Randy Reviews THE LAST JEDI
Randy here with a review of the latest in the Star Wars Saga, the eagerly anticipated Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
"Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order. "
Star Wars: The Last Jedi continues the Skywalker saga in new direction for all involved, which will upset many. I am not one of them. Flawed as some of the movie is, writer/director Rian Johnson’s vision for Luke, Rey, and Kylo is very strong and I am surprised and delighted where it went.
(Two Things: This with be a NON SPOILER review and I should share up front that I have been a long time, original fan of Star Wars going all the way back to it’s initial release.) Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not what I was expecting as the direction the Star Wars Saga would go – and THAT is what made me the most delighted… and I’m sure it will upset many.
But the word that has come to mind most quickly-"SUBVERT".
Writer/Director Rian Johnson is focused squarely on making Star Wars: The Last Jedi about the characters and the effects of their actions, whether recent or decades past, and how it will affect the future for them and the galaxy.
That’s the driving force of what happens in the movie. In so doing, the movies goes to places I wouldn’t expect and was quite surprised to see when we got there. Rian (along the audience) is going to follow this path wherever is ends up. I used the word “subvert” earlier, because in doggedly following that the path of characters’ actions and repercussions, the film subverts the audience expectations nearly from the start. There’s a moment, basically the next minute after the end of The Force Awakens, that gets a laugh, but is shocking and Rian showing the audience that Luke’s line in the trailer is an excellent summation and “warning” of the movie to come: “This is NOT going to go the way you think!”
So early on in The Last Jedi, Rey, Finn, and Poe are split up, into three different storylines, which eventually converge again towards the end. They do not work equally well.
Poe Dameron has come a long way from being a character doomed to die halfway into The Force Awakens and Oscar Issac continues to do brash, hot-shot pilot well. He brings the kind of energy that keeps the action interesting and engaging, while showing that his actions don’t accomplish as much as he thought it would. His scenes with Carrie Fisher have great vitality and humor to them. General Leia (and Fisher) is in-charge, trying to hold the remnants of the Resistance together, while trying to teach Poe that this kind of war requires more than bravado and guts. Fisher makes this balance look easy and effortless. Laura Dern’s Holdo gets enough time to make you wish there was more time to find out about her relationship to the Resistance and to Leia.
The problem with this storyline is that it’s a slow-speed chase, that really doesn’t make sense… or that it makes sense only as a “ticking clock” of tension – that doesn’t inspire much tension from it. The conflict of Poe and Holdo could have been dealt with easily, instead being amped up simply to keep things going. It was not as strong as it could have been.
I am sorry that the storyline involving Finn (John Boyega) is the weakest of the three, feeling like Rian didn’t know what do with him, so sent him on a mission, that in many ways turned out to be pointless… at least for the story. What it does do well is have Finn interact with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). Rose and Finn are similar as low level people who are thrust into action due to circumstance, a long term trait of the series. She gets to be the window into the real world for Finn, who’s lived a sheltered life in the First Order. Tran is able to bring both a youthful vibrancy as well as moments of weariness at the state of the galaxy. Rose is an excellent addition, and works well with Boyega.
But their mission really comes across as story “busy-work”, in order to keep Finn from tracking down Rey. While commenting on the “gray” that exists in Finn’s morally black and white world is admirable, it isn’t handled as well as it could be. Benecio Del Toro is essentially wasted in his role, what little of it there is, using some character quirks to, seemingly, just amuse him.
The Rey and Luke, along with Kylo Ren, storyline is what Rian is most interested in dealing with and is by far the most engaging. From the moment just after Rey and Luke first meet, there is a moment that can be seen as levity, even a bad joke. But I saw it as Rian Johnson telling the audience right up front, that this is nothing is to be assumed about Luke (and the movie) early on.
Rey’s exploration of herself and her connection to the Force were fascination to me. We saw Luke’s journey through this in The Empire Strikes Back. But Rey’s is much different. She’s coming in with more raw power than Luke had, while trying to define who she is, at the same time the audience is as well. Her brushes into the Dark Side made all the more intense because we’re not sure which way she may go. Rey’s unknown background makes it clear that we are in uncharted territory, and it is what kept me engaged with her. Nothing is certain… and I LIKE IT THAT WAY.
Clouding things further is Kylo Ren and his relationship with Rey. The directions this turned for both Rey and Kylo make for less absolute that we’ve seen in any of the prior films. Not just Rey but Kylo is examining their relationship with the other, and how it may change how they define themselves. Unlike Vader & Luke, Rey and Kylo are on nearly equal footing. It is what makes the 3rd act of the film so strong.
To some, the Luke Skywalker we see now is radically different than when we remember him, and this will upset them. But I find that Luke’s actions, past and present, are wholly based on the character as he’s progressed through the Original Trilogy. His motivations are not a sudden change of character, but born of who that farmboy from Tatooine was , looking for a way step out “…into a much larger world.” And his journey to being Rey’s teacher is not unlike that of Obi-Wan and Yoda before him. Luke’s journey is just as intriguing and important as Rey and Kylo’s.
Mark Hamill steps back into the role he made iconic, and dealing with the “legend” status of Luke Skywalker is one of the best parts of his return. There is something that he brings to Luke’s weariness that may be something unique to Hamill’s past. Like Hamill, I wouldn’t be surprised if Daisy Ridley was using her own rise in status since the release of The Force Awakens to inform her portrayal of Rey. Ridley comes across as much more assured of herself, as actor and as Rey. Hamill and Ridley are great together, helping to keep things fun, thoughtful, and tense. Their dynamic is ta strong element of the film. Adam Driver continues to bring more to Kylo than I think a great portion of the audience realize. Kylo has been called too emo or goth, yet people forget that we’ve never seen a Star Wars villain dealing with their embrace of the Dark Side. The closest comparison would be Anakin Skywalker in the Prequel Trilogy, though that came across as FAR more whiny than Kylo has ever been! Driver is portraying the inner conflict of embracing the Dark Side and I’m really fascinated to see where it goes… and how it will eventually end.
Overall, Rian Johnson is doing what fans say they want, but freak out when it is done: he’s exploring the characters and bringing in change. The events and changes that occur may upset or annoy fans. But in the end, change is necessary to survive in a story that is on its EIGHTH movie. But these changes aren’t arbitrary or done for shock. Johnson wants to move the story forward, into new places and he does it by focusing on the characters, where they’ve been and where they need to go to. THAT is how you want change to occur, because it is the most organic. By not going for the obvious direction with these characters, he kept me wondering where things would end up next. Isn’t that what you want from any movie?
I recognize that the film is uneven and could have used some rewrites to bring the other two storylines up to the level of the Rey/Luke/Kylo story. But that story is so compelling to me that it blunts any issues I may have with the other, lesser storylines. By the end, things are much different from where we were, even back in The Force Awakens, for both heroes and villains. I am absolutely on-board with wanting to know how all this will turn out.
I hope J.J. Abrahms is up for dealing with the changes and resolving them well.
WORTH PAYING: Evening prices, especially for Star Wars fans-though likely already seen it! WORTH MAKING TOYS: Sadly, no toys are being made-HA! Who’d believe that?! Hasbro, Jakks Pacific and Hot Toys figures are already out there-among other licenses!
NOTE: There are no post-credit scene.
Be seeing you! RANDY