Let’s Talk About… ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

Writing off the cuff about the continuing adventures in a galaxy far, far away.

“The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”

(Full disclosure: Spoilers herein)

(Also double note: Header by bananasandguavas on tumblr. Here’s her post on the drawing, mainly for the sake of sourcing/linkage and such).

What is there left to say on what will probably be seen as one of the most controversial blockbusters of this decade, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi? Pretty much from its day one release date, the film was met with critical acclaim from critics but absurdly stiff resistance from hardcore Star Wars fans who accused it of sacrilege and so called “SJW pandering”. Over the past few months, the debates continue to rage: Is it worthy of its previous lineage? Is it an insult and disgrace like so many YouTube 2 hour plus videos say it is? Is just an average installment overblown by both sides? Is it at least competent at a basic filmmaking level? Why am I asking you all of this shit?

Truth be told, when seeing The Last Jedi opening weekend like I did way back when in December of last year, I really had no idea as to what to expect. Frankly, as much as I love the series like any average joe, I avoid the hype for them like the plague. It’s overbearing and thoroughly relentless in how much fans over analyze what the next installment will be like. Quite frankly, even these movies had didn’t have the name that they do, no one would be overhyping themselves into oblivion. They would have approached them like I do as normal fucking movies and not some overblown monument that they’ve built their entire life around that MUST live up to precisely every fan theory in some kind of warped sense of vindication.

And after coming out of it for the first time (plus subsequent rewatches on video), I can safely say that I am 100% happy with what writer-director Rian Johnson did here. He took every single expectation we had and threw them all out in the window in a movie that is less Empire Strikes Back than it is this series Last Temptation of Christ: A film that loves its source dearly but is not afraid to question and shake its foundations to the very core while also trying to pave new ground for the franchise beyond just the Skywalker saga.

The New Republic is in shambles. Despite the destruction of Starkiller base in the previous installment, the First Order is operating almost as if it’s business as usual in its attempts to bring “order” to the galaxy. While Resistance fighters Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) find themselves trying to scramble together a scheme to get the first order off of the Resistance’s back when General Leia (Carrie Fisher) is incapacitated due to an attack and the new leader, Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), has taken command in an unusually hostile way, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has ventured forth to the corners of the universe to find out what has happened to one of its heroes, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Luke has become a broken man since we last saw him all those thirty years ago, destroyed emotionally and his connections to the force severed by seeing history repeat itself with the rise of a new Empire and quasi-new Vader in his nephew Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). However, as Rey tries to convince Luke to come out of hiding and be the badass he once was, she finds herself sharing a deeply – not to mention mildly kinky – connection towards Ren through a mental bond that she herself is trying to fight between being seduced by Ren’s increasingly seductive ideas and trying to restore Luke’s faith in the process. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg…..

This is probably one of the few films that came out last year I’m more than willing to reward five stars towards (or 4/4 or 10/10 or whatever scale you use is). From the utterly brutal opening showcasing a surprisingly nasty amount of collateral damage not seen in previous installments to the final shot, I found this entire affair to be absolutely arresting. Somehow, Rian Johnson was able to get away with this under Kathleen Kennedy’s nose with a movie so grand, complicated and risky as hell. I loved how the movie doesn’t care for your expectations of what you want; The moment Luke throws the lightsaber off the cliff, you know exactly what you’re in for. As he so wonderfully puts it to Rey at one point, “This is not going to go the way you think”. It’s a film made with such gusto and confidence in its material, not shying away from confronting the mistakes of the past and the colossal fuck-ups its characters are capable of. Luke’s arc in particular is incredible in this regard, showing us him as a bitter, broken old man but at the end he doesn’t just become the Luke we all know and love again but something more powerful than that. It’s great stuff.

The entire cast brings their A-game to this performance wise. It never for once feels like anyone is sleepwalking through their performances and the commitment shows. Out of the cast, the easy highlights for me were Mark Hamill, Adam Driver and Kelly Marie Tran. Driver especially might just be the best actor out of the new cast, in his ability to conjure up such an emotionally confounding but wonderfully complicated character. And I don’t know about the lot of you but I wanted Rey to join him towards the end, just on how good their chemistry is (plus I want my Reylo dreams to come true SO SHUT UP).

Aesthetically, this thing is off the charts. Of course, you’d expect a Star Wars movie (or anything with a 200 million dollar budget for that matter) to look nice but for it look this good goes above and beyond the call of duty. Steve Yedlin’s cinematography is striking as hell in a lot of scenes, especially in any of the scenes showing off Snoke’s throne room, the mirror cave and the entirety of the battle of Crait. Meanwhile, John Williams brings out the big guns for this one after a solid but somewhat lacking score for The Force Awakens. The music that plays in Canto Bight and the Luke vs Kylo Ren showdown in particular might just be some of the most memorable pieces to hit this franchise in a while. Hell, even the score in general works like gangbusters, combining all three eras (originals, prequels and sequels) into an organic but effective mashup.

If there’s a couple of complaints I had, it would be the following: The “Leia in space” sequence, some quirks regarding Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo and the over extended climax. I’m sure the concept art of Leia in space looked more elegant on paper but something about it comes off as awkward in execution. Not enough to be bad but still eyebrow raising and clunky. While I understand what Holdo’s function in the plot (to basically teach Oscar Isaac’s hotheaded Poe Dameron that sometimes his cocky approach to fighting does have consequences), her motivations can come off as vague and really don’t fully click until the last second, which can be hard to keep track of in a movie with so many moving parts to it. Finally, this movie ends like five different times and it felt like Johnson couldn’t just pick one to note to choose from. If there was one thing I would want Disney to reign in on with him and his choices with the film, it’d be this aspect.

Overall, I loved this damn movie. It’s easily the best damn thing to come out of the Disney era thus far, one of the high points in the series and just an overall kickass blockbuster. There’s a reason why this was in my top three of last year. As much as I’m looking forward to Abrams wrapping up the trilogy with Episode IX, I’m far more interested to see what Johnson is going to do with his own saga.

Star Wars is dead. Long live Star Wars.