Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI


For the last three decades of my life, Star Wars has been an integral part of who I am.  I remember watching the Original Trilogy on VHS with my father and being in awe of how amazing and fantastical those films were.  They were some of the very movies that made me fall in love with the sci-fi/fantasy genre and film as a whole.  So, of course, when a new film in the franchise hits the big screen, I will absolutely be there to experience it.  I did it with all the prequels, and I’ve done it with all the new films.  Which brings me to the topic at hand -- The Last Jedi. 

When I walked into the theater, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to get.  There have been so many fan theories and predictions floating around, but none of the marketing gave any real sense of the plot.  And that is something I absolutely loved about this experience.  I knew nearly nothing going in, so pretty much everything I saw, all the big moments, were surprising.  The director, Rian Johnson, took this franchise to a place that no one could’ve seen coming.  There were throw-backs to the Original Trilogy (which I loved seeing), and plenty of new story to push this franchise far into the future.  Some of the new stuff hasn’t quite been accepted by several fans, as shown by the intense divisiveness of this film.

This is a film about failure, something I will talk about a lot throughout this review.  Luke’s failure to stop Ben from turning, Poe’s failure to be the leader he so desperately wants to be, Finn’s failure to be the hero that everyone thinks he is, Kylo’s failure to give himself over completely to the Darkside, and Rey’s failure to bring Kylo Ren back to the side of the Light.  Failure is all over this movie, and some people may not like hearing that about a Star Wars film, but it’s not exactly a bad thing.  Life is made up of wins and losses, successes and failures.  Without the failures, it’s hard to truly appreciate the successes.  For instance, without the prequels (which many fans consider the worst of the franchise), I don’t think people would have loved these new ones nearly as much, because all there would be to compare to would be the OT.

These thematic failures are what's going to drive Episode IX into new territory, exploring things that have never been touched on in this series.  This may scare some people, this may anger some, but for those like myself, it’s one of the things to look forward to the most.  Any great series that wishes to last past a trilogy really needs to evolve, it needs to cover new ground and step away from the familiar.  This is the only way it will continue to grow and feel fresh for all the new and existing audience members.  And it is this new ground that has really gotten me pumped for what’s to come next.

Now, let’s talk about the actual film.  The Last Jedi is, at its core, three stories woven together like a Force-bound tapestry, all very different from one another, yet all converging in the end.  We’ve got the Luke/Rey/Kylo story, the Finn and Rose story, and the Poe/Holdo/Leia story.  I’ll start with the Poe/Holdo/Leia story.  Here we get to see Poe in action right from the beginning.  He really is a fantastic pilot, and that opening sequence makes me wonder if Poe is actually Force-sensitive, as some of those maneuvers were insane.  I think this ability has fostered a bit of overconfidence in him, which leads to his confrontations with both General Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo.  It’s obvious that Poe believes he should have a larger leadership role, yet everything he does is far too reckless.  He doesn’t quite understand the consequences of his actions, which is why both Leia and Holdo are so tough on him.  They see his potential, but also recognize that unless they rein him in a bit, he’ll never be the leader that he wants to be and that they know he can be.  

This leads directly into the Finn/Rose story.  Of everything, this is probably the weakest portion of the film, and even though I enjoyed their story, it was fairly inconsequential to the film as a whole.  Finn wakes up just to run off to find Rey, and in this attempt to leave, meets Rose.  They then devise a plan to save the fleet from the inevitable destruction by the First Order.  This plan takes them to Canto Bight, a casino city on the planet Cantonica.  Here they are supposed to find the master codebreaker.  Instead, they wind up in jail, meet a different codebreaker named DJ, played by the very talented Benicio del Toro, and continue on their mission.  However, it all falls apart when they are caught by Captain Phasma.

This entire endeavor, while interesting to watch, really added nothing of real consequence to the overall story.  The only thing it really did was add to the overarching theme of failure in the film.  It showed how running head strong into something can be extremely detrimental, and almost cost both Finn and Rose their lives.  One thing, though, that I did really like from this storyline was that we finally got to see Finn and Phasma square off.


The other main story in The Last Jedi is the true centerpiece of the film – the Luke/Rey/Kylo story.  This is by far the best part of the entire film.  We pick up where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey first meeting Luke, however, it doesn’t go quite how she envisioned.  Luke is not the Luke that we all remember from the end of Return of the Jedi.  This is a worn down, weary Luke, a Luke that has been through something terrible, and doesn’t know how to properly deal with it.  We learn that he could sense the Darkside growing within Ben Solo, and it frightened him so much that he almost murdered him.  But just as he was realizing the error of his ways, Ben awoke to see him standing over him with a lit lightsaber, and so Ben reacted.  This led to Ben turning from the light and destroying the Jedi Temple, and creating the Knights of Ren with a handful of Luke’s other students.  This was a fascinating route to take for these two characters.  It really blurred the lines between good and evil, light and dark, for the two of them, showing that not everyone is perfect, especially the Skywalker men, all of whom have had darkness in their hearts.  This adds to the theme of failure that I mentioned earlier, as Luke failed to help guide his nephew away from the clutches of Snoke.

We also saw an interesting dynamic between Rey and Kylo, due to a Force link connecting the two.  This helped to build their relationship, and led to one of my favorite scenes in the whole film – the fight in Snoke’s chambers.  After this scene we once again see why failure is the running theme, as Rey failed to bring Kylo back from the Darkside.

But failure isn’t the only theme here.  We also see several instances of sacrifice throughout, with one of the most memorable being Holdo taking out Snoke’s ship.  This scene is one of the most powerful scenes in the film as she jumps to hyperdrive, ripping right through Snoke’s ship, in complete silence.  It’s a beautiful scene to watch.  We also see Rose’s sister sacrifice herself to help destroy a Dreadnought ship, Finn's attempt to sacrifice himself to take out the battering ram laser, and Luke’s sacrifice for the survival of the Rebellion. In a series where hope is such a powerful motivator, I think it may be difficult for some people to accept failure and sacrifice as the two main themes of a Star Wars movie.

Now, not everything in this film was up to the level I expected.  There are specifically three things that didn’t sit entirely well with me.  The first was the scene where Luke milks a random creature (known as a Thala-siren) on the island.  It was very awkward, disturbing, and took me out of the film.  It’s the one thing I really wish had been completely left out.  The next thing is the lack of character development for Vice Admiral Holdo.  Apparently, her character is fleshed out more in the books, but here she was lacking.  And the last one is the infamous Space Leia scene.  I didn’t dislike this scene completely, but it did seem like a very strange choice to me.  There are many other ways this scene could have been achieved, and possibly even been far more dramatic at the same time.

All in all, this was one of my favorite films in the Star Wars saga, and is one I will revisit over and over.  Hopefully, J.J. Abrams doesn’t backtrack on what Rian Johnson did here, and instead builds upon this to form an new generation of Star Wars for all to love.

The Merc's Score: 9/10


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