Boldly original for a film of this stature
Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017): Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.
The biggest movie of the year is finally here. And boy is it a decisive one. First off, to everyone who isn't a hardcore Star Wars fan, let me say this: you will enjoy this movie. Even if you're a somewhat big fan, (which is probably where I would categorize myself) I think you'll still (at least) like it. The mega-fans, though, are where the division lies. There are some things that happen in this episode that have upset a lot of people. Here's my take: in modern Hollywood, a film like The Last Jedi doesn't get made. Look at Justice League. (My official punching bag for 2017 in case you didn't know already.) That film had obvious corporate mandates written all over it, which takes away from its authenticity. Director (and writer) Rian Johnson was given an unprecedented level of freedom to make whatever he wanted with what will undoubtedly be the highest grossing film of the year. I can REALLY respect Disney/Lucasfilm for doing that. I also think that people got way too into The Force Awakens. I've watched a few videos of people listing their complaints about The Last Jedi, and when they get to their "missing Episode VII" story-lines complaint, they start rattling off things that even I have no memory of. Really? You're upset that they didn't include the 45th subplot in TFA? Look. This is not a perfect movie. Heck, it's not even a great movie, in my opinion. But the good (and great) moments of this film still far outweigh the bad. Episode VII was far from perfect and played things really safe. That's J.J. Abrams style. He's a crowd-pleasing director. Episode VIII isn't perfect, either, but it took risks. Rian Johnson played fast and loose with the Star Wars lore, and I can't help but respect his vision for the universe far more than I did for J.J. Abrmas. And Disney! I really cannot believe they green lighted this, but geez am I glad that they did.
Let's start with the good. Before we get to a brief (to keep it spoiler-free) discussion of the story, let's talk about other elements of this film. The acting. The "new school" class of in The Last Jedi are awesome once again. Even better than they were in TFA honestly. Poe is still my personal favorite. Oscar Isaac is so charming and charismatic it freaking hurts! He continues to be one of my favorite actors in show-business, and I hope he ends up with a career as distinguished as someone like Harrison Ford. Domhnall Gleeson, one of my complaints from TFA, fills out his shoes far better here as General Hux. I actually kind of like Hux in this movie. He's not as awkward as he was the first time around, and the fact that he doesn't have to deliver that really forced Hitler-like speech helps. (Let's be honest-the entire concept of Starkiller base was silly from TFA.) The other stars (Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega) are just as good as they were in TFA. I really like these actors, and I hope they all manage to have good careers in Hollywood after this Star Wars trilogy is over. The big newcomers, though? Benicio Del Toro, Laura Dern, and Kelly Marie Tran? All great in their roles, but none of them have very fleshed-out character arcs. Del Toro and Dern are basically just plot devices, so you're not going to get good arcs for them, but the real loser here is Kelly Marie Tran. She plays Rose and has a story-line with Finn that's.....well.....we'll get into that later. Moving on. Let's talk about one of my favorite parts of Episode VIII: the score. (Cues the trailer for the music) John Williams knocks this one out of the park! I was somewhat disappointed with his score of TFA because I felt (and still do) that it failed to capture the magic of previous Star Wars scores. (The music of Star Wars is my favorite music of any film, so I hold these to a far higher standard than I should) Fortunately, Episode VIII knocks it out of the freaking park in this regard. The score here is awesome, combining some of the best themes from the original (IV-VI) trilogy with some of the better themes of Episode VII. There's one sequence in particular involving the Millennium Falcon that uses a classic theme from Episode IV that made me grin from ear to ear. It was one of my favorite moments of the film. Speaking of! The cinematography is also fantastic. And if that sequence with the Falcon isn't my favorite moment of the film, then another that has this absolutely beautiful shot combined with a stunning moment of silence right in the middle of the climax of the film is. Yes, silence! I LOVE that Rian Johnson wasn't afraid to have the (objectively) best moment of this film be accompanied by total silence. I've seen this film twice, and both times you could hear a pin drop in the theater in this moment, despite it being a full room both times. It's a haunting and beautiful sequence. Finally, the set piece on the mineral planet was amazing. Thanks to the red salt against the white ground, we get some absolutely gorgeous shots throughout this. I mean, look at the picture below! It's so byotiful!
But now let's talk about the story. I'll do my best to avoid spoilers, but if you absolutely don't want to know anything, then skip this paragraph. There's a lot of good in this story, but there are some misfires here as well. First off, the good. Personally, I love Kylo Ren's arc. I wasn't entirely on board with him in TFA, but I am now. He has some awesome moments in this film, and his character goes in a direction that (at least) I wasn't fully expecting, and I love it. Give me more Kylo Ren, please! Additionally, (and this is one of the more polarizing arcs in this film) I like Luke's arc tremendously. Mark Hamill plays Luke exceptionally well, and I really appreciated what his character goes through and where he ends up. Luke's final scene in this film is, in my opinion, perfect, and I can't wait to see what part he plays in Episode IX. Also, I like Snoke in this film. I won't say anything more, but I thought he was kind of dumb in TFA, and I really appreciated where he goes in The Last Jedi. The people complaining about him are silly. After all did The Emperor get any real screen time in any of V and VI? No. HOWEVER, there are some real misfires. Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) is a mere plot device, and Rian Johnson does make her have this kind of silly little subplot with Poe that doesn't add too much to the film. But this makes me upset more so because I love Laura Dern than anything else. There are two rather big misfires here in my opinion. The first (and lesser of the two) is with a rather large subplot involving Finn and Rose. I wasn't on board for much of any of this admittedly long sequence, (so it does throw the pacing off in the middle of the film) but I will say it had some good CGI and cinematography, and it had a good score to back it up. It also did lead to a cool (but otherwise meaningless) post-epilogue scene, so at least there's that. The worst misfire, though, is with Leia. Her entire story arc feels wrong and out-of-place given what happened to the late, great Carrie Fisher. (RIP) Fisher herself is great. This is probably Leia's best film in the Star Wars universe. But....I wish it had been changed. She also has not just the dumbest moment of this movie, but quite possibly the dumbest moment of the entire Star Wars saga. (A saga which has also produced Jar Jar Binks and the casting of Hayden Christensen so that is a fairly impressive feat.) Ugh! Why did you treat Leia like this, Rian Johnson? I want to like it, but I just can't.
So now that we're talking about the bad, story aside, let me bring up two other negatives. First, the CGI. Most of it is pretty good, (definitely better than TFA out-of-place CGI) but there is one sequence where it is TERRIBLE. It doesn't help that this is a bigger moment for the film, but unfortunately it comes off as kind of corny because the CGI is hilariously bad. The other complaint I have is with the humor. Most of the time, I laughed so it wasn't all bad. But! There were a few sequences where the humor felt forced, especially surrounding Finn. He has a lot of (unfortunately) forced gags in this film. This is the M.O. of Rian Johnson, though, so it shouldn't be too surprising. However, other than that, I really don't have any complaints. The silly and dumb do detract from the film overall, but not to the point of it being "worse than the prequels" or anything like that.
In conclusion, I do believe The Last Jedi surpasses its predecessor overall. There were a lot of silly J.J. Abrams story-lines that Johnson wasn't afraid to do away with, and I respect him for shaking things up as much as he did. I wish Rian Johnson was directing Episode IX instead of Disney handing the reins back to Abrams, because I fear he may try and undo a lot of what Johnson did in VIII. It could lead to a tonal mess between the three films. I know this movie has received mixed reviews from the audience, but I actually kind of like that. That was the risk Disney took when they gave Johnson total control of this movie. He got to make the movie he wanted to make, and that just doesn't happen nowadays. Abrams knows how to make a crowd pleasing film. "Hey, you don't like the prequels? Well let me just rehash Episode IV for you." But for as many movies as I see, and how cynical I can be with corporate mandated filmmaking, (cough cough Justice League cough cough) I really prefer the balls-to-the-wall creative style of Johnson over the crowd-pleasing style of Abrams. I will admit that nostalgia got the better of me when I was reviewing TFA, and I ended up giving it too high a score. I gave it an 8 when I should've given it a 6. That won't happen here. The Last Jedi is a good film, with some faults, but it does manage to surpass its predecessor because it doesn't play things safe, and it isn't just a simple rehash of Episode IV or V. It's its own thang, and I love and respect the risk Disney took with Rian Johnson to make it so. See it with confidence, just maaaaybe temper your expectations a tad.
The Critique: A crazy and original film, The Last Jedi manages to surpass its predecessor in nearly every way, despite some faults of its own.
The Recommendation: As if everyone in the world isn't going to go see this film. It did just open to over $220 million domestically. Maybe make it a double feature and show better films like The Disaster Artist some love while you're at it though, ya? Sorry. Couldn't keep my cynical side at bay forever.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 7/10 Good
https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMjk2MjI1MzgxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzczMjIyMzI@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_.jpg (Rey + Luke)
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