Finding a Balance Between Mess and Magnificence
It started when I got into a one-on-one fight with Darth Maul. Let’s be honest: who would turn down a free VR lightsaber duel while you wait for your tickets? My excitement and expectations to what was about to unfold were higher than ever.
As a Star Wars fan from an early age, the beginning never fails to take my breath away. The blue text disappears; my hands gripped the seat; the air stands still as a collective holds its breath before the all-too-familiar cacophony blares. Perfection.
Afterward, my group reconvened, and before anyone could utter a verdict, we all agreed that we needed a second viewing. Partly to experience the adventure again, but mostly to wrap our heads around what on earth just happened.
I’ve taken a few nights and train journies to process my response, and I’ve become aware of a growing negative backlash. Is this the general consensus or just a noisy minority? I recommend watching The Last Jedi because firstly, this review delves into spoiler territory halfway through (I’ve signposted when), and secondly, I whole-heartedly recommend The Last Jedi.
PLOT: The First Order chase the remnants of the rebellion across the galaxy; Rey stumbles onto the set of The Island with
Bear Grylls Luke; Kylo Ren lets the past die; Finn goes on a side-quest to stop animal cruelty. A lot can happen in two-and-a-half-hours.
Set over the course of a couple of days, The Last Jedi is unrelenting from start to end. While somewhat overwhelming, it succeeds in pushing the tension to its limits, as the rebels constantly fight on the back-foot. However, the wild volume of content draws attention to more tedious scenes that make the film feel somewhat messily executed.
Despite Finn’s character arc holding a back seat, Poe’s excellent character development and the relationships between Rey, Kylo, and Luke are handled superbly. It’s also worth noting that Rian Johnson does an incredible job of making ‘the expendables’ matter. The rebels aren’t just ‘lackeys': they are people.
Their relevance ties in with, what I feel, is the overarching message. The Last Jedi revolves around legacy and destiny – where is everyone’s place in the narrative? Can you judge another person’s fate? The times of Jedi Masters, grand destinies, and prophecies of ‘Chosen Ones’ are over. The Last Jedi is about creating your own story, something that I found very commendable.
One concern that remained with me was the odd mix of CGI and physical special effects. Snoke looks like an amateur attempt at recreating The Goonies‘ Sloth, jarring with the puppetry seen on Luke’s island (more on that later). Despite this, The Last Jedi showcases some glorious space battles, detailed set worlds, and – I’ll admit it - one of my favourite Star Wars moments of all time. You’ll know it when you see it.
In conclusion, I see no gain in comparing The Last Jedi to other Star Wars films because it exercises some applaudable risks that show the franchise taking a strong, somewhat clumsy step towards a fresh, exciting conclusion to the new trilogy.
This isn't going to go the way you think - Luke Skywalker
OKAY – IT’S SPOILER TIME!
One major issue that dragged down The Last Jedi was the plot-holes and breaks in logic. Leia can float in space? Are air-locks non-existent? Why is every problem the rebels face due to ‘The First Order’ buying another cool new gadget (Seriously? A battering-ram cannon?). The film lacked attention to detail which could have been resolved with some simple exposition.
I’ve heard the statement “it doesn’t feel like Star Wars” a lot in the past few weeks, and I agree wholeheartedly. The comedy is one factor; I chuckled in places, but it killed the emotional impact in many a scene. The casino scenes were also out-of-character. The ham-handed slavery message and bourgeoisie critique coupled with a ‘Las Vegas’ world felt too familiar with reality. This was a misuse of Rose and Finn’s story arc and, unfortunately, lead to that appalling kiss.
If only they had the guts to kill Finn, a character who did nothing to influence or forward the plot. Why not set up a plot-line where there’s a mystery traitor feeding location information back to the First Order? No casino; no awful exposition for lightspeed tracking; a better send-off for Phasma; and maybe, just maybe, sparks could have flown between the two lovebirds.
But now let’s move away from criticisms, to something more controversial: ISnoke’s death is one of the most significant moments in Star Wars history.
I was, like most, was keen to learn more about Snoke. What’s his goal? Why the scars? How is he so powerful? But the decision was made to slice Snoke out the picture, and that’s vital. Firstly, it leads to a fantastic tooth-and-nail brawl, but more importantly, we learn that Rey’s parents were nobodies. Unlike Anakin Skywalker, Rey isn’t destined for greatness. The lack of purpose is at odds with Kylo, who is destined for evil, or so Luke narrowly thought.
Snoke was just ‘the big bad’. He’s fiercely overpowered and paralyzingly corrupt. But what’s his place in the narrative? Is he not just another Emperor – a mountain for the good guys to overcome and bring peace to the galaxy? The time for total benevolence and malevolence is gone. As the force tells us, there must be balance (Luke’s lesson being a beautifully poetic use of cinematography).
Snoke is too evil. Characters are defined by their struggles: Poe with leadership; Rey and Kylo with their pasts; Luke with his guilt. Their wants and needs are clear and concise. I know Rey’s parents reveal wasn’t a big payoff, but it’s more relatable and original than having some coincidental destiny. (And by “relatable” I don’t mean that your parents are filthy junk traders).
A few other quips. Johnson’s portrayal of Yoda was perfection, making sound choices from the puppetry to his demented character. Mark Hamill plays Luke superbly, transcending the stereotypical old, angry teacher to the Luke the fans know one last time. Leia’s original hologram was a lovely touch, although I’m torn by the addition of new ‘critters’. I know it’s probably to boost toy sales, although I’d be lying by saying I don’t want to cuddle a crystal fox.
My first viewing of The Last Jedi was overwhelming; the plethora of information and firefights had my heart in my throat, yet it came off as chaotic – a film that didn’t know what it wanted to be. But on a second viewing, I found I was eagerly anticipating great moments more than mentally preparing for bad ones. Is the film better than The Force Awakens? Probably not. Does it deserve the backlash? Again, not so.
The Last Jedi did what it set out to do, and accommodated some memorable moments, but it would be foolish not to consider what was sacrificed for originality. Will this affect the final installment? Has Star Wars lost its touch? Or is this the dawn of a refreshingly new franchise?