Movie Review: Star Wars Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017)
There are two types of movies in the world: Star Wars and everything else. That is the nerdy reality in which myself and many others mentally exist. The lenses and standards we apply when examining Star Wars movies, therefore, are very different. Basically, what I'm saying is, as a reviewer, however amateurish as may be, I find it extremely difficult to be objective for Star Wars movies despite my best efforts, especially with such little time to fully digest it (one day after first viewing). Consider me, if you will, an "unreliable narrator" whose fanboy-ish-ness grants potential insights but also threatens to compromise.
This review will contain no SPOILERS or plot details beyond what was in the trailers, and on that note, I can positively confirm that the marketing has spoiled NOTHING! If you haven't seen the movie yet, I cannot recommend you enough to experience it with blissful ignorance and, not to alarm you but, be as open-minded as possible.
Given that these recent Star Wars movies have been divided among fans, I feel it necessary to declare my "stance" on this matter, just so you'd know how likely you might agree or disagree with me. I loved both The Force Awakens and Rogue One, even though neither were perfect. There, take that as you will.
This Is Not Going To Go The Way You Think!
If you were bothered or even annoyed by how much The Force Awakens relied on fan-serviceness, relied on nostalgia and "rehashed" A New Hope, the good news is, The Last Jedi is far from an imitator of The Empire Strikes Back even though the rhyming could still be detected at certain points. The Last Jedi is, beyond anything else, a vastly different Star Wars movie from what we were used to. You'd think since The Force Awakens opted to take the safe routine, the overall direction of this sequel trilogy is set in stone. Not true! The stone has been Force-lifted! I cannot tell you how positively or negatively you might feel about The Last Jedi walking out of the theatre, but I CAN guarantee that you will be surprised.
Which is saying a lot! What could still be surprising at this point? Star Wars is the DADDY for cinematic twists (*wink wink*). There was so much speculation for The Last Jedi prior to its release: on the real identity of Supreme Leader Snoke, from Darth Plagueis to future Kylo traveling back in time to a reincarnated Vader; on the true identity of Rey, from the daughter Jyn Erso to Obi-wan to Palpatine, or Vader reincarnated...Has reincarnation ever been a thing in Star Wars? Literally every possible angle has been forecast, and the movie still surprised me on multiple occasions. There were moments when my mouth goofily hung open for minutes. That itself is impressive! Star Wars just went from the safest straight to the ballsiest.
The FORCE Is...Different with This One
Clocking at 152 minutes, it's the longest Star Wars film ever made, a record previously held at 142 minutes by Attack of the Clones, which, by the way, had no business being that long. Fortunately, The Last Jedi was packed with content, despite one of the subplots being visibly draggier than others, was overall fast-paced and relentless.
Remember before The Force Awakens came out, everybody's biggest concern was how the sequel trilogy is going to look like? Was it going to be CGI-laden like the prequels or more of prosthetic effects akin to the original? Turns out it heavily leaned on the latter, much to everyone's delight, but the page was since been turned. The issue was never brought up again. The Last Jedi in comparison is visually unrestrained by such expectations and isn't shy of pushing the visual boundaries of Star Wars movie.
As far as effects go, this movie is a safe bet for a Best Visual Effects nomination at next year's Academy Awards, as is tradition for Star Wars. My vote for the best looking movie of 2017 still goes to Blade Runner 2049 but The Last Jedi did have some stunningly beautiful moments, one of which may just be my favorite image of the whole thing. Trust me, you'll know it when you see it.
Characters Old and New
Characters are the heart and soul of any good story, without which the most lavish lore or gorgeous visuals fall flat, as was exemplified by Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets. But trying to talk about it dangles dangerously close to spoilers, so I will go no further than general impressions.
Daisy Ridley's Rey, the axis around whom this new trilogy is set, is proving herself worthy of taking the mantle of the protagonist for a new generation. Those among you who found Rey overpowered in The Force Awakens might start warming up to her more relatable and vulnerable sides as displayed here. On the other end of the light-dark spectrum, Adam Driver gave an excellent performance as the unpredictable and unstable Kylo Ren, continuing to be, in my personal opinion, the most interesting of the new characters.
Seeing Carrie Fisher, who sadly is one with the Force now, again is tough on the emotions, but she nailed her farewell performance exceptionally. Two new characters introduced in The Force Awakens that I didn't like as much have been vastly improved here. One is a less cartooney General Hux, the other is Supreme Leader Snoke, expertly played by Andy Serkis, maestro of motion capture, with an palpable tangible-looking face. Looking good there, Snokey, for someone who apparently applies sulfuric acid for daily facial cleansing, that is.
What about the other new leads from The Force Awakens, namely Finn and Poe, aka the most chemistry-fueled duo in Star Wars history? Sadly, this is where the negatives kick in. In The Force Awakens, Finn was a novelty, a defect Stormtrooper trying to escape from his fate of evil and ultimately drawn to the light. He benefited from a progressive character arc and providing a fresh perspective to the Resistance. Poe, unlike Finn, wasn't designed to be one of the leading characters, but he was kept on board thanks to Oscar Issac's strong performance and likability.
It would appear, however, that after those introductory stages, LucasFilm simply doesn't know what to do with them anymore. In The Last Jedi, Finn is given his own side quest that's largely separate from the rest of the story, and in all honesty, that section could've been, or even should've been entirely left out. His story expands the Star Wars galaxy and took us to some intriguing new places, but it was evidently out of place in this movie. Most unfortunately, it's not a simple nitpick either. Combined, his story takes roughly half an hour, which means it could have been edited out and The Last Jedi would still be an average-lengthed Star Wars feature. It is by far my biggest gripe for the movie.
What makes the matter worse is that new characters played by Kelly Marie Tran and Benecio del Toro are involved only to the extent of Finn's story, rendering them awkwardly misplaced in this movie as well. If The Last Jedi were a video game, Finn's story might be a mildly entertaining DLC, probably not even a side quest in the main campaign.
The character of Poe more or less suffers from the same problem, given a story arc that's not uninteresting or unpromising, but ultimately disposable. John Boyega and Oscar Issac both played their characters well, but rarely did they feel necessary in the movie's scenarios. Here's my humble suggestion to JJ Abrams for Episode IX, not that he's likely to read my stuff: keep them together. They are at their best when interacting with each other. Maybe their stories will improve upon multiple viewings, because watching it for the first time, whenever the screen cut to Finn or Poe, I just want it to go back to...
The Last Jedi Himself
...Luke freakin' Skywalker!!!!!
Boosted from an extended cameo which literally ended on a cliffhanger in TFA to the titular character, Luke Skywalker is truly back, and yes, he does a bit more than starring Rey down for two hours. Oh Mark, dear good old Mark Hamill...how can anyone not just love the guy? He hesitated about returning to the sequel trilogy after such a lengthy gap; he "fundamentally disagreed" with everything Rian Johnson set up for Luke upon initially reading the script; and he gave the performance of a lifetime! (Live action, that is, not counting the Joker)
Revealing even the color of Luke Skywalker's boots in this review will be highly irresponsible of me and dangerously approaching spoiler-zone. But rest assured, it is with Luke that this movie's heart and soul truly lies. Here's where the tears, laughs and emotions at.
The movie took Luke to some audacious directions that I completely didn't see coming, which is going to be very divisive. Once again, I cannot tell you if you will love or hate it. If you have read some of Luke's further stories in the Expanded Universe, currently known as Legends, you might find Jedi Master Luke Skywalker a bit boring in many of those materials. Indeed, some already consider Luke bit of a bore in Return of the Jedi. In The Last Jedi, he is blissfully anything but boring. In the end, I find the movie at its most enjoyable with Luke on screen.
"This is where the fun begins" or "Bad feeling about this"?
For a movie review, I've evaded the big question long enough. Did I like The Last Jedi or not? Short answer is: yes. Long answer? Oh boy...
The Last Jedi will be remembered as the most controversial and divisive Star Wars chapter up to this point. Very few elements from this movie will gain any unanimous up or down votes from the fan community, and ironically it is made for the fan community, since it definitely isn't a pedestrian-friendly standalone. To quote from a neighboring franchise, it boldly goes where no Star Wars has gone before. It takes risks that I didn't imagine possible in the numbered saga features, and for that, I admire it.
Whether those risks are justified, or eventually paid off, is a wholly different and arguably more important question. As of right now, with me still digesting the movie, I think The Last Jedi is a riveting, fresh, breath-taking and often awe-inspiring adventure, save for the aforementioned subplot of Finn. It is, however, offbeat in a way that might throw some people off, and may be guilty of toying with its audiences by intentionally defying expectations which some might go as far as deeming it "offensive". But heck, I'm all about weird movies. Remember Aronofsky's "heaven-and-hell" divisive movie Mother!? Yep, liked that one too.
As Star Wars holds such a special place in the hearts of so many of us, judging a new movie this hastily without multiple viewings seems nigh on unfair. As of the time of you reading this, the movie is already out, and you've probably heard people proclaiming it to be "the best Star Wars EVER right up there with EMPIRE", or "worst Star Wars of all time, prequels were better", so on and so forth. This is how it's going to be now, with each new movie coming out annually, people are going to hype on it, speculate on it, go watch it and argue about it, all hyperbole and no restraints, and when the next movie gets its title confirmed, rinse and repeat.
Many of us grew up with Star Wars, hence it's easy to have a misplaced sense of "ownership" for the franchise. In other words, if the series develops in a way that deviates from what we expected, we tend to stop enjoying it. We argue that this doesn't feel like Star Wars, ignoring that Star Wars is SO MUCH BIGGER. Star Wars is, at the end of the day, about having fun, and it's just not worth it to let anyone else, or ourselves, ruin that unique brand of joy.
In the end, I loved The Last Jedi the first time around. Might write a spoiler review after second or even third viewing, by the end of which, who knows, I might be hating its guts. Fun fact, my opinion on Star Wars movies vary each day depending on which side of the bed I wake up from.
I have a feeling that The Last Jedi will age better than The Force Awakens and Rogue One, as it had more genuine moments relying on character and emotions, on top of the grandeur visuals and added mythology. Apologies if I kept this review vague, but it's for the better. Here's hoping you have the best time of your life loving or hating it. May the Force be with you all.
My rating (at this point): 8/10.
PS: Porgs aren't annoying after all! They're adorable and know better than to intrude the plot, unlike some previous comedy relief in this franchise.