— Spoiler-Free and Spoiler-Filled Reviews —
Star Wars Ep. VIII: The Last Jedi, written and directed by Rian Johnson, is many things: bold, thrilling, deep, emotional, action-packed, lengthy, unexpected, stuffed, humorous, which all combine into more than the sum of their parts, creating a film that’ll be oft-discussed and long remembered. The Spoiler-Free review gets things started below and the Spoiler-Filled one is clearly marked, so read on to find out what makes this film so special!
“This is not going to go the way you think,” was my favorite line from the trailers and it held true in the final product that is The Last Jedi, a Star Wars film full of excitement, adrenaline, wonderful character journeys, and a lot of unexpected developments that make it a tough act to follow. While most of the surprises will stick out and rattle fans initially, the character arcs within will reverberate and stick with fans longer, as the decisions key characters make effect the storyline of the saga in unanticipated, but exciting ways. With a 2 and a half hour running time, there is a lot to unpack upon seeing TLJ, as it makes fairly good use of the length to provide a plethora of both plot and character development, and while I could’ve sat through more, it does begin to weigh down on you a bit by the end. I’ve seen it twice before sitting down to write this review and it gets better on the second viewing, as the reveals and surprises within marinate well and are no longer overwhelmed by the length of the film and sheer amount of events.
Director Rian Johnson’s ability to give the characters so much room to grow and shine is bolstered by the performances he’s elicited from the cast. At the core of the film are Kylo and Rey, Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley respectively. and their journeys allow for the two young actors to deliver some mesmerizing performances, arguably some of the best of the entire saga, making both of their trials and tribulations unforgettable. The rest of the cast are no slouches either, as Mark Hamill delivers a haunting performance as Luke Skywalker that’s been hinted at in the trailers, John Boyega’s Finn continues to be an enjoyable delight as he goes through a journey of purpose and is only boosted by Kelly Marie Tran’s affable turn as new character Rose, Oscar Issac delivers even more roguish goodness as Poe Dameron learns to grow up, Lauren Dern uses Vice Admiral Holdo’s limited screen time well, as does Benecio Del Toro as “DJ,” Domhnall Gleeson is allowed to provide a little more character to General Hux, and Andy Serkis proves his mo-cap acting chops once again as the showy Snoke. But beyond these principal characters, even minor background characters stick out more this film, while also correcting Rogue One‘s background diversity problem in the process.
And of course Carrie Fisher’s final turn as Princess Leia is a thing of beauty, she sparkles in all her scenes, while managing to provide a sense of closure to her time in the role, feeling more authentic Leia than her appearances in The Force Awakens. The emotional resonance due to her untimely passing only adds to the scenes, which would’ve been powerful enough without the tragedy.
Due to the events within, as plenty of moments I thought would’ve happened in Ep. IX happen here, and its ultimate ending, The Last Jedi opens more potential and offers bigger questions for the next film to answer than The Force Awakens set up for TLJ. The trajectory is more open than we’ve ever had in the saga before and it’s going to be a tough act to follow, but for the best possible reasons.
Scroll on if you dare, as spoilers are coming! There’s my non-spoiler wrap up far below, so scroll really fast.
OTHERWISE, if you don’t want anything SPOILED DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER!
Well, you’ve been warned
The way flashbacks were used, being manipulated by their tellers initially, to show us a glimpse of the saga between Ben Solo and Luke Skywalker was an intriguing direction. Of course the truth, which Luke finally reveals to an exasperated Rey, is more complex than Kylo or Luke have let themselves believe in the intervening years, as Luke regrets the events and tries to blame it on the hubris the Jedi have had issue with throughout the years, while Kylo only sees it in a way which feeds into his worldview and paranoia. Of course Luke saw the dark growing in his nephew and for the briefest moments he considers ending him, immediately regrets it, but Ben sees his Master holding an ignited lightsaber and it galvanizes the dark inside of him, leading us to the events of the sequel trilogy. When and where Snoke came into the picture still remains to be seen, but we won’t be able to ask him anymore…
The Force-chats between Kylo and Rey are my favorite aspect of the film, especially due to the strength of the performances from Driver and Ridley, as they form an amazing backbone to their conflict, key to the film. The scene in Snoke’s Throne Room is one of the best moments in the entire saga, if not the best, helped by how it subverts expectations, set up by a familiarity to Return of the Jedi‘s throne room finale, at every step. As we know from Luke’s vision on Dagobah of his friends on Cloud City to Anakin’s of Padmé, trusting Force visions is always a tricky business, and both Kylo and Rey fall trap to hopes their visions are correct, but the actual results prove more intriguing. Rey reaches Kylo to some extent, whatever conflict is in him, but it ends up not being enough, as Kylo does kill Snoke, and joins Rey in fighting off his guards, but he ultimately continues his descent. Rey thought she could turn him fully, redeem him even, while Kylo thought she’d join him so he’d not be alone in his fight to destroy the past and carve a new future, but neither gets what they want. Their journeys are the best of the film (and the best arcs of the saga to date), as both of them are struggling to find their place in the story, with Rey attempting to overcome her desire to belong/have some hidden importance and Kylo furthering his fight to avoid the legacy of his parents and his horrible decisions along the way. Thanks to Ridley and Driver, and Johnson’s writing here, I’m excited to see where both characters go next.
Especially Rey, as her being a nobody and comes from nowhere of significance is a powerful double down on a stance just starting in The Force Awakens. It no longer matters if you’re a Skywalker or a Solo or a Calrissian, but it matters what you make of what’s inside of you instead. Finn is a highly regarded hero because he rose to become something more than a lowly stormtrooper, who had no idea or any care about who his parents were. Rey’s has gone on to be an important figure of hope for the Resistance despite her parents most likely being no ones and having no importance on a galactic scale. The only one who has a name to live up to, Ben Solo, has struggled and faltered to get out of its shadow. The message is clear: you don’t have to be related to the powerful and important to find your own destiny and importance in the galaxy, and that’s an exciting idea to consider and watch grow in this trilogy.
Luke Skywalker is dead. Long live Luke Skywalker! In retrospect, Luke not actually being on Crait is pretty obvious, but it’s subtle enough it can catch many off guard the first time, as it did me. The fact that Luke passing isn’t a moment of grief or sadness, like Han’s was, but rather a happy moment (which Rey and Leia pick up on) is perfect for the character, as he’s not really gone. Much like Yoda’s awesome surprise appearance in Force Ghost (FG) form, we’ll never be rid of Luke now that he too has become one with the Force, staring at twin suns one last time. While I can only imagine the fun little scenes of Luke FG-ing in to annoy Leia from time to time that we could’ve gotten in IX, I’m sure he’ll hold true to his promise and contact Kylo Ren when he least wants his old Master around. What this means for Rey’s training, besides the ancient Jedi texts she borrowed from Luke’s library (nice joke, Yoda!), remains to be seen, but I’m excited by the possibilities. Two quick connections: 1) The Legends of Luke Skywalker book is a must-read after the film as it helps show how important Luke’s legend is to the galaxy, which the final scene with Force Broom Boy sets up, and touches on Luke’s fishing skills and willingness to sacrifice himself 2) I’ll have to update my Force Ghosts article, but I was surprised how close some of my guesses were while I’m still wondering where FG Anakin is at.
Speaking of Luke, having Leia and him in the same scene together (technically yes, he wasn’t there) is always going to make me cry like all hell, as it’s the last time we’ll ever see these two in character together on screen. And having Leia pull herself through space and back into the ship? Also tear-city, mainly because it was such a cool moment to see the Force awaken in her, however briefly.
Finn/Rose…I’m totally down for that. Now that Finn is committed to one side, and not focused on helping Rey, he’s really come into his own as a character. Rose was pretty determined already, but saving Finn because she’d rather fight for those she loves than fight those she hates could not only be the sweetest moment of the film, but the trajectory for the rest of the saga going forward. I believe Phasma is dead for sure this time, but who knows, though she’s served her purpose to help push Finn to “Rebel scum.”
RIP Admiral Ackbar. You’ll never have to face a trap again. In all seriousness, I totally forget he died until a friend texted me about it the following day. Kind of just gets buried under everything else.
If you want answers to some of the spoilers, like if what Kylo says about Rey’s parents are true, Club Jade has rounded up a series of articles from Entertainment Weekly of a Q&A with Rian Johnson and Mark Hamill after a special screening of The Last Jedi. I honestly felt like what Kylo said about Rey’s parents was true, but Johnson’s comments sure make it seem like that might not be the case, though I still feel like they aren’t going to be anyone important but at least not as sad as a story as drunken junk traders.
Here are a few other things:
- If TLJ is what Rian Johnson can bring to a main saga film, I am eager to see what he’ll do with the blank slate that is his new trilogy. And while I understand he won’t write and direct all three of those films, he’ll start it in such a way any director/writer will have something fun and exciting to deal with (let’s hope!).
- Prior to the film’s release, several BTS featurettes were uploaded to YouTube: One about the Crystal Foxes aka Vulptex of Crait; a look at the real world locations for shooting the film; intense training for the film’s amazing duels; and Anthony Daniels teaching actors in the way of the droid.
- I mention a little bit more why it’s so important of a read in the spoiler section, but without spoilers, I have to say The Legends of Luke Skywalker should not to be missed out on after seeing The Last Jedi. Many of the stories within it will help further your understanding of Luke in the film.
- If you’re not reading the Poe Dameron comic series and enjoy his character/want to see him spend more time with Leia, tune-in pronto!
- Here’s a wonderfully short little article about why Rian Johnson said yes to directing TLJ.
- We’ve seen and enjoyed them for quite awhile, as Rian Johnson’s behind-the-scenes photos on his personal camera of filming The Last Jedi were initially our first way to learn more about the film, and now they are going to be released in a book!
- This post over at The Ringer really nails how great of a villain Kylo Ren actually is, and how watching his journey into the darkness was a stroke of genius for this trilogy.
- These two articles offer different sides of the same coin, but make some really sound and important points: 1) How prominent and effective the female roles were in The Last Jedi. 2) How the film explores the dangers of toxic masculinity and how it’s female characters help those in question see their mistakes.
- Chris’ review goes even more in-depth than mine has, so check it out!
- I’ve read a lot of think pieces since the film came out and I wrote this review, but this recent AV Club article is about the best thing out there. I believe it can help those who didn’t like the film maybe understand how so many people do, while it helps those who like it understand those who might not have enjoyed it as much as they did.
- Rian Johnson sat down with Spike Jonze for The Director’s Cut podcast to discuss the film, spoilers and all.
It’s hard to say where The Last Jedi is in any ranking just yet, but I know I loved it and its unexpected and exciting new directions will make it a Star Wars film which will long be remembered.
+ Terrific performances from everyone, especially Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley
+ Strong character arcs for everyone
+ For every emotional moment, which there are many, there’s a welcome sense of humor and levity
+ Surprises and twists
+ Gorgeous shots and sets (the Throne Room is on point) and wonderful special/visual effects!
+ Fitting finale for Carrie Fisher’s time as Leia
– Feels a little too packed even with its 2.5 hour run-time
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