Observing the various reactions to ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ has been a fascinating experience to say the least.
It’s always dangerous attempting to find a true consensus about a film; even with metrics/aggregations such as Rotten Tomatoes or
CinemaScore (Which has become the film industry’s preferred tool thanks to the shockingly low standards of general audiences).
That said, ‘bitterly divisive’ seems a mild way to classify the reactions I have seen regarding Rian Johnson’s eighth episode in the saga.
If ever there was a time to come out of my semi-retirement, this is it.
As one might suspect, my assessment of ‘The Last Jedi’ falls somewhere between the extremes. Surprisingly though, I find myself more
baffled by the reviews from professional critics than I am by the predictably knee-jerk reactions of a notoriously fickle fan base.
‘The Last Jedi’ is an entertaining film, filled with moments of greatness, particularly in its final sequences.
(I should state now that this review will dive into spoiler territory. I have no interest in playing coy when it comes to this film. Consider this
But, much like the wide gulf of extreme opinions, it’s a film that is as frustrating as it is enthralling. And it’s this imbalance that causes me to
only cautiously recommend it.
The film has drawn comparisons to ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’ But if I had to draw an original trilogy equivalent, it would be with ‘Return of
the Jedi,’ with its relatively dull ewok storyline cross-cut against the far more compelling Luke-Vader-Emperor thread.
In ‘The Last Jedi,’ the film is divided into three distinct movements.
One side involves the Resistance fleet, as they attempt to outrun the Empire. I mean, the First Order. (Why they didn’t just use the Empire
moniker for the new trilogy is beyond me, as the filmmakers have done nothing to distinguish it as a separate entity)
The film opens with an evacuation of a Resistance base. It’s a serviceable action set piece to start the film, even if it showcases the film’s
somewhat awkward sense of humor when star Resistance fighter pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) makes the intergalactic equivalent of a prank
phone call to stall for time.
It feels more like something out of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ than ‘Star Wars,’ to be honest. But that’s the least of the film’s concerns.
This storyline is perhaps the most baffling, as the entire affair devolves into a low-speed chase through space that lasts nearly the entire
With the rebels just out of range, the First Order decides to remain in pursuit until the Resistance runs out of fuel. Not the most thrilling of
ideas, is it?
Add in a senseless mutiny subplot (Why wouldn’t Holdo reveal she had a plan immediately when she was held up at blaster-point by Poe and
company?) aboard the head Resistance cruiser, and you have a storyline that just feels like it’s treading water until the climactic battle.
By far the best aspect of this section of the film is Carrie Fisher as Leia. It may seem like a bit of a given to be complimentary in what will be
her final performance following her unexpected passing, but Fisher is outstanding in this film; given a far more involved role this time
around than in ‘The Force Awakens.’
Even though the film doesn’t provide much in the way of closure for the character, it’s a fantastic sendoff, and her performance elevates
the entire film, with a powerful, dignified presence that showcases the character as a true leader and a source of strength and inspiration
for the downtrodden rebels.
There is one moment where she uses the force (She is a Skywalker, after all) to save herself from the vacuum of space. It’s slightly bizarre
given we have never seen anyone do that in the entire saga, but it’s also a nice reminder that she has force powers, even if she chooses
not to utilize them as a Jedi would.
While Fisher manages to somewhat hold the Resistance section of the film together, the same can’t be said for the completely and utterly
contrived subplot involving the former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and a Resistance mechanic, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran).
They secretly leave the fleet to go to a wealthy casino planet populated by arms dealer and animal abusers to find a master codebreaker to
help them infiltrate the First Order flagship and disable a new piece of technology that allows them to track the rebels through hyperspace.
Allow me to catch my breath after all that.
Apparently being able to track through hyperspace is a galaxy-shattering revelation in the ‘Star Wars’ universe, but it just comes off as a
convoluted attempt to manufacture a problem in order to give Finn something to do.
This planet is filled with the requisite barrage of goofy alien characters. A recurring theme since Luke entered the Cantina all the way back
in the 1977 original.
Finn and Rose are thrown in prison for illegal parking (?) and meet Benecio Del Toro’s DJ, who just so happens to be a codebreaker.
Del Toro’s stuttering, silly performance seems lifted wholesale from an entirely different genre, let alone a ‘Star Wars’ film. But the most
egregious problem with this entire plot is that it just feels so unnecessary. As the longest film in the series at two-and-a-half hours, it adds
needless bloat to the story.
So, with all this negativity, you might be wondering whether I felt ‘The Last Jedi’ does anything right at all. Well, it certainly does, and when it
does, it’s masterful.
The most anticipated storyline teased in J.J. Abrams’ outstanding ‘The Force Awakens’ was the young, force-sensitive Rey’s discovery of
Luke Skywalker, now living in seclusion on an island where the Jedi Order was born.
Much like Fisher leading the Resistance story, Hamill is outstanding in his true return as Luke Skywalker (He didn’t utter a single line of
dialog in his epic cameo to close out ‘The Force Awakens’).
I know a lot of fans objected to Luke’s dark, conflicted turn. In fact, it seems to be a common misconception that critics of the film are just
mad that Luke isn’t the same beacon of light he was for most of the original films.
I, however, love this interpretation. It’s an unexpected turn that gives more depth to the character than ever before. It gives Hamill a
chance to truly delve into new territory in his career-defining role, and he nails it. I completely buy him as a tormented soul who has just had
enough of the Jedi religion, and the constant struggle between light and dark sides.
I very much appreciate the more complex approach to the force, with Luke noting the failures of the Jedi.
And fortunately, it’s not just Luke doing the heavy lifting here. Daisy Ridley is once again excellent as Rey, and she makes a great
counterpart to Luke’s grumpy turn.
Their story picks up immediately after that stunning closing shot of ‘The Force Awakens,’ and Luke’s reaction to being handed his old
lightsaber is hilarious. Amid the film’s iffy sense of humor, Luke gets all the best lines. (“Amazing. Every word of what you just said was
A reluctant Luke eventually decides to train Rey in the ways of the Jedi. Well, three lessons worth, at least.
These sequences really are well done, and I wish there were more of them. (Rey even gets to see herself in the Mirror of Erised!) It’s a
nuisance to have to constantly cut back and forth to far less interesting material on the other side of the galaxy.
The only somewhat questionable scene comes from a cameo appearance from Yoda, now returned to his original puppet form. It’s cool to
see the puppet again after all these years, but the limitations are more apparent than ever. It’s certainly trendy to bash the use of CG
characters in ‘Star Wars,’ but by its final revision in ‘Revenge of the Sith,’ that computer-generated Yoda was outstanding.
The most baffling part of Yoda’s scene is actually Frank Oz’s performance. A strange amalgamation of Yoda and Ms. Piggy, he seems to be
channeling the goofball act Yoda put on to test Luke in ‘The Empire Strikes’ before truly revealing himself. Why he would revert to this
silliness is hard to fathom.
While on the island, Rey begins to have force-communicated conversations with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Driver spent much of ‘The Force Awakens’ behind a mask, but he has slowly built the Ren character into a surprisingly original villain.
In fact, there are many times when we (Along with Rey) question just how much of a villain he truly is.
At least until we remember he killed Han Solo.
The encounters between Rey and Ren are fantastic, allowing the two characters to delve into their motivations and feelings without having
to whip out their sabers.
This does happen, but not quite in the way we expect, when the pair find themselves in front of the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke
(Andy Serkis), a sequence many fans probably didn’t expect until Episode IX.
This ‘red room’ scene is probably the most surprising in the film, culminating with the pair fighting side-by-side after Ren dispatches with
Snoke before we learn a single thing about him.
Although the scene is both exciting and unexpected, it does feel like a slight cop-out that Snoke seemingly served no purpose after being
built up as the puppet master of the new trilogy.
It’s not the only idea originating in ‘The Force Awakens’ that writer/director Johnson seems all too eager to jettison. Maz Kanata is crammed
in via a forced cameo, and the chrome-trooper Captain Phasma is resurrected only to be disposed of immediately after being reintroduced.
Rey and Ren’s alliance is short-lived, however, with Ren revealing his true motivation not to bring back the Sith, but to bring down pretty
much everything else.
He also alleges that Rey’s parents are (drumroll) nobody! This revelation has caused outrage among many fans, being yet another ‘The
Force Awakens’ mystery that is seemingly sidestepped.
The fans here are certainly overreacting (Shocking, I know) as Ren could easily be lying.
I also like the idea of her being her own character. Why does everyone in the ‘Star Wars’ universe need to be related?
I think it’s far more inspiring that Rey come from nowhere, and yet be the hero of the story.
All the main players finally converge on the planet Crait. Covered in salt and red dust, the planet makes for some striking imagery as the
Resistance and First Order square off.
Although from this point the film is generally excellent, there is one infuriating moment when Rose prevents Finn from sacrificing himself by
crashing his speeder into a futuristic battering ram device.
Why not let Finn die a hero’s death? Considering Johnson’s entire plotline focusing on him is a series of plot contrivances, it would seem
like a reasonable option.
Rose then gives Finn an awkward kiss that comes out of nowhere. And thankfully, the film immediately moves on, as if realizing its mistake
and hoping no one saw it.
Thankfully, the moment is quickly forgotten, as Luke makes his grand entrance into the conflict. This entire sequence is spectacular,
showcasing the best of Johnson’s direction and Steve Yedlin’s cinematography.
There is a beautiful exchange between Luke and Leia, and a wonderful reprise of John Williams’ seldom used theme for the siblings.
When Luke walks out onto the battlefield with both sides standing-by breathlessly, it is truly a stunning, chill-inducing moment.
This is the heroic Jedi master Luke we expected to see, and even if it turns out to be a ruse when Luke is revealed to be force-projecting
himself from the island on Ahch-To, it’s still a thrilling sequence that builds to Luke’s epic delivery of the film’s titular line, revealing that he
will not be the last Jedi, as Rey uses the force to lift an entire boulder pile to save the Resistance.
When Luke passes into the force in front of a binary sunset, it serves as a loving farewell to the character. Sacrificing himself to save not
just his friends, but the ideals that, even now, he still holds dear.
It all makes for a phenomenal conclusion, enough so that it can be easy to look past the film’s numerous flaws.
I’m not sure if the jarring, slightly pretentious ending of the slave child looking out to the horizon quite fits, but it works as a final tribute to
Hamill’s beloved character.
As you would expect, visual effects, sound design and art direction are all superb throughout. One does wonder why Johnson places such
an emphasis on overtly cute animals, however. We have the big-eyed hamster-puffins on Ahch-To, the big-eyed bunny-horses on Canto
Bight, and the crystal foxes on Crait. Did Disney place a quota on adorable, marketable creature design?
As always, the film owes more than one can even state to John Williams’ score. Although it certainly can’t match ‘The Force Awakens’ for
sheer quantity of magnificent new themes, it is still an integral aspect of the film that elevates almost every scene. Of all the contributors to
the Star Wars saga, it’s hard to imagine anyone more vital than Williams.
‘The Last Jedi’ is a film that is hard to get a grasp of. It’s alternately fantastic and frustrating, and I’m sure this has led to such a polarizing
For my part, it’s a deeply flawed film, but one that entertains overall. Petitions to disregard it from the canon are greatly exaggerated, as the
film contains more than enough superb material to be welcome as a genuine episode in the saga.
It’s ok to be disappointed with a film, while still being able to enjoy it for what it is.
‘The Last Jedi’ represents both the best and worst qualities of the franchise.
It may not deserve the exuberant praise bestowed upon it by many professional critics, but it also isn’t a bad film (nor even the worst ‘Star
‘The Last Jedi’ falls far short of Abrams’ magnificent start to this sequel trilogy, but has enough merits to earn a cautious recommendation.
* * ½
(out of four)
Greg’s Star Wars Ranking:
1. The Empire Strikes Back - * * * *
2. A New Hope - * * * *
3. The Force Awakens - * * * *
4. Revenge of the Sith - * * * ½
5. Return of the Jedi - * * *
6. The Last Jedi - * * ½
7. Attack of the Clones - * *
8. The Phantom Menace - * *
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy
Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis
Cinematography by: Steve Yedlin
Music by: John Williams
Released: December 15, 2017; 152 Minutes