Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and God Hates Geeks.
We have had a Star Wars film every year since 2015 and with every year that passes another part of the already dwindling fan in me dies a bit more upon each film’s release. While it’s nowhere near as bad as getting four to five superhero films from the same studio every year, that feeling of being burnt out on everything related to a galaxy far, far away grows stronger than the overwhelming amount of hatred for Jar Jar Binks felt by every Star Wars fan around the world. However, now that Disney and 20th Century Fox are under one roof, it’s only a matter of time before this golden horse is milked to death and its corpse is ransacked and violated in every way imaginable until there’s absolutely nothing left. Only then will we realize that The Star Wars Holiday Special is the least of our worries.
With that said, Rian Johnson brings a glimmer of hope to The Last Jedi. The Force Awakens was as formulaic as Jurassic World and never really strayed far enough from its predecessors to make a lasting impact. Some think Rogue One is an awful film, but I thought Gareth Edwards delivered a solid prequel that was far better than the prequel trilogy George Lucas gave us; and you better shut your face if you don’t think K-2SO was the best part of that film. Rian Johnson had the opportunity to bring something really unique and essential to Star Wars fans with The Last Jedi and the results are more than satisfactory.
There is at least one aspect going into The Last Jedi that Rian Johnson and Walt Disney Studios couldn’t have prepared for; the loss of Carrie Fisher before the film’s release. While viewing the film and realizing that this is Fisher’s last completed on-screen role, The Last Jedi becomes much more touching and personal than anyone could have hoped for. Quieter and tenderer moments in the film featuring Leia have this incredible emotional impact because the entire film feels like a glorious sendoff not only for Leia but also for Fisher’s contributions in front of and behind the camera. In more ways than one, The Last Jedi waves goodbye to the beloved characters that got us all to this point and finally allows the newer characters to take center stage. That isn’t meant to be taken as a spoiler, but finally seeing the likes of Poe, Finn, Rey, and Kylo Ren step out of the intimidating shadows cast by everyone who originally occupied the likes of the Millenium Falcon and The Death Star is a huge step towards refreshing Star Wars material that isn’t just a rehash of previous films.
This is also the most humorous of the Star Wars films. There’s always been this kind of cheesy, eye-rolling, slightly lame and dad-jokey quality to Star Wars that has been there from the beginning; it wouldn’t be Star Wars without that there. But The Last Jedi is as laugh out loud funny as the Guardians of the Galaxy films and even Thor: Ragnarok. The decision to inject more humor into superhero and epic space opera blockbusters has so far paid off in phenomenal ways. There are so many great jokes featured in the film like Poe’s communication call to General Hux and Leia’s line about having different hair. Some of the humor happens so quickly like a throwaway gag, but it always hits its mark and consistently entertaining.
The film is a visual spectacle and does so much with color, especially red and black; it’s almost as if Rian Johnson was visually inspired by most of the music videos The White Stripes put out. Supreme Leader Snoke’s lair that he’s constantly beckoning Kylo Ren to is pure eyeball ecstasy with the dynamically designed Praetorian Guards lurking in the background. The battle between The Resistance and The First Order erupts with explosions of red on the white canvas known as planet Crait. With the exception of the opening sequence, the majority of the action takes place in the last third of the film. The Last Jedi is fairly spectacular from beginning to end, but that home stretch is a jaw dropping wet dream for anyone who enjoys unreal light saber melees and dizzying starfighter pursuits.
The Last Jedi does utilize familiar characters in ways that are different than what they’ve showcased in the past. Luke has lost the innocent charisma he once had and is now a cynic of the Jedi as he willingly isolates himself from his family, friends, and the rest of the galaxy. Leia has lost her husband and her son to the dark side. She’s still in command of The Resistance, but she has the opportunity to portray why she’s in the position she’s in and why it’s an important role for her and her alone. Chewy is basically sidetracked by Porgs, R2-D2 steps aside so BB-8 can take over as the most useful droid, and C-3PO is still the snootiest droid around but at least everyone seems to call him out for it.
Performance wise, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are most impressive. Ridley can portray so much with a simple look; completely overcome with bewilderment, sorrow, or frustration. Rey is on the brink of either embracing The Force or succumbing to The Dark Side similar to Luke and Daisy Ridley’s portrayal of the character could either be seen as a powerful mastery of The Force or deceitful trickery involving The Dark Side and that’s what makes Ridley’s performance so fascinating. Adam Driver is passionate and astoundingly angry as Kylo Ren. Driver’s rage is just exquisite to witness as he literally trembles with animosity and his violent actions are practically felt through the seat at the movie theater. Andy Serkis makes a lasting impression as Snoke. Snoke’s appearance resembles that of The Elephant Man, but he is absolutely wicked in nature and his deep voice is hypnotically haunting as it hammers whatever nefarious idea he may have into Kylo Ren’s head.
Poe is incredibly impulsive with a delicate trigger finger that is activated more often than his short temper. The sacrifices he makes to get a point across make the character more hazardous than he is useful, but interesting nevertheless. When Rey disappears to find Luke and takes longer than expected to return, Finn takes it upon himself to go after her but runs into maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) along the way. The two become partners throughout the film and encounter a stuttering thief and self-proclaimed master codebreaker named DJ (Benicio Del Toro). Del Toro steals the limited amount of screen time he has as DJ is shady and could be working for either or neither side, but you can’t help but enjoy how eccentric he is. Rey is struggling to find herself while exploring what it means to control The Force. She is drawn to Kylo Ren, but doesn’t understand why. Meanwhile Kylo Ren is dealing with shedding Darth Vader as his inspiration.
I don’t consider myself a Star Wars fan. I mostly felt like the franchise was a waste of time after The Empire Strikes Back even though Rogue One is entertaining as hell. Empire was also my favorite of the franchise before The Last Jedi came along. It’s a bold statement to say that The Last Jedi is better than Empire, but personally speaking it is currently my favorite film of the franchise. Rian Johnson has limitless potential when he returns with the trilogy he’s currently developing, but with The Last Jedi he takes the Star Wars franchise in a direction it’s needed to go since Return of the Jedi ended 34 years ago. The film is brilliantly mesmerizing with a dazzling use of color, the action sequences are perhaps the best they’ve ever been, and the comedy in the film made a guy who generally rolls his eyes at everything laugh like a damn fool for two and a half hours straight. The Last Jedi takes you to emotional destinations the other films fail to visit. I said this about Rogue One, but I mean it to an even greater extent now, this is what The Force Awakens should have been and everything the franchise should aim for from here on out. Rian Johnson has revitalized what I considered a stagnant franchise.
© 2017 Chris Sawin
mik on September 04, 2019:
did we watch the same movie? 5/5? great action sequences? perhaps you should watch again. plot was awful. action was horribly choreographed. I really do hope this review is a joke