I really wanted to like this, after all, it is a Star Wars film, not a prequel like ‘Rogue One’, where it quite honestly does not detract from your enjoyment of the series if choose not to see it. ‘The Last Jedi’ is the follow on from ‘The Force Awakens’, a much beloved return to the series which reintroduced our favourite characters after a long absence. So, the pressure was on to deliver something either on par with ‘The Force Awakens’ or to strive to create something better.
For this review, I’m going to split it quite clearly into two sections. A non-spoiler section to begin with, and then a spoiler section because frankly there is a lot to discuss.
Upon release of ‘The Last Jedi’, there seemed to be a great deal of confusion generated by the press on the quality of this film. Both The Times and The Guardian gave it 4 stars, while the film’s score on Rotten Tomatoes is a staggering 92% from 337 critic reviews. Providing a false perception that this film is as good as ‘Return of the Jedi’, as one review claimed. Meanwhile audiences, particularly the fans of the series, strongly disagree, with both petitions to have the film removed from canon, and scoring 52% on the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Honestly one does not have to watch the film for long to discover its faults, for, despite my own love of the series, which I sheepishly admit to partly clouding my judgement, I must confess that ‘The Last Jedi’ is a huge letdown. Now, whether this can be attributed to the director Rian Johnson, or because Disney is meddling in places it does not belong, is honestly anyone’s guess.
The film has a promising start, with Poe and BB-8 leading an attack on a Dreadnaught, which is followed by a surprisingly comedic dialogue between Poe and General Hux, before an exciting and entertaining battle takes place. This opening sets a positive tone both in regard to the humour, and the action sequences. Sadly, Johnson fails to sustain this level of entertainment, for once the main characters move away from the opening spectacle, the narratives for both Poe and Fin become so ridiculous, pointless and frustrating to watch, that you are counting down the minutes until Luke, Rey and Kylo reappear.
Poe is once again played by Oscar Isaac, a man we can all agree is a fantastic actor. One who I wanted to see more in the first film, so be careful what you wish for, for Poe’s narrative is muddled, with gaping plot holes that honestly should have been re-written or edited down to a maximum of 20 minutes. Through Poe we gain time with Lea, played by the wonderful Carrie Fisher, may she rest in peace. Her character does have a lot more screen time as promised, and her performance is good. However, I did have one fundamental problem with her character. Obviously, Fisher will not appear in the next one, and one can only pray that a CGI version of her does not appear. So ‘The Last Jedi’ signifies a send-off for another iconic Star Wars character. Now I won’t say in this section what happens to her character, however, Johnson rather unkindly decides to play with our minds and emotions, which is not only distracting, but dampens the final send-off. There are only so many times you can mourn one character.
Fin is possibly the one character I feel the most sorry for. Whereas in ‘The Force Awakens’ he was given comedy, intensity, and internal strive to contend with. Here he is reduced to almost obscurity while having to contend with newcomer Rose Tisco (Kelly Marie Tran), who frankly didn’t need to be in this film offering nothing more than a few Hallmark phrases. Whereas Fin strived because he had chemistry with Han Solo, with Rose he is left with nothing other more than some odd orphaned character whose initial tragedy you totally forget about after an hour.
On the other side of the universe, Rey has found Luke Skywalker and begins her training, mirroring Luke’s own journey in the original trilogy. This narrative was by far the most enjoyable, if only irritating in its continual copy and paste approach from Harry Potter. This narrative I found most engaging if only because it felt the closest to watching a Star Wars film, with the exploration of some backstory, and a much more prominent use of the force. Daisy Ridley is good as Rey, but there was something lacking from her performance this time, whether it was the poor direction or the sheer quantity of material crammed into this film, ‘The Last Jedi’ lost sight of the character journey that made ‘Force Awakens’ so good.
I don’t know whether the director Rian Johnson is an overly excited fan, or whether Disney handed him a checklist with the thickness of an entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy book, but my god did he cram a lot into this film. Whereas ‘The Force Awakens’ kept to an even kilter of humans, aliens and exotic new planets. Thus allowing for a shorter runtime but with a greater focus on the characters, and the intelligently paced intensity of scenes, such as Rey’s interrogation from ‘Force Awakens’. ‘The Last Jedi’ dispenses with all of it, so that scenes such as Rey being tortured by Snoke, feels incredibly brief and therefore loses impact.
On the subject of losing impact, I feel outraged at the handling of Snoke’s character, whose introduction in the previous film was shrouded in mystery, yet his character reveal was little more than a visually decaying old man in gold PJs. Which did look marvellous I must admit, but did little to make up for his extremely lacklustre character of a one-dimensional villain.
There are a great many problems with this film, but there are also some bold directional choices that work in its favour. Johnson has made decisions that will forever alter the Star Wars universe, and some of these choices have already angered fans. Yet unlike ‘Force Awakens’, Johnson does not rely too heavily on the power of nostalgia but chooses bold moves, some of which are genuinely good plot twists and surprises. Even if other twists are done for shock value rather adding anything to the narrative.
Porgs, the tiny flying puffin creatures, are the latest things vying for our attention in ‘The Last Jedi’. Small things that scream, fly around and cast big doughy eyes on you if you attempt to eat one of their own species, much like a non-coherent Puss in Boots. They don’t actually add anything to the plot and are clearly some sort of gimmick for Disney to market. Yet unlike BB-8, I wouldn’t mind never seeing them again, for although they do add humour to the film, they don’t have the type of personality of say a Minion or the penguins from ‘Madagasar’ or small animated creature that’s supposed to be cute.
The editing in this film leaves a lot to be desired. As mentioned previously, Fin’s tedious adventure and Poe’s problematical plot line needed some serious work. The film’s runtime is 2hr 32 mins, and yet it feels closer to 3 hours as there are so many small moments that add nothing to the film. For example, during one scene where the Rebels are guarding their base by standing guard in a trench. One chap decides to stand above them in the open with binoculars, only for a second man to notice the red footprints the first has left behind, proceeding to taste the white material and declare it to be salt. How, just how did that scene make the final cut?
The film isn’t a total misstep, it’s merely that the missteps, poor direction and inability to edit the film taint your perception of those elements that are good. For example, the final encounter between Rey and Snoke is incredibly impressive, wonderfully choreographed, and it is at that point that the film suddenly feels like a Star Wars film once more. The final hour or so is where the film finally becomes interesting once more for all characters. Where we move from a fantastic lightsabre battle with Rey, to the remaining troops in the rebellion arriving at the final planet. A planet where a vibrant red surface is covered by white salt, and where stunning diamond Foxes inhabit the barren wastelands. This last planet in the film honestly creates an incredibly striking and fantastic set piece for one of Star War’s best moments. The entire scene is truly marvellous to behold, particularly on the big screen. Though I won’t comment on the narrative as a great deal happens, this last hour or so is genuinely excellent and does leave you with a high. Just not one strong enough to forget the rest of the film.
OVERALL ** – This is not the film you are looking for despite rave reviews from critics, nor was Rian Johnson the correct choice. Far too much is forced into this film. One that needed better direction in editing, an actual plot for Fin and Poe, with some much better answers for long-awaited questions. The final hour or so is spectacular, one just has to wade through utter drivel to reach it.
RECOMMENDATION – If you, like me, are a fan of the series then I have no doubt you will see this regardless of reviews, and sadly you might have to, for things happen in this film that will forever change the Star Wars landscape. That is unless the next director, J.J, decides to make a lot of changes and render the whole thing whole thing irrelevant. Time will tell.
Poe Dameron’s plot was one giant plot-hole. Granted I was as happy as anyone to see more Jason Isaac acting, but not at the cost of a solid narrative. For had anyone actually bothered to simply explain the plan to Poe, a character who has repeatedly proven his loyalty to both the Rebellion and to Lea, then this entire arc for this film could easily have been cut to 20 minutes. Instead, he is for someone reason lied to by Holdo, kept in suspense, organises a mutiny and is knocked unconscious simply because he is a hot head.
Fin’s narrative is equally as redundant, for I really did not care for the rich city with its pomposity that lacked character and purpose, and yet had time for cameos from Justin Theroux and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Sadly Rose added nothing to the narrative, and yet somehow became a romantic connection for Fin, despite a total absence of visible chemistry between the par. Why Johnson felt the need to introduce that kiss scene is beyond me, another example of failure to edit, to direct, or perhaps because of interference. Frankly, I wish Fin had used the escape pod, perhaps then he would have found a better narrative, one that would mirror ‘The Force Awakens’.
Benicio Del Toro is a fine actor, and much was made of his casting, yet he was reduced to a forgettable backstabbing thief. One who Fin seemed weirdly surprised by the inevitable betrayal despite numerous clues.
Snoke was possibly the most frustrating reveal of the entire film. I don’t count the ‘reveal’ of Rey’s parents as I strongly believe there will be another twist in the next film. Snoke was introduced as the new Darth Sidious, old, powerful and manipulating an apprentice. Yet to not even provide a smidgen of new detail before his death was both incredibly surprising and frustrating. His death was nothing more than a deliberate shock plot twist and waste of something that could have been very rewarding. It will be interesting to see if Kylo can move beyond his temper tantrums and become something worthy of his Grandfather.
Lea obviously does not die in this film, for Johnson had already stated that nothing was changed post Carrie Fischer’s untimely death. Yet I could not help wondering if there would be a send-off for her character, thus providing us with a reason for her absence in the next film. For her character, we do see a Last Supper styled shot of the entire crew at the end. It is a lovely touch that I did appreciate, less so were the numerous false deaths, particularly as it was made clear that Lea was to be an important part of the third film.
The force is obviously of paramount importance to this series, with the Skywalkers in particular the most profound users of it. From Darth Vader to Kylo Ren, there is no denying that as a family they are one with the force. Yet it was only ever hinted and teased that Lea might have some ability in this subject. Something that was never seen nor explored in the original trilogy. ‘The force Awakens’ nods to this suggestion by using the force to make her aware of Han’s death. ‘The Last Jedi’ initially depicts a scene where she moves her water bottle, which would have been enough for me, displaying Lea’s growing understanding of the force. Yet Johnson blows every preconception clear out of the water with Lea performing what my friend has accurately described as, her ‘Superman’ scene. Suspension of belief may be one thing, but Lea was quite clearly in space for more than the understood time it takes for one to freeze to death. The entire scene felt like a gimmick and an insult to the fans, and really ought to have been edited out.
Throughout the film, Snoke actively uses the force to connect Kylo-Ren and Rey. An interesting approach, though one cannot help feeling it’s been ripped straight out of the world of Harry Potter with Harry and Voldemort on occasion sharing one mind. Granted Harry Potter does not own this style of narrative exploration, but it is confounded by the mirror scene. If you will recall, in Harry Potter, there is an enchanted mirror called The Mirror of Erised. This mirror allows the user to see what their hears truly desire, sounding familiar? It should, for during Rey’s exploration into the dark side she comes across a mirror where she says “Show me my Parents”. A scene where I genuinely thought Lilly and James Potter would appear.
One smaller issue that I still can’t quite fathom, why on earth did Kylo have a shirtless scene. Have we not learned from the Golden Bikini to move past such sexism?
Johnson very clearly wanted to push the boundaries of the force beyond anything previously seen. Yoda calling for lighting to set fire to the Jedi tree when previously these incorporeal ghosts have been there to provide only guidance was a bold move, but one I have to say I enjoyed. It gave Yoda God-like powers.
The showstopper then, was Luke ‘appearing’ before everyone in the final scene, though predictable, it was none the less effective. For Luke to be ‘force appearing’ or whatever the terminology for this is, it was really impressive. A fantastic twist and one of the few within the film that actually carried purpose. Though there were very slight indications that Luke was not actually there, the haircut, bread trim and change of clothes did twig something in my mind that everything was not quite as it seemed. Yet I was equally shocked and excited when Luke emerged from the ruins after being ‘killed’, and seemed unphased from being sliced in half from a lightsabre. Yes, Johnson did push the boundaries beyond our wildest expectations for the force, but for better or worse that last scene provided the perfect send-off for a beloved character.