About a year ago, I wrote a review of Rogue One where, in the title, I joked about just how many times they used the word “hope” in order to solidify a sort of theme or motivating factor for the movie, as well as a throwback (forward?) to the first (next?) Star Wars movie, A New Hope. If I were to drudge up one truly nitpicky complaint about The Last Jedi, it would be that the movie completely annihilates the “hope” count from Rogue One. I honestly don’t know if there was a scene where the word wasn’t conspicuously uttered as if it were some magical keyword that would immediately endear fans to the movie. That being said, The Last Jedi has a lot more going for it than the occasionally less-than-subtle dialogue might imply.
Starting off, I will also admit that some of the humor in the film feels out of place. Not bad, not unfunny, but just different than one might expect from a film that also brings such intensity, with what is otherwise a rather somber sequence of events. Similar to Thor: Ragnarok, there is a lot of humor, particularly in the scripting, that feels a bit too contemporary for a movie set so far outside of the sardonic irreverence of the world we live in. That being said, the movie is still funny. Not all of the humor is presented in this manner, and even when it is, it is not expressly bad, it is just set apart from what we’re used to in a Star Wars film.
When exploring themes and ideology, The Last Jedi can be a bit blunt. There are specific scenes that are clearly and specifically written into the film to provide exposition, and to tell the audience exactly how they should feel. However, in my opinion, this method fails to give the viewer much credit. Too often, these days, movies seem to be written in a way that forces every viewer to be on the same page, and this movie really is no different. I could carry on about the subject, but perhaps this isn’t quite the time, as it really doesn’t ruin the movie, because while the scenes do detract from the actual task at hand sometimes, they still bring value to the film in other ways, and ultimately, there is a payoff to all the overt sentimental digressions throughout the film. It could have been done much better, but it really could have been a lot worse, too.
Now, I realize that I mentioned that the movie has a lot going for it, and then proceeded to ramble on about where the movie went wrong. Well, now it’s time to talk about where the movie succeeded, and to me, one of the greatest accomplishments The Last Jedi achieved was to bring back what I personally loved about the prequels. When I was a kid, and they began revealing details about the upcoming release of The Phantom Menace, one of the things that got me so immersed in the film, before it was even released, was their effort in world building. Advertising for the movie spent just as much time exploring the three main planets in the film as they did the characters and the story. Their choice to partner with Tricon (consisting of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC, which has since been renamed and rebranded, probably more than once), to release a series of toys at each food chain, with each restaurant representing a planet from the movie, helped to solidify the dynamic differences between the worlds in the movie. There was just as much dedication in the film in immersing the viewers in the environments that the characters found themselves in. Each planet felt like a character in itself. The Last Jedi provides a comparable level of immersion, in a way that felt very natural to me. This was quite refreshing to me, as compared to The Force Awakens, where very little time was put into actually introducing us to the planets involved.
Cinematically, The Last Jedi might just be the absolute champion in the whole of the saga. So much thought and care has been put into the aesthetics of the film, but without completely drowning the audience in ornate visuals or gratuitous flyovers. The movie also opens itself up creatively, both in story, and in action. There are a lot of moments in the movie that seem to have been birthed from the question “what have we not done before?”, rather than “how can we take this over the top?” It’s this approach that really assures that The Last Jedi feels fresh, and not like they are trying to push the envelope just for the sake of spectacle.
The greatest risk that The Last Jedi takes is with its story. At its very core, the plot is restricted. While there are still separate plotlines, as with any Star Wars film, the central story has very little wiggle room. Giving away as few details as possible, the movie revolves around the remaining rebels confined to a small handful of ships, being closely pursued by The First Order, in one of the slowest chase scenes in movie history. As a concept in general, this sounds horrible. Even more perilous is the fact that this is a feature film. Were this an episode or story arc in a TV show, it would be a bold and memorable creative choice. In fact, I specifically remember a fairly similar episode of Battlestar Galactica (the reboot series). Granted, Battlestar was a series that was, in its entirety, about a group of people confined to a space ship, constantly on the run. However, when taking such a restrictive storyline and applying it to an installment in a film franchise, more than anything, you take a great risk in underwhelming your viewers. Star Trek Beyond took a similar approach, and it similarly seemed to leave fans wanting. I believe that this approach is going to contribute greatly to mixed reviews, particularly from diehard fans.
In the end, The Last Jedi is going to be a film that divides fans for a number of reasons, mostly tied to devotion to the original trilogy. I’ve already heard that many “fans” have been tearing the film apart without even seeing it, based on information they’ve heard about the direction of the film. Essentially, because it doesn’t explore what they want it to explore. I can understand some of the contention, particularly with the ways that the Force is used in the movie, as it often is, when there have been inconsistencies throughout the series, both in how much focus it takes to achieve great tasks, as well as what is even possible to do. This movie does, indeed, push the boundaries with our understanding of the Force. However, to me, there seems to be at least some logic and connection to how the Force is explained, and how it is used in this movie, as compared to others.
So where does The Last Jedi rank in the series? This is a question that will be the source of much debate between me and my friends, and amongst so many fans for years to come. Considering that the original trilogy is so solidified in the hearts and minds of fans, there’s no way for a fair assessment to be made on that matter. Even I find myself truly struggling with the question, “can I really say this beats the original trilogy?” I think part of the struggle with this is that, for many of us, the original trilogy has been part of the foundation of our cinematic tastes for most of our lives, and it is also largely viewed as a whole. However, viewing each movie individually, and stepping back from the expectations of “is this what I wanted it to be?”, and instead looking from a cinematic standpoint, I feel like The Last Jedi is probably the greatest stand alone accomplishment in the entirety of the saga. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I do always try to look at these things from an objective standpoint, and The Last Jedi just has so much more pros than cons, and I’m not the sort to say “well this thing should have been done like that, so based on that detail, the rest of the movie is garbage!” Regardless of how this movie is treated within the realm of the Star Wars franchise, it is still a very well made movie.
So what are your thoughts? Did you enjoy The Last Jedi? Did it meet or shatter your expectations? Are you utterly infuriated because this person shouldn’t have been able to do that thing? And be honest, love the movie or hate it, that one scene – you know the one – was just amazing, right?