I’ve written really, REALLY long reviews for the latest crop of Star Wars movies. Partially out of these movies still (for the moment) feeling pretty, darn important and partially because there really is just a lot to say.
I’m not going to do that this time. Well, I’m going to try not to do that this time. I want to give you all something a bit more digestible due in part to my disinterest in hitting every, single beat as well as simply encouraging you all to go see if for yourselves (as if I needed to convince you any more to see a goddamn Star Wars movie). Also…I feel like the internet is already full of enough think pieces, hot takes, etc.
These are all sort of “mental notes” I took while watching the flick, which I’ve seen twice now. I wrote them as quickly as possible so be sure to tell me about all the mistakes and stuff I made. I really, REALLY love those.
Also if you’re not to good at the whole “reading the title” thing, I get it. I really do, but sometimes you’ll catch something like, I don’t know, there are spoilers ahead. So if you haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet and want to remain a clean slate, there’s this nifty little feature called the “X” up there in the lefthand corner of your screen if you’re using Google…I could walk you through the other outlets, but you know…I don’t want to.
“Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.” – IMDb.com
- “Bury the past.” That’s the mantra going into The Last Jedi and that’s going to piss off a lot of people. And you know what I think? Good. The big complaint coming out of The Force Awakens was just by-the-numbers it felt. Rogue One did a (kind of) competent job at going for something outside of the Star Wars format but unfortunately equated to brain dead fan service without any substantial characters to keep the thing afloat. The Last Jedi feels like the first attempt, since Lucasfilm came into the Disney fold, at respecting what came before while acknowledging we have to step out of the shadow of that past to ultimately move forward. As a few critics have noted, the last two movies really focused on “moments,” many of which held little substance beyond giving us what we expected/wanted. A dreamer, cast aside on a desert planet. Light Side. Dark Side. The Millennium Falcon. The death of an old teacher. The list of repeated imagery and moments goes on and on and on. There’s a reason this movie starts with Luke throwing a lightsaber off a cliff. Writer/Director Rian Johnson knows what we want, but instead favors giving us what we need instead and he repeats it time and time again throughout The Last Jedi‘s 2-and-half-hour runtime. So many seemingly important things fans (myself included) have speculated about over the past two years are thrown off a proverbial cliff (who is Snoke, Rey’s lineage, etc). Why did we think they were so important? Because destiny, that’s why! Because the Light Side! Because the Dark Side! Because the Skywalkers! Because mysteries! Because answers! Questions the internet has obsessed over are thrown aside; sometimes in a funny way and other times in an skeptical way but always in a purposeful way because we finally have a Star Wars movie (in my opinion) in this new batch with an actual purpose rather than an extended ride atop a fleeting wave of nostalgia. I’m a big fan of Johnson, dating back to his first feature, Brick, and how he actually plays with genre. To Disney’s credit, he was the ABSOLUTE perfect guy to man this movie and, in many ways, is the best captain to steer this behemoth forward with his own trilogy.
- There’s one character I want to discuss a little at the top because I’m afraid she’s going to get lost in the shuffle and that’s Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. It’s the conflict between her and Poe Dameron (played again by the ever-charming Oscar Isaac, who actually gets shit to do this time around as I requested) that really shines a light on this “Flipping expectations on their head” thing I’m really jazzed about. The way Johnson plays with our expectations with her so expertly. I’m not sure if it’s the purple hair, but we’re groomed for the classic “She’s wrong, Poe’s right” maneuver. Poe’s mutiny was always misguided, an example of him acting impulsively and repeating the mistakes of the past. (To those who are being harsh toward Holdo for not sharing her ultimate plan, please note that Poe actively avoided telling her his. Not to mention, he had been demoted for his massive fuck-up with the bombers. Why should she have to tell him anything?) And so the narrative flip of her quietly saving the day played right into his arc, like the singular perfect puzzle piece it was. (The same goes for Benicio Del Toro’s DJ, but I’ll get to him in a bit.) And holy actual hell, does she get a triumphant moment as a result. That silent cut of her sacrificial jump into the enemy fleet will go down as a franchise highlight. Also Dern and Carrie Fisher together in a Star Wars movie is everything I’ve ever wanted but didn’t know it until I actually saw it.
- Speaking of Fisher, I’m seeing some complaints in regard to both her using the Force and how she used the Force i.e. pulling herself out of space. On the former, if you haven’t been pulling for Leia to use the Force at any point then you and I are just never going to see eye-to-eye ever and you can leave. The latter however has some wiggle room, I guess. I wasn’t bad, if anything I was so excited I didn’t even have time to consider if I thought it was good or bad honestly. Seeing Leia actively use the Force (something she did in the now non-cannon EU from time-to-time) is something I’ve been hoping for since I was a kid and having her use it to cheat death was appropriate in my opinion. Did it harken back to Superman, sure. I don’t think that was deterrent however. Now to the nerds that are citing plausibility grievances can kindly show themselves the door. “We’ve never seen a Force-user do that before so therefore it’s not plausible!” What the…? Like, what movie do you think you’re watching? Since we’re on Leia, I’m happy/devastated to say this is probably this a best for her. Happy because she wasn’t given all that much to do last time and it’s nice to see her given proper due with a lot of hefty story stuff and character moments (she FINALLY gets that hug from Chewie!). Devastated because this will be the last time we see her. Given her passing, it’s natural to feel as if she still wasn’t we still didn’t get enough of her. (The plan, made clear here, was that TFA was to be Han’s movie, TLJ is Luke’s and the closing chapter would be Leia’s, something that I’m sure has been no easy task for those behind the scenes to amend.) I think as a closer though, Fisher shines and the galaxy will be all the duller without her there.
- Fisher isn’t the only returning cast member of course as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is finally given his due in a performance he’s deserved to give for so, so, so long and that is Luke, Jedi Master. It’s a performance imbued with humor and love. Beyond just coming back for a paycheck, Hamill wants this to mean something. Harrison Ford was great in his return as Han, but Hamill recognizes the absolute significance of what his return means for a lot of people. He’s gone on record as saying he initially disagreed with Johnson’s direction for Luke here and having now seen the movie, I get it. I don’t want to picture Luke as a man, haunted by his past doomed to die alone on an island so far from all his friends. But this was the direction we needed him to go for this story. And good god, his scene with Yoda (Frank Oz). It’s basically everything it needed to be and such a stark reminder of how blatantly ham-fisted all of the fan service in Rogue One came off as. As a quick aside, it was so great to have OG funny while also sage Yoda back (in puppet form no less) and not super grim and pouting Yoda we got in the prequels. It all builds to what may equate to one of the best “last lessons” a Star Wars movie has imparted on us, the audience. And that’s the importance of failure and learning from that failure. We may need to bury the past, but we can’t do away with it altogether. Particularly when it comes to our mistakes because otherwise how do we learn anything? It’s a necessary lesson each and every one of us has to learn, and who better to get it from than Master Yoda himself. I ASSUME he’ll be back in some capacity as a Force ghost to impart some final words, but if he doesn’t I think this was one hell of a closer for the character.
- The revelation of Rey’s parents being no one was exactly what I wanted, and adding the fact they were ultimately shitty people too (meaning Rey’s basically been in denial this entire time) is incredibly interesting. Sure, you could argue Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was simply lying to get a rise out of her but I want to take this at face value particularly given it ties so beautifully well into the larger theme of the movie. Unlike Disney, the Skywalkers shouldn’t have a monopoly on the Force. It all sort of ties back into how I really, really, really dislike the “destiny” angle or at the very least think it’s utterly played out. It equates to the “DO YOU KNOW WHO MY FATHER IS” asshole we see/hear in nightclubs. Hell, we even have a nice self-aware version of this in the form of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (the always great Adam Driver). I was dreading a “I’m your father” moment in that throne room sequence. Instead I got something shocking and altogether much more satisfying. The two have a number of great scenes throughout the movie thanks to a brilliant narrative device (that pays off with Luke’s appearance later as well), that all leads to that moment of temptation and the first time I can recall where the Dark Side actually seems seductive. Kylo wants to burn everything to the ground (the Jedi, the Sith, etc) with him standing high above the ash, and he wants Rey with him. She’s just a kid whose parents sold her away for booze, an unimportant girl who therefore needs to share her place among those destined to be great (quite like himself obviously), in order to be great. But Rey won’t do it, because of course not. There was really no doubt in my mind she’d stand firmly by the side of the Light, but also because she’s not just anything. She, like Finn or Rose or the kid with the broom near the end or any other number of character “filling in” the gaps, are everything important about TLJ. They aren’t born of legends. They don’t have ties to the canon. They are distinctly and singularly their own and coming from “nothing” makes them no less of hero than Luke, Han or Leia.
- Much like Rey’s much-theorized linage, I’m also a pretty big fan of the outcome for Snoke as well…in that he fucking dies in movie two. I’ve read a lot of complaints in regard to the character just upfront dying before any substantial ground was covered in his part in the larger story. I argue however we got just about everything we really need to know about him and his motivations between these two movies. Snoke was just a very old, very powerful, very evil force-user. In the original trilogy we get about just as much information on the Emperor as we did on Snoke in this new set of films, and it works in the same exact fashion. I’m of the mindset that less can be more, particularly in relation to your BIG BAD. What exact kind of traction would we gain by the reveal of where Snoke came from and his precise motivations? How did that work out for Palpatine? Or better yet, how fucking happy were we with how that turned out with Darth Vader?
NOW, ONTO THE LIGHTING ROUND…
- My favorite bit of acting comes from Driver as he screams at his subordinates to fire on the Millennium Falcon. It both speaks to how much he hates his dad and how the First Order/Empire really, really, hates that fucking ship.
- I loved the exchange between Snoke and Kylo Ren that basically confirms the helmet was Kylo’s idea and Snoke just accepted as a parent would begrudgingly accept their adolescent, moody teenager to pierce their nose.
- Big fan of the Kylo and General Hux a.k.a. the most British man in the galaxy (Domhnall Gleeson) rivalry. They came off as assistant managers, and I loved it. I reminded me of the Dwight/Andy feud on the Office and I can’t wait to see how it evolves with Ren now in charge.
- Another example of fan service done well: R2’s use of the original Leia hologram. Served a narrative purpose in addition to being a sweet call back. Also a “subtle” jab at Rogue One is a plus in my book. “Cheap trick,” indeed.
- So happy it was BB-8 in that AT-ST, saving the day and not DJ.
- If we’re going to talk about the biggest weaknesses (for me), I’d just recognize that this sure was a long movie. Like really long. Scenes by themselves generally worked, but the structure felt…wonky at more than one point throughout. That isn’t to say I couldn’t watch a 48 hour Star Wars movie, but I’m thinking within the realms of plausibility and reasonability. If we’re cutting anything out, start with the Canto Bight stuff. You can rework some of that stuff with the kids and DJ (Benicio del Toro) as they’re actually pretty important but everything else falls under the movie wanting its cake and eating it too. A casino planet is a pretty cool idea but at really no point during Finn, Rose and BB-8’s time there did I feel any real sense of urgency. It’s not bad per se, but it felt more like a detour when it should have felt like an essential route.
- For all the internet, fanboy buzz, the Porgs were ultimately fine. Yes, they’re cute but so is BB-8. We can have cute things in our FAMILY fantasy movies and they never evolve beyond funny little side-attraction. Had they been some sort of key to defeating the First Order (much like the Ewoks), I’d be singing a pretty different story but they didn’t so hopefully we can all take a breather on our Porg-centered anger? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have quite a bit of Porg merch to buy.
- It made me laugh out loud at how they hammer home just how pointless Captain Phasma was. I ASSUME she’s dead for real this time and if so at least she went out with a (brief) fight scene.
- We really needed a guy to go, “Hmmm, salt,” did we?
- I still don’t really get the whole power dynamic between the First Order and the Resistance, and this was a pretty big problem for me in TFA as well. Maybe it’s answered in a book some where but I can’t imagine it would be too hard to clarify this with a line a dialogue. So in the last movie, the First Order AND the Resistance were on the outs so to speak. Neither was in charge. The Republic had been reestablished since the end of Return of the Jedi and the Empire repackaged as “The First Order.” Then Leia went off to form the Resistance, which was like a subset of the Republic but different because Leia…didn’t trust the Republic…and still wanted to fight for freedom? I think? Anyway, the First Order blew up the Republic HQ in the last flick and now…they’re in charge? Why? When did that happen? Their HQ (Starkiller Base) was also destroyed? We’re led to believe they are in charge in TLJ or at least that is what it seems like given the Resistance (who are called rebels at multiple points in this movie, adding further confusion) are on the run. It just seems like a lot to get back to what equates to “Rebels V. Empire” again and I’m still lost on what exactly happened to the Republic. Is it gone? What happened to Coruscant? Did we leave that one behind because of the Imperial connection? I’ve never really liked this model of “read the books to understand this critical plot point” that’s been in-use since at least the prequels and it’s kind of troubling to see it carry over in the Disney exchange.
- Nice to see Star Wars ripping off Battlestar Galactica, which was (in its original incarnation) a ripoff of Star Wars. For those unaware, in the episode “33” of the BSG reboot the Colonies (last humans) are on the run from the Cylons (evil robots). Like in Star Wars, ships are able to “jump” from one location to another by way of hyperspace. The Colonies keep jumping to escape the Cylons. However the Cylons are able to track them wherever they jump, something not thought possible before. I’m not crying plagiarism or anything. It’s just a funny circular similarity.
- I’m all about Del Toro’s hacker character not getting a moment of redemption, another break from the norm as his is set up as the quasi-hybrid of Han and Lando. Instead we actually get a truly morally grey character. I absolutely love his bit about (and I’m paraphrasing here) one side blowing up the other for all time, repeatedly. It once again speaks to the normally, everyday people in this galaxy that don’t have single stock in these power plays. Maybe they’ve heard of the Rebellion or of this mythical figure named “Skywalker” but outside of that, it’s all just stories. The galaxy is a pretty big place after all. DJ takes a cynical, greedy look at the whole thing, opting for the “Hey, someone is going to win. I might as well make some money” approach. And his outlook isn’t wrong, per se, but it’s also not constructive (something he seems to fully admit to Finn before they part ways). It’s one thing to admit to yourself that life has no definable meaning. As Dan Harmon so famously said, “The knowledge that nothing matters, while accurate, gets you nowhere.” When you zoom in all the characters of Star Wars (and you know, real life) you see so many things that matter. It’s when you accept that and continue on (as Finn does) do you really find purpose. It’s echoed again by Rose as she states (paraphrasing again), “We’re not fighting to destroy the things we hate. We’re saving the things we love.”