Disclaimer: This is a SPOILER FREE zone (though I’m sure all you sweaty nerds have already seen this film multiple times like myself).
In one breath:
We’ve arrived at that time of the year when once again our corporate overlords at Disney have crop-dusted the world with their celestial pheromones designed to draw every nerd, jock, goth, honor student, anime enthusiast, business person, fire dancer, Somalian pirate, regular pirate, and nude cave diver out of their respective hovels and into the theater and then straight to the nearest store to consume every last Lego brick of Star Wars related merchandise, for themselves and their unhinged, hyper-active 9-year old nephew to open on Christmas day in a crafty attempt at appeasing your younger, more successful sibling in the hopes that he/she will extend the unwritten agreement to house you in the basement on the futon as you try to expand your blog’s following but instead spend the next year staving off the violent symptoms of Star Wars related withdrawals by engaging in academic discourse in online forums dedicated to the exchange of research conducted on the biological classifications of porgs, (optional breath) all the while conceptualizing possible story concepts for a Salacious Krum spin-off trilogy in preparation for when your blackhat contact, Sypher, finally obtains Kathleen Kennedy’s permanent address and contact information and you get the opportunity to pitch your ideas in the form of a tear-soaked soliloquy on her front-porch as you fight off her burly, Samoan bodyguards only to return to your basement hovel after those tortuous 2 weeks spent enduring the oppressive ultraviolet assault of the Sun’s rays, only to wait for the next pheromone release a year later to begin the process all over again.
*Inhales again, triumphantly*
WHOOOOO! MAN AM I GOOD!
In other words: Star Wars is here, and this second installment in the franchises 3rd trilogy…
*deep breath, and twirls fidget spinner to hang on to sanity*
…has struck back in a powerful way.
As a self-professed original trilogy purist, and a man (allegedly) with a general reticence toward all things dubbed “franchise” or “cinematic universe” I can confidently say that The Last Jedi is one of the better Star Wars films, as well as a good film in its own right.
Coming off of the massive success of the The Force Awakens, writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper, best episode of Breaking Bad) was tasked with the impossible: make a sequel to the most popular, billion dollar franchise (sorry Fast and Furious fans), which also happens to be a global phenomenon spanning decades and generations, that avoids riffing on the previous movies (a fair criticism of TFA), and deliver an original film that still captures the essence of Star Wars and all that makes this saga so great. Rian’s response: “hold my beer, Jar-Jar.”
The Last Jedi succeeds, in my humble yet correct opinion, because it dared to be different and take some story risks that, honestly, I didn’t think the Disney machine would allow. It felt as though Rian walked onto the Lucasfilm ranch and said “I like what you guys did with the Force Awakens and the direction it seemed like you wanted to take it…but I think I’d like to zag here instead of your proposed zig.” and all the wonderful people at Lucasfilm collectively said “dope, let’s do it!” What ensued was a story that was relatively small and self-contained, bundled up inside of the usual, massive effects-driven galactic affair, featuring stunning visuals, profound emotional revelations and subversive story and character choices. In some regards, the film was almost a meta-commentary on the saga as whole; not necessarily bad or good commentary, just observations made through some less than subtle lines of dialogue here and there.
Now, because I’ve chosen to void all spoiler talk, I’m aware that what you’ve just read and soon will read seems a bit vague and uninformative. But trust me, if you haven’t seen this film yet and you’re not a soulless phantom who feeds on pain and despair, you’ll thank me for being vague and abstract, because this film does not pull punches when it comes to the big questions about all our favorite heroes and characters.
Last Jedi had an easier time standing apart from TFA (and the prequels, of course) because it also dared to be a little bit richer thematically and more nuanced in its approach to character. Jedi was a deep exploration of the Force and the underlying conflict between good and evil and areas in between, by expanding on what we know about its mystical abilities, told through the conflict of Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke Skywalker (all of whom portrayed deftly by their respective actors, whose names I don’t think I need to remind any of you of). On the more human side of the thematic equation, General Leia, Poe Dameron, Finn, and a few more new characters explored what it means to be leader and the consequences both good and bad that can arise from assuming such a role. And through all this, the film is still able to manage the themes of war and class, all the while sneaking in some fun, celebrity cameo’s here and there.
As a formality, I’ll state, that technically this was a world-class film. But what else would you expect from the people who literally pioneered sound, lighting, and visual effects technology during the creation of Star Wars (yes that was the original title; no “Episode IV: A New Hope” it was later repackaged as) in the 70’s and now in the modern era. ILM and Lucasfilm continue to flex their muscles.
I loved elements of the Last Jedi, but I also hated some elements too. Fortunately, those things that I hated amounted to a collection of moments that weren’t integral to the overall narrative; some misplaced humor, an unneeded cameo (or two) and a few scenes that were obviously designed for kids. But Star Wars is for everyone, and like I said, those elements didn’t detract from the overall experience. I’d boiled them down to me saying, “I liked that or I don’t mind that, but I wish it were executed in a slightly different manner.” Nevertheless, when this film is good, oh man, is it good. The space battles are breathtaking and the lightsaber duels are stylistic and driven by earned emotion through well formed character interactions, all of which are then somehow overshadowed by, frankly, an amazing 3rd act finale. I’ll just put it this way: in a list of “Top 10 Star Wars Moments” I would posit that The Last Jedi occupies 2-4 of those slots (though surely if the collective fan community actually attempted to compose this list, the process would lead to a nuclear holocaust; at minimum it would cause the internet to implode leaving us in a pre 20th century wasteland of reading books and writing blogs in ink and on paper).
Jedi still very much contained the DNA established in the films that preceded it, but took decisive action in molding that DNA into its own unique variation that satisfied the Star Wars fan in me, as well as the film fan in me, who craves the bold and original.
Thank you, Disney, Lucasfilm, and though he no longer has a hand in the production, George Lucas, for giving us yet another wonderful adventure in a galaxy far, far, away…
P.S. Coming soon, I’ll post my first article in what I’ll be referring to as the “Opinion” series (I’m working on something with more flare; bare with me fore now) where I can expand on any aspect of a film I feel deserves focused attention. This first one, fittingly, will be a love letter to Mark Hamill and Carrie Fischer and my feelings as to why they should both receive some love from the Academy this February for their roles as Luke Skywalker and Princess/General Leia Organa. So if you felt I short changed those two icons in this review, you’re in luck valued reader (who’s probably just my mom, realistically). Stay tuned.