STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI ½
2017, PG-13, 152 mins.
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker / Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa / Adam Driver as Kylo Ren / Daisy Ridley as Rey / John Boyega as Finn / Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron / Benicio Del Toro as DJ / Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke / Lupita Nyong'o as Maz Kanata / Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux / Anthony Daniels as C-3PO / Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma / Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo / Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca
Written and directed by Rian Johnson
Reviewing any STAR WARS movie has always been difficult for me, mostly because I have a painfully thorny task of placing myself within a tightly sealed critical bumble apart from my obsessive fandom of this series, which began as soon as I was relatively out of diapers.
Part of my vocal
disappointment for the first Disney helmed entry in this iconic space
fantasy saga - the J.J. Abrams helmed STAR
WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - was that this seventh episode played
things achingly safe with the inherent material. Instead of boldly and intrepidly catapulting audience members
into a STAR WARS film that traversed uncharted
territory, Abrams and company seemed to be lazily riffing on series
troupes, motifs, and storylines of old.
Even though I thought that THE FORCE AWAKENS was a STAR WARS film
of modest pleasures, it mimed George Lucas' first film in 1977's A
NEW HOPE almost to the point of plagiarism; the lack of conceptual
imagination in it frustrated me.
STAR WARS: THE
LAST JEDI seems like an answer to my prayers.
With J.J. Abrams out, in comes writer/director Rian Johnson, a
filmmaker that I've greatly admired (LOOPER
and BRICK), and to his and this new film's
credit we have a STAR WARS follow-up episode that does what good sequels
should do in terms of propelling its story and characters in new
directions, new surroundings, and new uncertain predicaments.
The obtrusive throwback vibe of THE FORCE AWAKENS is largely gone
and in its place is a revitalized approach to this cinematic universe that's
anything but safe and pedestrian. Johnson,
much more so than Abrams and perhaps even Lucas before him, has frankly made some
brave choices with the core STAR WARS canon and mythology that,
superficially at least, is welcoming.
Unfortunately, the longer THE LAST JEDI progresses the more readily
apparent it becomes that Johnson has so radically altered some of the DNA of STAR
WARS canon that it will inspire potential alienation from many fans.
Count me in among one of them.
the sins of Johnson's creative choices here are opposite of Abrams' with
THE FORCE AWAKENS. Discussing them in any great length or specificity
would result in ample spoilers, which I'm endeavoring to avoid. Johnson's untamed passion for the STAR WARS brand can be felt
throughout THE LAST JEDI, not to mention that he's refreshingly not aiming
for his space opus to be a slavish retread of what's come before (even
though fan servicing callbacks are painfully inevitable).
No, the real issue with Johnson's polarizing handling of the
material he inherited is that it doesn't seek to expand upon and/or
embellish many of the tantalizing questions and dramatic cliffhangers that
Abrams set up. In many
instances, many are either casually dealt with in a frustratingly oblique
manner, whereas others are all but abandoned without any clear rationale
or clarification. More
damning is that THE LAST JEDI infuses in its narrative far too many twists
and turns that are obviously aiming for maximum shock value while
radically turning up Lucas' franchise upside down on its head, almost to
the point where you begin mentally calling out plot holes and characters
motivations in previous STAR WARS films that never existed beforehand.
purposely vague thus far, but some cursory explanation of main plot
details here are warranted. The final moment of THE FORCE AWAKENS was a juicy, if not a
bit of a frustrating, cliffhanger (also a literal cliffhanger, since the final few
seconds took place...on a cliff), during which time we found former desert
planet residing junker turned Resistance fighter Rey (a headstrong Daisy
Ridley) journeying to Ahch-To to finally locate self-banished
Jedi master Luke
Skywalker (Mark Hamill, triumphantly more vocal in this film) to plead
with him to return with her and Chewbacca back home to Resistance HQ so
he can assist his sister, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, her last film
for them, Luke is carrying far too much emotional baggage to willingly
acquiesce to her request. Concurrent
to this is the rise of the Nazi-like First Order from the ashes of the original trilogy's
Empire, which has perplexingly grown stronger than ever despite
having their planet-sized weapon in Starkiller Base being
destroyed in the last entry.
Led by an ever
increasingly cruel Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the First Order are close to destroying the Resistance once and for
all, and all under the watchful eye of Kylo's dark Jedi master, Supreme Leader Snoke
(finally appearing in the flesh - sort of - via Andy Serkis and motion
capture VFX). Realizing that her twin brother may not be returning in a timely
fashion to help her cause, Leia decides to lean back on the resources she
has, like the brave piloting skills of Poe Dameron (a charismatic Oscar Isaac) and the
recently healed Finn (an equally charming John Boyega), who finds himself teaming up with
series newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) on a covert mission to infiltrate
and destroy Snoke's largest flagship that's raining down hellish
bombardments on the last of the Resistance fleet.
Kylo, in the meantime, is dealing with his own feelings of
inadequacy with Snoke while trying to hunt down Rey and Luke,
the former of which oddly bested him in lightsaber combat in the head shakingly
perplexing finale of
THE FORCE AWAKENS, despite having virtually no formal training in the Jedi
It has almost
become somewhat redundant to comment on just how epically scaled and
lushly immersive the STAR WARS films have been over the years, but THE
LAST JEDI is yet another consummately realized visual odyssey, even though
it sometimes - like THE FORCE AWAKENS - doesn't have the expansive sense of universe building that Lucas' previous six films
conjured up. Nevertheless,
THE LAST JEDI may be the most opulent looking of all the STAR WARS installments,
and Johnson has certainly spared no expense in giving us a silver screen
fantasy world that feels lived in and tactile.
Some imagery does elicit gasps of awe and wonder, especially one
awesome moment of a kamikaze crash between a Resistance ship and a much
larger First Order vessel that's positively breathtaking.
Then there's the stunningly envisioned planet Crait, entirely
covered in salt that - when stepped in or shot at - spews out thick clouds
of burgundy red dust into the atmosphere.
This thrilling climatic set piece - showcasing new versions of the THE
EMPIRE STRIKES BACK's AT-ATs that are bigger, beefier, and
resemble lumbering gorillas attacking a predictably under-protected
Resistance army - is a bona fide showstopper.
Because STAR WARS
has always been a space opera that's thrived on remarkably otherworldly
sights and sounds it's now regrettably easy, I think, to overlook the
strongly delineated character dynamics and performances contained within
these last two episodes. The
acting in THE FORCE AWAKENS and THE LAST JEDI are among the finest in the
entire series, led in part by Daisy Ridley, who has grown and matured into
her layered and complex role with a gutsy confidence that's infectious.
Adam Driver continues to cement himself as the largest casting coup
of the entire STAR WARS saga with his evolving villain that shows more
hidden layers of intrigue with each new film.
He's not only a figure of palpable menace and almost childish fits
of rage, but he's also a deeply conflicted antagonist that grows to
question his own villainy and relationship with the film's main heroes
in Rey and Luke.
That three way
dynamic between master, former apprentice, and potentially new apprentice
is easily THE LAST JEDI's most fascinatingly rich and textured element.
Rey is driven to Luke's mythological stature in the galaxy as a
warrior hero, whereas Kylo has deep seated emotional wounds that have
never healed from his time as Luke's student.
He also senses in Rey a possible ally that he can turn against
Luke, whereas Rey sees light buried deep within Kylo that could be used
against Snoke and the First Order. Luke,
on the other hand, is haunted by bad decision making in the past, which
has precluded his decades of isolation apart from his family and the Resistance. The Luke in THE
LAST JEDI is not the Luke we've grown up with, and seeing this more broken
down, withered, and cantankerously hostile version of the character makes
for some solid dramatic conflict in the film.
Hamill has never been better as his former galactic savoir than he
is in THE LAST JEDI; his tour de force performance is almost a meta
deconstruction of what defines movie heroes and how they're are perceived.
This brings me,
though, to many of the nagging issues with THE LAST JEDI, first of which
is a staggering number of characters - far too many for this film's own
good - that are all vying for attention and have subplots that Johnson
awkwardly and sometimes haphazardly segues between.
At a sometimes watch checking 152 minutes (the longest STAR WARS
film to date), THE LAST JEDI is nearly brought down by its own narrative
bloat. This film simply drags
too much with too many redundant subplots during its middle sections that
distract from the more tantalizing triumvirate of Luke, Rey, and Kylo.
In particular, there's the aforementioned and far too lengthy
storyline involving Rose and Finn on a faraway planet that houses a casino
(think the Mos Eisley cantina from A NEW HOPE, but for the one per cent
tuxedo clad high
rollers of the galaxy) that's as pointless as it is meanderingly
It also begs the question as to why Johnson never felt the need to
team up Finn and Poe on this mission, seeing as they - alongside Rey -
forged a dynamic new trio that THE LAST JEDI seems to have no faith in
Johnson also does
other characters a huge disservice in THE LAST JEDI.
R2-D2 and Chewbacca are delegated to ineffectual cameos.
First Order General Hux (a stiff and hammy as hell Domhnall Gleeson)
has morphed from being a pretty cardboard cutout villain and into a near
caricaturized buffoon this go around.
New characters are hastily introduced to the mix and into an
already crowed film, with intermittent levels of success (Laura Dern's
appearance as a new Resistance higher up that clashes with Poe over
leadership direction is somewhat welcome, albeit superfluous, and Benicio
del Toro appears in a largely throwaway and unnecessary role as a
mysterious stranger with a murky past that aids the Resistance).
Then there's the backhanded manner that Johnson deals with a couple
of key characters that were established as major entities in THE FORCE
AWAKENS, only to be exasperatingly thrown to the side like table scraps,
never to be seen or heard from again.
That's a horrendous creative missed opportunity, and THE LAST JEDI
has this annoying habit of providing non-answers to years of fan questions
while posing all new ones to their eye rolling incredulity.
And what of the
Force as a all powerful spiritual entity that cascades through everyone
and everything in this universe? Johnson
joyously tinkers with that as well, but my main misgiving with that is how
it unceremoniously turns a blind eye to much of the entire saga's own internal
logic and rules as to how it works. Two
particular moments stand out for me, the first being an early scene that -
for the purposes of being hazy - involves a character in space that is
more unintentionally funny than moving, and the latter taking place during
the film's massive third act altercation between the Resistance and First
Order, which once the particulars of how it's really being played out are
revealed it almost feels like one large cheat.
The mistake with fundamentally altering STAR WARS mythology is that
it's so entrenched in our collective subconscious; retooling it opens up a
whole unwanted wellspring of scrutiny that this franchise doesn't need.
And how certain characters act in relation to the Force and its
teachings in THE LAST JEDI nearly undoes and betrays their established
arcs in all previous films. It
was enough to make me stare at the screen in stunned disbelief and silence
THE LAST JEDI has infinitely more nerve than THE FORCE AWAKENS, probably more than any other STAR WARS film that came before it, and Johnson deserves some props for going clearly against the grain for this series and not backing himself into a corner and relying on old franchise conventions. He clearly loves STAR WARS' massively popular legacy, but is unafraid to contort it to his own dramatic means. That's ballsy. But too much of this inescapably ambitious STAR WARS film is disjointed, messy, rambling, and is replete with so many shocking scripting detours that it feels like it's trying to cram multiple episodes into one. By the time THE LAST JEDI irises out to its end credits I was left with nagging and uneasy feelings as to where this series is headed in the untitled EPISODE IX. THE EMPIRE STRIKES back felt like a compliment to A NEW HOPE while intrepidly pushing STAR WARS into darker new areas of intrigue. THE LAST JEDI neither sincerely compliments nor enhances THE FORCE AWAKENS, because both come off like the product of two filmmakers having divergent and opposing creative end games without a previously established plan of attack and cohesive follow through. In its initial form moving forward, there's most definitely a creative disturbance in the Force with the STAR WARS saga.