NO SPOILER ZONE AHEAD. REPEAT NO SPOILER ZONE AHEAD.
I only say this as I found out today more than a few people don’t read my reviews as they are afraid of spoilers. Thought it would be worth it to recap that, especially on what has been one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Now as to the movie, I have given my fan girl credentials before so no need to do so again. Let’s get to the meat of this review right away and not waste anymore time with my usual preamble. Not even going to get quippy or referential with the question I ask:
How was the Last Jedi?
The movie was written and directed by Rian Johnson who doesn’t have a lot of credits to his name, but is beloved by the majority of the folks who have seen his previous work; most especially 2005’s high school retelling of a noir mystery film Brick. 2012’s failed film Looper of course gave folks pause, but his vision on that was clear its how the studio muddied the waters that left a far murkier film that should have been better. Of course that brings us to The Last Jedi and Disney, ok Kathleen Kennedy specifically, giving the reins of one of the most profitable franchises ever to a director who is at best 50/50 on his success. Granted this can come from his ability to be directed by the producers effectively so they don’t run into a Gareth Edwards (Rogue One) situation again, yet at the same time it is also trusting a man who its clear has vision and capabilities that exceed many of his peers in the past ten years. What could he do with that opportunity I wonder?
For one he could make a solid Star Wars movie that doesn’t lean too heavily on what has come before. While I am sure there will be people who invariably compare it to Empire Strikes back, and there are similarities in more beats than I like, it doesn’t hit it as close as Force Awakens did to A New Hope. The arc of the movie is wholly original within the Star Wars stories we’ve seen before, and even a majority of other science fiction. He does manage to craft real tension and characters into the story that have purpose, meaning, and weight to them which only adds to your investment into the story. You come to understand why Luke gave the look he did at the end of Episode VII. You get more into the psychology of Rey, Finn, and Poe to a point that they are truly exploring their own arcs and identities and all of it makes sense and shows the characters growing into the people they are meant to be for better or worse along the journey. It is a much smaller story than we are used to as well, and while it does hit the three planet rule most of the other films do, they aren’t the focus or even a true backdrop to appreciate against the overriding pulse of the film – with perhaps the exception of Crait.
Yet, it is far from flawless in its scripting and story. It is bloated with truly unnecessary characters and beats, which hurts when you consider the movie runs just over two and a half hours from crawl to credits end. There’s easily ten to fifteen minutes of unneeded footage in the film that does nothing to add to who the characters are, their arcs, or the arc of the greater ‘verse that is being told. There are too many humorous beats that don’t work or are otherwise just a touch awkward and out of place. It’s not nearly as bad as Thor Ragnarok was in this regard, but it was noticeable. Frequent readers may go something like this now “Jess, you don’t like comedy” and this is true for the most part. The trick here is this piece of feedback, while noticed by me, was commented on by my movie going partner this time and they DO like comedies. A few jokes here and there are good, and there’s more than a few that land just right. The movie did edge into the land of too much comedy and oddly modern dialogue here – but only just a little. There are other flaws beyond this though that detract from the movie if you think about them in the slightest; most of which are flaws in logic and for me a few beats of “why was that needed?”
The actors were all on point though, Daisy Ridley (Rey) continues to impress, Oscar Isaac (Poe) can do no wrong, and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) glowers his conflict well. Carrie Fisher will bring you to tears every time Leia says farewell to another, even if she comes across more Carrie than Leia – but she’s earned that. Mark Hamill (Luke…duh) was a joy and gets to do far more than glare this time. We need to talk though about John Boyega. His character isn’t treated as well as he could be, but damnit if this man can’t react so well with his face. I absolutely loved him in Attack the Block and he continues to impress here and show a wider and wider range. I don’t think next years Pacific Rim movie will do him any favors, but I promise you he is going to act and emote his heart out like he did here. Alas; even in casting there are weaknesses. Familiar faces show up and while one may not detract (Laura Dern) another (Benecio Del Toro) did for me. It is great and all to have familiar actors in these roles and I am sure they loved getting to act along side the others and be in a Star Wars film, but some folks just have a certain presence they bring with them which can be detrimental to the production – even if it is *very* minor. You would expect Jack Nicholson to swagger and smarm his way through any performance, Clancy Brown to use his voice and physical presence, and with Del Toro you expect some weird voice affectation and odd body language that just leaves him feeling off. He does that here and it just doesn’t work (for me).
EDIT INSERT HERE: I did not talk about Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico. She is a gift and I owe her an apology for not including her in the review when I first published it a few minutes ago.
From a technicals perspective there’s much like the rest of the movie good and bad to discuss.
Johnson’s camera work with his long time cinematographer collaborator Steve Yedlin (Brick, Looper, Carrie, San Andreas) know how to move the camera for the most sense of scope, scale, and action. There is a good use of wide shots and pans with good angles to let you appreciate what you are seeing, while the close ups really bring you into the characters emotions. The shots on the planet Crait (white and red planet from the trailer) are gorgeous and weighty and I could watch those a few more times happily. There is nothing ill to say about the camera control here, but alas there is in the effects department. I know right? This is an absolute nitpick but there are enough unfinished – just not quite looking right – effects that eject you from the moment. Conversely there are hundreds that are beyond amazing with one in particular that is breath taking. There is an inordinate amount of practical work and puppetry here that brings a tear to the eyes and gives me hope we will see more practical in the future thanks to films like this and Blade Runner 2049.
John Williams Score. Its perfect. Fight me.
The Last Jedi does live up to its hype with me. It is a good movie that verges on the edge of great, but within the pantheon of Star Wars it is truly solid with its dedication to practical effects, characters you care about, and a story you want to see to the end. It does feel a bit long towards the end but nearly everything pays off in a satisfactory way. This review wasn’t going to convince anyone one way or another, but we or at least I write these to praise movies for what they do right and call them on what they could do better. The things this could do better are minor and really could help edge it into one of the great Star Wars films, but even a good Star Wars movie is better than the majority of what we received this year and last combined.
Should you see it?
Why are you asking me? You already plan to. Seriously though its good. I like it a lot. I am a bit overly critical but you can get that way after seeing literally hundreds of movies in a year and as my understanding of film theory grows my critical eye does as well.
Are you going to see it again?
At least once, probably twice.
How about buying it?
Without a second though. Yes.
Can I have a little spoiler? Tell me about Luke or Leia or something.
How about Carrie Fisher – did they do right by her?
She’s our Princess and our General; I and this movie salute her. I understand that there’s enough footage for her to be in Episode IX posthumously, but if this one was all we had. I’d be OK with that too.
Any last thoughts on the movie?
Rian Johnson did a good job. The franchise was in good hands and I am looking forward to see what he does with his new trilogy that is being green lit – that isn’t tied to the Skywalker arc.
Also, I like the Porg still.
May the Force be with you to my Jedi friends and to my Sith may the Force serve you well.