DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
CAST: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, Frank Oz
The Last Jedi is obviously the film to see this season, and with the statute of limitations on spoilers about to expire, I finally saw it tonight with my girlfriend.
I was a big fan of The Force Awakens and was greatly looking forward to this film; The Force Awakens brought back the sense of wonder and excitement I experienced when I saw the original trilogy, and I had high hopes for the eight entry (nine counting the outlier Rogue One).
I was a bit nervous, however, over the last few months: rumors circulating about Luke Skywalker’s return had many accusing the film of blasphemy before it even hit theatres, with Mark Hamill himself recently offering criticism. There was the reveal of the Porgs, miniature sea otter from space that many feared would be the modern day Ewoks (or worse, Jar Jar Binks) and detract from the serious tone of the series. And then there was Carrie Fisher’s death and how it would be handled.
Having seen it, I can say this: The Last Jedi makes some bold choices, and not all of them pay off.
The Last Jedi starts right where we left off: with Rey presenting a bearded, isolated Luke Skywalker with his lightsaber in hopes of leading the new Rebellion. Luke is initially recalcitrant and dismissive, often out of character in his anger, but eventually agrees to help train Rey, discovering before long that her power is beyond what he ever imagined. Meanwhile, emo space cadet / potential Sith lord Kylo Ren is desparately trying to score points with Supreme Leader Snoke, but has far too much guilt in him over killing his father to actually embody the full spectrum of coldness needed to become a Sith lord. Meanwhile, the Resistance itself is in shambles, relying on a rapidly decreasing army and a limited artillery in the face of intimidating enemy forces. It all leads to a satisfying, if slightly messy conclusion.
With Disney’s involvement, director Rian Johnson has to essentially cater to two audiences, which leads to some rather messy pacing and plotting; The Last Jedi doesn’t figure out until the last hour or so what kind of film it wants to be. It alternates so clumsily between a more light-hearted, Marvel-esque romp akin to Guardians of the Galaxy or the most recent Thor entry, before suddenly reverting to a darker, Empire-esque film. In fact, even the film’s serious moments are undercut with jarring and out of place humour, particularly much of Luke and Rey’s interactions up until he starts training her. Scenes like Finn and Rose riding space camels destroying a casino sounds like something straight out of Spaceballs, and yet, here it is. We also get a scene with a shirtless Kylo Ren and Rey sheepishly asking him to put a shirt on, like something out of a Julia Roberts rom-com. While the film’s overall plot is fine and builds off The Force Awakens logically, its lack of tonal control hurts it a bit.
Characterization is hit or miss as well; Daisy Ridley is great as Rey and really makes the character’s conflict with her identity and purpose within the Force resonate beautifully. John Boyega’s Finn doesn’t get quite as much development but he remains charismatic and likeable. And Oscar Isaacs as Poe Dameron has clearly received his master’s in the Harrison Ford School of Heroic Smartasses, filling the void left by the dearly departed Han Solo splendidly.
However, there’s still Adam Driver, who plays his scenes as Kylo Ren with all the nuances, dynamics and emotional investment of Keanu Reeves ordering a cheeseburger. His facial expressions, his delivery, his mannerisms don’t modulate or shift in any way that makes the character seem like he’s developing, which is a serious issue for a supposedly conflicted villain. The great Benicio Del Toro is truly wasted in a glorified cameo as a shady grifter offering to help Finn and Rose. Del Toro’s presence is only there justify a rather gratuitous and unneeded plot twist, and leaves no lasting impact.
The new characters – Del Toro’s aside – are welcome additions; Laura Dern’s Holdo fills the void left by a largely absent Carrie Fisher nicely, playing the role with zest and spunk and totally making the most of her time onscreen. Domhnall Gleason’s General Hux is a worthy submissive Sith lackey, and Kelly Marie Tran is an absolute delight as the sprightly Rose, imbuing every scene she’s in with warmth and enthusiasm.
As for the older characters, they are largely (and perhaps rightfully) pushed aside in favor of the new blood; C-3PO and R2-D2 go through long swaths of the film where you forget they are even in it (though R2 has a rather touching scene with Luke in the beginning). Admiral Akbar is killed off with no fanfare, and Carrie Fisher sadly spends much of her time as Leia in a comatose state, though the film ultimately does right by her.
Much has been made, of course, about Luke’s portrayal, from his ominous presence on the poster to Mark Hamill’s own criticisms of the character’s demeanor, but you know what? I loved Luke in this film more than any time in the original trilogy. He’s flawed, angry and keeps you guessing much of the way as to what his intentions are, leading to an ultimately satisfying conclusion for the character. And while he may not have liked it, Hamill gives a hell of a performance.
And finally, there’s the massive elephant in the room: the presence of Carrie Fisher. When the film was made, no one knew that she too would fall victim to 2016’s slaughtering of beloved figures. It’s still difficult to process that someone with so seismic a presence, both in Star Wars lore as well as the culture at large, is gone from this earthly coil. As such, it’s hard not be disappointing that Fisher isn’t in the film as much as any of us would want. With that said, the film ultimately does right by the character: each scene Fisher is in is dripping with pathos, giving us one last chance to admire and cheer for one of cinema’s strongest, inspiring and brilliantly acted female leads. Her scenes with Hamill and Dern are particularly effective. Fisher doesn’t go gently, keeping the spunk of the original trilogy while adding a reserved maturity to the new General Leia Organa.
Johnson also throws in some very cool, even touching nods to the original trilogy, including a cameo by Frank Oz as a certain green creature with a connection to Luke Skywalker, and a reprisal of one of the original series’ most iconic scenes. It’s clear he’s a fan and wanted the film to succeed, which it ultimately does despite its flaws.
By and large, The Last Jedi is on the finer end of the nine films, with enough to appreciate and respect in its choices.