Star Wars – The Last Jedi review: a saga turns into a legend
Who are Rey’s parents? Did Kylo Ren lose the fight against his inner demons? Are we ever going to hear «Rey’s Theme» again? There’s a massive hype surrounding the latest chapter of the Star Wars saga. While the official release date in Switzerland is 14 December, I’ve had the chance to see it already. Here’s my review.
First things first: This review doesn’t contain any unannounced spoilers. I’ve clearly marked the spoiler and will tell you where to stop reading to avoid it. I can’t stand people spoiling a movie for me, so there’s no way I’m going to do it to you.
This is how you can avoid spoilers: I’ll announce an approaching spoiler and follow it up with a picture. If you read something like «scroll on to the picture of Chewbacca», do it.
It feels incredibly good to hear John Williams’ soundtrack. All it takes is to hear the very first note and, even before any text appears on the screen, you know you’re in a Star Wars movie. It’s a nostalgic and comfortable feeling and takes me back to when I first encountered Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on the desert planet Tatooine. The saga is about to continue – «The Last Jedi» the saga turns into a legend.
The space battle
The movie’s emotional highlight comes at the very start. Not untypical, as all Star Wars movies – except for the prequel trilogy, which I’m going to ignore for now – have epic opening scenes. Star Wars: Episode IV, dating back to 1977, opens with a Star Destroyer looming into view. With this scene, George Lucas created film history and to date, it’s still the best movie opening I’ve ever seen.
Did «The Last Jedi» change my opinion? No. Does it intend to? No. The battle that opens the movie isn’t about special effects, but about emotions. Courage, despair, hope, resistance.
And now for a spoiler. You can watch the video below, you’ll know the scene. But after that, scroll to the picture of Luke Skywalker.
While a few Star Destroyers take position above the rebel base and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is following a bold plan, a Star Dreadnought appears. The Star Dreadnought is the largest class of Star Destroyer in the galaxy. While regular Star Destroyers measures out to be about 3,800 metres, the Star Dreadnought has a length of about 17,500 metres.
Poe Dameron is sitting in an X-Wing, a cruciform Starfighter measuring 12.5 metres in length with a maximum capacity of a single pilot.
I must say, that’s the best ace «The Last Jedi» has up its sleeve. With everything else that happens in the course of the movie, author and director Rian Johnson doesn’t quite manage to follow up on this scene. However, sparking so many emotions, the entire movie can live off the first minutes. Within only a few minutes, Rian Johnson sets up all the characters in a way that allows them to follow their path throughout the movie.
Good is evil, evil is good and everything in between
Rian Johnson has his characters well under control, but the story remains wild. It used to be clear who’s on which side: Jedi and Rebellion against Sith with Empire or First Order. Who cares that the First Order isn’t the Empire? The difference has become so subtle that they could drop the name «First Order».
Back to the plot: Let me tell you, the story is anything but straightforward. Johnson deliberately plays with the audience’s expectations and the personalities of the characters. Although the conflict between the First Order and The Rebellion is at the heart of the plot, the rift that unfolds within The Rebel Alliance is much more exciting. In «Star Wars: The Force Awakens», The Rebellion suffered a hard blow. Tensions are high, to say the least. Let’s recall: Starkiller Base destroyed the entire Hosnian system because that's where Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), leader of The Rebel Alliance, was hiding.
The fleeing, small Rebellion fleet is running out of fuel and the First Order is closing in on them. The pursuers are led by the Supremacy, the ship that houses Emperor Snoke's (Andy Serkis) throne room. Clearly, not all rebels agree on how best to deal with this situation. Finn's (John Boyega) entire storyline in the movie is defined by this, as he’s forced to hunt a MacGuffin with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran).
This storyline carries most of the action of this movie. Rey (Daisy Ridley), having found Luke Skywalker on the remote planet Ahch-To, wants him to train her in the ways of the Force and gain the strength to go up against Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order. This is a rather quiet storyline that's characterised by dialogue and casts a dark light on both sides of the Force.
The Gray Jedi?
At this point, I need to take a quick nerdy detour and elaborate on some speculations. Nothing in this paragraph actually happens in the movie, but if you’re into the Star Wars universe, you might agree that what’s happened so far implies what the future of the Force is. Here’s my guess.
According to Star Wars mythology, the Jedi and the Sith represent two sides of the same coin: The Jedi, in white and blue, are the light side while the Sith, in red and black, are the dark side.
Between the two are the Gray Jedi, also referred to as Gray. «Gray» describes Force-users who walk the line between the light and dark sides of the Force without surrendering to any of the sides. In the course of «The Last Jedi», the border between the Jedi and the Sith becomes increasingly blurred, possibly hinting at the future of Rey or Kylo Ren as Gray Jedi.
But this is mere speculation.
What the movie is lacking
Nothing’s perfect. Just like any other movie, «The Last Jedi» has its flaws. In my opinion, there are two main weaknesses.
First of all: the product placement. When it comes to Star Wars merchandise, there’s nothing that doesn’t exist.
This doesn’t stop Disney, George Lucas or whoever from coming up with even more stuff. Their newest invention: Porgs. First encountered by Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) on Ahch-To, Porgs are small bird-like animals that look like the offspring of a hamster and a puffin. Their only contribution to the movie is that they look cute. The message to the audience is simple: buy a plush Porg. And, of course, Galaxus has them on offer. Apart from that, Porgs don’t add anything to the movie. If they were removed without substitution, the storyline would remain exactly the same.
But then again, it’s because they can be sold as action figures that all characters with more than two seconds of screen time have a name and a story. This is actually quite nice, as it brings the movies to life and makes them seem more real and relevant (although the conditions in space are deliberately ignored). For instance, the story doesn’t require A-Wing pilot Tallie Lintra (Hermione Corfield) to be known by name. However, as Poe Dameron reveals her name when he says «Thank you, Tallie» once, she’ll remain in the audience’s memories. Did you know one of the Snoke’s Praetorians is called Ronith Blario (Florian Robin)? That’s what it says on the packaging of his action figure. Or on the DLC of «Star Wars: Battlefront II». Or in the credits at the end of the movie (if you look very closely).
So maybe I’m just one of those cynical moviegoers who gets annoyed by a detail such as a Porg.
The second weakness is related to short distances. Over the course of the movie, it struck me several times that the Star Wars characters are too fast when it comes to covering short distances. In one scene, Rey climbs about 30 metres deep into a canyon in less time than it takes the Millennium Falcon’s motor to stop. How’s that possible? The cinematographers do a great job with voyages through space, but struggle with short distances.
The same applies to action scenes. The space battles are amazing, even the ones that are one-sided. Rian Johnson must have enjoyed these scenes. But Star Wars isn’t only about spaceships, it’s also about lightsabers. Being one of the most iconic weapons in film history, lightsabers get their fair share of screen time, but the battles are disappointing and far less epic than those in space are. Too bad.
Oh and that’s not how space works.
The saga becomes a legend
The narrative structure of the film has changed. While the first Star Wars trilogy in the 1970s and 1980s was all about telling the Skywalkers' family history, this movie turns the individual family members Luke, Leia, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Kylo Ren into legends.
Keeping in mind that all Star Wars movies read like fairy tales (have you never asked yourself why there’s an opening crawl text?), «The Last Jedi»’s storyline has more weight and tells of extraordinary heroes. Luke Skywalker’s no longer the boy who goes from moisture farming to being a Jedi. He's now an admired character and his presence alone strikes the others at awe. His heroic deeds also become greater and, in the context of the fairy tale, exaggerated.
This gives the story immense weight. While I understood but couldn’t feel the significance of the conflict in the first trilogy, Johnson manages to create much stronger emotions in «The Last Jedi». When Poe Dameron gets into his X-Wing, his fear and courage can be felt by everyone in the audience. The plot surrounding Rey falls a bit short at the start, especially as it takes more explaining to understand the conflicts, but her story strikes a convincing emotional chord later on in the movie.
I have to say though; the movie isn’t always equally emotional and exciting. The second act is a bit slow, and plot becomes repetitive – just for the sake of introducing a few subplots. Some of them are important, for example the one that involves the answer to who Rey’s parents are.
«The Last Jedi» lasts two and a half hours. The emotions and epic space battles make sure you experience a memorable time, although mythological aspects are largely neglected. If you’re into the mythology of the Jedi and the Sith, you might find this movie disappointing.
In my opinion, «Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi» does justice to the Star Wars series. Even if you’re only just discovering your interest in the franchise, I absolutely recommend watching it in the cinema. It’s all about the size: I’m sure the movie has a much greater effect on a large screen than on your small home TV.