“WTF just happened?”
“Where the hell do they go from here?”
Those were my first two very unsettling thoughts while leaving the cinema after watching “The Last Jedi.” I can understand if one were compelled to write a review of the movie immediately upon first viewing the overall sentiment would not be positive (as evidenced by a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 54%). There is so much that happens in this film and much of it entirely unexpected. This is both a blessing and a curse. I liked “The Force Awakens” but even I could see that is was a thinly disguised rehash of “A New Hope”, likely only a better film to those who haven’t seen the original first.
I think many fans were expecting “The Last Jedi” to be like the “Empire Strikes Back”. Certainly, there are call backs – Rey seeking out a Jedi Master, the fight on the salt (as opposed to snow) planet Crait, pursuit of the Resistance by the First Order – are the ones that stuck out in my mind. But also, there is a significant nod to “The Return of the Jedi” in Rey’s naïve and idealistic belief that she has the power to successfully confront the Dark Side with essentially no meaningful training. Unlike “The Force Awakens”, however, those call backs didn’t feel like a simple update of the original films. “The Last Jedi” took those concepts and turned them on their head. While a bit jarring, ultimately I found this approach both risky and refreshing.
What I Loved:
- The Cast: across the board the acting is phenomenal. While everyone is good, Adam Driver is a standout. He totally blew me away. Mark Hamill almost matches him but doesn’t quite have (or wasn’t given?) the same range as the remarkable Driver. Daisy Ridley rounds out the top three. She more than holds her own with Adam and Mark, and her scenes with Adam are pure magic.
- The Force Subplot: This part of the film was wonderful, A+. Without going into detail, I thought the character developments here were nuanced, believable, and wonderfully complex. The ideas explored in this part of the movie require a lot of thought and provoke discussion/debate. Unlike the original trilogy, the concepts surrounding the Force are not so black and white. I welcome this change as the Light and Dark sides in previous episodes were too absolute, and we all know how that turned out.
- Rey’s Lineage Reveal: This is a controversial point in the fandom but I loved the reveal.
- The Reunions: Can’t say more without spoiling but characters reconnecting in this film was a beautiful thing.
- The Ending (sort of): the resolution of the Force plot was extremely moving and surprising in so many ways. I did leave the theater distressed about the fate of one character in particular but upon reflection I’ve realized there is still room for hope.
What I Liked:
- The New Characters: Of the three new characters introduced I liked Rose Tico the best. She didn’t land in the “Love” category because I wasn’t completely sold on her narrative. Laura Dern was similarly great but given even less to do. Benicio Del Toro was interestingly ambiguous.
- The New Creatures: The porgs were adorable, the crystal foxes awesome, and the horse like fathers were gentle, beautiful and graceful.
- Finn’s Journey (sort of): I very much liked his pairing with Rose Tico, but his side trip to another planet – while entertaining – felt like it belonged in another movie.
- First Order Nonsense: Specifically, General Hux and Kylo Ren’s old married couple like bickering. Gold!
What I Didn’t Like:
- The Timeline: the timeline of this movie just feels weird. Everything that happens unfolds in a period of maybe two days? While that that may be OK for the Resistance plot, it doesn’t work at all for The Force portion of the movie. Kylo, Rey, and Luke become so intertwined during the course of the movie that to expect this level of intimacy to happen in a few days is absurd.
- The Humor: Admittedly, I did laugh out loud at some of the jokes but I also found myself at times wondering if I was watching a Marvel movie. I blame Disney for this.
- The Resistance Subplot: Ugh, just ugh. Great characters not put to good use. Leia has one very bizarre moment.
What I Hated:
- Love Quadrangle???: Hey, let’s make EVERYONE a possible love interest for Rey! I know Daisy Ridley is appealing but seriously?
- Captain Phasma and Maz Kanata: Love those two actresses but their characters? Not so much.
In a nutshell (ha!) that’s pretty much it from a non-spoiler standpoint. If this seems like a lot, it’s because it is. It’s taken me almost a full week to process everything I saw and even now I’m not sure I interpreted it all correctly. Is that the hallmark of a good film? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Overall, I’d give the movie a solid B rating (or 85/100). Importantly, if you had asked me after I left the theater I would have said C- (or 70/100). Like a raw steak this movie needs time to marinate and then becomes something quite special.
Spoiler review to follow.