’t needed. He was already developed about as much as the Emperor was in the original trilogy. So for him to meet his deadly fate at the hands of his apprentice so that Kylo Ren can become a formidable threat on his own was an outstanding decision.
Another highlight to “The Last Jedi” was Poe Dameron’s arc. A lot of other major blockbusters would make it seem like their characters were making mistakes but then make those same mistakes be on purpose and planned out at every turn. It’s refreshing to see characters like Poe constantly make the same mistake over and over again in not trusting authority, letting his hot-headed attitude get the best of him, and go after his instinct to go after the First Order whilst putting the Resistance at risk. He later learns from those mistakes and finally comes around to trusting that General Leia and Admiral Holdo know what they’re doing and that it’s more important to keep the Resistance alive than to take down the First Order.
Admiral Holdo, played wonderfully by the great Laura Dern, was a terrific addition to the “Star Wars” saga. While the relationship between her and Leia could have been better highlighted earlier on in the film prior to when she takes command of the Resistance, she still had a strong presence. A lot of people questioned why she wasn’t filling in Poe Dameron on the plan to load everyone on board onto the transports to escape to Crait undetected. The simple solution is that in her eyes, Poe is insubordinate. Leia’s last action before ending up in a coma was to demote Poe for disobeying her orders. Holdo doesn’t owe him answers when the only thing she knows about him is that he’s an impulsive hotshot who doesn’t follow the rules. She also has the most jaw-dropping visual moment in the entire movie when she uses the ship to jump to lightspeed straight through Snoke’s ship.
Let’s talk about Leia using the Force. Ever since it was revealed in “Return of the Jedi” that Luke and Leia were brother and sister, fans have been eager to see her use the Force in some major way and we finally get it here. Kylo Ren is about to kill his own mother, which by the way the fading between shots of him and Leia matching their faces was a beautiful touch, but at the last second decides against it. Instead, two TIE Fighters blast the ship open and she flies out into space. At first, this would have seemed like a shocking and insensitive way to kill off the character after the passing of Carrie Fisher, but then the big moment happens. She uses the Force to keep herself alive and push herself back to safety into the ship. The idea itself is fantastic, but in execution comes off a bit too cheesy. That being said, it was a risk that was still worth taking.
By far the most controversial aspect of “The Last Jedi” is the entire segment on the planet Canto Bight. Look, there are great ideas here dealing with the rich profiting off of selling weapons, abusing animals in races for their own amusement, and using children as slaves to do their labor. In theory, this is something that fits very well into the “Star Wars” galaxy. The problem, similar to Leia’s big moment, is that the execution is a bit of a mess. There are annoying CGI creatures in the casino that are reminiscent to something George Lucas added into Jabba’s Palace in the special edition of “Return of the Jedi.” The chase with Finn and Rose on the horses destroying the casino felt like something that would have been in the prequels despite a great moment right beforehand with the slave kids. Lastly, BB-8 shooting coins at those guards was a bad comedic moment that fell flat on its face. It’s hard to imagine what could have been changed to make this section of the film stronger as it’s certainly integral to the story and the overall themes of the movie, but it definitely needed more work.
On Canto Bight, Finn, Rose, and BB-8 bump into the character DJ, played by Benicio del Toro. The character himself was actually incredibly interesting as there were no clear morals at his core. He just saw opportunities where he could personally benefit regardless of if it were the good guys or the bad. This is best shown when the four of them are traveling to Snoke’s ship to hack their tracker and after showing that the ship their in previously belonged to a weapons dealer who sold to both the First Order and the Resistance, he tells Finn, “Live free, don’t join.” When he eventually betrays them by giving up information to General Hux and Captain Phasma for money, he tells Finn, “Don’t worry, today they blow you up, tomorrow you blow them up.” DJ was an excellent addition even if del Toro’s decision to give him a stutter was a bit distracting.
The outrage against how Captain Phasma has been used in both “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” is absolutely mindboggling. I get it, she was featured a lot in the marketing and had a ton of merchandise dedicated to her. But honestly, what more of a purpose could she have served either of these films? The story should never be dictated by how much time should be devoted to a character. The characters are in service to the story. Phasma served exactly the purpose that she was supposed to serve in both movies and it honestly was about on par with the role that Boba Fett served in the original trilogy yet he’s become a beloved character. This never bothered me in “The Force Awakens” and it continues to not bother me here. Her fight with Finn was fun. That’s it. Moving on.
Going into the film, one of the worries among fans was that the Porgs would be annoying on the level of the Ewoks in “Return of the Jedi,” something I never understood by the way, or the infamous Jar Jar Binks in “The Phantom Menace.” Thankfully, they’re an absolute delight to watch on screen. The great thing about the Porgs is that Johnson uses them sparingly and the moments where they do pop up are either in the background or they’re a fun annoyance for Chewie on the Falcon. A couple of the funniest moments in the movie are when a couple of Porgs are playing around with Luke’s lightsaber in the beginning and when Chewie is about to eat a Porg that he cooked and a bunch of Porgs stare at him in horror. It’s entertaining stuff.
On a personal note, the greatest joy of “The Last Jedi” was seeing Yoda come back as a Force Ghost. In the original trilogy, Yoda was always my favorite character so the first time I saw the movie and the camera pans around and shows the back of his ears, I felt so much happiness. The way he was portrayed in the prequels always angered me as it never truly felt like Yoda and the CGI version of him doesn’t look like his puppet counterpart in the originals in any way. It was amazing seeing him come back in this film as a puppet and having the same humorous attitude that he had in his early moments in “The Empire Strikes Back.” The advice that he gives Luke to cause him to decide to join the fight again felt like classic Yoda. My favorite line in the movie, which has quickly become one of my favorite lines Yoda has ever spoken is, “The greatest teacher, failure is.” The scene ends with a gorgeous shot of Luke and Yoda looking at the burning tree where the Sacred Jedi Texts were held before Rey snuck them out on the Falcon. It’s the best scene in the movie by a longshot.
I already briefly touched on the scene in the throne room, but the fight with Kylo Ren and Rey against Snoke’s Praetorian Guards is one of the most exhilarating action set pieces in any “Star Wars” film. Right from the start, seeing Kylo and Rey back to back getting ready for battle is a stunning shot and then the beautiful choreography begins. Similar to the lightsaber fights in “The Force Awakens,” the battle is gritty and never once feels too elaborate like the duels in the prequels. There’s a real sense of danger and the hits land with a large impact. Rey throwing her lightsaber to Kylo so that he can pierce it straight through the last guard’s eye was brutal and awesome. On top of that, it was fantastic that Rian Johnson decided not to have this moment turn Ben Solo to the light side but rather highlight how he wants total control and to pave a new path with Rey by his side.
The last set piece takes place on the gorgeous new planet, Crait, the abandoned rebel base that the transports escape to. The use of red on this planet as the speeders cut through the salty surface and the Millenium Falcon flies through the caves filled with red crystals makes for a striking visual and a fresh setting for an action sequence unique from any other “Star Wars” film. The direction is smooth and Rian Johnson ensures that the audience can clearly see every piece of the action. As for Finn sacrificing himself flying straight toward the cannon aimed at the base, finally committing fully to the Resistance, it was a powerful moment that unfortunately fell short once Rose came in to save him. However it was all worth it to see Finn and Rey reunite again at the end.
Of course, that leads to the big final showdown. Luke finally arrives to aid the Resistance, shares an emotionally satisfying moment with Leia, and faces the First Order on his own. That whole moment was truly awe-inspiring. Luke doing a shoulder swipe after Kylo has every gun shoot down at him, avoiding every swing thrown at him, assuring Kylo that the Rebellion will continue and that Rey will be the last Jedi, culminating in the reveal that he was projecting himself on Crait from the island through the Force, all amazing stuff. It was the most powerful display of Luke’s power as a Jedi and as a “Star Wars” fan, it was a sight to behold. The scene ends with a physically drained Luke on the island finally coming to peace having fulfilled his purpose to the galaxy as he stares at the binary sunset, John Williams’ iconic score swelling in the background, and finally becoming one with the Force. It wasn’t the way I thought it would end but in seeing it play out, it was a perfect way for Luke Skywalker to meet his end.
The final scene of “The Last Jedi” brings it all home on a beautiful note, showing one of the slave kids on Canto Bight use the Force to pick up a broom and look up to the stars with the Resistance ring that Rose gave him earlier in the movie. It ties in so well with the thought that greatness can come from anywhere. One of the most amazing concepts from the original trilogy was this idea that the Force is what binds the galaxy and something that can be felt in every living thing. I love that in this new trilogy, J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson are going back to that core idea of the Force and that it doesn’t matter how many midichlorians someone has in order to be impacted by that power.
Not everything in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” works. That’s often the case when a filmmaker takes risks on a story. However a lot of the risks that Rian Johnson went for with this movie paid off and made for a stronger film in the end. It’s a lot to take in on a first viewing and it’s totally understandable why these decisions would throw audience members off. I recommend if you’ve only seen the movie once and weren’t a fan, maybe give it another shot. Even if I don’t think it’s as tight or as strong of a film overall as “The Force Awakens,” this is an excellently crafted “Star Wars” film that brings challenges for its characters and real stakes and consequences. It’ll be interesting to see where J.J. Abrams concludes this trilogy with Episode IX but for now, this is an outstanding chapter. I believe time will work in its favor.
Now I feel more comfortable in ranking “The Last Jedi” among the rest of the “Star Wars” films so here’s my ranking to date:
1. “The Empire Strikes Back” – 5/5
2. “Star Wars” – 5/5
3. “The Force Awakens” – 5/5
4. “The Last Jedi” – 4.5/5
5. “Return of the Jedi” – 4.5/5
6. “Rogue One” – 3/5
7. “Revenge of the Sith” – 1.5/5
8. “Attack of the Clones” – 0.5/5
9. “The Phantom Menace” – 0.5/5
What are your thoughts on “Star Wars: The Last Jedi?” What were some of your favorite moments in the film? What scenes bothered you? Do you agree with some of the points I made? Post a comment down below, maybe with your personal ranking of the saga so far and let me know your thoughts.
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