Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Posted: December 17, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Written by Daniel Simpsonthe-last-jedi-theatrical-blog

When I came out of The Force Awakens two years ago, my opinions of the film were pretty easy to discern. Overall, I thought that movie could stand to be more creative and had some little problems, but the greater package was clearly of value. That film did a really effective job laying the ground work a new trilogy while also working as a rock solid action-adventure movie. It had some issues, but it was also clear to me that The Force Awakens was a good film and my two rewatches since have played out pretty well exactly the same. Coming out of The Last Jedi, my feelings are a lot more conflicted. I still pretty firmly believe that the film is of value, but it’s difficult to gain a precise perspective given the discrepancy between “good” and “bad” is a lot more wide this time around.

This review is going to avoid spoilers, but talking about this movie does require talking about the plot to some extent, so if you haven’t see the film and wanna go in completely blind, stop reading now. Basically, The Last Jedi is structured similarly to the Empire Strikes Back, half the film is dedicated to a young would-be Jedi training with a strange hermit, while the other half deals with the rest of our heroes in a desperate race against the clutches of the Empire (or in this case The First Order). The stuff that works best here is easily the Jedi training scenes. Basically everything involving Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren is very good, with much of it bordering on greatness. Luke’s character growth since Return of the Jedi is very well-drawn. The film also wisely explores what has become of Luke through his relationship with Rey, meaning that we as an audience learn what has become of Luke through her eyes, simultaneously seeing her grow as a character. Crucial to this is Kylo Ren, as we learn more about his relationship with Luke and how the ending of The Force Awakens has effected the character.

All three major actors involved in this plot line kill it. Mark Hamill is able to evoke the Luke Skywalker of old while simultaneously bringing a world weariness to the role this time around which is entirely appropriate. The result is a character who lives up to the mantle of a Jedi master while simultaneously subverting it, and Hamill also nails the films emotional beats (a moment shared with Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia is especially touching). Rey is also challenged emotionally in new was and Daisy Ridley brings the right amount of pathos and humanity to the part. Finally, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren continues to be the most complex of the new characters and elevates what I already loved about his performance in The Force Awakens. These storylines culminate in not one, but two excellent confrontations in the third act, both of which with creative twists and emotional resonance.

These are the moments where The Last Jedi is not only at its best, but is also able to top pretty well-everything in The Force Awakens. Unfortunately, that’s only half of the movie. The other half, dedicated to the resistance certainly has its moments, but it’s also full of mediocrity and a handful of bad decisions. The big problem here is filler. Finn (John Boyega) and new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) have an extended mission on their own which, though adding some character, is largely pointless to the overall emotional thrust of the movie and the bond which is supposed to develop between the new characters never really resonates. What’s more, not only is this section a bit of waste, but it’s goofier tone and more leisurely pace actively diffuses the tension of the First Order’s pursuit of the Resistance. Consequently, any scenes set on Resistance ships are actually kind of dull. In general, the movie has a hard time figuring out what to do with Finn. A later confrontation with Captain Phasma feels completely tacked on, especially given Finn confronting the order which trained him was already present in The Force Awakens. It’d be different if this confrontation between Finn and Phasma was able to present something new or if Finn’s arc in this movie had been set-up as to be about confronting his past with the First Order, but that isn’t really the case. In fact, I’m not totally sure what Finn’s arc was supposed to be here. It seems different at certain points and the note the film ends on is itself contradictory to an earlier scene.

One character who does have a clear arc is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and it does tie into the broader themes of the movie (how one deals with personal failure and its consequences), but it’s handled a little bit clumsily. Though the movie seems pretty firmly committed to presenting Poe’s personal failure and its major consequences, it’s ultimately brushed off as being more endearing than a genuine flaw. Poe still learns a lesson, but the impact is lessened by a desire to exonerate the character before the arc is even finished. The greater flaw at the heart of the non Jedi/force related stuff is these storylines don’t really have a central focus. So many characters are off doing their own thing and the script never really coalesces everything back together. Instead, sections of the film feel more like a collection of stuff. Some of it very good stuff. Later scenes of an infiltration mission with Finn and Rose are fairly effective in isolation, and I also dug Benicio del Toro’s more nihilistic and morally compromised character, but he didn’t really fit this movie. In fact, the character would have felt a lot more at home in Rogue One, where the character’s ambivalence to the war would have complimented the fatigue of that films cast, who too were exhausted by the struggle. Not only that, but he would have represented a type of temptation, something those rebels could become were they to give up their ideals and it would have added some tension to that movie. Here, the character, and the notion that all the fighting is pointless is introduced, but dropped shortly there after without really mattering. We a similar beat when the film introduces the notion of class disparity in the Star Wars universe, but then does nothing with it.

From a production standpoint, The Last Jedi is certainly impressive. The film’s action scenes generally work pretty well, the performances are universally good, I like the art direction, and generally speaking Rian Johnson does a very good job at the helm. Where he falters a bit is tone. Already, the humour in The Last Jedi has become a point of contention with fans and I wanna make clear that the comedy itself is not really the issue. There should be comedy in a Star Wars movie and some of it does work pretty well. The problem is certain specific uses of comedy. The film frequently indulges in bathos, which is essentially when a meaningful or dramatic moment is undercut for the sake of a laugh. There was a little bit of this in The Force Awakens, but it’s far more pronounced here and it leads to some moments losing their dramatic power. This is evident in the film’s opening scene, and it’s also how Johnson chooses to introduce Luke’s arc in the film. Both moments immediately undercut the drama, setting a goofier tone for elements which end up serving as the dramatic crux of the film.

Overall, it’s hard to know what to make of The Last Jedi. Its best moments are truly awesome but the missteps are vast. Beyond the nitpicks, beyond anyone accusing fans of being too attached to the originals, The Last Jedi does have serious problems in terms of writing, pacing, and tone. The very fact that large chunks of the movie are kind of disposable is a huge problem. These are things which are not easily ignored, nor should they be. And yet, I keep coming back to the moments of the film which work, which are highly impressive, exciting, and moving. I’m still not quite sure what to make of this movie. At the moment, I’m resigned to a gentleman’s B, but there’s definitely room for this grade to change in the future. Whatever happens, The Last Jedi is definitely something worth seeing, but I don’t see the masterpiece so many seem to be declaring.

B

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