Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back? Maury? The lie detector determined that was a lie. Crowd gets into a tizzy.
Now mind you The Last Jedi is not The Phantom Menace abysmal but neither is it Empire or Rogue One excellent. The latest entry, which features the Resistance trying to escape the First Order in space and Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeking the knowledge of the legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), is a solid movie with some great things and some not so great things. With a Dreadnought-sized SPOILER WARNING here is my review in four lightsaber slices:
Slice 1: The Light and the Dark
After the end of The Force Awakens I was most excited to see Hamill’s Luke and while his performance was great I was bit let down by his story arc. Hamill gives us a broken, world weary, guilt-ridden man who came to the planet Ahch-To to die. This is a long way from the starry-eyed farm boy from A New Hope. Old Luke is brooding, intense and at times genuinely witty. The scene where Rey is trying to connect with the Force and he teases her with a leaf was hilarious, and a throwback to when the character was more fun-loving. I was disappointed that he did little to no actual training of Rey and the Force vision twist was clever but still a let down. After all this waiting and it is not the REAL Luke who confronts Kylo and the First Order? Sometimes you need to just give the fans what they want. His reunion with Leia and his death scene, which featured a call back to the scene of him looking at the twin suns of Tatooine, were touching though. But milking and drinking from those alien cow things though? Eww!
I was glad the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia got more to do compared to The Force Awakens but that flying in space with the Force scene looked like something out of Power Rangers. Sheesh! We had never seen her use the Force other than to sense and/or communicate with Luke and Kylo, and then suddenly she uses it in a way we have never seen? And then when the Resistance is faced with some gigantic rocks on Crait she does not step up to the plate? It just does not make any sense. In terms of the other main characters Finn was his usual fun self, I liked the perky, grounded Rose, Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron felt a bit wasted other than the cool opening scene and the comedic “I’ll hold” scene, and I am bit ambivalent about Benicio del Toro’s stuttering codebreaker DJ.
Moving on, and moving from light to dark, is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. He was just mesmerising and, along with Hamill, one of the strongest performances ever in the franchise. When he was being scolded by Snoke and says “I’ve given everything to you” you felt that pathos in your soul. And him smashing his helmet to bits was much better than his lightsaber-hissy fit in The Force Awakens. I loved his interplay with Ridley’s Rey and the intense moments. Just brilliant. Ridley was at her best with Driver but some of her interactions and dialogue with Hamill felt a bit stiff.
Returning to the bad guys Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux was a good comic foil, Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke was sleazy and intimidating but undeveloped, and Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma was wasted AGAIN. I really don’t know why they keep hyping up her character and then doing little to nothing with her.
Slice 2: The War in Star Wars
The franchise is called Star Wars so we need to get some action for our credits. The opening battle scene was some epic fun and really showed off Poe as the ace pilot he is always described as. I have seen people complain about the bombers being too slow and some questionable physics during the battle, but this a space opera not hard sci-fi so I can let it slide. BB-8 with the walker was cool but that scene could have used more human blaster play. Kylo and Rey versus Snoke’s guards was some sweet, sweet action as well. And Holdo beautifully light speeding her cruiser through that star destroyer – though why she did not do that when the ships were being picked off one by one is beyond me – was just plain breathtaking. And that’s about it.
Barely any Luke action. No saber vs saber action. Snoke, the super Force master, got taken out like a punk. The Canto Bight escape looked ridiculous. The battle on Crait had some cool effects but the Battle of Hoth, which it was an obvious homage too, it could not hold a candle to. The Millennium Falcon action at the end was decent enough but nothing we had not seen in the previous movie. I thought the desperation of the Resistance and their slow destruction was interesting but in terms of big blow-out battle scenes I did not get my money’s worth. Nosiree Bob.
Slice 3: Where the Force Was Not So Strong
My biggest issue with The Last Jedi is the pacing and the story structure. I felt something while watching this franchise entry I had not felt since The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones – bored. For all of the criticisms of The Force Awakens at least the action and the story kept flowing. The middle of The Last Jedi just sags like that alien cow’s milk-filled boobs. About half of Rey’s time on Ahch-To just drags and the hit or miss comedy of the sickeningly cute porgs and fish-like caretakers did not help matters much. And the mutiny with Poe and company seemed to be stuck in just to give these characters something to do. If they would have simply told Finn and the others the plan all of that clashing would have been avoided.
The major offender, however, is freaking Canto Bight, one of the least interesting planets ever visited in all of Star Wars. And why is that? It is because Canto Bight is not an alien casino planet it is a casino planet with aliens, complete with slot machines and popping bottles of champagne. Other than the creatures that inhabited the casino it felt like any fancy place in Las Vegas. Could we not have had a bit more creativity here people? I understand the whole theme of the rich profiting from war and sparking rebellion in the young, but that could have been done on a more interesting planet and with a more interesting subplot than running from the police for parking on the beach. Geez!
Slice 4: Let the Past Die
In the film Kylo tells Rey to let the past die and that also seems to be message from writer/director Rian Johnson to the audience, but it is confusing one. Yes Luke died but the Jedi is continuing. The film attempts new things but makes frequent visual callbacks to A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. We have the First Order versus the Resistance but it is the Empire versus the Rebellion all over again, just with new clothes and updated tech. The Last Jedi does not soak in the nostalgia pool like The Force Awakens but it is nowhere near as groundbreaking as Rogue One.
And it seems like Johnson looked at all the fan theories/desires and decided to crap on them all, for better or worse. You want a secret Snoke back story? I’m gonna kill him without explaining one thing. You want to know about Rey’s parents? They are nobodies. You want to see Luke kick some backside? Fuhgedabout it! I will say I enjoyed the movie more the second time I watched it because I had overcome all the disappointment and preconceived notions. And while I was able to better appreciate its merits the flaws were still there, staring at me like weird, muppet-looking Yoda Force ghost. I think if Johnson had more time to develop the story he may have produced a stronger film that would actually be the best Star Wars since Empire; that is currently Rogue One in case you are wondering. Maybe after Episode XI, which I cannot say I am very excited for, Disney will rethink this new episode every two years format. We are Star Wars fans. Give us quality over quantity.
Rating: The Last Jedi gets 3.5/5 beastly cold bottles of alien cow milk. Refreshing!
For my ranking of the Top 8 Star Wars films you can click here.