A semi-spoiler-free take on The Last Jedi

I walked out of Star Wars: The Last Jedi last night grinning ear to ear. It is a fun, epic film. It has so many nods to the characters we know and love. The visuals are stunning, the acting great, the humor is amazing and on point, and yet there’s tragedy as well. I think euphoric might be too strong a word, but it’s in the thesaurus neighborhood.

Then I thought about writing this now-traditional review for the blog. And in the light of day, the flaws show — and in a way that they didn’t for The Force Awakens or Rogue One. I think these are flaws of ambition, because there is a lot going on in The Last Jedi, and Rian Johnson is trying to do things we haven’t seen before. When he succeeds, he does so amazingly well. When he falls short, it can be obvious and distracting.

I don’t think I can post anything without putting in some spoilers here, but if you’ve read up on the film — features, reviews, etc. — then I think you’ll be OK. But if you’re determined to have a spoiler-free zone, stop here and just know that it’s worth your movie-going dollars if you’re a Star Wars fan, and that you’ll have a blast.  

OK, seriously. There may be spoilers from here on out. You Have Been Warned.

Wait for it.

No, really. Do not blame me if I spoil something for you.

Final warning. Stop reading for an unspoiled experience. 

Thematically, The Last Jedi focuses on responsibility. Nearly every character is wrestling with their roles, duties, ambitions and failures, and most everyone comes out of that arc changed. What does it mean to be a leader? A hero? A legend? Even a villain? These are some good, smart things to explore, and while some characters get short shrift, I think Johnson pulls off the theme well with his characters.

Plot-wise, there are issues. I don’t think it’s a huge secret that Rey is off on the island with Luke (and Chewie and R2-D2) while Finn and newcomer Rose are off on a mission on a casino world. That leaves Leia and Poe with the Resistance, now under siege by the First Order, with General Hux and Kylo Ren in charge and sniping at each other.

This is a lot of juggling, and frankly, only the Luke-Rey and Kylo lines work well. Luke, of course, fled into solitude after Kylo took out his students during events well before The Force Awakens, and Rey works hard to draw him out. The interactions between the two are very well done, and Mark Hamill brings new life and nuance to his signature role. Kylo Ren never ceases to surprise during this film, and both he and Rey have great stuff to do.

As for the others, Poe gets some amazing screen-time early on, only to see his arc go sideways in head-scratching ways. The Finn-Rose line is almost entirely superfluous, despite the charm and chops of the actors. Benicio Del Toro is kind of wasted here, and Laura Dern was great in a sadly limited role. Leia has some nice moments, but also a really strange one early on that I think some people will love, but it took me right out of the movie.

Visually, of course, it’s excellent. We’ve come a long way from George Lucas’ models. And yes, I am very pro-porg. They’re there and they’re fun without being too distracting.

Ultimately, I feel like The Last Jedi tried to do too much — which, considering its run-time, is impressive. There were a few points where I could practically see the cuts where additional material hit the floor. Like, you know as a storyteller there’s more there, but that it was edited for time, which is a shame. (Now, do we need Star Wars with Peter Jackson/LOTR running times? No, we don’t.)

What I think needed to happen is a couple more script revisions to tighten things up. The Finn-Rose side mission could easily have been done away with, and those characters given more to do in the Poe-Leia storyline. And that could’ve bought some additional time to plug other plotholes.

Couple other quibbles: There were times that, tonally, the movie seemed off. I can’t really get into those without discussion of major plot points, so I’m not gonna here. But it seemed that events might have called for a darker tone than we got, as if they remembered that kids really love Star Wars so let’s keep it light, right? I’ll also say that the movie didn’t give us answers around some of the Star Wars canon that I think we hoped to have gotten. It’s not so much that the questions were investigated, but rather some were just kind of forgotten about, and others were swept away entirely.

There’s more, but that’s all I feel like I can talk about without getting super spoilery. And I recognize that there’s a lot of complaining here about a movie that, overall, I really enjoyed. I imagine that seeing it a few more times would maybe clarify some things, but not others. I’ll see it again anyway, for sure.

Yes, if you’re a geek — and if you aren’t why are you here? — go see The Last Jedi and enjoy. You’ll have a blast. Maybe you’ll come away with similar thoughts afterward, or maybe you’ll just think I’m being overly analytical about a freakin’ Star Wars movie. (Possible!) But again, it’s worth your time and money. When it connects, it hits the ball out of the park. When it doesn’t, you can’t fault it for trying.

So where does this land on the list of best Star Wars films? Now that we have nine, perhaps a ranking is in order.

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. A New Hope
  3. Rogue One
  4. The Force Awakens
  5. The Last Jedi
  6. Revenge of the Sith
  7. Return of the Jedi
  8. Attack of the Clones
  9. The Phantom Menace

You have your list, of course — feel free to quibble.

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