Hi guys, Ace here. I had an idea on how to do a different sort of movie review of The Last Jedi and that was to have some of the staff members put together their own reviews and do one mega post. No doubt opinions are going to vary and rather than have one of us do the review and deny everyone else a chance to put in an opinion, I just thought we could share the space.
If you haven’t seen the movie, just hit the back button on your browser or go somewhere else. It should go without saying, there will be many, many spoilers in these reviews.
This is probably the mother of all posts just in terms of length, so grab some coffee, sit back, and let us either entertain you or piss you off with our takes on The Last Jedi. And leave a comment! We’d love to hear what everyone else has to say about the film.
I absolutely loved the movie. From a pure technical perspective, it’s the best Star Wars film we have ever seen. That’s not talking about the plot or story itself, but just the craft. While A New Hope and it’s echo, The Force Awakens, telegraphed their moves, The Last Jedi set up what everyone could see coming and then routinely subverted it. When you thought the movie was going to zig, it zagged, or zagged, and it zigged. And it did it over and over.
More than that, it was gorgeous, and did some very interesting things with how the action flowed and what was shown on screen to make it work. The ship battles were intense and close in, in line with Rogue One and TFA far more than what we saw in the prequels.
What Absolutely Worked
The Skywalker Story
The Last Jedi is ultimately the culmination on the story of Luke Skywalker. Mark Hamill delivers, without a doubt, the best performance ever (including his amazing voice acting). I said that The Force Awakens was a movie that was ultimately about failure, and what is laid bare in this movie is that is what Luke has been struggling with. More than that, it’s not a singular thing, but a complex, deep, and very shades of gray sort of failure that has never existed in a Star Wars film before. Really, what the Last Jedi did best is show us that Star Wars could handle some complex plot ideas.
The second half of the encounter at the end of TFA is memorable when it plays out here, and it’s the first time where we get a little zig instead of a zag. That lightsaber going over his shoulder and Luke just walking off without a word was legitimately funny. It should have been a clue to us, because, much like Luke said, none of this is going to go the way you think it is.
In a lot of ways, this was as much the story of Luke more than it was Rey. And it works, my god, does it work. More than that, what happened before it was mind blowing and something I’ve wanted from Star Wars since Jedi. It ties into one of my biggest critiques of the Extended Universe novels, and why, specifically, I hated the New Jedi Order books so much. Luke, as a character, is one of the single most powerful people in the universe. In the books, you could tell how good (or bad) a story would be based on how they treated Luke. If they made him ineffective, it would be bad.
It seemed like we were going down a direction where Luke is broken and bitter… and to a point, he is. But we get glimpses and flashes of what he can do, both in watching Rey and fighting him. The fact that he was able to fight her in such a way that he was both clearly superior and capable of holding her at bay, and yet he was doing it without the Force to back him up, should frighten anyone.
That followed all the way through the end fight, where the movie faked us all out in multiple ways. Throughout that fight, I was expected Luke to fly his X-Wing in and somehow save the Resistance. When all of that blaster fire came down I was thinking okay, now we are seeing powerful Jedi, but in the most boring “this is all just magic force fields” sort of way. I was expecting him to go full Obi-Wan and just take the saber swipe, and they didn’t do it. When the reveal came in of what was going on… *mind blown*.
YThey just subverted what we were expecting. Luke Skywalker was shown that he was absolutely the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy, and it was by doing the most Jedi thing to have ever Jedi’d. He gave everything in the end with that power, and like his masters before him, became one with the Force.
This film does give you cues that something is off, it just does it in real subtle ways. For one, Luke’s outfit was closer to what we saw in Jedi than the Master’s robes we saw in the flashbacks and on his island. His beard isn’t nearly as gray when he appears to Leia and Kylo (it’s also shorter). His lightsaber was blue instead of green, despite his blue version having been destroyed earlier (and we had seen the Green one in the flashback). He did not leave any footprints or effects in the salt. So many little, subtle, queues, that didn’t snap into focus until after the reveal hit.
In short, I think Luke’s part in this movie was absolutely perfect.
The other thing we need to deal with in all of this is the tragic death of Carrie Fisher nearly a year ago. The knife just wiggles seeing her every time, and it’s honestly hard to not tear up in some of the moments. That’s not to say that they exploited her death for the gain of the plot… Rian Johnson was very careful to keep her part intact and not go re-cut and rework the movie around it. In fact, when you think you’re seeing the death of the bridge crew and officers (Akbar deserves better), you might be seeing a rework. But, again, a zig, and you get to see Carrie Fisher kick some serious butt instead.
I wish we could get the story send-off that the character of Leia absolutely deserves, but I also respect the choice to say that no, it just ends here. No CGI character and hopefully no terrible off-screen death. But as far as it goes, she was incredible in the Last Jedi.
I think what hurts the most isn’t the loss of this character in the future, it’s the loss of Carrie Fisher in the here and now. Fisher was absolutely brilliant, a wonderful person, and listening to her or reading her stuff makes you realize what a treasure she was. This is a woman who was frank and open about her struggles, and had the humor and self-awareness to arrange for her urn to be modeled after a Prozac pill (she struggled with depression and was very direct and frank about how much medication had helped her).
The impact of Princess Leia is probably larger than any other Star Wars character. More than Luke, Vader, or Han Solo. Carrie Fisher had an equally out-sized impact, and we all are diminished with her gone.
Admit it… you cheered when Kylo Ren betrayed Snoke. They gave a hint at what would happen, but Snoke had shown multiple times that he could see what his apprentice was doing. That he ultimately couldn’t, and that he got played, was great. More than that… to see it play out differently than it did with Luke and Vader… that he ultimately could not be redeemed, was somehow refreshing.
Kylo Ren is a reflection of his grandfather pre-Vader in nearly every way, and it was pretty masterful how it came across here. Immature, impulsive, and ultimately hungry for power in ways he cannot even understand. When it came time for him to turn away from the dark, he didn’t. He killed his past in assuming the role of the supreme leader. That he looks like he’ll be as bad at it as Hux is at being a general fits the First Order well.
What Worked (Mostly)
For the record, I absolutely love Poe, and I approve of the silly jokes at the start where he is clearly delaying Hux and making us all laugh. Sure, Hux is a boot-licking idiot, but it fits with what we’ve seen of Poe. It also works well between Rey and Kylo and their bridge in the force… the whole “I’d rather not do this right now” worked for me, despite me knowing that it felt out of place in a Star Wars film. Oh, and I also loved the brief moment where we thought BB-8 was fried and spouting gibberish, but in fact accurately described a situation on screen.
Where it didn’t, for me, was with Yoda. I don’t know why, but “page turners, they are not” just felt way too contemporary and out of place. I think you could rework the joke and still get it across, but it just didn’t hit for me at all. Same with most of the things that Finn or Rose said in humor (or the bit between Leia and the Vice Admiral actually liking Poe). It wasn’t enough to detract overall… there was just a lot of humor used to counterbalance the heaviness of the plot around it, and some of it was bound not to land.
The “Big” Reveals
We get a few secrets answered in this movie, and they are nearly all satisfying. What’s odd is that the secrets that aren’t revealed are also fairly satisfying. Rey’s Parents, the way that Kylo Ren “fell” to the dark side, and Luke’s reason for hiding all worked.
On the not-revealed side… I actually really like that they told us little about Snoke and who he was or how he came to be. Sure, I would love to know… how did he fill the role of emperor and dark side, how did he build the first order… these are important questions. But at the same time, we don’t really need to know any of those things for it to work. In fact, not telling us those things set up a far better future story in Episode IX where Supreme Leader-ish Kylo Ren and Terrible General Hux are in conflict over the future, since they are both in the shadow that the Snoke had cast over everything.
What Didn’t Work
First Order Tech… again
While not as egregious as the Starkiller Base, the whole “track through hyperspace” tech was just invented to give Finn and Rose something to do. There’s an implication to it existing here that is very problematic… it upends what we have seen for millennia, and makes things like the Resistance and the Rebellion impossible.
This would have been easier to set up with a traitor, or a tracking device planted during the fight, or having Kylo Ren sense for his mother. There are any number of reasons the First Order could have tracked them to that point, and they didn’t need to contrive reasons they couldn’t just… it could have just been “we only had enough for one jump during the retreat” and they were always trying to get to a place to rally allies.
That being said, I did like the idea of that battering ram blaster, even if it’s a stupid name. Mostly because it was built with “Death Star Tech” and it made it far cooler to see an example of an earlier development leading to something in a later movie on a more practical scale.
In the same vein, Benicio Del Toro’s DJ is easily the most disposable and forgettable character in this movie. It’s a trope that never works in a movie, where the audience is looking at something so obvious that it hurts, yet our characters are oblivious to it. Sure, Finn I get, he’s sweet but not exactly the brightest bulb on the string (not because he’s dumb, just wildly inexperienced and naive). But what we’ve seen from Rose at this point is some ability to see beyond the surface… she knows people like this based on the bit of backstory we have gotten on her, and grew up around him.
Of course he was going to betray them… that was always going to happen. More than that, it also gives us a pretty big plot hole… in how did he even know about the cloaked ship plan? Maybe I missed where that part of the plan was tipped off between Poe and Finn, but all of their discussions were about delays. The cloaks weren’t even mentioned until the ships launched, after Poe was stunned, and the destination of the planet and old Rebel base weren’t known to Finn or Rose at all.
I really just wish they would have brought Maz back for all of this. She gets a bit of play, but why not send Finn and Rose to get her instead and help out with that whole “union dispute?” Instead of setting up betrayal from someone we don’t know and were never given a chance to like, we could have had a reason that the rebels were revealed. Like say, maybe, Kylo Ren could sense that his mother was no longer on the ship, and orders the scan?
The Confusing Timekeeping
Okay, so the Resistance retreats from their base to run away from the First Order, and jump to a system, only to be followed. They can’t jump away because something something triangle thing, so they have sixteen hours where they can run. Except not really, because two big ships get wasted and are evacuated in two little ships each.
Yet Rey is on the island with Luke for three days. And the First Order had regrouped after starkiller, moving the big wigs like Hux, Kylo Ren, and Phasma, all to the flagship, wherever it was. On top of that, Finn and Rose had time to jump away to Planet Morocco, get knocked out and captured, then escape again to get back… all in the space of, what, eight hours or so?
Maybe I’m overthinking it, but they kept throwing out those references to time, and they never synced up correctly. Honestly, it would have worked far better if they would have just dropped the whole fuel restriction in the first place and given us a different reason why they couldn’t jump away immediately (or maybe had them jump more than once only to have the First Order follow).
Who Was Just Wasted
Though, while we’re talking about wastes, we have to mention again that Captain Phasma does a pretty stellar job of living up to the Boba Fett pedigree. In short, she looks awesome, is pretty terrible at her job, and wasted on the screen. You have someone like Gwendoline Christie and for the second time, didn’t use the fact that she’s actually very awesome. She certainly does more, but not enough to ever live up to her reputation (like Boba Fett).
It certainly wasn’t as bad of an ending as we got in The Force Awakens, but it wasn’t a good one either. Of course, we saw no body, and she’s survived before, so she could show up yet again, now with a cybernetic eye, in Episode IX.
The final thoughts
Yoda says it best to him (and Yoda showing up played out far better than I thought it was going to when he first was on screen)… “The true burden of all masters, is for their students to grow beyond them.” This movie is showing us that Star Wars is now outgrowing what it originally was. In the reveal of Rey’s parents (and the fact of it is something I am simply ecstatic about) being just faceless nobody’s that sold her for drinking money, we see that the Force can and will choose anyone.
This movie is showing us what can happen when these movies stop trying to hit all the old standbys. There aren’t “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” crammed in for the sake of getting the line in*, or everything being Skywalkers. Maybe it’s starting to outgrow that, and, to be honest, outgrowing the fans who decry this movie for not being enough like the originals (who also probably hate TFA for being too much like the original).
The Last Jedi, like the Force Awakens before it, certainly borrowed and referenced it’s successor in the Empire Strikes back. Even in basic overall structure, it hit some of the same notes… in that the Resistance is running and there isn’t some giant weapon to go blow up. Yet, unlikely TFA, it widly diverged from that point and gave us something wholly new. I’m still trying to puzzle out what I put this movie overall in the whole ranking of Star Wars films… but as of right now I’m probably going to put it right beside or just behind A New Hope, above Return of the Jedi and Rogue One, behind Empire, and so far past the prequels they can’t see it without binoculars.
In our number system, I’d call this absolutely a five out of five for my part. I wanted to turn around and go watch it again just to see what I’d missed or overlooked the first time. More than that, past just the adrenaline from seeing a new Star Wars film, this one followed two films in the past two years, and makes me far more excited about what is to come in the future (though not for the Han Solo movie, that’s probably going to be terrible). The only reservation I have about that future now is that I’m honestly not sure J.J. Abrams is going to be able to follow this one up and hit the same highs that it managed to. Course, then again, if he came out and delivered a great movie that wasn’t as good as what came before it, it would certainly be a fitting parallel to Return of the Jedi, so maybe it will all work out.
*The line is in the movie. I’ll let you go find out where if you missed it
Ace’s Two Cents
I may not have as many words as Nick for this review (he clocked in at x,xxx words), but that may be because I’m still processing. There are elements I really enjoyed and some that had me scratching my head wondering why the hell they made that decision for the story. In the end, I enjoyed it very much, and here’s why.
Now I’m writing this without having read Nick’s review so there may be some or a lot of overlap. I’m going to try and not write any spoilers, not sure if Nick had the same goal but I’m pretty sure he didn’t. I’m really not quite sure how to approach this so let’s just start from the beginning, and by beginning I mean even before the movie started. News broke ahead of the theatrical release of The Last Jedi that the film’s writer/director, Rian Johnson, would be entrusted to tell a brand new story set in the same universe as Star Wars. A new story, new characters, new everything. How they make it “Star Warsy” and not just another generic sci-fi flick remains to be seen. My point in bringing that up is that with kind of trust, to place a new trilogy in the hands of Rian, would mean that TLJ was something special. It elevated my expectations to just how good it was.
I try not to let that happen. I like going into movie expecting nothing and knowing nothing so I can be surprised and delighted (or disappointed) on my own terms. But it happened. The Last Jedi did meet those expectations thankfully, and it all had to do with the last 10 minutes of the movie. There were a lot of unexpected twists but none were so ridiculous or questionable that they would break the fourth wall. The pace of the movie never faltered, and some were so clever it kept you at the edge of your seat.
I think that’s how I spent most of the movie, at the edge of my seat. The space battles were just spectacular! And the imminent danger the Resistance felt from the First Order breathing down their backs provided a tension to the movie from the beginning to the end. As an audience member you can’t help but feel vested for their survival. The bad guys were winning, the good guys were dying and running out of options. Hope seemed lost.
It’s been that way since The Force Awakens. Finding Luke was how this trilogy started. The Resistance needed to ignite hope in the galaxy to fight The First Order and they believed finding Luke and bringing him back to fight the good fight was the way to do it. Unfortunately, Luke didn’t see it that way. He didn’t see a lot of things the same way I think most everyone saw. His comments about the Jedi, hubris, his status as a legend, it was all very meta, echoing the exact same sentiments the fan community has had about Jedi. And his own self-deprecating comments about what his status is came into reality in a conversation I had with Ryan on Friday night. Here’s a partial screen grab of that text stream:
And see that is the exact thing that Luke was saying in the movie. Ryan’s comments is the exact phenomena that Luke speaks out about. He isn’t what everyone thinks he’s cracked up to be. He saw himself as a failure. He certainly had his hubris, learned from it, and secluded himself because of it. But, that being said, when all hope seemed lost, he stepped up gave what the Resistance needed: hope.
The climactic battle scene was nothing short of amazing. As I mentioned earlier, the many twists and turns and surprises kept me engaged. Sometimes twists in movies can end make a great movie just terrible, but no such thing happened here. It was quite entertaining.
That isn’t to say that the movie is without problems. There were several parts that had me scratching my head and saying, “Really?” I would just shake my head and try and move on. The worst offender was the side mission to Canto Bight. I’m not entirely convinced that was necessary and that the plot elements that required that side mission could have been handled differently. If given the time and space, I could probably nitpick this movie to death but that’s not something I’m interested in doing for this article. Maybe I’ll do that in the comments section below. In the end, there is only one question that should be asked and answered: did I enjoy this movie? And the answer is yes, very much so.
If you haven’t seen it yet and you read this post this far anwyay, ignore what the critics say, what your Facebook friends might say, and watch the movie for yourself. It’s pretty divisive. I can see why, and the reasoning for both sides of the argument on the merits of this film. It’s the either one of the greatest and ranks right up there Rogue One and Empire, or one of the worst and falls somewhere around Episodes I, II, and III. And speaking of Empire, I found TLJ to be extremely derivative of TESB. That may or may not be a good thing. Despite that, TLJ was definitely enjoyable and recommended viewing on the big screen. Some movies are worth the effort to watch in a theater and this is one of them.