Review: 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Joins Both Sides of the Force
This review was originally published on UW Film Club, but has been reposted here with the author’s permission.
If you thought porgs were gonna be the most divisive part of the film, think again.
Star Wars is without a doubt one of the most important franchises in cinematic history, creating some of the most iconic moments ever put to film and generating a loyal following spanning all demographics in the process. Through the last 9 theatrical releases, Star Wars has created an image for itself (both bad and good) among these fans, and with The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson aims to subvert the expectations they have come to know and love with something new, something unique, and something unexpected. However, in that pursuit, Johnson has created a prequel-level division among fans that is so wide and deep that Episode 8 is arguably the most controversial film in the series.
So as if the internet reached out and asked for another hot take on the film, I am here to offer up my review and layout the good, the bad, and the ugly of The Last Jedi, and why it is ultimately a very frustrating movie that ends up crafting a few redeemable moments. This review will be spoiler free, but if you want a further, spoilerific explanation, there will be one at the end.
The Last Jedi as a whole is the victim of a thousand cuts: no one particular issue is that bad on its own, but when combined with a flurry of them, they end up degrading the overall experience. The narrative choices, use of humor, and characterizations are what really did the film in, and these flaws linger and brand the film.
Of these problems, the ill-timed and poorly executed humor is the most problematic. When scenes should have weight and meaning, a joke is thrown right in the middle. When a character is conditioned to act a certain way, they say something out of character. A moment like this happens every 15-25 minutes in The Last Jedi, so whenever the film started to earn my trust back, it goes and does something off-putting. Upon second viewing, the humor works a little bit better, but important scenes are still tainted. That is to not say there isn’t humor that works; Chewbacca and BB-8 have great moments based on humor that work within the context of their characters without disrupting the scene or the momentum of the film.
Which leads into the next prevalent problem with The Last Jedi: how it treats its characters. Whether it be problematic characterizations or formless arcs, the way in which the film handles characters ranges from useless to meaningful. All the main characters get their own unique arc, but most feel unrealized and unfulfilled. The ones that work the best are Kylo Ren’s and Luke’s (albeit a very different Luke than we have come to know and love which most people, including Mark Hamil himself, have issue with, but I found to be the best in the entire film), and the ones that fail are Poe’s and Fin’s, while Rey’s is good if not ever so slightly flawed. There is a lot of arcs going on in this film, that Johnson should be commended (even if Fin and Poe’s arcs are subject to a plot hole 12 parsecs wide), but with it, some characters such as Snoke and Captain Phasma get shortchanged in the process, which is also problematic considering how much promise they had coming out of The Force Awakens.
With all the problems in the film, it’s safe to say that the final act is great. In fact, it’s downright iconic at times. You will need to accept everything that came before it for what it’s worth, but doing so will yield some extremely redeemable moments. The set piece’s choreography flows so well when it goes unbroken with subplots or character arcs, concluding in a very succinct manner that drives home ideas of identity, purpose, and hope within the narrative. You will be on the edge of your seat, you will be surprised, and perhaps you will even shed a tear. The end provides such a clear path for the future of the franchise and gives hope for the conclusion of the trilogy. It’s just a shame that the first two-thirds are as problematic as they are. Oh, and the porgs are great; ten out of ten on the scale of humor, cuteness, and merchandisability.
Overall, your mileage for The Last Jedi will depend on how well all of these changes jive with you. If you’re on board with all the plot twists, subversions, and narrative choices, then you will enjoy this movie. The film takes risks with an established franchise, and it has undeniable problems because of it, but in conversation I’ve heard people who have had no problem with the criticisms I laid out above. The division that is plaguing the internet stems from whether or not you’re willing to accept these decisions and take them as the new face of the franchise. For those who don’t, prepare to be disappointed. For those that do, get ready to enjoy the ride.
The following section contains spoilers and elaborates on points in the review. You’ve been warned!
Fin’s and Rose’s trip to Canto Bight is completely irrelevant to the story not only in terms of what it accomplishes narratively, but also because the whole trip shouldn’t of been taken in the first place. When Poe asks Holdo what the plan is for the Rebels, she tells Poe to take it easy and believe in her; this leads Poe to formulate a plan to get onto Snoke’s ship, send Fin and Rose to get a codebreaker, get them inside Snoke’s ship, get caught, and ruin the Rebel’s escape to Crait, all while Poe commits mutiny in the process (which in it of itself is problematic because he commits MUTINY and doesn’t get punished by anyone— I could rant about how this ruins his arc but there are bigger problems to fry in this movie). Had Holdo just said, “There is a planet 12 hours away that we can use to send a signal. Just sit tight” there would be no reason to go to Canto Bight, but instead she decides to be cryptic with her plans. Poe’s whole arc is learning how to be a leader through failure, but when you take away the repercussions of his decisions (people die by his failure, but no one seems to care because he’s trusted again at the battle of Crait), does he actually ever learn anything?
Scenes that are ruined by jokes include: – the opening scene where Poe distracts Hux (why are we belittling the First Order and making them look laughable and incompetent?), -the scene where Luke asks Rey why she is on the island (a very important scene to Rey’s character arc is spoiled with a joke smack dab in the middle), -when Rey and Kylo are communicating through the force and Rey tells him to put a shirt on (yah, it’s awkward to be talking to a shirtless Adam Driver, but these scenes are supposed to show both characters’ confusion with themselves and when a joke is put right in the beginning, it’s hard to take it seriously), and -Luke tossing the lightsaber over his shoulder (this gag is bad because it’s dismissive of what the saber stands for, plus it undermines the first moments of this long awaited confrontation that The Force Awakens set up with an ENTIRE MOVIE).
Leia literally survives an explosion and being shot out into the cold vacuum of space. I don’t know what to say here. Kind of ridiculous, plus the one instance where she uses the force in the entire franchise is her saving herself in this implausible manor. Asking the audience to believe this is A LOT to ask for and a stretch that is way too much. Also General Akbar is casually killed in this sequence and we’re told about it in a throw away line. Pretty lame.