A few months ago, we (myself, my wife and a friend of ours) saw “The Last Jedi” on opening weekend, and I was more than a bit disappointed. I jotted down some of my thoughts on the film (at the time) in a largely spoiler-free assessment (link).
Now I want to finish the job.
“The Last Jedi” was, in fact, the first live-action Star Wars movie that I didn’t see in theatres more than once. I know… an epic tragedy, right?
To give that last statement some nerdy context, I’d seen the original 1977 Star Wars (I hate the tacked-on subtitle of “A New Hope”) more times than I can honestly remember; at least 13 or more, including the Special Edition during its theatrical run in early 1997. I’d seen “Empire Strikes Back” (still my favorite) at least 7 or 8 times theatrically (also including the SE). Even “Return of the Jedi” (my least favorite of the original trilogy) squeezed at least 5 or 6 ticket purchases out of me. Then came the problematic prequels. My wife and I actually planned our wedding in June of 1999 so as not to interfere with the May 21st opening of “The Phantom Menace” (we’re both hardcore Star Wars geeks). Ah, how foolish we were in our youthful ignorance…
The two subsequent prequels (with varying degrees of disappointment) each managed to get our asses back into the cinema a few more times as well.
The more recent Disney Star Wars films rekindled the lightsaber.
My wife and I saw “The Force Awakens” five times. “Rogue One” twice. It’s safe to say that Disney/Lucasfilm could pretty much guarantee multiple visits from us by sticking the Star Wars label on a movie. That is, until December of 2017. So viewing “The Last Jedi” only once theatrically was a big deal to this old pathetic Star Wars nerd.
This week, I somewhat perfunctorily purchased “The Last Jedi” on a blu-ray combo pack. My Star Wars movie collection would look kinda funny with a gaping shelf space, so I bought the Target retail exclusive version because it was the only retail version that had the blu-ray, digital copy and DVD version in one set.
Warning to the wise; one of the ‘exclusive’ DVD video extras on the Target set is a 6 minute segment on the making of the Porgs… I kid thee not.
Now having the DVD copy may seem a silly priority to some these days (especially with streaming rapidly phasing out hard media in general) but we only have a single blu-ray player in our house, and multiple DVD drives. I also watch DVDs on my computer’s DVD drive when I do my daily exercise on my stationary bike, so yeah, it’s a priority to me.
Of course, a rational person might wonder; if a movie disappointed me so much, why would I waste money buying it? Well, I think my earlier description of myself as a “pathetic Star Wars nerd” might’ve already answered that (hehe). Funny thing is now, I’m kind of glad that I did pick it up because I’ve just finished rewatching the movie for the first time in three and a half months, and I’ve decided it’s time to reevaluate it.
Usually I’m a bit ‘razzle-dazzled’ after a big theatrical screening (especially in an IMAX or Dolby Atmos screening) and it’s only when I see a film subsequent times in more modest venues do the flaws become more apparent to me (“Star Trek Into Darkness” is a perfect example of this; the second viewing of that film was ruined once my brain was fully engaged and my bedazzled eyeballs sobered up…).
“The Last Jedi” has been the opposite of that experience for me. Now that I’ve seen the movie on a smaller screen (a 21” iMac monitor), it’s also become a more intimate experience. The film’s political/religious subtext is more apparent, and many of the quieter scenes have more resonance.
Spreading the butt-numbing running time of two and a half-hours over a couple of days also makes the film a lot easier to digest.
I won’t bother rehashing the plot of “The Last Jedi” since I’m assuming readers will understand this is a reevaluation, not a first-time review. I’m going to list those elements that remained unchanged from my initial viewing, as well as a list of those elements of the film that I’ve since reevaluated (I suppose that makes this my ‘special edition’ review…? Hehe).
****** AT-AT WALKER SIZED SPOILERS FOR “THE LAST JEDI” ******
Elements of “The Last Jedi” that still don’t work for me:
* Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern’s character) is still an idiot.
This is nothing personal to Laura Dern (an excellent actress), but it’s simply a comment on her character’s deeply unwise choices. The entire Poe Dameron-led mutiny could’ve been avoided altogether if Holdo had simply included her top pilot as part of the decision making process. Knowing the end goal was certainly need-to-know information for the fleet’s best pilot, even if his previous attack on a dreadnought cost the Resistance their entire bomber fleet. Demoted or not, Captain/Commander Dameron would’ve understood what the end goal was (which he later agreed “might work”), and would’ve cooled his jets long enough for the Resistance to stay unified.
Admiral Holdo later redeems herself with a spectacularly suicidal hyperspace jump that slices right into the First Order dreadnought to provide cover for the fleeing Resistance transports. Thought the scene is an emotional (and cinematic) showstopper, her earlier distrust of her own senior pilot only adds to his impetuous nature rather than quells it. Which leads me to my next point…
* Captain/Commander Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is also an idiot.
I enjoy the charismatic Oscar Isaac’s work (especially “Ex Machina”), but his character of Poe Dameron does not come off as particularly heroic in “The Last Jedi”. As noted above, his continued attack on the dreadnought (ignoring General Leia Organa’s orders to break off) cost the Resistance its entire bombing fleet (!). Those deaths, including Rose’s sister Page, are on Poe’s head, since he disobeyed direct orders to the contrary. It’s the kind of failing that’d see Poe Dameron court-martialed and discharged in less-extenuating circumstances.
* Hux and the entire First Order are idiots as well.
For most of the film the First Order armada, led by Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, are trailing the Resistance fleet until they run out of fuel. A fully armed battle fleet trails a convoy of nearly-beaten rebels and the First Order’s great plan is to just wait for them to run out of gas (!?!). Um, why can’t the First Order simply do a quick hyperspace jump ahead of the sublight-traveling Resistance fleet and blow them all to smithereens? No remotely plausible reason (or any reason) is ever given for this (at best questionable) tactic. Many times throughout the film, the First Order troops/ships have ample opportunity to wipe out the rebels once and for all, and they simply don’t. By his sheer mind-boggling ineptitude, Hux comes off less like the cold-blooded ginger-Adolf Hitler we saw in “The Force Awakens” and more like Wile E. Coyote.
* The Canto Bight sequence still seems far too long, and is largely pointless.
Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Finn (John Boyega) head out on a clandestine mission to the Monte Carlo-esque planet of ‘Canto Bight’ in an overly-long and ultimately futile mission to nab a legendary codebreaker and smuggle him aboard a First Order dreadnought in an effort to disable the ship’s ability to track the Resistance fleet through hyperspace.
It’s a sketchy plan at best, and it’s made even worse when the mission is derailed time and again (once again; if only that idiot Admiral Holdo had been more forthcoming, all of this could’ve been avoided…). Rose and Finn are jailed (for a parking violation!), they fail to get their sought codebreaker’s assistance (naturally), and they unwisely choose to trust a man named DJ (Benecio del Toro) who shares their cell, but who clearly doesn’t require their assistance to escape (hmm…suspicious much?). Finn and Rose’s situation begins to look less like a Star Wars movie and more like a “Hangover” sequel.
There’s also another sidetracking subplot with Finn & Rose temporarily freeing abused racing animals, as well as the children who are forced to take care of these creatures. The freed ‘fathiers’ as they’re called (with an escaping Rose and Finn on their backs) stampede throughout the city for what feels like an eternity of wasted screen time. The entire sequence seems to exist primarily as a set up for a quick scene at the end of the movie where we see a force-sensitive stable boy, inspired by the heroics of Luke Skywalker, looks up to the stars. Nice bit, but that moment didn’t require the entire Canto Bight sequence to set it up, since it told us everything we needed to know in those precious few seconds; children in forced servitude (much like Anakin Skywalker in the prequels) dream of freedom and heroics among the stars. That’s all we needed to see. And frankly, it’s a moment that would’ve worked better at the very end of this trilogy, and not to cap the middle chapter.
For my money, they could’ve cut out the entire Canto Bight sequence and edited around it. The result would’ve been a tighter and arguably more effective film.
* Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is little more than a joke.
A potentially interesting character who ultimately shares the same fate as any of the anonymous redshirts from “Star Trek.” She is easily bested in combat (by one of her former subordinates, no less) and she is about as serious a threat as Dr. Evil’s Mini-Me. Phasma is the Boba Fett of this new franchise… a waste of a cool costume. Such a shame, as she is played by an actress of considerable talent.
* Galactic bad-guy Snoke is a big nothing burger.
Wearing a gold bathrobe that looks like he lifted it from a high-end Vegas casino, Snoke (deliciously voiced/acted by the wildly talented Andy Serkis) turns out to be a whole lot of nothing. In “The Force Awakens” he is set up as the galaxy’s new Emperor Palpatine (who had several movies over two trilogies to tell his story). So what happens in this fateful middle chapter to the most powerful being in the galaxy?
He sneers a lot, makes threats, tosses people around with his mind and ultimately dies on the throne (in his silly Las Vegas robe) when his star pupil telekinetically impales him with a light saber. Fin. End of Story.
We never learn how this creepy, scar-faced interloper ‘seduced’ young Jedi-trainee Ben Solo (aka Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver), nor do we learn how he became so powerful within the First Order (did he create the Order, or did he appropriate it somehow?). In the end, we know nothing more about Snoke than we knew in “The Force Awakens.”
Once again, as in the case of Captain Phasma, a great actor (Andy Serkis) and potentially interesting character are wasted.
* Still not loving the Porgs, either.
They were nothing but toy commercials a few months ago, and they’re even more obnoxious upon repeat viewing. Their only talents are for annoyance and for getting in the way. Still wish Chewbacca had taken that bite…
Moving on now…
Elements of “The Last Jedi” that I’ve come to appreciate.
* The changes to the character of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
When I first saw “The Last Jedi” one of the initial big disappointments was the transformation of Luke Skywalker from idealistic optimist to bitter old man. Less “may the force be with you” and more “get off my lawn.” Granted, this was my first impression, and sometimes first impressions are wrong.
Upon my at-home rewatch, I’ve come to appreciate the commentary that Skywalker makes about the state of organized religion through his reluctance to train Rey (Daisy Ridley) in the ways of the Jedi. The Jedi legacy is, as he says, a legacy of failure and hubris; they failed to stop an obvious evil (Darth Sidious; literally hiding in plain sight), largely due to their arrogant belief in their own invincibility.
Both the Jedi and the Sith fail in the same way that many fundamentalist religions do; the unwavering belief that there is only one absolute way to enlightenment. “Last Jedi”’s Luke may be grumpy, but he also makes an interesting point (a point Kylo Ren reaffirms later on); dogmatic religious traditions and rituals have not served the Star Wars galaxy well.
Another well-placed shot Luke makes against orthodoxy is that no one faith can ‘own’ or lay claim to the sum of the universe’s energy or its wisdom. That was, perhaps, the Jedi Order’s biggest mistake; the belief that they were the only true way to enlightenment. Reading between the lines, that same mistake also applies to modern-day fundamentalists and the misery they bring into our own world through the pursuit of their ‘faith’ through intimidation, terrorism and subjugation.
I didn’t read much of that the first time I saw “The Last Jedi” (the razzle-dazzle factor of a big screen presentation distracted me, I’ll admit), but I certainly got it upon my second viewing.
Luke’s reunion with the force-ghost of Master Yoda is quite revelatory, too (Yoda is back in puppet form; voiced/performed by Frank Oz).
Yoda, a 900-year minister/master of Jedi tradition and dogma, has also given the middle finger to it as well. Yoda cheerily brings down a lightning bolt to destroy ancient texts of the Jedi order (“Page turners they were not”), thus washing away the last vestiges of an outmoded faith. When I first saw this it felt like a contradiction to the far more orthodox Yoda we saw in “Empire…” and “Return…” but it seems that, even in the Star Wars afterlife, opinions and beliefs are capable of evolving. I think on my initial viewing I was expecting a more traditional Luke (the starry-eyed optimist) and Yoda (the orthodox master). So while I still have a difficult time believing that the Luke who turned Darth Vader back to goodness would try to snuff out his own nephew in his sleep, it’s not such a slippery slope to imagine an older Luke and a spectral Yoda questioning the wisdom of everything they’d learned (“You must unlearn what you have learned…”).
Perhaps Luke’s curmudgeonly return in this film didn’t hit the emotional highs I’d hoped for, but it gives more to chew on with subsequent viewings.
Luke’s final brief reunion with Leia and his master-vs-pupil showdown with Kylo Ren were among the best scenes in the film, even if they were delivered via force-hologram (which sapped them of some of their power, in my opinion). I would’ve preferred it if Luke had used his considerable ‘reactivated’ force power to send his physical self there instead; that would’ve been a much stronger ‘final act’ of the last Jedi. Actual teleportation through will alone. It was an idea hinted at with Han’s dice placed in Leia’s hand, and with the rain on Ahch-To wetting a distant Kylo Ren during his mind-meld with Rey aboard the dreadnought. It’s an idea that’s never quite fully realized.
Nevertheless, Luke’s Last Stand is still a great moment, psychic hologram or not.
* Rey (Daisy Ridley).
While I was initially disappointed with what seemed like a lack of development in Rey’s training, my recent rewatch tuned me into the more subtle shadings of her character in this film. Her parents are her Achilles’ heel, and while I wasn’t exactly keen on the notion of Rey’s parents being a couple of drunkards who sold their kid for booze money, I do very much like the idea of Rey not being of noble lineage. She is just a common kid in a big galaxy… with an extraordinary gift. That is a far more powerful statement than if she’d been a secret Skywalker or perhaps a lost Kenobi grand-niece somehow. While I still wish that her parents had been forced to give her up for some greater “Sophie’s Choice” reason, I do see the wisdom of keeping her ‘ordinary.’
Though I still think Luke was a bit of a d!ck for throwing shade at her ‘nowhere’ home planet of Jakuu (said the ex-farmboy from Tatooine…).
Nevertheless, ’nobody Rey’ is a push towards further democratization of the force (something Luke himself alludes to when he says neither Jedi nor Sith ‘own’ the force) and another blow to the prequels’ notion that the force is reserved for those with ‘royal blood’ (that midichlorian nonsense; wisely forgotten now).
I also appreciated the sexual tension between Rey and Kylo Ren, which brings me to my next point…
* Kylo Ren and Rey… together.
Rey’s scenes with Kylo Ren (the force-Skype calls and their face-to-face reunion before Snoke) are also among the film’s best. There is a sexual charge between them now that adds something we’ve never seen in a Star Wars movie before; heroes and villains who might be physically attracted to each other. Rey is visibly flushed when she ‘sees’ a muscular, shirtless Kylo Ren across spacetime. When Luke angrily interrupts one of Rey and Ren’s force-Skype chats (literally bringing down the house), it has an element of forbidden fruit to it… the angry guardian/parent figure not wanting his little girl to hang out with ‘that boy.’
What if the love of a ‘nobody’ girl is the key to redeeming the errant child of ‘noble born’ heroes? That would definitely be a new wrinkle to cinematic Star Wars, but it’s consistent with the notion that love is what ultimately saves the universe. As further proof, we also have Rose’s rescue of Finn from a would-be kamikaze run into a powerful energy weapon during the battle on Crait. A son’s love for his father was the redeeming factor of the original trilogy… maybe another kind of love is the key to this new trilogy?
If love truly is the key to the Star Wars universe (and another failing of the celibate Jedi in not realizing this), then a hero and villain uniting through its power may ultimately achieve the unity of the light and dark sides. Maybe that is the “balance” alluded to in Rey’s vision of the force.
Yes, Kylo Ren has some horrific things (including patricide), but can love redeem him? His grandfather slaughtered children (something I still see as irredeemable, but I digress), and was complicit in the destruction of an entire world (his daughter’s adopted home planet of Alderaan). Vader/Anakin Skywalker was ultimately redeemed through his son’s love.
Maybe a similar redemption awaits Kylo Ren/Ben Solo through the love of a ‘nobody’ girl from a ‘nowhere’ world. We’ll see…
* The further graying of the Star Wars universe’s formerly black and white morality.
“Rogue One” showed us some of the shades of gray behind the black and white heroic triumphs of the Star Wars chapter movies. The informants, assassins, terrorists and spies who made Luke’s destruction of the Death Star possible. I enjoyed “Rogue One” precisely because it championed those darker, unsung heroes who are not the sort who wind up in legends, folk songs or on boxes of Wheaties.
“The Last Jedi” hints at a war complex profiteering off both sides of the galactic war by selling arms to whomever pays. My wife said it best when she said this idea would make for a terrific standalone non-chaptered Star Wars movie (it’s also alluded to in “Star Wars Rebels”; a Disney cartoon series that is ridiculously underrated). At the very least, it’s given lip service in “The Last Jedi” by the codebreaker-traitor-louse “DJ” (played with a not-terribly-convincing stutter affectation by Benecio del Toro).
This is a tantalizing hint of an evil far more profound than grandstanding emperors and witless stormtroopers…
* Some nice fan service moments, too.
Luke’s brief vision of a double-sunset and the swell of the force theme as he disappears; a nice callback to the double-sunset moment of the original 1977 film.
Luke strolling through the interiors of the Millennium Falcon.
Luke’s gift to Leia of the dice from the cockpit of Solo’s Millennium Falcon (which, like Luke, aren’t actually ‘there’, but it’s a nice sentiment…)
R2-D2 (who is little more than a prop for most of the movie) playing back Leia’s original holographic call for help from the 1977 film.
Speaking of which…
A final performance of Carrie Fisher as Princes–er, General Leia Organa (Solo); she left us too soon, and she will be sorely missed. I don’t know exactly how they’ll explain her absence in the next film (since she lives at the end of “The Last Jedi”, despite a near-death scene early on), but it was lovely to see her in action one final time.
There are many more sprinkled throughout, but those were some of my favorites.
“The Last Jedi” is moody, troubled and overly-long, but definitely worthy of further attention; preferably in a more intimate venue than an overwhelming theatrical screening.
Though I still believe that “The Last Jedi” is plagued with some fundamental character and story issues, I’ve come to belatedly recognize some of the deeper, more interesting ideas about the larger Star Wars universe (and our own universe) that the film presents.
While I can’t say “The Last Jedi” is another “Empire Strikes Back” (still my favorite of the saga), I can say that it is a more profound and interesting Star Wars film than I initially gave it credit for being.
As many memorable films often do long after their theatrical runs, “The Last Jedi” will no doubt continue to inspire impassioned fan debate for years to come.