MOVIE REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
For over 40 years, Lucasfilm has brought us popcorn movies extraordinaire. The Last Jedi is no exception.
I realize many readers will not read this review until they’ve seen the movie, even with the promise of no plot spoilers.
Let me just say this: “Yule love it!”
The movie is enjoyable, deeply satisfying, and innovative. In many ways, I found it more enjoyable than The Force Awakens. I know I don’t have to tell you to go see it. In the first day that it’s been released, it’s on track to be the #2 biggest opening financially after The Force Awakens.
Yet it goes into some unconventional directions, unlike the safer approach that J.J. Abrams took in The Force Awakens.
One of the widely heard comments about the previous Episode VII: The Force Awakens is that it was a remake of the original Episode IV: A New Hope. It seemed to play it safe by sticking close to the original story — a youthful adventurer on a desert planet seeking mentorship from an older man.
However, this movie is fresh and inventive: it moves the storyline forward while honoring the legacy of the original trilogy. It was beautifully mounted, visually stunning, and emotionally engaging.
The Last Jedi starts fast with a space battle scene that is every bit as good as the concluding battles in some of the other movies.
The film has humor and surprising sweetness done with a light touch. It has both comedy and tragedy.
In some ways, it did echo Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, but that’s inevitable. As it is the bridge in the trilogy, we know there’s a final episode coming. There were a fair number of fanboy callbacks to previous movies and inside jokes, but the crowd loved it.
This movie introduces us to new characters while still paying tribute to older characters, a reverence if you will, for Luke and Leia. We get a touching scene between them. We see greater character development of the three main leads — Ray, Finn, and Poe — introduced in Episode VII.
There are new critters. We’ve got wicked awesome new ships.
You see new hand-to-hand weapons: laser swords, Asian swords and bo staffs, new blasters, axes, and halberds. The lightsaber action is more subtle and nuanced than in previous films.
Beyond any previous film in the saga, we see more strong female leads, coming out from behind the figurehead of General Leia, in both major and minor roles.
Watch for Benicio Del Toro. He has a small role, but is a delight to see.
Check out the Governor Tarkin-style late ‘70s sideburns sported by the First Order officers.
Everyone knows that Carrie Fisher died between the last movie and this one. This movie uses every scrap of celluloid she did in this one. There is a tribute in the credits, and a half-off of a sort: her daughter Billie Lourd is seen more than once in the film.
The closing scene from The Force Awakens occurs on an island where Luke Skywalker has been hiding. In The Last Jedi, we get to spend more time there and see what it actually was: a hermitage off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland.
It was built back in either the 6th or 8th century and remained active as a Christian monastery until the 12th century. Boat tours are available to visit the island from nearby Portmagee on the Irish mainland. Today it is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site allowing only 180 visitors a day.
By way of wildlife, about the only things you’ll see are puffins, the indigenous life form on the island. The movie plays that up in a creative way. There are no trees or wood for a fire, and the diet of the original monks was fish, birds, and eggs.
Visible today 12 kilometers off the western coast of southern Ireland, it hosts several cisterns, huts, and oratories that are constructed without mortar in a beehive-like corbel construction. I’ve seen the same type of corbel stone construction while visiting the Dingle peninsula of western Ireland, a bit farther north up the coast, where another scene from the movie was filmed. The flat rocks are laid in such a way as to require no mortar and yet they have stood for centuries.
- We got a better view into the allure of the Dark side of the Force. We learned more about the Taoist yin & yang of the Light & Dark sides of the Force to an extent never seen before.
- The Rogue One movie ended with the word “hope” and we hear it several times repeated in this one.
- John Williams is back as music director and it really makes a difference.
- There are many questions raised in the first move that either remain unanswered by this film, or unsatisfyingly answered. Or unbelievable. Understandably they’re waiting for the last film of this trilogy, but they were on the tip of our tongue when we walked out of The Force Awakens.
- There are more than the usual number of sub-plots. With the camera jumping between each of them, you’ve got to pay attention to who is in each and what is happening.
- While George Lucas cannily negotiated rights to merchandising for the original film, this film felt like it significantly lagged the toys and action figures. They’ve been on the shelf for months — well ahead of the film. Will this be Disney’s SOP going forward?
- It’s long, the longest of the saga at 152 minutes. Sometimes it’s noticeable. The first editor’s cut of the film was over 3 hours.
This movie is the movie we’ve been waiting for to see the torch handed off to the next generation. There was quite a mix of old and new characters and ways of thinking and new directions. Make no mistake, this is a movie by millennials for millennials. We see conflict between the younger generation and the older one, between male styles of leadership and female leadership, between the haves and the have-nots.
You’ll like it if: you enjoy space battles, cool tools, explosions, spaceships, interesting locales, action, paced with some slower character development.
You won’t like it if: you need answers raised in the last movie, silliness, prefer a more straightforward plot line.
P.S. Notice how the figures in the movie poster create a shape like Darth Vader’s helmet?
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood culturevulture