* This review does contain MINOR SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Last Jedi *
Star Wars: The Last Jedi, written and directed by Rian Johnson, is a film that feels burdened by much that it tries to do. There are many moments to this film that I absolutely loved! Moments that reinforced and reshaped my love for Star Wars as a franchise, but to get to those moments, there were particular storylines, certain characters, and clear merchandising influences, that hampered the overall experience. However… some of the most impactful decisions this film creates, and the effect they will go onto have; I think evolves the franchise beyond the seemingly rehashed path it was going down. It will divide fans, but I hope it will move the trilogy into uncharted territory. Personally, I’m going to find this to be a challenging review to write, because I did have a genuine love-hate relationship with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This will almost be like a therapy session, as I try to come terms with all that this film is… so let’s get to it.
Following on from the events of the previous films, The Last Jedi picks up with Rey – played by Daisy Ridely – attempting to begin her training with Luke Skywalker – played by Mark Hamill. Meanwhile, the resistance is relentlessly chased by the First Order, who have discovered a way to track their fleeing ships through hyperspace. Everything is at stake, as the First Order closes in, and the future of the diminishing resistance worsens.
I wasn’t immediately enamoured with the Last Jedi, it in fact was quite some time before I feel I fully found elements that had me hooked. There are three primary storylines that drive the film; one I was always wanting more of, and the other two were so… uninteresting at times, that it really began to hamper my enjoyment of the film.
Finn – played by John Boyega – and Rose Tico – played by Kelly Marie Tran – are tasked with finding a particular person who can help them get the First Order off the resistance’s back. Simple enough plot. But I found this to be extremely tedious, the more it went on. You see, the more it went on, the more it began to feel like filler. As if the thinking was: ‘We need something for these characters to do, while the important stuff between Rey, Kylo Ren and Luke is happening, so let’s just throw all the other characters into this life-or-death scenario.’ The more it went on, the less I was interested in it, to the point that anytime it would transition back to it, I would feel myself pulling further and further away from the film and after it had concluded, it resulted in nothing. It had no effect on the end of the story and was more-or-less pointless.
And then back on the fleeing rebel ships, it feels as though the story is just spinning its wheels. With nothing being achieved and characters not revealing their plans to one another, it results in a major portion of the film feeling mishandled and unnecessary. Only what was happening with Rey, Kylo Ren and Luke ever felt impactful or with actual consequences.
It really made for a film that felt disjointed. I at times was gripped by what that was happening on-screen and only wanted more of it; or I was frustrated and slowly becoming more-and-more removed from the experience. Finn and Rose’s mission specifically felt reminiscent of something you might have seen in the prequels, and I’m sure I don’t need to explain why that’s a bad feeling to have. The portion of the plot involving, Poe Dameron – played by Oscar Isaac – offered us a chance to finally get to know Poe a little better – as his involvement in ‘The Force Awakens’ was very light. But largely, this part of the film was a serious let down for most of the time it was filling the screen – it was only in the third and fourth act that it felt like it evolved into something meaningful, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.
The only positive I can gleam from these characters being relegated to uninteresting storylines: is that, as characters, their continuing arc (specifically Finn) have somewhat satisfying payoffs. The Finn we met in ‘Episode 7’ and his actions nearer the end of this film, show a character who has grown and started to become more than he initially was (though it doesn’t get the opportunity to become all that it could have been and sort of fizzles out.) Poe Dameron goes from a cocky pilot who plays by his own rules, to a genuine leader who Leia can trust to hopefully guide the resistance to victory. From a narrative standpoint, The Last Jedi is a mess and was the primary aspect in effecting my enjoyment of the film, but the handling of the characters continues to be the best aspect of this new trilogy, and the main reason why I ultimately (and thankfully) ended up enjoying the film (for the most part).
And it is in the moments involving, Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren that this film really had my attention. When ‘Episode 7’ ended with Rey holding out the lightsaber and Luke with that grimace on his face, I knew I was excited for ‘Episode 8.’ Every second of this plot was explorative, unexpected and fulfilling. Particularly the handling of Luke, who had me fascinated, as he wasn’t anything like the person we saw in the previous films. His contempt for all that the Jedi’s stood for; his regret for his past failings with Kylo Ren, and the path he had now chosen to go down; it all went into forming Luke in an unrecognisable character who I wanted to learn as much about as possible. The film gave me that and more, and I think the story that it tells of him specifically, is heart-breaking but beautifully fulfilling. It’s also a great performance by Mark Hamill – it’s nice to see he’s still got it.
Meanwhile the ever-growing connection between Rey and Kylo Ren elevated this film into a much deeper thinking experience. Why is there a connection between them? Will one abandon their side and join the other? There were so many questions that were set up (some receiving an answer, and others being set up for later); questions that I lobbed around in my head and was excited to continue exploring. Honestly, I happily could have watched a two-hour film exploring the dynamics between Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke, and not anything from the other parts of the film. I was so invested in their stories and the greater effect it would hopefully go onto have, that everything else quickly became an afterthought for me.
When I take into consideration the first, and the second act; The Last Jedi was a film that I was struggling to fully enjoy. There were of course elements that I was eager to engage with, but still, I felt I couldn’t escape storylines that I simply did not enjoy or care about, despite how it would later affect some characters that I did cared about. Had the storylines been significantly cut down, or even been completely removed from the film, I think it would have really aided the overall pace and structure of The Last Jedi – a film that at times feels burdened by far too much – including some truly horrendous attempts at comedy and some really wonky dialogue that would undercut the intensity of a moment and hinder the emotional punch it seemed to be aiming for.
Also, the editing in general, felt really off at times; cutting during really powerful moments, to scenes that felt like they were barging their way in and making sure you were still aware that they existed – despite them not being worth it. There was one moment nearer the end between Rey and Kylo Ren that stood out to me in particular; it was a moment that was building up to something narratively huge and then for some reason it cut away to something that wasn’t important in any way, and then cut back to the powerful moment, but because of that cut, the impact had been robbed from the scene. This wasn’t a constant issue, but anytime it happened, it was distractingly – and a little frustratingly – obvious. It was yet another issue that added to the cluttered, messy feeling of film.
So I’m thankful for the films third and even fourth act, which take on the haphazardly handled first two acts and do a good job of redeeming the film. Everything that had happened before was now pulled in a direction that I found to be much more interesting and satisfying to be a part of. Finn and Rose’s storyline evolves into one that was much more exciting, even though it results in nothing of consequence – and it even put Finn up against Captain Phasma again, which was… fun to watch… I guess. Leia finally re-enters the fray after a truly baffling exit from the film; I’m still trying to wrap my head around the thinking behind that one. But it is the face-to-face confrontation between Rey, Kylo Ren and Snoke that might be my favourite part of the whole film.
Rey and Kylo are built up so well and the payoff that we get when they come face-to-face (back-to-back) is utterly satisfying. It was the only moment of the whole film when I felt truly tense as to the outcome of the fight. I feared for Rey, but I also found myself fearful of what would happen to Kylo Ren, who might be my favourite character in the new trilogy – there is just so much interesting depth to him and this film does a good job of mining it. I also love the intensity that Adam Driver brings to the role; his physicality within a scene and the way he approaches his dialogue, really makes the character into more than what it is. He’s an actor who I never tier of seeing on-screen.
We also get a much more sinister and scary Snoke this time around, which was of course fun. You can feel his unmatched power emanating from the screen and I actually felt him to be a truly dangerous threat. The fight that ensues and the physical and mental wounds it has on all the characters, not only delivered the most incredible moment of the whole film (for me) but it put the characters in a dilemma that took the whole film in an unexpected and exciting new direction.
I could have happily had this be where the film wrapped up and been satisfied with how it had paid-off much of what it was laying out, but the film then kicks into a fourth and final act, which was both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s action packed and visually stunning, and sees all our heroes working together to overcome the still dominant threat of the First Order. But it also extends the films running-time far beyond what felt acceptable. It really does feel like the film has 2 or 3 different endings which I found to be a real momentum killer. It is another example of the film doing too much and constantly feeling the need to pile more on top of that ‘too much.’
As an overall experience, The Last Jedi was a challenging one. I absolutely loved elements of this film and they will stick in my mind as some of my favourite Star Wars moments, but there was also a lot of baggage to this film that hampered the pace, some of the characters and my care and investment for much of the earlier half of the film.
But… (and that’s a significant but) the most interesting thing about The Last Jedi is that it makes some storytelling decisions that I think causes it to step outside of what people know and believe to be quintessential Star Wars, and puts this current trilogy on a very different path from the original one – something I think none of us expected after The Force Awakens; a film that very much plays it by the rules.
The revelations concerning Rey and the decisions about the paths that both her and Kylo Ren go down are massively affecting to the past and future of the trilogy. The way in which Jedi’s are spoken about and treated in the film, very much steps away from the idea that they are infallible deity’s. In fact, the film as a whole seemed to pivot away from what was expected and made the effort to not just rehash the same story-beats that we’ve seen before; good vs evil, etc, etc. Decisions that occur in this film, will be ones that undoubtedly divide fans, but for me, it was what made this film standout and see it set itself a part in my head from what Star Wars is.
Fans complained that The Force Awakens was too similar to A New Hope and that it didn’t do anything new or daring. It seems Rian Johnson and Disney heard those complaints and have made sure to step outside the comfort zone of Star Wars and what we all expect to be a predictably comfortable adventure. That excited me – that interested me.
I personally feel that if Star Wars, as a franchise, is to continue to grow and evolve, it has to take off the training wheels and begin to explore the vast galaxy and the pre-conceptions about it, in a more daring way (just look at what they did in ‘Rogue One’ and how different that film felt); one that doesn’t always see the expected outcome be the case; where there isn’t an almost incestuous connection between all the main characters and their destiny’s – the revelation of Rey’s parentage being a perfect example.
Looking back at this film as a whole, it was an internally dividing experience for sure. From a basic story structure and the pacing, there was much in this film that I didn’t enjoy. But from a grander perspective, The Last Jedi handles nearly all of its characters in ways that for the most part, I found fulfilling. It also pushes the franchise in a new and very different direction (hopefully). One that I think will stop it from becoming a repetitive galaxy where the status-quo is forever the norm – perhaps this won’t be another MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).
But worryingly, the way in which this film wraps up, doesn’t really offer much for the next film in the trilogy to explore, or to be more precise… not much that I’m that eager to see more of. Other than the conflict between Rey and Kylo Ren, there isn’t much else that really warrants another film. I assume they’ll end up rehashing a lot of the same tropes that occur in nearly every other Star Wars film; increasingly bigger and more devastating lazer weapons, trying to defeat an evil force that wants to rule the galaxy, or achieving peace, etc, etc. I enjoyed The Last Jedi, but it didn’t really set-up much that has me excited for the future of the trilogy – but I guess only time will tell.
You were going to see it anyway (or already have) so this part doesn’t really matter, but I suppose I’d recommend, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. More than any other Star Wars film (minus the prequels which obviously don’t count) this is the one that I think will divide fans the most and will be argued over for some time to come. So make sure you’re a part of the conversation and go see what makes this such a different Star Wars experience. Honestly, I’m just sad that I don’t love this film; I want too, but I don’t, which as a lover of the franchise…hurts.
As you can imagine, I’d love to know your opinions on this latest Star Wars film, so please leave any thoughts you have, in the comments section down below. If you’re interested, you can follow both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as that way you’ll know when I post a new review. But bringing my ramblings to an end, I’ll say thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you have a great day.