The wait is finally over. Star Wars: The Last Jedi has arrived. We’ve seen the trailers. We’ve had our conjectures on whether or not Rey will become a Jedi or a member of the dark side. We wondered how the passing of Carrie Fisher would be handled. We wondered how closely director Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm will follow The Empire Strikes Back. We obviously asked questions about Luke and Rey’s origins. We certainly wanted to know more about those goddamned adorable porgs.
The answer is… Maybe not. It really depends on what you want out of a Star Wars movie. Or, for that matter, what you want out of a sequel. I plan to give a spoiler-free review, and I will hold to that promise, but if you really want to go in utterly and totally deaf and blind to any opinion, I’d probably recommend to turn back now. There are inferences to some things like tone or story structure in this review that can’t be not written.
This is basically your last warning.
What makes The Last Jedi entertaining for me and, ultimately, everything I wanted is multi-faceted. I’ll start with the basic ingredient that I think every Star Wars has come to embrace (with little restraint) – a certain level of reference for the past. For those hoping for a complete divorce from reliance on older films (which seemed to be the largest complaint of The Force Awakens), you might have some questions for yourself after seeing this movie. As an audience, we find ourselves constantly wanting sequels, reboots, and anything we can get that connects to our childhood. We’re buying toys that remind us of things we grew up loving. We watch old movies we know suck balls but we still love because we grew up with them. For (sometimes) better or (most often) worse, we cannot get beyond our own nostalgia.
Yet, we (the royal “we”, not me) cannot help but moan anytime that very thing we beg for tries to use the very imagery we connect with.
Are there things that look like AT-ATs or AT-STs or a few other surprises that tips the hat to stuff from the past? You bet, but what I like the most about this movie is that it actually serves as a bridge to something entirely new. I’d argue this isn’t so much a sequel to The Force Awakens but, instead, a stepping stone to the opportunity to tell a wholly new story with characters previously introduced. There are twists and turns I did not expect to see in the movie. There are revelations I wasn’t going into the theater expecting to be told. Are they shocking? Maybe not, but they are, overall, most certainly welcome.
A word that was often uttered by a friend after the film completed was “ambiguity”. That’s a great word to describe the nature of the movie. There is a certain gray area when it comes to threats posed and decisions made. To back up that feeling that this chapter seems to take the saga into a slightly different path than the movies before it, The Last Jedi doesn’t rely on absolute good and absolute evil in every circumstance or perspective given. Don’t get me wrong, General Hux is still a weirdo asshole ginger monster and Snoke is also a total despot. Nothing there is new. However, we see both heroes and villains having to shift and change perspectives along the way to the conclusion.
The point I’m trying to make is that we are given a slightly different nature to the concepts of “light side” and “dark side”. We grew up always thinking that the Jedi were all good or the Sith were all bad. The general tone of the trailers showed that Luke’s faith has been tested and shaken, and we’re given very good explanations of why that is. We even get some different perspective of what simply being a legend can do to someone.
At least we don’t hear flimsy dialog like “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!” Only for someone else to say, “Oh yeah? Well, from my point of view you’re a bad guy, Mr. Bad Man!”
I also want to praise the personality these newer Star Wars movies have. The biggest thing the Prequel Trilogy lacked was humanity. Characters said things, and smiled, and got upset, but they didn’t seem like real people. That was somewhat of a problem in the original Star Wars. I, uh, hate to point out a commonality in that critique, so I won’t. I’ll just say that I know exactly what each and every character’s personality and motivations are without clunky exposition. That also lends to additional opportunities to be charming and funny without it seeming out of place. These are all things that, at worst, make the movie a fun romp for large “popcorn” audiences and, at best, can sometimes show flashes of utter brilliance.
All of this comes down to the fact that I really could see where the story was completing one arc and began shifting to a new era with new opportunities and new themes of hope and a heroic fight against oppression and evil. Despite this being a “middle act” of a trilogy, and I expected to have serious concerns about how our heroes are going to climb out of their lowest point to win the day, I left the theater in very high spirits and looking forward to the next chapter because I can see a spark of a better day. The movie does a marvelous job of reminding us how to keep hope during desperate times.
Look, if you are a Star Wars fan, there’s no way you ain’t seein’ this flick. So, it’s really impossible to rate the movie in an honest, entirely fair way. That said, I will give the movie 1 out of 1 inquisitive porg,