Chances are good that you — like me — saw the new Star Wars movie this past week. And, if you’re a fan of the franchise — like me — then you’ve been discussing it with anyone you run across that has also seen the movie. So, like I recapped The Force Awakens back in 2015, let’s talk about what stood out good and bad in The Last Jedi!
I’ve seen every Star Wars film in the theater. And since Return of the Jedi in 1983, I’ve seen every film on opening day. Since the theatrical re-release of the original trilogy back in 1997, I have seen every Star Wars film with my best friend Da on opening day. I flew out to California to see Episodes I, II, and III with him, and he has flown back to Myrtle Beach to see The Force Awakens and (this past Thursday) The Last Jedi with me. This was also the first Star Wars movie my oldest daughter, Lauryn has been able to join us on opening day. There is nothing like the experience of an opening night Star Wars crowd. The hype, the excitement, the energy, that moment between the Lucasfilm logo and the opening blast of William’s iconic score…it’s all great.
NOTE: Major plot spoilers below! Please stop reading now if you haven't seen The Last Jedi yet. You've been warned...
TFA > TLJ
Don’t get me wrong; I thought The Last Jedi was a strong movie, probably an 8.5. But it just wasn’t as great as The Force Awakens in my opinion. (Or in that of my wife, daughter, and Dan.) The pacing of TFA just seemed better, the story tighter, the objectives more focused, the jokes less forced. (Though the Poe acting like he couldn’t hear General Hux and Luke disgustedly tossing the lightsaber over his shoulder were pretty funny.) We’d also been waiting for a good Star Wars movies for years, and JJ Abrams delivered a grand slam. TLJ writer/director Rian Johnson had a much more difficult task because he had to continue this story and follow Abrams’ phenomenal lead. While there is a lot of action in TLJ, at over 2.5 hours the movie felt a little long in its first half, and I found myself wishing they had chopped some things in favor of fleshing out others.
A running theme of this movie seems to be one of character sacrifice. The bomber pilots in the opening attack, especially the final, lone surviving pilot, Admiral Holdo’s going down with the ship hyperspace kamikaze style, Finn attempting to ram the First Order’s laser battering ram, and Luke giving all to buy the Resistance time to escape. I’m sure there were more — I’ve only seen the film once so far — but character’s willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause seems to be a theme the Johnson used extensively here.
Rewatch the original films — especially the prequel trilogies — and some of the acting and dialog is just…cringe-worthy. Especially the scenes between Anakin and Amidala, which are so wooden and forced. The acting in this film is top notch, especially the scenes between Rey and Kylo. They have a chemistry and tension between them that makes all of their scenes riveting. Mark Hammill is also terrific as the older, embittered hermit Jedi Luke.
Leia’s Space Resurrection
I hated this part. Hated it. I hated it because it broke all the rules of what we know about space, mainly that it is -455 Fahrenheit and that it is impossible to survive in a vacuum. Seeing Leia get blasted into space, float for a bit, start to freeze up, then open her eyes and…Force Float(?) back to safety just seemed so unbelievable that it pulled our entire group out of the film, shattering our suspension of disbelief. The scene would have only been worse if she had space backstroked her way back to the ship. I feel like this could have been the perfect end for Leia. I mean, we all know that Carrie Fisher is actually deceased, if you are going to have this scene, why not let that be her end? After much discussion, we felt that the scene would have worked better with Admiral Ackbar (who also perished in the scene, but unseen), float off into space in death, but have Leia blown into a sealed compartment inside the ship where she survives, albeit gravely injured. However after reading this post on Slate.com, “Can you survive in space without a spacesuit?” I’m slightly less gutted by it.
Snoke, All too easy
We’ve been told how powerful Supreme Leader Snoke is. He trained Kylo Ren in the ways of the Dark Side of the Force, is able to mentally bridge Rey and Kylo together, can Force choke and throw people, and even uses Force Lightning. It seems unbelievable that Snoke was killed with such relative ease by Kylo. In fact, I was in utter disbelief when I saw what was happening. At first thinking Snoke would sense the saber turning and snatch it, then that he would just pull the saber out and then attack Kylo and Rey with it, or finally that he would somehow Force-fuse his body back together and press the attack. Even later in the film I expected him to somehow return. Much the way that they killed off a powerful and fascinating character in Darth Maul, I feel Snoke had SO MUCH more of a story arc to explore. Where did he get his powers? Who taught him the Force? How did he rise to rule over the First Order? Who f’d up his face? I imagine we’ll find out more about him in Star Wars novels that expand the universe, but I still feel like killing Snoke off was a missed opportunity. If they HAD to kill off Snoke, I think the scene would have been much stronger if he would have used his powers to battle a Rey-Kylo duo in what could have been an epic death match.
How great was it to have original puppet-Yoda back? He was a little too-jokey for my taste, and did he really need to destroy all the Jedi texts? Also, it would have been nice if we could have had a visit from Ben as well. But more than anything, the Yoda cameo really helped to tie the film to the past, and usher in the strong likelihood that we’ll continue seeing Luke in future Force spirit visits.
Fast-track Jedi Training
One of the big expectations of this film was that Rey would seek out Luke to be taught in the ways of the Force. It was the perfect second movie setup to mirror the training Luke received from Yoda on Dagobah. And even though we didn’t see all of Luke’s training with Yoda, we were left with the feeling that Luke spent some period of time training with the Master. Yet here we get long scenes of Luke’s spartan existence, spear hunting and milking a bizarre creature that seemed to enjoy it. The extent of Rey’s training was a relatively short meditation exercise about reaching out and feeling. Are the Jedi texts really lost? Are they even needed to learn how to further tap into your Force powers? Will Rey return to Ahch-to to visit that strong-with-Dark-Side hole to continue exploring her past?
The Big Lie?
“Who are Rey’s parents?!?” was one of the major questions surrounding this movie. Is she the daughter of Han and Leia? (Making her Kylo’s sister, and echoing the Jaina/Jacen connection from the novels which have now been declared non-canon.) Is Luke her dad? Perhaps she’s the love child of one of Luke’s Jedi trainees. But no. According to Kylo she’s the daughter of nothing, drunken junkers. Feels like a lie. A hurtful lie designed to get Rey to doubt herself. I think this isn’t the last we’ve heard about Rey’s lineage…
Porgs > Ewoks
I felt a real twinge of “uh-oh!” when I saw the big-eyed Porg flying alongside Chewbacca in the trailer, but they actually turned out to be OK and not just a toy selling opportunity. And the kind of frenemy relationship that Chewie develops with them – starting with him roasting and then attempting to eat some Porgs in front of other sad-eyed Porgs – and them trying to tear up the Falcon is pretty funny. And apparently the Porgs came about because the island where they shot the scenes is covered with puffins and digitally – or physically – removing all of them wasn’t possible, so the Porgs solved an actual production issue. (You can read more about how Porgs were hatched here.)
The movie was clearly building to a massive showdown between Luke and Kylo on the mineral planet Crait. And when Luke appears and walks out to confront the AT-AT walkers and Kylo orders they fire everything at him, you don’t know quite what to expect just that it will be…something. When the dust settles and Luke appears — casually brushing dust off his shoulder — and Kylo goes down to meet him, the table is set for a massive teacher-on-student battle. But it turns out that this is a fight Luke doesn’t even show up to. Sure, the Force projection of his image was pretty cool, but it clearly took so much power to do so it literally killed him. It’s kind of a bummer that Luke’s final hurrah was going out literally while sitting down. Had we gotten a sense of Luke’s power earlier in the film — say with some scene while training Rey – or anything to show how powerful this last Jedi master had become, it would have feel more fitting a conclusion. Also, this is a scene I really want to watch again — closely — now that we know Luke isn’t physically there. Surely Leia knows, but does she give the audience in the know any tells? Wondering if this will hold up like The Sixth Sense on repeated viewings once you’re in on the trick.
So, what were your thoughts on the movie? Love it? Hate it? Did The Last Jedi live up to your expectations? Comment it out below!