The Last Jedi - Thoughts
Spoilers ahead for The Last Jedi - you have been warned. If you’ve not seen the film yet - stop reading and take your ass to the nearest theater.
Sitting next to Jamie, waiting anxiously with the rest of my Backflip workmates for that familiar Lucasfilm logo to appear on the big screen. It was finally time to see Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. This the second act of the new Star Wars trilogy that began by returning many of my childhood heroes to the Star Wars universe and promised to answer questions left burning over the two years since the release of The Force Awakens. Our studio Art Manager, John, takes a seat to my right shortly before the lights lower and promptly asks, “okay, best Star Wars memory?”
What a question.
I’m of the generation where I barely remember a time without Star Wars. Too young to have seen the first two films in theaters, but just the right age to be blessed with all of the hype that followed the original films as Return of the Jedi capped them off when I was four or five years old. Oh, that impressionable time. The Empire Strikes Back was the first of the Star Wars films I saw. It is one of those memories that feels as vivid in my mind as the day it happened - my Dad, a huge Star Wars fan himself, was watching Empire on cable TV. I remember coming out of my bedroom and asking him what he was watching.
“Sit down and watch it - you’ll like it,” he told me.
At that very moment, Luke was hanging from his feet in the Wampa cave and had just reached out for a shiny object in the snow. A scary white monster approached - what was happening!?
All at once it happen - the shiny object flew into Luke’s hand and BOOM - a blue laser sword slashes off the beast’s arm as Luke makes his escape!
“Dad, Dad! What was that thing?”
“That was a Lightsaber. They are the most powerful weapon in the galaxy and can cut through anything.” That was it - I was hooked.
Since that day Star Wars has been a constant in my life - and it has been here for me in many ways. I’ve now been the Father who got to introduce his sons to the films. Endless plastic Lightsaber battles with my boys are newer memories that I’ll never forget - now years past as well. I’ve even had the opportunity to work professionally on Star Wars products - helping produce Sphero’s BB-8 droid before The Force Awakens released - likely the closest I’ll ever get to working on a Star Wars film - and I’m so very proud of it…
But the memory with my own Dad - having him sit me down to watch The Empire Strikes Back with him and seeing - really experiencing - that Lightsaber… that is always the Star Wars memory that comes to mind when asked such a loaded question.
The Empire Strikes back, the second act of the original saga, remains my favorite of the series. With the return of Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie to The Force Awakens, I had an inclination that we were in for a treat with The Last Jedi. I had no idea that a simple question before the film would be followed by hours and hours of discussion after the viewing of it - and continue, consequently, after the second viewing a day later. With all of the discussion that happened between Jamie, myself, and a few coworkers that first evening, I decided to take some notes at the second show and write my thoughts down.
Now, let me be clear right off the bat - I am not steaming mad about The Last Jedi. I do not hate the film, by any means, and you’re not going to see me signing a petition to have Disney remove it from the Star Wars canon - give me a break. Generally, I found the movie fun - especially after a second viewing. It most certainly did contain many scenes that raised the hairs on the back of my neck. For that, and for a brand new Star Wars film, I am grateful.
That said, there are a lot of things within the film that have me questioning the motives of the writers and director - and of those things, there are a few that I absolutely dislike.
Let’s talk about the dumb stuff first.
The overall pacing of The Last Jedi was a bit jarring. There is A LOT going on in this film. Like The Force Awakens, we are taken through several sub-stories being weaved together all at once. At a hearty two hours, it’s a ton to take in during a significant amount of time. I’ve noticed this frantic pacing is a thing with Star Wars films under Disney control - both The Force Awakens and Rogue One offered the same - and like those two films, the pacing becomes less jarring after a second (and third, fourth, etc.) viewing. What The Last Jedi doe suffer from, which the previous two films do not (as much), is a disappointing amount of lazy writing and odd plot choices that do not disappear after the initial viewing. We’ll talk more about that later.
On a related, overarching note, the production design felt less attended to than that of The Force Awakens and Rogue One. Now, that’s not to say that the film was poor looking - but I feel like JJ Abrams set a quality of tone with The Force Awakens that gave the film a decidedly more Star Wars feeling than that of the Prequel and Special Edition additions - with small exceptions like the Rathtar - a quality of tone that felt rushed on The Last Jedi. Of the three recent films, this one felt most like a Disney movie - if that makes sense… It’s like when you see one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films - it’s fun to look at, but they all sort of walk the line of forgettable in their tendency to over-do it - with The Last Jedi, this assessment is relative and has its exceptions as well.
A number of things about the Resistance - er, Rebellion? - story arc that bugged me. Poe, for instance, was taken from hero fighter pilot to an overly-cocky, impulsive jerk who was, well, literally always wrong throughout the entire film. It felt like his character development made a sharp left turn from where it was headed at the end of The Force Awakens and, ultimately made him seem much less important.
Amilyn Holdo, the Vice Admiral who assumes control of The Resistance after Leia falls, ended up being a character that I ultimately don’t care about either. Sadly, she had enough screen time that her character could have been made compelling, but the writers were so interested in keeping the audience guessing that by the time she redeems and sacrifices herself for the Rebels, I didn’t care that she was gone - Force-be-with-you moment with Leia or not.
This same character development was made and wasted on DJ, the stuttering burglar played by Benicio Del Toro - and what a waste here. So much back and forth with his character’s motives that when he surprises us with his betrayal, I was only left with thinking why the whole codebreaker story arc was even necessary in the first place. This all plays into my my very least favorite part of the film - Canto Blight, which I’ll address in a minute - but what a terrible waste of Del Toro in my opinion. I assume we’ll see him in the third film - but I cannot guess how I would care about his character at this point.
Now, Canto Blight - the casino planet where Finn and Rose seek the ONE codebreaker, as instructed by a too-busy-to-help-the-remaining-Resistance-survive-imminent-death Maz Kanata (what?). While I appreciate the attempt to show the real scum of wealth behind perpetual war, this entire story arc felt like it was taken from the cutting room floor of one of the prequel films. The visual design felt out of place with the rest of the world, the creatures were goofy and over CG’ed - and the whipped horse gremlins took precedence over the slave children. BB-8 becomes a Looney Toon, beating up space cops and shooting gold coins from his abdomen after sounding like a rolling piggy bank for several scenes. Rose, while a sweet character on her own, was also unnecessary in my opinion. She felt lazily written-in only to give Finn an adventure buddy while Rey argued with Luke on Ahch-To. Her last minute conflicting love interest in Finn felt ingenuine. This was the perfect opportunity to bring Maz back into the film - because she was awesome in The Force Awakens - and the section could have been cut down considerably. I thoroughly disliked the Canto Blight scenes in The Last Jedi - poodoo!
The last blaring issue with The Last Jedi for me was Princess Leia. I loved Carrie’s performance. She continued to be true and decidedly Leia. Her interaction with idiot Poe was believable and her reunion with Luke was absolutely touching. While I didn’t care for her Force flight through open space, it did not put me off as much as other critics seem to be showing. My thing - and this will sound cold - but I wish they would have killed Leia in The Last Jedi. Why? Because our beloved Carrie has passed in real life - and for me, a fully CG ‘current age’ Carrie Fisher in the final installment would be a damn shame. I will be legitimately upset if that comes to pass. That said, here is hoping that they have enough extra footage from The Last Jedi to do Carrie justice in the next film.
There is a remaining handful of small annoyances that faded a bit with the second viewing. Things like Chewbacca, R2D2, and C3PO’s lack of screentime, the overly-artsy treatment of Rey’s pivotal ‘Jedi training, discover yourself in a dark cave’ moment - only to find out she’s of no relation to anyone in the story (come on…), glossing over Han’s death, and fucking Porgs.
Finally… what the fuck was Snoke all about? Who was this apparently most powerful Sith Lord ever? How did he come to influence Ben Solo? Why did he die before they told us any of this? Like Holdo and DJ, he turned out to be a waste of a character - unlike Holdo and DJ however, he was held over our heads for two-plus years. Lame.
There was a lot of great stuff in The Last Jedi too. The fighter ship battles were superb. Adam Driver’s performance as the conflicted Kylo Ren/Ben Solo really works well for me - it could easily have gone the way of Episode II and III Anakin had they cast the wrong actor - Driver is thoroughly convincing. Furthermore, Domhnall Gleeson is amazing as General Hux - he’s the perfect weasley (no pun intended) coward of a Nazi-esque leader you want to see as the head First Order goon. When Rey and Ren fight side by side to defeat Snoke’s guards - so much fun. For me, though, the very best part of The Last Jedi was the full return of Luke Skywalker.
As a child I always felt that I personally related to Luke - as I’m sure millions of your Star Wars fans have felt over the years. To see Mark Hamill return this character as only he could - now at the age of Obi Wan - a recluse Jedi Master himself - this was it for me. Hamill played Luke as I imagine Luke would have grown - especially as the trials of starting - and tragically losing - a new Jedi temple unfold throughout the film. Hamill does a great job of keeping Luke somewhat ungrounded, as his character always was - and this leads to two of the best scenes in the film. Two old friends show up just in time to, ideed, help ground Luke. First we get a heartwarming reunion with R2D2 - a moment when you hear in Hamill’s voice that young man from 1977 chasing after the mischievous droid in the desert. Add to that the projection of Leia’s original message to Obi Wan… yeah, I teared up a bit. And, of course, we not only got a special return of Jedi Spirit Yoda - but he was THE full-on Frank Oz voiced physical puppet Yoda - the real deal. Seeing Hamill interact with Yoda like that was the most magical scene in the movie for me.
All of this helps me look past Luke chucking his old Lightsaber hilt to the porgs and slopping up freshly teet-squeezed blue milk (that scene was pretty stupid, honestly).
I know I’ve overlooked some things that can be discussed to no end, good and bad - shirtless Ren, out of body Force experience, Boy Anakin 2.0… Not quite a review - just my thoughts. For the most part I really did enjoyed the movie. I look forward to seeing it again, if not in the theater, I’m sure many times when the BluRay releases. I saw it with my Dad and son on second viewing - and that’s always very special. Dad loved the film and we continue to bond over the magic of Star Wars after all of these years - as I do with my boys. For better or worse, the tradition continues.
May the Force be with you...