Star Wars The Last Jedi: Amongst the Franchise’s Best? [Spoiler Review]

In only two weeks of being in theaters Star Wars The Last Jedi has proven to be the most divisive film of the saga. In my spoiler free review I tried my best to explain, without revealing any significant plot points, why the hate for Last Jedi is completely unnecessary and instead should be lauded for its bold direction. This review is filled with spoilers so I’m warning those now who haven’t seen the film to read at their own risk or read my spoiler free review here. I’ve noticed what aspects of the film people seemed to love and hate the most and analyzed whether they worked well or didn’t work at all. Firstly let’s begin with the most hated storyline of  The Last Jedi, the Canto Bight sequence.

Canto Bight ( The Force/Nature vs Man)

Canto-Bight-residents-from-Star-Wars-The-Last-JediTo those unfamiliar to what the “Canto Bight sequence” refers to it’s the portion of the film where Finn and Rose head to the casino city in hopes to find a man who may be able to help The Resistance escape The First Order. Many have said, and I quote, that the sequence “feels like it belongs in the prequels”. Finn and Rose do find someone who can help them on Canto Bight, DJ (Benicio Del Toro) but he then decides to betray them and his character is oddly removed from the story.  Regardless of this pointless character the Canto Bight sequence explores a dimension of Star Wars that is fairly new to fans, that is that an underground arms dealership exists which feeds a 1%, and also includes elements that are quite familiar to the Star Wars universe.

Only of late have I fully realized that man and nature, just as the light and dark side, are conflicting sides throughout the series. In Episode IV Luke destroys the first Death Star, the largest weapon created in the galaxy, by using the force. In Empire Luke, with his premature training on Dagobah, battles Darth Vader in a clash that quite literally pits man against machine. Return of The Jedi fully depicts nature defeating man/machine as the “savage” Ewoks defeat the technologically advanced Empire on Endor and Vader reveals his human half to his son leaving his machine self behind for good.

In The Last Jedi  Finn, Rose and the flock of fathiers destroy the voluptuous  casinos of Canto Bight built from revenue earned from man made machines, weapons and spacecrafts. At the end of the sequence Rose allows the wild species to roam free never to be domesticated (hopefully) again. Contrary to popular opinion, this sequence actually displays Rion Johnson’s understanding of Star Wars as he, similar to saga’s predecessors have done, includes this  familiar fight between nature and man/machine and, of course, shows the former trumping over the latter.

Characters

Phasma

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster“Phasma was wasted,” is the perfect comment to paraphrase fans’ outcry that Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma was misused. Her fight against Finn was well  choreographed and was certainly her best scene since coming to fruition in Episode VII and served as a great way to set the tone for the fast paced, action heavy third act of the film. Was her death premature? Maybe. Perhaps she’ll survive the fall in the security of her armour but only time can tell.

Those who hate Phasma’s character, or more specifically her little influence on the story, should understand that she was never promoted to be significantly impactful to the plot of this trilogy. The size of character figures on The Force Awakens poster corresponds to their screen time and significance to the story. Han, Leia, Kylo Ren, Rey, and Finn are given significant portions of the poster while everyone else is quite small. Luke doesn’t utter a word and we thus don’t find him on this poster at all. Phasma, who hangs above the title, is hardly the size of BB8. Fan speculation and theorizing before The Force Awakens made Phasma seem like she was going to be something grand when the evidence proves that she hardly was.

BB8

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BB8 was as lovable as ever In The Last Jedi but I think he earned more laughs and stole more scenes in The Force Awakens just a tad bit more.

Finn and Rose

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My biggest critique of The Last Jedi, and the sequel trilogy at that, stems from the direction they took with Finn’s character. In The Force Awakens I felt like his addition into the story was a little forced and much too sudden but I went with it anyways. The promotional run for Episode VII showed him wielding Anakin’s lightsaber but we learned that it was Rey who would be the force user of the new trilogy. I went with this as well still keeping a slither of hope that he might become a Jedi too. Instead in The Last Jedi he has fully pledged himself to The Resistance, that’s fine too, but he is as two dimensional and thin as he was when we first met him. Unlike Rey who is fleshed out and has bundles of theories and speculation circulating her character, Finn is just there and remains just being ‘there’ in The Last Jedi.

Rose is one of the latest additions to the cast and although she is quite likable, her sister Paige, who has significantly less screen time, seemed more interesting. Rose’s relationship with Finn was quite natural but the romance element, again, felt forced.

Poe

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In  The Last Jedi, The Resistance’s best pilot is more hot headed, radical and hasty than in The Force Awakens. He has a deep hatred for The First Order, rightfully so, but acts rash in order to save his friends and The Resistance. His dynamic with Leia, General Organa I should say, is one of the film’s most unique character relationships and the two frequently provide some laughs to a rather funny movie. Isaac and his character are both bundles of joy but Poe’s storyline gets quite repetitive. He frequently clashes with Holdo and Organa and sometimes his rashness gets him detained and other times we see the two resistance leaders listening to him. It gets quite cyclical but in no way hinders the film significantly.

Holdo

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One of the greatest moments of the film and of the entire saga is when Holdo puts a Resistance ship in hyperdrive and completely slashes open a First Order fleet. Her hands reach for a lever, the stars begin to elongate into blue lines, and John William’s score crescendos. Then, for a few dramatic seconds the score is silent, there is no sound, and the only thing the audience sees is a spark of light followed by First Order ships splitting in half. Epic. To be frank, there was no emotional attachment to Holdo as she was just introduced in the film and sacrificed herself to keep The Resistance alive. This scene could have been replicated by another anti-fascist who has been fighting for well over 40 years, Admiral Ackbar. But instead the Rebellion leader was unrighteously given an offscreen death and the limelight was given to Holdo instead.

General Leia Organa

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Going into the theater most thought that Leia was going to die given the untimely death of Princess Carrie Fisher. Kylo wasn’t the one to pull the trigger but instead a group of TIE-Fighters who shot the bay Leia was commanding in. For a good minute or two there was no sign that she may have survived the attack and I thought they’d just killed off one of the most iconic characters in cinema history in the most underwhelming way possible. But The Last Jedi, as this scene asserted, subverts expectations and gives a Leia scene that many have been asking for. She doesn’t necessarily fly, as the internet seems to be disgusted with, but uses the force to pull herself to safety in the vacuum of space. Leia’s connection with the force has only surfaced when connected to another character, more specifically a man. In Empire she ‘feels’ Luke hanging for his life in Bespin, in Return of The Jedi she knows her brother was not on the Death Star as it exploded in the sky, and in The Force Awakens she slowly nears a chair in pain knowing that the love of her life has been killed. In The Last Jedi Leia’s connection with the force is not associated with any man and fans finally see her using it for herself. There is absolutely no reason that Leia, the daughter of Anakin Skywalker and brother of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, should not be able to use the force in such a way. In Episode VIII Leia is as independent and bold as ever. She commands the entire resistance and her connection with the force finally comes full circle in a scene that proves to be one of the franchise’s most impactful.

Rey & Kylo Ren

 

Again The Last Jedi continuously subverted audience expectations and did so incredibly well with Rey and Kylo Ren. Their force conversations, one of the most interesting elements of the film, seem to hint that their new found connection through the force may be because the two of them are twins. Ultimately we learn that Snoke was behind this and purposefully connected the two with one another.  Their fight against Snoke’s guards was undeniably one of Star Wars bests. The slip from slow mo, into fast past action was simply incredible. The full body shots, quick zooms and whips of the camera, film techniques not foreign to Star Wars but quite new to Star Wars action scenes, helped create such an exhilarating scene. The reveal that Rey’s parentage is meaningless was as perfect as it would have been if she were a Skywalker, Kenobi or Solo. Rey isn’t the chliched “chosen one” and her character sets up a more unique and inspiring arc which argues that you don’t have to be special to make an impact in the world, or galaxy.

After learning how Luke almost murdered him in his sleep, Ren’s angst is now viewed more so as understandable frustration and fear. Driver plays the various emotions of this multi-dimensional character extremely well and gives, once again, a phenomenal performance and possibly the film’s best.

My own quibble with the Kylo and Rey dynamic is that I wish they had a lightsaber duel in Snoke’s throne room or on Crait. Going into to Episode IX it does feel like there isn’t enough conflict in their relationship as there should be.

Supreme Leader Snoke

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Killing Supreme Leader Snoke was an interesting choice by Rion Johnson to say the least. Johnson’s decision was met with a wave of hate by fans who claimed that the director continuously felt the need to dismiss all the mysteries established in The Force Awakens. Similar to the outrage with Phasma, Snoke was not a character who was meant to be a mystery. The camera never pressed on his face or lingered on his figure. His screen time in The Force Awakens probably does not surpass 2 minutes. Fan speculation and theorizing on the internet built his character up into a mystery when he never was deliberately meant to be one. Who or what Snoke is does not matter at all. Perhaps he may be of importance in the future as there must be a reason for that brief shot depicting his dismembered body on the ground.

Luke Skywalker

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The direction Johnson took with Luke Skywalker is probably the most divisive Last Jedi debate. I can imagine that many fans wanted Luke to face off against Kylo Ren instead of using a force projection. For a bulk of this film Luke is hermitized, he’s broody, pessimistic and inactive and more or less remains this way for the remainder of the film. Yes, seeing Luke, not a projection, using a saber would’ve been awesome but him not doing doesn’t take away from his character as well.

The Last Jedi, as some may not believe, is an extremely layered and thematic movie. A central theme of the film, which is even stated by Kylo Ren, is to let go of the past and focus on the present – of course he said this in a much darker manner. When Yoda speaks with Luke he jokes at how his former apprentice still remains fixated on the horizon. Never here. Unable to let go of his failures in the past, Luke cannot be proactive in the present, as the Last Jedi’s theme suggests, and thus becomes the passive, sulky character we are introduced to. Luke’s character may have disappointed many but the hatred for Johnson’s decision is, once again, unjustified. Luke’s character arc, as solemn and passive as it may be, is effortlessly intertwined in this theme of letting go.

Star Wars is about twists, subverting expectations, and creating unpredictable character arcs. There were hundreds of theories circulating Luke and Johnson debunked them all. Luke is known to be the strongest Jedi there ever was and this is demonstrated when we see him project an image of himself parsecs away from the outer, most remote locations of the galaxy. It’s a trick that fans have never seen Jedi use but understandably so as it completely drains the life force out of Luke. Fans are slamming Johnson for his misunderstanding of Star Wars but he certainly fully understands the galaxy far, far away. He did not ruin Luke Skywalker’s character but in fact brought him full circle. Our beloved Luke’s story comes to an end in the same manner it began, glancing off in the distance where two suns meet the horizon.

Rian Johnson

Absolutely nothing satisfies a Star Wars fans outside of the Original Trilogy. Most to all fans hate the prequels, heavily critiqued The Force Awakens for being too similar to A New Hope and now are calling for The Last Jedi, an incredibly original film that doesn’t borrow plot points from Empire, to be removed from Star Wars canon. A lot of Star Wars fans are simply fans of the franchise. They’ve watched all the films and television series, read all the novelizations, know a significant amount about the expanded universe and so on and so forth. A lot of Star Wars fans also are not fans of film or filmmaking too and have little interest with the more technical elements of the films. Thus the incredible work of JJ Abrams, Gareth Edwards and now Rion Johnson continuously goes unnoticed by a significant amount of viewers. Storytelling aside, The Force Awakens, Rogue One and The Last Jedi are amongst the saga’s best looking films in terms of cinematography and special effects. Similar to  the story of The Last Jedi, Johnson’s film is directed unlike any other Star Wars film before it.

Rey and Kylo Ren vs Snoke’s guards, Rey’s visualization of the force, almost all the scenes on Crait, and the entire scene between Luke and Yoda, just to name a few, are beautifully shot and are moments that certainly remained etched within some fans’ minds.

I’m officially off the nerd high of The Last Jedi and have had over a week to sit on this film. After countless hours of pouring through online discussion threads and hearing all sides of criticism I can certainly say that Rion Johnson’s film is undeniably one of the franchise’s best. Luke, Leia, Kylo Ren, and Rey are given incredible story arcs but Johnson does struggle to balance the rest of the characters and provide each on as much depth as the film’s central cast members .  The Last Jedi is flawed, yes, but certainly not as horrendous as haters of the film make it out to be.

Disagree or love the film just as much as I did? Feel free to live your thoughts in the comment below.

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Also did anyone else notice Snoke’s black ring or the fact that Rey stole the Jedi texts and had another lightsaber in the Millenium Falcon that could possibly be Luke’s green lightsaber? Or how the kid on Canto Bight use the force to bring a broomstick into his hands?????? Or how something was definitely flying towards Luke in the horizon just before he became one with the force.

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