Movie Review: Star Wars Episode VIII: “The Last Jedi”
How many times have you heard about how a movie “keeps you guessing”? More often than not, it’s wildly overstated—for me, at least.
Not this one. Oh-ho-ho, not this one!
In this regard, The Last Jedi almost feels like a movie-long response to the number-one complaint people has about Episode VII: The Force Awakens—namely, “It’s just a rehash—it’s nothing we haven’t seen before—it’s predictable!”
Well…to be clear, I’ve long disagreed. What Ep 7 did was nothing less than make clear to everyone who hated how George Lucas ruined his own legacy with those terribly-written prequels…that no one needed to worry: The new management at Lucasfilm was returning Star Wars to its roots. And to be sure, there were some elements “recycled” from the original Star Wars…as well as Empire Strikes Back.
And yes, there are nice homages to Empire AND Return of the Jedi in this new one…but two things to keep in mind.
First—the fact that it paid homage to Return (in one case, actually word-for-word) makes it absolutely clear that whatever “rehash” has been going on is not beat-for-beat. And we can pretty much infer that Episode 9 will pretty much be “original”.
Second—and more importantly…the homages are a big part of the aforementioned greatest quality of The Last Jedi.
Any moment where you feel you might be able to predict what’s going to happen next…trust me. You’re not. Honestly, even when you expect a twist, the rug almost certainly will be pulled out from under your feet. Proverbially, of course. (Honestly, the one thing we were all anticipating from the MOMENT Force Awakens ended…well, brace yourself.)
I will say, this movie is so filled with twists and turns that I’m not entirely sure what I can say specifically about it, without spoiling anything. Strap yourselves in for a bumpy ride.
To be sure, one of the great running themes in this film actually revolves around how dangerous one’s assumptions can actually be. Perhaps there’s something social-political about it, concerning the impetuousness of youth vs. the arrogance of experience…or something. All I know is, characters make mistakes in this movie.
Arguably everyone does—and those mistakes are shown to have consequences. However, they’re mistakes that don’t make the characters look like idiots—SEE: Revenge of the Sith, the worst movie of the Star Wars franchise. Rather, the revelations that the actions in question are mistakes are twists in themselves…and frankly, they come off almost as deconstructions of typical movie tropes. Practically any other movie would’ve had those reckless acts turn out to be “necessary”—and had them work.
Well, this is not “any other movie”.
There are some things I feel I can safely talk about. The relationship between Rey (blossoming starlet Daisy Ridley) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, in arguably his greatest live-action performance) is the heart and soul of the film—and it’s got a lot of heart, and emotional intensity. There’s deconstruction here, too, on the “typical” tropes of master-student storylines…and that leads to drama, and more drama.
Rey herself brought tears to my eyes several times. With this and Justice League—and Wonder Woman and Batman v. Superman, while we’re at it—I have to wonder if I’m just becoming a softie. Probably not. I’d say it’s testament to Rian Johnson’s writing and direction, and Miss Ridley’s acting, bringing out just how vulnerable Rey really is.
“Mary Sue” my eye…. If she’s a “Mary Sue”, the term’s got no meaning. Like I said, folks: Nearly everyone makes mistakes, in this movie. Including Rey. And that’s part of the value of it.
Not that that excuses some behavior. One new character could’ve avoided a LOT of unnecessary strife, had they not fallen prey to that endlessly irritating “movie sin” of not telling anyone what you’re planning! I know, I know: It’s a typical “parent” move of You Don’t Need To Know, Because I’m In Charge And I Don’t Need To Explain Myself. It’s stupid in real life, and it’s stupid in the movies. Those other characters are not children, and in the middle of a war, friend, a lack of communication is deadly! There was literally no reason to keep that plan secret, except to self-righteously strut your stuff…which, again, has disastrous consequences. Tragically, no one calls this character out on it….
And then, there’s…that one subplot.
Much has been said about the subplot of Finn (John Boyega) and his new girl Rose (Kelly Marie Tran)—that it’s unnecessary, and so on. Maybe it is, I don’t know. To me, it just speaks to the whole “mistakes making things worse” thing.
But there’s the big elephant in the room: For Conservatives (and many Moderates, as it turns out), this part of the film gives us some Socially Conscious Messaging about the Evil Rich.
Well…here’s the thing: when the shady DJ (Benicio Del Toro) enters the stage, he makes sure to point out that it isn’t that simple. Those rich guys Rose so righteously hates are more complicated than she’s ever willing to admit. Money and wealth are not inherently good OR inherently evil. It’s amoral. It’s complicated. Whether “the rich” turn out good or bad, in the end, depends on what kind of society we’re looking at. Remember, folks, who enjoyed wealth in the Soviet Bloc…and more recently, in Venezuela and Cuba.
(Besides…a certain twist that makes things worse for our heroes arguably stems precisely from this class-warfare mindset. As it turns out, trusting a poor-looking person over a rich-looking person might not be rational rule of thumb….)
And that’s the other thing: As sweet and lovable as Rose initially comes across, her vital flaw (which no one seems to notice except the audience) stems from just how starry-eyed and black-and-white her attitude really is. As the film goes on, her behavior leans more and more towards virtue-signaling—to the point of a certain action she takes in the climax of the picture that frankly had me groaning out loud in the theater. She even caps it off with a sappy mini-speech that, as far as I’m concerned, just adds insult to injury.
In other words, fellow Conservatives, it’s arguably a Bait-&-Switch. Rian Johnson didn’t necessarily mean it that way, or he would’ve probably clarified it a bit more. But regardless…it ain’t as bad as you may have heard.
Oh…and as for those cutie-pie Porgs: You may have seen throughout the internet some running gags about those critters being delectably edible. Well, it would seem that was anticipated—and there’s some priceless payoff that’ll make you feel as guilty as a certain someone for even considering it.
That’s about all I can say in a non-spoiler review, except to maybe touch on the rest of the cast. Everyone gives their all—from archvillain Snoke (the magnificent Andy Serkis), to the tormented Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), to the stiff-necked General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), to the again-underused Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie, who can’t seem to catch a break with this franchise), to the commander of a Dreadnought whom I’d have loved to see more of…to General Leah—Carrie Fisher’s last performance….
On that note: There is a sequence where the emotion of the moment is underlined and enhanced with the knowledge of Ms. Fisher’s tragic passing. But she will live on, one way or another. And that’s all I’ll say about it.
Oh, and there’s…one more thing: Certain moments near the end had me leading a cheer and a round of applause in the theater. Let’s just say it’s something we’ve been waiting for…delivered in a way we never expected.
So there you have it—an intensely complex film that “keeps you guessing”, for real. Assume nothing, and enjoy.
And stay film-friendly, my friends.
Movie Grade: A-
Image Source: Wikimedia/Rakruithof
License: Public Domain
Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory. He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests. He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work. Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.
Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com. He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio. In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
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