Star Wars: The Last Jedi

“This isn’t going to go, the way you think.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that defied my expectations as much as this one, in a good way.

This review will be as spoiler free as possible.

I’m going to be up front here, I loved this film, so I’m probably about to gush. Visually speaking, this was a gorgeous movie, from framing to aesthetics, everything from small details to large set pieces were clearly given a lot of thought and effort. The aliens were fun and unique, all the creatures (including the Porgs) made me smile and some inspired some genuine joy. Everything had a Star Warsian feel, which in a lot of ways expanded the universe instead of just existing in it.

Character and story took center stage though, and the action was used to move that story forward instead of relying on empty spectacle. Every moment (save for a few) were tense and full of weight and emotion. Yet there was humor, not poop jokes, but character interactions that were allowed to sit and the produce the right kind of effect. The same can be said of the drama, which felt earned. Death was a major thing in this film, and rarely a punch was pulled. Yet at the same time I left feeling hopeful, and excited about what I'd just seen.

A lot of that has to do with how the characters from the previous films were depicted here. More than just subversion of what we expected, there was a real attempt to answer the hows and whys of these characters, who they had become over the thirty years since Return of the Jedi. Of course I'm speaking about Luke and Leia most of all. Leia commands our attention; whenever she's on screen, she's the focus. She is exactly like I pictured her, and Carrie Fisher brings a real royalty to her bearing and personality. She is my princess, now and forever (I'll miss you, Carrie).

Luke, wow. He is the personification of turning things on their head in this film. Everything he does makes absolute sense in context, but is totally not what I imagined. He is absolutely Luke Skywalker, who has been through everything from the first trilogy, and then lived with those choices for another thirty years. He's changed, and it takes the entire film to really capture why and how those changes were important for the character. This is especially relevant during his interactions with Rey. Their relationship is again totally different from what we've seen before, and I'm so glad that Rian Johnson (the writer and director) and Disney had the courage to explore this kind of story.

Rey's journey through this was a lot of fun. It was the most engaging part of the film for me. It was also so weird and mystical that it felt a lot like the Yoda scenes on Dagobah without being remotely like a copy of those scenes. Beyond the training, exposition and fun light saber antics, there were all the little things about that island that imbued it with life. I especially loved one scene with Chewbacca involving the Porgs that had me nearly rolling with laughter.

On the flip side of Rey was Kylo Ren's journey, which I will not spoil here. He's still the same mildly whiny, emo-goth hot-head from before, but somehow he has been given even more layers. I loved his interactions with Rey, and with the rest of the First Order. But more than that, I think he is now one of my favorite characters in this new trilogy, and that's saying a lot.

The First Order characters had a bit more to do in this. Snoke was finally shown in his full glory, and I wasn't disappointed in any of his scenes. Hux ended up being the butt of jokes more than an important character, but I did like the character. Phasma had more to do, but she still didn't shine despite her armor. I was impressed by ships and equipment of the First Order; it was all mildly different from the Empire but really beautiful in a horrible sort of way.

Finn and Poe both got some minor character arcs, and both grew somewhat as characters. I didn't love all the choices Rian made for Finn and Poe, but they didn't detract from the story that much. Some of the new supporting characters were a lot of fun as well. Specifically Rose, who ended up being a great addition to the team, and her story had a really nice emotional arc to it. Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), well... the best thing to say about her is she was unique, and special in a way I didn’t expect. DJ was an interesting character, mostly because he was kind of a Han Solo analog without any of Han's more redeeming character traits.

Above it all, this was a good movie, not just a good Star Wars film. Apparently the critics almost all love it, but the fans are divided. I don't think people expected a layered film with meaning, a film that didn't explain things with exposition, but challenged us to form our own answers to the questions. It's what happens when you have a man running the show who is as brilliant as Rian Johnson. This is unequivocally a Star Wars film, and in a lot of ways feels like the first real Star Wars film since Return of the Jedi. But this is more than just a good Star Wars film, it's also a genuinely well made, well written, and well acted film that is more than its related ephemera. It wasn’t flawless, but damn, it’s about as close to a Star Wars masterpiece as I ever thought I would see.

For me this was a four out of four amazing new aliens. Tell us what you thought below.

[Please note that while the review is spoiler-free, the comments are not!]
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.


An Honest Fangirl said...

I almost don't know what to say. I think I cried about every 25 minutes or so, and was just generally weepy for a full 2 hours afterwards. I've been a fan of Star Wars since I was 6 years old, and a fan of Luke in particular, and this movie really felt like the closing of an entire chapter of my life.

Was it perfect? Absolutely not. Everything involving the casino planet was far too long and honestly should have been cut. It felt like unnecessary filler to me. They dropped a lot of plot points that I was very excited about from TFA: namely Snoke and the mystery surrounding Rey's parents. (Still not sure how I feel about the parent situation. I'm half convinced that Ren was lying.) And there are some things that obviously aren't going to be picked up on in the next movie because of Carrie Fisher's death.

But still. I actually really liked Ren whereas I hated him beforehand. I absolutely loved the dynamic between him and Rey. All of their scenes together were just great. Luke was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Carrie was wonderful and I miss her.

I have a lot of other thoughts that I probably need to clarify after watching it one more time. (And I don't necessarily want to break the spoiler seal!)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review J.D. Balthazar! I seem to be in the minority of people who disliked the movie, but I really do appreciate reading your thoughts.

I thought it was one of the worst films in the Star Wars series so far (after The Phantom Menace and on par with Attack of the Clones). I don't even know where to begin...

Overall, it felt like nothing meaningful happened in this film. It was essentially an extended escape scene with lame Marvel-esque slapstick humour and the occasional humourless joke thrown about (the first scene with Poe and Hux was unbelievably cringeworthy, likewise Luke throwing away the lightsaber).

There was no real character growth throughout the film. Kylo Ren was a mopey emo kid from start to end. Rey didn't really learn anything about the ways of the Jedi and ended where she started on her thoughts on Kylo Ren.

I felt cheated with Snoke. Rian Johnson and other people who worked on the film indicated that there would be a big reveal regarding his backstory. I was hoping that he was a lot more significant to the film and overall Jedi/Sith lore but we didnt get any of that.

Luke was portrayed as a pathetic hasbeen in the film (not sure if on purpose or due to Hamills horrible acting). Considering everything he had gone through in the originals, you would think he would be more keen to help/train Rey. And where was Reys training?? She did half a day max and we're supposed to believe she mastered the force already?

Leia floating through space was the most ridiculous thing to have happened in any of the films. And that includes the ewok fight scene and Jar Jar Binks.

Kylo Ren is the most disappointing and boring Sith we've had the displeasure of seeing in a Star Wars film. Hes a child who doesnt have a grasp or the force and is a weakling in comparison to every Sith we've seen so far. I was hoping that he would die in this film and that Rey would be corrupted to the dark side, making her the main villain in the last film. But hey, thats probably too difficult for Disney to promote with merchandise.

The new love interest for Finn was shoehorned into the film. Horrible actress. I was hoping Finn and Poe would end up together but again too risky for Disney.

And don't get me started on that casino planet sequence... Worst subplot in a Star Wars film ever.

Sure, the look and feel of the film were both great. It was probably the best shot film of the series and the attention to detail was spectacular. But when you look beneath the surface, it really was a horrible movie that didn't add anything to the franchise. Critics over fans seem to love it, because they don't truly understand the film series as much as the fans do.

I wasn't a big fan of JJ's The Force Awakens as it was essentially one big rehash of A New Hope, but I would take that film over The Last Jedi in a heartbeat. I just hope JJ can somehow fix the mess that was left behind by Rian. And I really am not looking forward to that new trilogy...

FYI the criticism above in no way is meant to be disrespectful to those who loved the movie. I get why some people liked it, but it just wasn't my cup of tea at all...


Mark Greig said...

Everything that people didn't like about this film I seem to love. I loved the Snoke twist, I loved the reveal about Rey's origins, I loved how Luke was portrayed, I loved that Leia moment, hell, I even enjoyed Finn and Rose's b-plot. Well, except maybe for Benicio del Toro's character. What was he all about? The only major issue I had with it was that the timeline didn't make a lot of sense. Either these events were not all running exactly parallel or the days on Ahch-To are really short.

Anonymous said...

I loved moments of the film..Some being the best of the series...But over the weekend i couldn't shake the feeling that i just didn't like it..Watching it again i was quite disappointed.

The film seems to be riding on what it feels is good subversion but none of what happened was a surprise.
Alot of things are built up or towards and then nothing happens.
Kylo and Rey for example have one of the best storylines in any Star wars film...yet the conclusion of it leaves them both in the same place they were half way through the first film...Why not have Rey go evil, or nearly be seduced by the dark side imagine the film ending with Kylo and Ren standing together but we as an audience don't know if they will chooses to follow good or evil..There complexity was built up so well i just thought they missed an opportunity to truly take a risk.
It also does great work in undoing everything from The Force Awakens which i didn't like either but for far different reasons. All the story threads from that film are dropped and none of the questions answered. I didn't need some long backstory on Snoke but how can you deny the character wasn't terrible in the end...What did he do...what was his purpose...WHAT DID HE EVEN WANT.

The film felt like a checklist at times...Droids: check, cute new creature/=new toys :check, asian character (who could have been introduced in the Force Awakens and then her sisters death at the start would have had alot more weight).
I would have accepted Finn (relegated to bumbling black side kick again) and Rose ( i did like her especially the initial meeting) subplot which leads to love?? and denying Finn a great moment of self sacrifice. Holdo ALSO could have been introduced in Force Awakens and her and Poes dynamic could have been established then. The way it ended here would have again made it so much heavier ( it was cool what she did) I also miss the lightsaber fights of the prequels...Force awakens fight wasn't great and the ones here were just generic...If you are going to make Rey and Kylo that strong with the force with no explanation than you may as well go the whole way and make them expert saberists..I found there fights very lackluster although seeing them fight back to back was pretty cool. They have had Donnie Yen on rogue one and The two guys from he Raid films yet never thought to use the expertice for choreography.
Poe was dangerously short sighted as was Finn which in the end did more harm to the alliance than the actual First Order.

The scene that truly epitomizes this film is Leia in space...I have wanted Leia to have powers for so long and finally she got to use the force but the way they did it just left it wide open to criticism..I think that's my true problem with this film i well and truly understand what they were going for i just think the execution was very poor in particular areas that were important to me.
I felt they really stuck there noses up at the prior films mythology...
Basically just fuck all that out with the old in with the new...

''He is absolutely Luke Skywalker, who has been through everything from the first trilogy, and then lived with those choices for another thirty years''.
Luke the only man who was so convinced that his father Vader had some small piece of goodness in him and so believed it with conviction to the point he changed Vader at the last...would not have tried to kill his nephew in his sleep because he felt some darkness in him...Seriously? and then run away and abandon everyone.
I liked what they did with Luke but they also short changed us and gave us one flashback that just made Luke look like a coward and Kylo have a point

Sorry for the wall of text.

Anonymous said...

I can't remember a film I've been so divided about. I've been pinballing back and forth on this for days. The thing that worries me the most is the seeming lack of direction. The original trilogy and the prequels (whatever you might think of them) were are least united by Lucas' vision. While I really liked how Rian Johnson played with expectations that this movie would mirror Empire, it really feels like he looked at the narrative threads that JJ left him and said, "Nah. I don't want to do any of that..." Maybe it's unfair to judge this trilogy until its complete, but where's the connecting vision?

What was the point of Snoke? Everyone in the universe seems to know his story, except for the audience. That's inexcusable. We shouldn't need to read a book or a comic to get important details. It just feels like things were dropped. In a vacuum, I think this is a good movie. But as the middle part of a trilogy, I don't see where it goes and how the story can be saved.

Anonymous said...

We learn as much about Snoke as we learned about the Emperor in the original trilogy. Hell, even in the prequel trilogy. We never learned the Emperor's first fucking name in the films, nor did we learn how he became a Sith etc.

As for the first anon, good troll. You couched your ridiculous opinions in enough faux-earnestness to make people think you're genuine.

Anonymous said...

I personally didn't care that Snoke died its how.
One moment he is force shocking Kylo with ease and throwing Rey around the room..Then suddenly he cant sense a saber moving next to him, shit all he needed was peripheral vision.
He just told us he has read Kylo's mind and has shown the power to be able to connect two powerful force users by their minds across the galaxy without either knowing it was him..Yet allowed himself to be caught off guard with a force trick by the apprentice he clearly does not trust or completely believe in. Snoke destroyed Kylo earlier in the film for getting his ass whupped by a novice then let the same thing happen to himself. The irony was hilarious though and it looked cool but it was disappointing.

As for other people i can see why they would be pissed off..I didn't like Force awakens (this film actually makes it even worse and an even bigger waste of time in retrospect) this film essentially dropped all the questions the Force awakens spent its entire run time on. The film itself hyped the mystery behind Snoke so how can you blame some of the audience who are upset that they invested in the first film and the character only to get short changed the second one and no answers.
But they were like fuck it this is Kylo and Rey's story you can go now. Which isn't essentially a bad thing but are you saying there was no better way to achieve this.

Force Awakens presented all these mysteries and questions surrounding him
(Knights of Ren and there creation, where has Snoke been all this time, how did he get to Ben Solo etc)
The Emperor worked because people had two films of seeing the all powerful Vader in action then its like we finally saw Vader's Boss...That's all we needed to know, ooooh this guy is above Vader..They built no mysteries around him so there was nothing to truly find out..They showed not telled.
There is no smoke without fire. I mean i lied to myself all weekend before finally admitting i didn't like the film. Snoke was the least of my problems with The Last Jedi. There are still people who will stand by the prequels..Which to be honest don't look as bad now.

So many anons...i have to mark this as Anon 2.