The releases of new Star Wars film have become major events for many people, myself included. I rarely make an effort for multiple viewings of any film in the theater. But I just walked out of my second viewing of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, and it won’t be the last. You might think this means I’ve found a perfect movie for the holiday season. Unfortunately, I have some serious issues with the eighth proper film in the franchise, but there’s something to be said about the power of this series. I saw fans of all ages eagerly anticipating to see where the story picked up after Rey reached out with Luke’s light saber. Last Jedi‘s epic and memorable moments lived up to expectations, but it has some problems that are impossible to ignore.
As the iconic title crawl tells us, The First Order is back on top despite the destruction of Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens. They’re now attempting to eradicate any remnant of The Resistance to gain full control of the galaxy. Rey attempts to convince a calloused, crotchety Luke Skywalker to help aid in the fight, and Poe fights under the command of Leia. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren suffers from his injuries sustained the last time he squared off against Rey. He’s also under the thumb of the mysterious Snoke, who treats him more like a whipped dog than an apprentice.
Where The Force Awakens had direct parallels to A New Hope, Last Jedi has similarities to The Empire Strikes Back. While they’re not quite as obvious this time around, the bleak nature feels very familiar. Not very much goes right for The Resistance as they literally fight for survival for the majority of the film. Comparing anything to Episode V may sound like a step in the right direction, but the dour moments are more frustrating than eventually satisfying. It may seem blasphemous to say so, but certain situations feel as if they might fit better in a Star Trek storyline instead of Star Wars.
What’s most frustrating about Last Jedi is its pacing. This movie is the longest in Star Wars history, but it truly doesn’t need to be. True, there’s quite a few different storylines going on at once, but not all of it was necessary. Finn, one of the primary characters from the last movie, had barely a purpose. His story arc had almost zero relevance to the rest of the story. It’s almost as if writer Rian Johnson had stories in mind for the rest of the characters and just “came up” with something else for Finn to do. It’s literally a good fifteen minutes of screen time that is more of a distraction than entertaining.
Not only that, but the first act takes an incredible amount of time to get going. This is especially frustrating considering loose ends from the last films aren’t given much satisfaction. There’s simply too much trying to be crammed into one movie, and I don’t just mean plot lines. The laughs feel forced, the sheer number of Star Wars creatures is distracting, and don’t get me started on porgs. Yes, they’re cute…for a shot or two of comic relief. But there were literally eleven (yes, I counted) individual shots of these bird-like creatures who served zero purpose to the story. I know a lot of people hated the Ewoks, but at least those guys actually played a vital role in thwarting The Empire. These critters’ only purpose was to sell merchandise, and it feels completely pandering to our society’s obsession with cute animals.
That sure is a lot of negativity about a film I actually enjoyed, wouldn’t you say? That’s because there was a ton to love in this movie as well. Once Last Jedi finds its groove, it doesn’t let up. There are more than one moment that need to be experienced in a theater full of people. I don’t dare spoil them here, but The reaction is palpable when you’re amongst Star Wars fans. This alone makes the visit to the theater worth it. There are some truly glorious moments that will either make you want to stand up and cheer or shed a tear. They’re that good.
Even if he’s looking a bit seasoned since Episode VI, it’s so delightful to see Mark Hamill on-screen again as Luke Skywalker. His metamorphosis from farm boy to Jedi in training to master to sage has finally made it full circle, and that feels amazing. This Luke truly feels like his best performance. The character has aged with grace, and so has the man himself. Selfishly, I wanted a bit more action from him, but I understand the constraints. Carrie Fisher as Leia moved me even more this time around. Part of me chalks that up to knowing in the back of my mind this is the last time I’ll see her. But she sticks this performance right smack in the middle of a Venn diagram comprised of grace, beauty, and authority.
Of the three main characters coming back from the last film, the surprising standout is Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron. His rogue nature makes him more likable than the character probably deserves, but he’s become a favorite of mine for sure. I have no complaints about Daisy Ridley or John Boyega, they just didn’t step up their roles nearly as much as Isaac did.
As for the new characters in Last Jedi, their performances were perfectly fine. I just felt more distracted by the characters from the story I actually cared about. Kelly Tran gave us a very earnest performance as Rose. The character is one of many that had very confusing moments for me, but delivered in sweet and powerful fashion. Benicio Del Toro’s character DJ reminded me that I need to go back and watch more of his films. Everything I see him in makes me wonder if I’m seeing the same actor. I hope he makes a comeback.
I feel very split about the production of this film. Most of the action sequences and touching moments were shot beautifully and in a way that will make them memorable for a long time. On the other hand, a lot of the computer-generated characters reminded me over and over again that they weren’t real. One in particular stood out like a sore thumb. There’s definitely a Mos Eisley cantina moment in Last Jedi that feels less special without the sole use of practical effects. I understand what they were going for, but it felt (I keep using this word) distracting. That moment in A New Hope was to help establish the Star Wars universe. Nowadays, there are very few people who aren’t familiar with this franchise. We know this world, Mr. Johnson. Just give us our fleshed out story, please.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi Final Verdict
Despite all of the negative things I had to say about Episode VIII, I still liked it enough to see it a second time less than twenty-four hours after my initial viewing. It may be missing some of the magic of the original trilogy, but it’s far from a bad film. I think my high expectations after The Force Awakens (which I loved) left me a tad disappointed. But it had one vital piece that was completely absent. I didn’t walk away from the theater chomping at the bit for Episode IX. Don’t get me wrong, I’m already counting down the days till 2019. But I wasn’t left with much of a mystery or unanswered questions. Just unsatisfying answers to the ones from the last movie.
“Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” is now playing in theaters nationwide
Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer
Written and Directed by Rian Johnson