Last night my wife and I got a rare date night away from the kids, and so we decided to go and see a movie. And when Star Wars comes out, really, would you go see anything else?
Very little preamble needed here. We saw it, so here is my SPOILER-FREE thoughts on the film. Although, as this is the mid-part in the new trilogy, I will be discussing details from the first 30 minutes of the film, simply because if I devoid this article of any specifics, it'll be quite a boring read. Anybody who read my thoughts on The Force Awakens - and later on Rogue One - will likely have a good idea of what to expect from this article. But for those of you who haven't, or those of you who just like to read me ramble on, I'll pen them as well. There are enough new ideas in here to make it worth your time, I promise.
I've made it known that, while I wasn't 100% on The Force Awakens, it did make me more excited for The Last Jedi. It felt like we excised the necessary return-to-form (even if it's return was too strong for my tastes) and now we could fully explore where this new trilogy, and the characters in it, would take us with Episode VIII. I've also made it known that I suffer from terrible theater shock, and generally need 12-24 hours of consideration before I can accurately convey my thoughts on a film. With both of those out of the way, let's talk about The Last Jedi.
God it was nice seeing a new opening scrawl. It was absent from Rogue One, for good reason, and so now it felt like we were getting back to the heart that is Star Wars - the force, the Skywalker bloodline, the eternal struggle between light and dark. And...
Sure, it was funny and all, but the first few lines of dialogue felt more like they belonged in Parks and Recreation than in Star Wars. I laughed, but I also felt a small pang of regret in my heart, asking myself "are they really doing this?"
I like the character of Poe. A lot. He's the wild-card pilot that we actually see pull off some crazy-good flying in The Force Awakens. His role in The Last Jedi was an interesting one, one where we see him pushed to the brink of desperation due to a change in leadership and the ever-encroaching (literally) First Order. He makes some bad calls, he makes some mistakes, but the entire time he's acting from his heart and it feels 100% Poe. But his opening smarmy exchange with General Hux felt out of place, not necessarily for him, but for the series. I understand that it's a more modern comedic angle injected into a film franchise that is decades old, but it just sort of rubbed me the wrong way.
From there we get an engaging opening space battle that is exciting and tense, even if there are tons of creative liberties taken. The role of space in this movie changes by the scene, where at one time it is the oppressive vacuum of death as we would all expect, and at another time just a few scenes later (or prior) it is like you're just stepping outside on a cold day. Now, let's be clear, I'm totally fine with ignoring the actual effects of outer space in a Star Wars film, but when a film doesn't display any measure of consistency, that's where the flaw isn't in my perception, it's in the film's presentation of the setting.
But the space battles in this episode are strong, and hold arguably the most exciting and heroic moments in the entire saga. There is one scene towards the end of the film that is pure spectacle at its sheer awesomeness, on the level of seeing the Deeping Wall explode in The Two Towers's battle for Helm's Deep. They really outdid themselves on the grandiosity of this film, and of making us believe that the Resistance is truly in desperate times.
But why, exactly? I couldn't help but return to one of my core issues with this trilogy of Star Wars. Why is the First Order as powerful as it is? I understand that you can't kill an entire regime just by blowing up it's second super-weapon, but Return of the Jedi had us all believing that was the case. Again, there is something to be said for consistency, and The Last Jedi is where that consistency starts to fly out the airlock - the role of space, the use of force powers, the presence and strength of the factions. It reeks of the writers going 'this is what services the story, so let's just go there and not explain why'.
Which breaks my heart, because I know that the late Carrie Fisher had a writing credit on this film. Her influence can be seen - quite clearly - as The Last Jedi has a fair few strong female characters. And it is quite refreshing. We get Laura Dern as a wonderful Mon Mothma-style character in her Admiral Holdo, and she plays the role beautifully, even if her lines are a little contrived. The new resistance engineer Rose - played by Kelly Marie Tran - was a well-written character who simply didn't do anything of consequence (except stop another character from doing something of INCREDIBLE consequence). I know I'm being vague, but that's the price you pay for a spoiler-free review.
And Luke Skywalker. Wow. It was really nice to see my favorite Star Wars character of all time - that of Kyle Katarn - make it to the big screen, even if he wasn't called Kyle Katarn (okay, to be fair, Kyle Katarn is so much better than just the version of Luke we got in The Last Jedi, but I digress). Luke Skywalker's role is exactly what it needs to be - pivotal, revelatory, and complete. This new trilogy has been a passing of the torch, and ending of the old guard to usher in the new, and Luke's place in it felt right. Trust me when I say he was my second favorite thing about the movie.
Back to the inconsistencies. The force becomes even more 'space-magic' than ever before. While I'm glad we're trying to explain it too thoroughly anymore, I am annoyed that it had become such a deus ex machina for the story. It steals gravity from scenes that require it, and injects false gravity into scenes that don't need it. It makes connections across the galaxy 'for reasons' and it, even when one of those connected is on 'the most hidden place in the entire galaxy'. And as for how the force is being used in such a way, well, that plot thread is ended before it ever gets resolved.
Which is frustrating. The Last Jedi had a lot on its plate after The Force Awakens ended. I fully understand that it didn't need to - or rather, shouldn't - have tried to answer all of them. But the fact that it takes compelling mysteries of The Force Awakens and crushes them flat so unceremoniously (and in ways that simply don't make much sense, from the lore of the setting) is preposterous. It answers one of those questions in a very ambiguous way, a way in which we ask ourselves "sure, we got an answer, but is that the truth?" Which is a powerful way to tell the story. But other elements, are simply snuffed out before they ever really get the chance to stand on their own.
But despite all of this, amidst the meandering script and the ill-defined setting rules, we get some of the greatest spectacles and set-pieces in any Star Wars film to date. Towards the end of the film there is a moment of pure selfless heroism that results in a breathtaking display in space that has never-before been seen in Star Wars. It was a singular moment that was so awesome and powerful that it made me begin to question all of my misgivings about the film up to that point.
And then the film went on for about another 35 minutes.
That amazing moment - that should have been the climax of the film - was completely deflated by a shoe-horned confrontation involving imperial walkers and rusted old resistance speeders. And then they tried to set up a second heroic moment, which undermined the original one almost entirely.
Was it fun to watch? Hell yes. Was it exciting? Also hell yes. Was it a good movie?
But was it a good Star Wars movie?
It's so strange for me to have such mixed feelings. I haven't been this conflicted about a Star Wars film in so long. But chances are you've already seen it, or decided for yourself that you're going to see it anyways. Please leave your comments below! I'd love to hear your thoughts and discuss more things The Last Jedi!