Main cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (General Leia Organa), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo), and Benicio del Toro (DJ)
Director: Rian Johnson
Before we begin, I have better warn you guys that this review is filled with major spoilers. It’s telling all or hiding half the review behind spoiler bars and making the whole thing unreadable and ugly. If you want a spoiler-free opinion, let me just say that I think it’s a watchable movie, but I have mixed feelings about the addled plot, bland new generation characters, and the lack of a compelling villain. Now, with that out of the way, you have better press the back button now if you want to remain unspoiled.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes off from where Star Wars: The Force Awakens ended, so this is one movie best watched after having watched that other movie first. In this one, the meaning of the title of that previous movie becomes clear: the force is in Rey, it is awakened, and now she wants Luke Skywalker, said to be the last Jedi Knight, to teach her to control and use it even as she asks him to return with her and Chewbacca to aid General Leia Organa and the remnants of the Rebellion. Alas, Luke is a broken man whose confidence was shattered after the betrayal of his most promising apprentice – Kylo Ren, Leia’s son who murdered his father Han Solo in the penultimate of the previous movie – and he now wants to just be left alone to die, so that the Jedi religion will be lost forever.
At the other side of the galaxy, or so it seems, Finn awakens from his injuries, only to learn that the remnant Rebellion fleet is in a race against time to discover a new operation base, even as the First Order fleet led by General Hux and Kylo Ren is closing in on them. He, Poe, and a new character Rose will try to save them all, even if they have to go against the orders of Leia and her next-in-command Amilyn Holdo to do so.
Meanwhile, Kylo Ren and Rey start having this mental link that allows them to see and communicate with one another despite the distance between them. This is where the movie enters young adult fantasy romance territory, leading to a predictable tale of love torn apart by irreconcilable moral and philosophical differences, which I would care a bit more if the characters involved weren’t so bloody bland. Sure, they are better than the soul-searing crap that is the love story of Anakin and Padmé, but then again, that’s like saying having one leg amputated is better than having both cut off.
Okay, if you are still here despite not wanting to be spoiled, this is your last chance to avert your eyes. The major spoilers will come fast and hard after this sentence – you have been warned!
Still with me? Alright then. Now. I love the Star Wars trilogy, but I don’t consider them sacrosanct. Heaven knows, those movies have issues, despite being enjoyable, and in many ways, I feel that this current trilogy improves on some of the flaws in the original trilogy. The pacing is solid, the visuals are better (although this is to be expected, given how far CGI technology has advanced since those days), and this movie in particular gets my approval for subverting the more popular tropes and beliefs associated with the first trilogy.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a bleak movie, but it is bleak in a way that will never happen should this series remain under George Lucas’s ironfisted control: Rian Johnson’s script is all about the heartbreak of failures and lost idealism. Rey – and the audience – discovers that the Force isn’t some innate force of good, as Luke reveals to her that the Force is about balance. Just as there is death, there will be birth; just as there is Kylo Ren, there will be Rey, the light equivalent to him. Rey initially has much of her hero worship of Luke lose its luster after meeting him, but in the end, she learns to embrace her own strengths and weaknesses, to do what she believes is right. Poe seems to learn the hard way that his hot-headed nature isn’t always right, and Finn learns the true meaning of sacrifice, even if it means giving up the freedom he had craved up to that point. There are hard, painful lessons to be experienced and learned before they could even get a temporary reprieve from the problems plaguing them.
Even Luke has to learn a few things here, and in the end… sigh. In a way, I envy people who watch this new trilogy without any baggage from the first trilogy, because Luke’s death hurts me so, so badly that I actually tear up hard. Oh, it’s a noble death, and I have to hand it to Mr Johnson – Luke’s sacrifice is beautifully free of melodrama for the most part, and hence, when he passes on, the cracks only etch themselves deeper and farther in my heart. In fact, I am tearing up again while writing this. I never realize, until that scene, just how much the cast of the original trilogy means to me. Oh, I don’t have a shrine of toys and what not in my house – although, that’s due to a matter of cost rather than interest, heh – but somehow, over the decades, they have become fond fixtures in my heart. This movie is the embodiment of having to say goodbye to Luke and Leia. Oh, Leia doesn’t die here, but with Carrie Fisher’s death, Leia’s story will also end here.
And I ache for Leia because she lost her husband in the previous movie, her son long before that, and now, she loses her brother. Carrie Fisher is gorgeous in a regal way in this movie, her emotive facial expressions suggesting that Leia is desperately trying to stay strong despite the buckling she must be experiencing under the pressure of command as well as the losses she has suffered, and it hurts to see her like this. The ache in my heart upon reading the news of her passing comes back with a vengeance while watching this movie, and I find myself unable to eat the popcorn I’ve bought because I have no appetite anymore.
I know some people argue that Luke and Leia should have had more scenes, but I personally feel that what they have here is enough. A simple, heartrending conversation before the penultimate end of everything they know, one in which they both forgive and embrace the other. Just like with Luke’s sacrifice, this scene cuts like a knife without being too melodramatic.
In the end, I have to say goodbye to these two, but oh, I don’t want to! And it hurts far more than I expected, even when I have prepared myself. It is easy to see it coming, as one of the often repeated lines in this movie, said by Kylo Ren to Rey, is:
Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.
And I agree with that sentiment. One exasperation I have with the Star Wars spin-offs is how they keep going back to the same time period, when they should be going forward. Yes, even if this means saying goodbye to Luke, Leia, and Han. So, yes, this is goodbye. Damn, it hurts more than I expected it to.
This baggage I carry from the original trilogy gives me plenty of feels that may not be experienced by someone coming into the movie on a blank slate. But that could also be a bad thing, as this baggage also makes me feel that the new generation cast is so bland compared to Luke, Leia, and Han. I wonder whether I’m being unfair in this, but think about it: Leia and Han have noticeable chemistry and their romance is believable, easy to root for even. When Kylo Ren declares that Rey is more than just someone to him, I can only scratch my head and wonder where that came from – I don’t see any chemistry between these two at all.
That new #TeamChinaGiveUsYourMoney character Rose – the actress playing her is Vietnamese, by the way, but who cares, all Asians are the same to these forward-thinking diversity-embracing white people in America – is a WTF character. She appears out of the blue, turns out to be some tech genius despite having some menial post, and spends her time nagging Finn about the evils of capitalism and what not, before declaring that she loves him. How did that happen? And Finn seems to like her back… wait, isn’t he supposed to be ramming his big fat token black character pee-pee up the token Hispanic Han Solo-wannabe Poe’s poop chute? That’s what those Tumblr stories led me to believe – Kylo Ren and Rey will marry and have seventeen babies, while Finn and Poe will be these children’s flamboyant godmothers. That’s what I get for believing those dingbats, hmph.
These characters are so, so forgettable. The movie tones down Rey’s unearned expertise, but she still gets new powers and such without truly earning them. Say what you will about Luke, but he had to train hard and became only a semblance of a capable person in the third movie of the original trilogy, and even then, he realistically got trashed by Darth Vader anyway. Here, Rey is still the most powerful of them all, defeating even Kylo Ren, although I suppose her getting trashed by Snoke is Mr Johnson’s single concession to realism. And is it just me or Daisy Ridley is rather… limited in range here? Adam Driver is mugging up a storm – I feel that he is overacting to a hammy degree quite often, in fact – while she just looks like she is counting the minutes until the scene is over and she can run to the toilet because something she ate earlier didn’t agree with her.
The only character among the new generation folks that may show some character development is Poe. His hubris and arrogance leads to shows of insubordination that are actually responsible for the lives of many and the near-collapse of the Rebellion, and the movie isn’t afraid to show how, no matter how right he thinks he is, he turns out to be so, so wrong. And yet, the movie is also afraid to hold him truly accountable. Despite him having led a rebellion that nearly tore apart the Rebellion at a critical hour, Leia’s reaction is that she likes him because of his attitude. Really? I only hope Poe gets some serious character growth in the third movie, or he’d be a truly obnoxious twat. And that will be a shame as Oscar Isaac is too pretty to play yet another twat – he’s the only guy with nice hair here, after all.
Benicio del Toro is here only because he wants a Star Wars movie on his CV, I suspect. His character here is pure plot device. Then again, this movie is riddled with contrived plot developments. Assistance or solutions showing up at the right time and place when the main characters need them the most. Many of the new generation characters’ victories feel unearned because things often fall into place for them just like that.
Another strike against this movie is the absence of a compelling villain. Snoke is a ham, Hux is a buffoon, and Kylo Ren is an emo twat with a horse-like face. These villains’ plans always involve throwing all kinds of heavy artillery and dreadnaughts at the Rebellion, only to wallow in hubris or waste time giving monologues before they suffer an embarrassing defeat because they didn’t just blast everything to smithereens right away. Can I have a charismatic and intelligent villain in the third movie please?
Ultimately, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has some interesting ideas, but these ideas are never executed well enough, perhaps because there are too many grounds to cover here in only so much time. Once again, the old school cast steal the scene every if the newer characters have more screen time, and I can only hope, with the old generation cast out of the way in the next movie, someone will take the time to make Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose more interesting. Maybe not Rose – she’s too much of the token plot device character to be worth salvaging. Just get Finn and Poe macking on one another and we’re all set.