The Last Jedi (TLJ), directed by Rian Johnson, is the second part of the rebooted Star Wars trilogy by Disney. I say rebooted because, I don’t care what Kathleen Kennedy & Disney say, the dozens of novels written in the time between Return of the Jedi hitting theaters and George Lucas (thankfully) deciding to cash out and sell to Disney are still canon. They’re one timeline, Disney’s trilogy are another. J.J. Abrams, despite my initial (and incorrect) misgivings, did a masterful job rebooting Star Trek and likewise, Star Wars. I’m personally encouraged by his return to direct the upcoming Episode 9 due out in 2019 and frankly my hopes for the 2018 Star Wars offering, Solo: A Star Wars Story are not all that high.
When Oil Can asked me my initial opinion of The Last Jedi, fellow Spartan cementer kpguruguy advised, “Don’t ask Rogue. It would be like asking Strzok if Hillary is a good candidate.” And I will admit, that’s a fair criticism. That said, I can give you my review and critiques.
Initial, spoiler free review: Good film, worth the cost of a ticket and even the extra for 3D. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being don’t even bother pirating & 5 being see it twice in 3D IMAX, I give it a 4…..ok, 3.5. Emotional ups & downs. Tension, surprises and poignant moments. TLJ begins immediately after The Force Awakens and it fits in well with what Disney seems to have planned for the Star Wars universe. Does it have its problems? Oh yes it does. I will detail these below but to do so….
Needless to say, this post will contain spoilers galore so if you don’t want any, DON’T READ ANY FURTHER!
Seriously, I’m warning you.
If you’re still here, I’m dead serious that this is your last chance, Spartans.
Alright, and remember….YOU ASKED FOR IT!
Just as The Force Awakens is (fairly) called a clone of A New Hope, TLJ shares many similarities with The Empire Strikes Back. Bad guys ascendant, good guys getting their asses handed to them. A ground assault between awesome Imperial Walkers and Rebels valiantly defending themselves with ramshackle and totally outmatched speeders. The hero being trained by a reluctant hermit, then rushing off in a headstrong attempt to do what they think is right, a cameo from an old friend conferring with the hermit afterwards. A side trip to an un-aligned planet to find aid. Revelation, plot twists, betrayal and loss, with the good guys only barely escaping to regroup and living to fight another day.
The First Order: The First Order is a joke. Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’re powerful as hell, almost to the point of absurdity. Clearly compensating for something, and definitely believers in the “Bigger is better” school of tactics. But more the point of this critique. You didn’t laugh at Grand Moff Tarkin. You didn’t laugh at General Veers. They were intimidating. Admiral Piett and Moff Jerjerrod may not exactly be intimidating but they weren’t comedy relief either. The First Order’s General Hux on the other hand, he’s only a step above Colonel Klink. During the first interaction between the First Order and the Resistance, Hux delivers the obligatory surrender message and in response, gets a prank phone call from Resistance pilot Poe Dameron. To be fair, this was done also in The Force Awakens when Dameron encountered Kylo Ren but not to this extreme, that was just a one liner. This goes on for several minutes with Hux becoming more and more spittle flinging and Dameron trolling him, stalling for time.
Hux gets physically tossed around like a rag doll by both Supreme Leader Snoke and later by Kylo Ren. I was able to ignore something in TFA, but it was more obvious here. Hux is the nerd who got too many wedgies now in command of an awesome military force. Think Mark Zuckerberg in charge of the Wehrmacht. And he’s the most competent in the bunch!
Darth Emo…I mean Kylo Ren: For those of you who hated Darth Emo, you get to watch him be all emo again after he gets a dressing down from Snoke who we finally see in person. Maybe it’s reverse psychology, but Senator/Emperor Palpatine would never dress Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader down like this. There is some clarity added as to why he is the way he is, but he’s still an emo kid lashing out at anything and everything. Now, I will say, despite being listed in the “bad” category, the character is still one of the high points of the film. Why? Because he achieves his goal, he surpasses Darth Vader. Vader turned back to the light, rejecting the Dark side, he kills his master because of love for his son. Ren on the other hand has killed family and now he too kills his master, but he does it the Sith way. You take over by killing the last guy. Oh, and yes, you get to see him shirtless.
Supreme Leader Snoke: Rather than the intimidating holo giant, he’s an old, disfigured man in a golden bathrobe. As I mentioned in the last part, he’s not long for the world. Frankly, when Kylo kills Snoke, it’s one of the best parts of the film. Now, a lot, and I mean a LOT of fan criticism of TLJ comes from the fact that Snoke has been cloaked in mystery, hinted at being more powerful than even Palpatine and he dies after only a few minutes of screen time. Newsflash my fellow geeks: That’s not unprecedented in Star Wars. I remind you of Count Dooku. Guy goes toe to toe with Master Yoda and dies like 10 minutes into the next film at the hand of the Lord of Sand haters. Well, that’s the prequels! Ok, fair point. I point to Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and Smaug. I am fire…I am DEATH! I’m dead before the next film’s opening credits roll. Moving on.
Captain Phasma: Totally wasted character. She was wasted in Force Awakens, she was even more wasted here. But at least Finn gets to call her Chrome Dome. The one good point, she dies so they can’t waste her in the next one.
The Resistance: The Resistance is a sad successor to the Rebellion. It’s understandable why if you read the novels bridging the time period from The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, but it’s not clear in the films. What is clear is despite having fire in the belly, the Resistance is lacking in equipment and competent leadership.
Poe Dameron: Let me say first, my favorite Star Wars character of all time is Rebel X-wing Pilot Wedge Antilles. He of the “look at the size of that thing” fame. He’s a minor supporting character who also has the distinction of being in all three original films, and being the only pilot to survive two Death Star runs & the Battle of Hoth. His career in the novels is just as epic. Suffice to say, Antilles is the greatest Non-Jedi Starpilot in the Universe. I initially thought I’d like Poe Dameron as he is obviously slated to take on the role left vacant by Han Solo’s death of ego maniac, wise cracking, hot-shot pilot. This film took away a lot of my respect for Dameron. To steal from another film. His ego writes, not one, but two checks that the Resistance can’t cash, and it costs them dearly.
Leia Organa: If this wasn’t Carrie Fisher’s last appearance, Leia’s performance would be mediocre at best. But knowing that Fisher died after filming, knowing that when Disney planned out the new trilogy, the first one was supposed to focus on Harrison Ford/Han Solo, the second on Mark Hamill/Luke Skywalker and the last was supposed to focus on Fisher/Leia Organa. This adds a lot of poignancy to the character. Don’t get me wrong, whoever wrote the screenplay must have been watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 when they did so because apparently they wanted their own, “I’m Mary Poppins Y’all!” moment. *groan* On par with the Vader, “NOOOOOOO” at the end of Revenge of the Sith. And they can’t even blame Lucas’ writing. Still, seeing Leia and Luke’s reunion as well as her final lines with Rey at the end, well, it got a bit dusty in the theater.
Vice Admiral Holdo: Why? Why the purple hair? Seriously, why create an ultimately disposable character, (she sacrifices herself to save the Resistance survivors) when you’ve already got legacy Rebel heroes who need a warrior’s death (Big Rogue criticism here, they kill off Ackbar like a bitch, guy’s a hero and you don’t even realize he’s dead till someone mentions it in passing. He deserved way better.) Is it because a legacy hero would have been smart enough to…tell everyone the plan? Hell, at least you could blame a guy for not stopping for gas first! Why is this important? Because the majority of the film is spent with the Resistance ships being fast enough to stay out of effective weapon range of the First Order Fleet but not able to get clear and forced to suffer pot shots while running…out…of…gas. *groan*
Back to Holdo. The plan. As ridiculous a plan as it is, at least it had a chance of success considering the limited options the Resistance has. But nope, woman has to have her secrets and that causes Dameron to grab his ego check book and send Finn and Rose Tico (I’ll get to her) off on an ultimately futile mission that actually makes things worse for the Resistance.
Rose Tico: Another why?! I know…token Asian. She gets to deliver the obligatory leftist shot in the film, but frankly I didn’t find it preachy or eye-rolling. Similar to the line in Wonder Woman (the line about wanting to be an actor but being the wrong color), it’s somewhat fact based and applicable to the plot. Beyond that, take her out and the movie not only doesn’t suffer, it probably even improves. Oh, and in the definition of the modern #MeToo movement, she assaults Finn with a kiss.
DJ: Benicio Del Toro’s character is supposed to be this film’s Lando Calrissian. The hoped for salvation that ultimately leads to betrayal. Unlike Lando, who did what he had to do to survive and ultimately redeemed himself, this guy’s just an asshole. Plot hole: How did he know the plan since no one else did?
Other issues: Star Wars already had bombers, the Y-wings of A New Hope and the B-wings of Return of the Jedi. But no, now we have huge, lumbering, sitting duck bombing platforms designed to carpet bomb enemy ships. Note to the director: Carpet bombing only works when there is gravity to PULL THE BOMBS DOWN. Of course the First Order Dreadnaught has a sweet spot that’s only missing a “To Destroy, Drop Bombs HERE” bullseye. And I really, really did not need to know where Blue Milk comes from.
Finn: If you’re a fan of The Big Bang Theory, you may know of the episode when Amy watches Raiders of the Lost Ark. She points out, accurately, that Indiana Jones, despite being the star, is completely superfluous to the plot. Everything that happens in that film, would have happened eventually without his presence. The same can be said of Finn. I guess they decided they couldn’t leave him in a med pod until the end of the film so they gave him a completely superfluous purpose. Now, he does it well even though they paired him with Rose, I guess since they had to leave Poe behind to butt heads with Admiral Purple Hair. Maybe that’s a good thing, cause if they had sent Finn & Poe off on a mission, the SJW demand for a Brokeback Galaxy Bromance between the two might have been irresistible. I continue to believe they’re saving him for Rey, both because the two share a very emotional embrace towards the end of the film and he is denied a heroic death by the token Asian.
Chewbacca: Any time you get to see a Wookiee bash in a Jedi’s front door, it’s a good day. Beyond that, Chewie spends most of the film keeping himself busy and having comical interactions with the porgs…
The Porgs: Cute & hilarious. Unnecessary to the plot but providing some comic relief throughout the film. Thankfully, not to the Jar Jar level, more like the Mouse Droid of A New Hope or Ewoks of Return of the Jedi
Jedi is a Religion: It’s explicitly called as such in the film. Clearly the people who have issues with this have not looked at some recent census data. Seriously, in 2001 nearly half a million people worldwide listed their religion as “Jedi”. The Jedi Order is, honest to God, registered with the IRS as a tax exempt religious organization. But beyond that, just in the film universe, Newsflash: Ah…YEAH! Jedi TEMPLE? Jedi ORDER? They all dress like monks? Warrior monks maybe, but still, the robes weren’t a dead giveaway? They take oaths, foreswear worldly pleasures, excommunicate heretics and follow a higher, supernatural calling? What’d you think it was?
Luke Skywalker: Rey has found the savior of the Galaxy, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. Arriving to seek his guidance in the Force and to rally him to once again pick up his weapon and defend the ramparts, she hands him his old lightsaber. Accepting the saber, the retired warrior shrugs off the robe and heads to the Falcon right? Nope. He chucks it over his shoulder and storms off telling Rey to leave.
Fan Criticism here because of what the story has done to Luke Skywalker. Luke spent three films fighting & risking his life to save his father and the galaxy from evil and here he is saying forget the Force & forget the galaxy. Newsflash guys: You already accepted that premise in The Force Awakens. Luke didn’t disappear on a quest to find a secret weapon, he didn’t disappear on a secret mission to kill Snoke. His Academy failed, his greatest student became his greatest failure and he walked away. Also, he’s not exactly alone: Obi-wan Kenobi exiled himself on Tatooine after his greatest failure becomes the Big Bad Guy’s right hand man. But he was looking after Luke! Ok, well, Yoda exiled himself on Dagobah after getting his ass handed to him by Palpatine. It’s what Jedi do.
Me? I like Get-Off-My-Lawn Luke. It’s not what I had imagined Luke Skywalker doing but hey, I didn’t write TFA or TLJ. Luke is sarcastic, gruff and determined to live out his life in obscurity. Some fans don’t like the back story of the falling out of Luke & Ben Solo. Seriously, guys, quit overthinking this. He dealt with the consequences of what happens when Dark was allowed to fester. I can’t blame him for saying, “Oh hell no, not again!” for a second. In the end, he makes the same mistake Kenobi did and now the galaxy is paying the price….and off Luke goes into self-imposed exile. I found the device used to finally overcome Luke’s refusal to train Rey perfect. Now I will admit Luke’s training of Rey is even more…sparse than the training he received from Ben Kenobi but she’s a natural (and I’ll get to that). I enjoyed Luke’s conversation with the film’s cameo star. I found it amusing and perfect for the story line.
Do I like that Luke passes off the baton to Rey & joins the Force? Considering he’s been THE HERO of my entire fandom life, no. That said, if he’s got to go, they do it well. Luke departs this fight the same way he joins it, looking into the sunset of twin suns. They really need to dust these theaters more often.
Rey: I’ve heard Rey referred to as a Mary Sue, but I don’t consider her one. Her heritage, a mystery that led to hours of fan boy speculation is revealed to be nothing spectacular. Of course that leads to the complaint about her affinity to the Force. My fellow geeks, we already accepted Midichlorians & supernatural conception, however reluctantly. Then there is Rey’s fighting ability. She defeated Kylo Ren despite having never fought with a lightsaber before. Newsflash: Rey isn’t exactly a peacenik. She’s been defending herself her entire life. The girl knows how to fight with melee weapons, staff or saber, the concept is the same. Also, Ren wanted her alive to train and was wounded by Chewie’s portable mortar cannon. Honestly, I want her to fight in the third film with a double bladed lightsaber.
ReyLo: As forced as the Anakin/Padme chemistry was, (god was it ever…I’m still embarrassed by the fireplace scene in Attack of the Clones and we won’t talk about sand.) the Kylo Ren/Rey combination works. Yin to Yang. The single best part of the film, IMHO, is when Rey, convinced that there is still good in him (where have we heard that before?) rushes off headlong to try and redeem Ren. Revealed to be a trap set by Snoke, Rey is presented to Ren to kill as the final act to claim his destiny. Instead, he betrays Snoke, killing him, then fighting alongside Rey against Snoke’s Royal Guard in one of the most visually appealing and choreographed lightsaber battles in all of the films. This emotional high is snuffed out as you learn he does this, not in redemption, but in full embrace of the Dark Side and the conflict between the Avatars of Good & Bad are set in stone.
So, what’s next? The Empire Strikes Back remains the best of the Star Wars Saga. Johnson took a lot of the potential handed to him by Abrams and squandered it. With Abrams returning to the helm of the next installment of the main canon films it will be interesting to see if that potential can be salvaged. With the death of Fisher and the character deaths of Solo & Skywalker, can the trilogy ride on the shoulders of Darth Emo & Rey? We will see.
May the Force Be With You & Stay on Target.