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 whilst waiting for your tickets? My expectations were lifted higher than ever.
Later, as the blue text disappeared, my hands gripped the seat. I saw in my peripherals the tentative bite of an eleven pence reduced yule log (looks good, Calum) – the air stood still as a collective held their breath before the all-too-familiar cacophony blared throughout the theatre. It is always breathtaking.
After the film ended, our group reconvened, and before a verdict was even uttered, we were all agreed: this needs a second viewing.
I rewatched The Last Jedi five days later, taking a few nights (and train journies) to process my response. I soon became aware of a growing negative backlash, and pondered if this was the general consensus or just a noisy minority?
For now, I recommend seeing The Last Jedi: one because this review delves into spoiler territory (don’t worry; it’s signposted), and secondly, I whole-heartedly recommend The Last Jedi as a great film… with some undeniable shortcomings.
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 is sent on a side-quest about animal cruelty. In short, what is going on?
This was my initial response. A lot happens in the lengthy two-and-a-half-hour runtime, which only covers a couple days. This succeeds in pushing the tension to its limits; the rebels constantly fight on the back-foot. However, the insane volume of content draws attention to more tedious, dragging scenes, and makes the film feel messily executed in places.
Finn doesn’t seem necessary throughout, acting as a more comedic outlet. However, Poe is given space for some great character development, and the relationship between Rey, Kylo, and Luke is 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” – their developed characters that tie in excellently with the movie’s main message.
There’s an 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, say, Luke’s island (more on that later). Despite this, The Last Jedi includes beautiful space battles, detailed set worlds, and – I’ll admit it – one of my favourite Star Wars moments of all time. Don’t worry, you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to.
Finally: the message. The Last Jedi deals with legacy and destiny – where is everyone’s place in the narrative? Can people choose other people’s fate? The times of Jedi Masters, grand destinies, and prophecies on Chosen Ones are over. The Last Jedi is about creating your own story.
Go into the film remembering that you’ve paid to enjoy it. Don’t compare The Last Jedi to other Star Wars films, because the film takes some applaudable risks that I believe shows 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! COME BACK AFTER WATCHING!
You’re probably asking why I’m also talking spoilers. I think that there are some polarising moments that need to be addressed to accurately explain my approval of The Last Jedi.
Firstly, let’s talk about those awkward plot holes and cringe-worthy moments. Leia floating in space? Nonsensical airlocks? The First Order buying their way to success (the thief, lightspeed tracking and battering ram cannons (worst name ever))? These needed ironing out, especially the comedy. I chuckled at places, but it undermined many a scene.
I’ve heard the statement “it doesn’t feel like Star Wars” a lot. This can definitely be applied to the casino. The ham-handed slavery message coupled with the Las Vegas parallel felt too familiar with reality. This misuse of Rose and Finn, unfortunately, lead to that appalling kiss.
If only they had the guts to kill Finn. Ask yourself: did Finn do anything to drive the plot? Why not set up a plot-line where there’s a mystery traitor feeding 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 him and Rose.
Now for a perhaps controversial comment: Snoke’s death is one of the most significant moments in Star Wars history.
Let me explain: I was, like most, was keen to learn more about Snoke. What’s his deal? Why the scars? How is he so powerful? But the decision was made to “slice” Snoke out the picture. Why is this so significant? Well firstly, it leads into that amazing tooth-and-nail brawl, but remember the message about destiny. We learn that Rey’s parents were nobodies. Unlike Anakin Skywalker, Rey isn’t destined for greatness. This 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 evil. But what’s his place in the narrative? Is he not just another Emperor? A mountain for the good guys to overcome so that they bring peace to the galaxy? The time of all light (Jedi) and all dark (Sith) is gone. As the force tells us, there must be balance (Luke’s lesson being another beautifully poetic use of cinematography).
Snoke is too malevolent to survive. Other characters stand out because of 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 parent reveal wasn’t the big payoff we expected, but isn’t it more relatable and original than having some coincidental destiny? (And by “relatable” I don’t mean that my parents are filthy junk traders love you both xoxoxoxox)
A quick couple of mentions. Yoda: what an addition. I loved that he wasn’t CGI’d, and kept the craziness from the orig-trig. Mark Hamill plays Luke superbly, transcending the stereotypical old, angry teacher into the well-known character we love. Leia’s original hologram was a lovely touch, although I’m torn with the multiple additions of new ‘critters’. I know it’s probably to boost toy sales, although I’d be lying if I didn’t want a cuddle with a crystal fox.
On my first viewing, The Last Jedi felt overwhelming; the plethora of information and firefights had my heart in my throat. It came off as chaotic – a film that didn’t know what it wanted to be. A second viewing allowed me to concentrate on moments I missed and pick up on some subtleties. But what I also found was that I was anticipating great moments more than silently cringing whilst waiting for the bad ones. Is it better than The Force Awakens? Probably not. Does it deserve the backlash it’s getting? Again, not so.
The Last Jedi parallel its first scene – the bombers try and drop their heavy payload, yet are weakened and taken down until one tiny bomber is left. The payload is dropped; the Dreadnaut is destroyed; the rebels claim victory. The Last Jedi did what it set out to do, and held some really memorable moments, but I cannot help considering what is sacrificed to get there. Will this affect the lead up to the next film? Has Star Wars lost its touch? Or are we just watching the steady dawn of a more updated franchise?