Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review: Out With the Old, in With the New
Its December so that means it is time for another Star Wars movie. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the latest entry in the Star Wars franchise. This time around indie director Rian Johnson takes control of George Lucas’ beloved universe and builds upon what J.J. Abrams started in the Force Awakens. To my surprise, The Last Jedi doesn’t pick up on the exact moment where the Force Awakens left off but instead opens on a 10-15 minute scene where we see Poe working alongside Leia to protect the Resistance from General Hux, Kylo Ren, and Supreme Leader Snoke. After this opening battle, which is used to set up a good portion of the plot, we get to see Rey talking to Luke Skywalker. As you probably expect, and for the sake of not spoiling the fun, Rey and Luke Skywalker go back and forth for a bit and sooner rather than later, we begin to learn a thing or two about their past that helps to develop their characters and storylines even further. There is also a third storyline as well involving Finn and newcomer Rose. All the storylines eventually come together and lead up to Episode IX.
It is always difficult to review a Star Wars film without spoiling things. The general plot of most of these films is basically the same. Its the good guys fighting the bad guys and then there are new characters introduced who do something to help or expand the plot. I can also say that some of the characters introduced in the Force Awakens are developed a bit more especially Rey and Kylo Ren but that is to be expected since this new trilogy is banking on these characters for the future of this franchise. In all fairness, almost half of the details that I would want to discuss in greater detail would be considered spoilers and I don’t want to be THAT GUY. I will do my best to not give anything away that you didn’t already know from the trailers or tv spots.
Since the release of The Force Awakens, I have come to accept that my initial review of the film is a bit more generous than it should’ve been. While I do think Force Awakens is a decent film as a whole, it is a by the numbers re-imagining of A New Hope with a more diverse cast and less interesting characters. I originally gave the film a 7 as a critic and an 8 as a Star Wars fan but if I had to write that review again today, I would give it a 6 as a critic and a 7 as a fanboy. With that being said, The Last Jedi is better than The Force Awakens. It does feel like more of the same but at the same time, but there are a few more standout moments that make it shine slightly brighter than its predecessor.
I give Rian Johnson a lot of credit for mixing nostalgia with a series of genuinely exciting and entertaining moments that fans will go nuts over. There are at least four scenes that come to mind that will have fans raving about for days. There is one involving Rey and Kylo Ren, one involving Leia and Luke, and one featuring Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker near the end of the film. The fourth one that I mentioned I can’t really talk about at all because it is a total spoiler but let’s just say that it involves Luke and someone from the original trilogy who has yet to make an appearance in this new trilogy.
There is a lot of talk in the Last Jedi about out with the old, in with the new. As these new entries continue to be made, we are slowly seeing that the story arcs are becoming more about the new characters and less about the old ones. This isn’t exactly a bad thing but I am a bit worried since The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi relies very heavily on the characters from the original trilogy. It almost makes me wonder if the Star Wars franchise will ever be truly great without them. Characters like Poe, Finn, and Fey are interesting to a certain degree but they aren’t the original cast. They are being set up to take control of this franchise but their characters lack the development that is needed in order to make them truly iconic. They all come off as characters that we have seen before. There isn’t much new about them other than their skin color which might be controversial to say but its sort of true when you really sit back and look at the way that things have been set up thus far.
Poe is still my favorite of the newer characters because Oscar Issac is a great actor who is able to use his charm, wit, and energy to make his character stand out. You can really tell that Poe has the potential to become an iconic character but still isn’t given enough to do as of yet. He definitely takes charge in this entry and you can see that the story is slowly setting him up to become a major player. Kylo Ren still throws temper tantrums but I will admit that I liked Driver a lot more this time around. He is growing with the character and fits better into the role. I feel like the actions of Kylo Ren are not all that surprising, if you have seen all the previous films. My audience seemed a bit shocked when certain things involving his character occurred but I found it all a bit too predictable. I would have loved for the film to have taken more risks then it did especially with what ultimately occurs between Kylo Ren and Rey.
Speaking of Rey, Daisy Ridley’s character didn’t do much for me this time around. Ridley gets to act alongside Mark Hamill and Adam Driver for most of the film but Rey just isn’t all that interesting to watch. This makes me sad since the film’s plot is partially centered around her learning about Force and how to use it. Rey does have a few moments where she shines but they are few and far between. It is also interesting to note that a lot of the Force Awakens was spent building the relationship between Rey and Finn. Ridley and Boyega barely share any screen time this time around which is a good thing since I personally felt they didn’t have any chemistry in the first place. I think prior to making the film, Johnson saw this and decided to separate them and paired Finn with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) whose chemistry actually works.
Finn doesn’t get as much screentime this time around and his character development is minimum. I would even say that out of all the characters introduced in the Force Awakens, he is the one who seems to be overlooked the most in this entry. I can’t say whether that is a good thing or a bad thing because he does get to share the screen with Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose who is incredibly likable and the two actors play off one another with such ease. They have a very natural chemistry so I am somewhat interested to see where their story goes and if there will be some sort of love triangle story arc developed in the next entry.
Mark Hamill steals the show as Luke Skywalker. Hamill’s line delivery and his use of sarcasm are as perfect as always. He has some great scenes and will be the character that most will be talking about while exiting the theater. Leia is good too and continues to impress. Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo played by Laura Dern is a great character who I would have loved to see more of. She shares most of her screentime with Oscar Issac and Carrie Fisher so she is in good company. I liked the character but felt like she was sort of just there to help move the story along.
Domnall Gleason as General Hux is still pretty bad. I like that Rian Johnson pretty much acknowledges that Gleason’s Hux isn’t very good at being menacing so he decided to mock the character by adding a comedic side to his role this time around. I will say that Gleason is a total miscast for this role and his performance continues to come off as wooden. He looks so out of place and his line delivery is just laughably bad. Andy Serkis as Snoke is great because Serkis is a master at playing these types of characters. His voice really fits the role and you feel a genuine sense of fear whenever Snoke opens his mouth.
There are far too many characters in this film. There are characters from the original trilogy, characters from the new one, plus several new additions that include humans, robots, creatures, and the Porgs. I feel like some of these things were a bit overkill and just thrown into the film wherever Johnson could fit something in. It’s like “oh, here is a scene with Chewbacca, how can we make it different? Let’s have him hang out with the Porgs.” The dark version of BB8 was also haphazardly introduced as well. There honestly doesn’t need to be this constant introduction to new characters all the damn time. I feel like these films are going overboard as a way to just sell merchandise for the film. Another example is Captain Phasma who shows up again for like a five-minute scene. When are they going to develop this character? She seems awesome but yet instead of focusing on Phasma let’s introduce some random characters like a bad BB8, the Porgs, or some random creatures that are simply known as the caregivers to Luke Skywalker. Its a little too much to say the least.
Even Benicio Del Toro shows up in the film for about 15 minutes and his character is great but again seems like he is just thrown into the mix as a way to move the story along. You don’t really get to learn much about any of the new characters and this seems to be an on-going issue with this new trilogy. You have all these characters that have so much potential but instead of just focusing on the core four or five, there is always an introduction of several secondary characters that you sort of like because they are cute or entertaining but truth be told, you don’t really know much about any of them.
I have other issues with the film too. The script is incredibly formulaic and doesn’t take any risks. Johnson tries to trick the audience to believe that something different is going to happen with a lot of build up but ultimately it ends up playing out as you always expected it to. There is too much fan service even if it isn’t as on the nose as it was in the Force Awakens. It almost seems like it was built into the plot this time around instead of having certain scenes that were directly geared towards the fans. I don’t think that this is a huge problem but again when you rely so heavily on the originals and then attempt to get rid of everyone from the original, it’s going to be hard to strike that perfect balance in the end.
The 2 hr and 30-minute runtime really hurt the film. I feel like there are just certain spots throughout the film where it just drags. It hard to pinpoint exactly when and where they occur on just one viewing but I was definitely bored at times. Some of the dialogue is just bad and I mean, really bad. I found myself laughing at certain spots where I know the film wasn’t supposed to be funny. There was this odd combination of bad dialogue mixed with overacting that occurs several times throughout the film. I don’t even know how some of these scenes made it into the final cut of the film.
Speaking of laughs, the jokes and humor just fall flat. The jokes seemed out of place or were just so “on the nose” that I couldn’t help but be annoyed by them. I feel like the modern day humor didn’t feel the tone of the story and yet Johnson kept trying to lighten the mood by adding in cheesy jokes that weren’t even remotely amusing but instead were rather cringe-worthy. Lastly, there is a lot more CGI in this one. I found it beyond distracting and obvious when it was being used. I hope this doesn’t continue to happen but who really knows at this point.
All in all, Star Wars fanboys and fangirls will enjoy The Last Jedi despite all of its flaws. While I don’t think this new trilogy will ever connect with me, the same way that the original did, I do believe a whole new generation will grow to love this franchise. Star Wars, in a lot of ways, has become a lot like a Marvel film. It has a built-in audience that is invested and will continue to support the franchise always and forever. The Last Jedi may not be a flawless film but continues to push the story forward. The film has a lot going for it and Rian Johnson seems to understand exactly what Star Wars fans are looking for. There is a lot of rewatch value for fans which means there will be a lot more theories that will begin to surface upon repeat viewings.
As I did with the Force Awakens two years ago, I will rate The Last Jedi on two different levels. As a Star Wars fan, it’s a 7 out of 10 but as a critic, it is a 6 out of 10. My overall feelings towards the film are more in line with the 6 out of 10 rating but that’s because I don’t consider myself a die-hard Star Wars fan and found a good portion of this film to be rather underwhelming. As a lover of all things film, I can’t help but expect more from tent-pole films especially something as noteworthy and heavily discussed as Star Wars.
Great review Scott!
Thank you, Jeffrey. I think this is one of my longest reviews to date!