When Disney announced that they were buying Lucasfilm way back in 2012, people were skeptical. On the one hand, their beloved Star Wars was being bought by a corporate conglomerate that, by its very nature, has to make things child friendly and applicable for all audiences. However, on the other hand, this is the same company that hired Kevin Fiege and now has a near monopoly on the superhero genre, even more so with their recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox. 2015’s ‘The Force Awakens’ was met with considerable fanfare at the time, with articles commenting that it ‘perfectly captured the tone of the original trilogy’ and audiences seemed to love it too. However, in the following months and with the lukewarm reception to 2016’s ‘Rogue One’, it became the increasing norm for people to hate ‘Force Awakens’ for being a clone of ‘A New Hope.’ While that’s a story for another day, director Rian Johnson had a real challenge when putting together ‘The Last Jedi.’ Expectations were incredibly high with many questions left lingering from TFA, in a typically J.J Abrams fashion. Supreme Leader Snoke, Rey’s parents, The Knights of Ren, how Maz obtained Anakin’s lightsaber and perhaps most pressingly of all, the character of Luke Skywalker, who made a 15 second, non speaking cameo at the end of TFA, were all on the top of reddit posts and speculation articles. Not helping matters was fan darling Mark Hamill himself, who publicly stated that ‘disagreed with every choice that he [Johnson] made with the character [of Luke Skywalker]. And though it’s sad to say, as a true, loyal Star Wars fan, I not only agree with that statement, but think the film suffers from the hubris of the director and the ‘Disneyfication’ if you will, of the whole saga, a great deal. With full spoilers ahead, lets dive in.
First the elephant in the room: Carrie Fisher. Every scene with Carrie is made immensely more melancholic thanks to her tragic passing last year. That aside, she gives a wonderful performance. In fact, all but one of the main cast absolutely nail their characters. The scene where she uses the force should’ve been amazing, but was done in such a cheesy and stylised manner, that it came off as weird and out of place. A big shame. The question of how Leia, who is very much alive and still in charge of the resistance, will be written around in the next film, is a lingering one. It’s a very tight and unfortunate spot for J.J to have to deal with in episode 9. Other performances worth highlighting are the fantastic Adam Driver, who matures and develops Kylo Ren far more effectively with his emotive face, than the script ever does. Daisy Ridley continues to do a sterling job as Rey and the reveal that she comes from nothing, actually really worked for me. The idea of greatness coming from anywhere, not just the Skywalker family, is a nice direction. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac also continue to ooze charisma and likeability and charm, but both fall victim to dreadfully boring and/or stupid and incoherent storylines. More on that in a bit. But the show stealer in terms of performance is Mark Hamill. Working with such a warped version of the character we know must’ve been infinitely challenging and frustrating, but the feelings of anguish, fear and sadness are portrayed beautifully, even if the surrounding script is weak. The decision to have Luke turn into a curmudgeonly old man who hates the idea of the Jedi and has disconnected from the force, is not something that I think fans ever expected or wanted. The final action scene is a great twist, I’ll say that much, but I also strongly disagree with Luke dying at the end of it. Firstly; why? And secondly; no really, why? Both films seem to relish in being rid of any familiar elements from the original trilogy for seemingly no reason. There’s passing on the torch and then there’s just sloppy writing. I guess Chewie’s next for the chop then? All in all, this is not the Luke Skywalker I wanted to see and the lack of a reunion with Han Solo, or even a meaningful reunion with any of the main cast bar Leia, is deeply disappointing. Luke for me, is the main area where this film fails. It destroys years of established Star Wars lore, all so that the director can say he ‘did it his way.’
The Luke mess as well as Snoke’s random death, no mention of the Knights of Ren and the ‘destruction’ of both the Jedi and the Sith all seem to stem from the issue of having multiple directors for the trilogy. J.J had set up so many questions and Rian didn’t want to answer them, simple as. He wanted a self contained, smaller scale story that shook up the formula. I can understand that and even agree with a bit of a shake up, but this went way, way overboard. Going back to Snoke, to have him as such a presence and encourage so many questions about his origin, only to unceremoniously and abruptly kill him two thirds into the movie with no questions answered is inexcusable and pointless. It makes the world seem smaller and gives us even less players on the board going into episode 9. I know that in theory, both Luke and Snoke could appear as force ghosts, but the damage to the fans has already been done.
Also made completely irrelevant in this film is fan favourite ex Stormtrooper, Finn. The B storyline here is so pointless that it manages to make the whole half hour on the Casino planet, incredibly boring. If there is one thing Star Wars should never, ever be: it’s BORING. Even the prequels for all their crappy love scenes and overuse of CGI were at least entertaining. The introduction of completely random love interest ‘Rose’ doesn’t help either, with a very dull and irritating performance from Kelly Marie Tran, being the closest thing to Jar Jar Binks that the new films have got. The whole segment is one massive toilet break and comes off not only as dull but also preachy. I’m a big animal lover, but did we need that animal cruelty message hammered in so hard along with a dreadfully cliché ‘rich profiteering off of war’ message. Come on Star Wars. We’re better than this; we can get messages like this across in smarter ways. Like teddy bears killing trained Stormtroopers with logs.
So, after four paragraphs of venting and angst, you probably think I hate this film. Well while I certainly don’t love it, it does have its merits. As said, apart from Jar Jar Rose, all the performances are spot on and I love the evolution of Kylo, Rey and Poe in particular. All of their character arks are strong, but unfortunately come at the expense of stupid plot developments or unanswered questions. Where credit must be given though, is in the visuals. Stunning shots of the salt planet and in particular the hyperdrive destruction of a Star Destroyer are real highlights. The movie also starts off strong, with the brilliant opening action scene being reminiscent of the ‘straight into the action’ approach of the original trilogy. While the MCU-style humour can become tiresome, most of it landed for me and Poe was as funny as likeable as ever. However, you can bet I was pissed when Luke through that lightsaber though; I’m fuming just thinking about it. John Williams’ score is stronger this time around too. It felt a little rushed for TFA and lacked any memorable action scores. The decision to reuse the asteroid chase music for a Millennium Falcon dogfight was a welcome return. Yoda’s cameo scene along with his iconic theme, were also welcome returns that did help to make this mess actually seem like a Star Wars film. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the action scene following Snoke’s death. It’s fantastic. Watching Kylo and Rey destroy those red Imperial guards was just amazing. The shooting of all the action was great, with wide frame shots showing the characters whole bodies, giving a Samurai vibe to the action.
So, closing thoughts. When I walked out of ‘The Last Jedi’, I told my friends that I loved it. Luke’s badass closing confrontation with Kylo was fresh in my mind, there were new ideas and it wasn’t just another ‘Empire Strikes Back.’ However. After a few days of festering thoughts and discussions with friends, I’ve decided that this is a deeply flawed film. It has all the makings of a great piece: amazing actors, talented director, John Williams doing the score, stunning shots and angles and a stellar first film to spring board from. Where this film fails isn’t on any of those technical levels, its in two fundamental and crucial areas; the core philosophy and lore, and the commercialisation and incorrect filmmaking approach for a Star Wars film. The first, I’ve touched on a lot here; I believe that Johnson wanted to make his mark and make Star Wars the way he thought it should be and to subvert expectations following backlash from TFA. I can understand that, it’s a stylistic and creative choice. I think its absolutely the wrong choice and it sounds like Mark Hamill and many other fans agree with me, but I can respect a directors artistic vision. What I can’t respect, is the way Disney is trying to make Star Wars films in the same way they make Marvel films. Star Wars should be made every couple of years and really get people excited for it, with some time to flesh out wonderful scripts. With the vast volume of Marvel characters, you don’t feel suffocated with a new film every 4 months or so, Star Wars has a deeply entrenched lore that at present doesn’t lend itself to multiple films a year. If we started going Old Republic years, then perhaps that approach could work, but thats a gripe for another day. Star Wars also doesn’t lend itself to humour in the same way as Marvel. It has a generally more serious tone and the ‘Marvel’ approach of inserting humour into what first appears to be a more serious scene, clashes terribly with the established way of things and the characters we all know so well. Ultimately, Disney needs to make money, I get that. I can forgive them including Porg to see a billion toys like I forgave the inclusion of the Ewoks to do the same thing. What I can’t forgive is sacrificing creativity and a coherent story in order to get something out the door quickly. I wanted so badly to love this and have it be my new ‘Empire Strikes Back’, but there is just too much fundamentally wrong with it.
And oh yeah, Captain Phasma sucks and is pointless. AGAIN.
I give ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’, with sadness in my heart, two stars (★★). And my updated ranking of the series is:
Empire Strikes Back- ★★★★★
Return of the Jedi- ★★★★★
A New Hope- ★★★★★
The Force Awakens- ★★★★
Revenge of the Sith- ★★★
The Last Jedi- ★★
Rogue One- ★★
Phantom Menace- ★
Attack of the Clones- ★