Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Violence
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’O & Domhnall Gleeson
The STAR WARS series has experienced many ups-and-downs during its four decades of existence. While most fans consider the original trilogy to be an untouchable trio of classics, I only consider two of them to be great films (Episodes IV and V) and think that Episode VI is a bit of a mess. While most fans also seem to despise the prequel trilogy entirely, I actually enjoy two of those films (Episodes II and III) and consider Episode I to be the worst STAR WARS movie in existence. In recent years, Episode VII was an entertaining blast (even if it was too reminiscent of Episode IV) and ROGUE ONE turned out to be my third favorite films in the franchise. Episode VIII: THE LAST JEDI has garnered lots of mixed reactions. Some fans adore it, some fans hate it, and critics seem to generally love it. Where do I fall? Well, I’m somewhere in the middle-ground. THE LAST JEDI is…okay.
Picking up directly after the events of Episode VII, scavenger-turned-heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found the reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and wishes to be trained as a Jedi. Luke is convinced that the Jedi are a dying breed and the universe is doomed, so he’s reluctant to take Rey on as an apprentice. Meanwhile, the Resistance find themselves running from a First Order fleet that can track them through lightspeed. With dwindling fuel supplies and a race-against-time, stormtrooper-turned-ally Finn (John Boyega), determined pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac), and maintenance worker Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) attempt to thwart the First Order’s tracking device…before they all wind up in the deadly clutches of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his emotionally unstable Sith apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
On the positive side of things, LAST JEDI introduces cool new ideas for that mystical energy known as “The Force.” There are “Force” moments (with Rey and Kylo Ren) that manage to develop characters in brave new ways. Daisy Ridley’s Rey isn’t shown to the be all-powerful bad-ass that she was in Episode VII because she’s thrown into a few situations that she can’t get out of alone. These moments deliberately fix the complaint that people had towards her being a “Mary Sue” in Episode VII. At the same time, Kylo Ren is made into a not entirely evil antagonist. Some people have complained that he’s not a scary villain, but I think the fact that you can somewhat sympathize with him and understand his intentions make him scarier…because you understand him.
The script also does things with the character of Luke Skywalker that I appreciated. Mark Hamill hasn’t always been the greatest actor (even in the series that made him famous) and he delivers certain lines in an unconvincing wooden manner. Still, Hamill’s Skywalker is a nice blast from the past. This aged Skywalker has grown jaded with the Jedi, the Sith, the Force, and the universe as a whole. One might argue that he pouts more than Kylo Ren did in the first film. However, I thought it was nice change of pace to see this hero fall from grace and become a reclusive hermit (in a similar fashion to what Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi did after Episode III).
Now, I’ll dive into some of Episode VIII’s negative aspects. Carrie Fisher’s Leia is in this film, but seems to have been included out of an obligation as opposed to a necessity. She also has one of the dumbest scenes in the entire film. It seemed like the script was moving into an extremely ballsy direction (that would have echoed the utter darkness and despair of Episode V), but coped out in the lamest way possible. I’d love to hear some people defend this scene (it happens early on and you’ll definitely know it when you see it), because I had to keep myself from laughing out loud at how ridiculous it looked and what a cheap remedy it was.
The idea of being on the run from the First Order with fuel that’s slowly (but surely) running out is a good one. It’s basically like the space opera version of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. The film gets milks tension out of its premise and introduces a subplot that could have been potentially awesome. However, this subplot (featuring Finn, Poe, and newcomer Rose) seems like a waste of time. It’s all totally inconsequential to what matters in this film and feels like we wasted nearly a third of screen time watching it progress towards nothing. Also, the film writes off a few interesting characters in extremely disappointing ways. I won’t dive too deeply into who they are, but they deserved better send-offs than the anti-climactic shrugs they received.
As far as spectacle is concerned, LAST JEDI nails its chases. fights, and battles. There is plenty of entertainment to be found in those sequences and the effects mostly look just as great as you’d expect them to in a huge blockbuster made by one of the biggest movie studios in existence. One fight scene in which Kylo Ren and Rey are placed in the same room sticks out as one of the film’s biggest highlights. Meanwhile, a trip to a casino planet offers a lot of neat creatures and genuinely funny comic relief (although it is ultimately included in the inconsequential subplot). My one complaint with Episode VIII’s spectacle comes in the Porgs…annoying creatures that serve as an excuse to sell toys. At least the Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks served a purpose in their films. I can’t say anything pleasant about the Porgs.
STAR WARS Episode VIII: THE LAST JEDI is on the same level as Episode II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES and Episode VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI for me. There are qualities that I really enjoyed about this film. I liked the jaded Luke Skywalker, new aspects of the Force, the spectacular action scenes, and the further development of Rey and Kylo Ren. I didn’t like what the film did with Leia, a disappointing subplot that went absolutely nowhere, and a few characters who have been removed from the series in the lamest ways possible. I’m interested enough to see where Episode IX takes us in two years, but my expectations for Disney’s STAR WARS revival series have been knocked down a peg. Due to the polarizing reactions from fans on this film, it’s safe to say that you’ll just have to see this one to decide for yourself. I thought it was okay…but I expect my STAR WARS films to be better than okay.