Reviewed May 5, 2018
On Star Wars Day (“May The Fourth Be With You!”) what do you do to celebrate? You put together a Lego set (a full size Yoda), you wear a Star Wars t-shirt and you watch a Star Wars movie (one at least).
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is frustrating for one reason. I can’t decide if I just like it or do I really like it.
My first time watching it on opening night, I had mixed feelings about it. Definitely on this first viewing and perhaps still, I did not like how Lucasfilm with Disney’s financial support, responded to the death of Carrie Fisher in how they handled her beloved Leia character. In the first act of the film, audiences gasped at what they thought was her ultimate fate, and then, well then, they learned that wasn’t her fate at all. I still think it’s kind of a cheap shot for an unexpected real life moment that affected fans worldwide. I know. All of her scenes had been shot. This was probably the original screenplay anyway. Yet, for the sake of good taste, I think Disney, well known for their controlling grasp on their properties, should have stepped in and used the footage they had of Carrie Fisher’s Leia and reedited it. These days, anything can done and remolded with film and storytelling. I think it should have happened here.
Still, beyond that, “The Last Jedi” is a smart film that stands apart from the typical “Star Wars” films of the past. Episode VIII sure doesn’t look like a “Star Wars” film at times by making huge departures from what we know and are familiar with.
More specifically, it boasts of a very brave and well done performance from Adam Driver as the protagonist Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. Driver’s character toes the line of a brat at times much like Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker was written. The difference is that Christensen lacked any nuance to his whining. He came off artificial and screechy. Driver comes off as deranged, misguided and brainwashed. Driver plays his role how Anakin Skywalker should have been depicted in the prequel trilogy. This is a dangerous fellow who will occupy his Saturday afternoons by maliciously burning bugs under glass in the sun. When he gets bored with that, he will then move on to cats and dogs and then from there, I just don’t want to imagine. Driver is scary good in the part. A favorite scene of mine remains to be when he allies himself with heroine Rey and when their united battle wins out, he turns in a direction that most good guys would not. I was expecting him to take a righteous path at that point in the film, but he goes in another direction reminicennt of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series. So well written and thought out by director Rian Johnson. My most sincere compliments.
“The Last Jedi” has evolved into a very divisive film among fans. Some hate it tremendously and have no problem extending their vitriol towards Johnson. Others are hanging in there and carrying on their immense love for the galaxy far, far away. I’m part of the latter group, gladly. I treasure the remaining mysteries of “The Last Jedi.” No easy answers come from this episode. It’s aware of its middle chapter positioning in the saga. So why all of the impatience with the film? The story still has to ride itself out.
Sure, I might have taken the stories in other directions. How I wish the original trifecta of Han, Luke and Leia could have shared at least a moment together. That’s a regret. I probably would have portrayed characters like Luke (I didn’t care for the blue milk scene and some of his hermit grouchiness), and especially Leia differently; made them more consistent with their characters from the original trilogy, full of sarcasm and spunk. I would have reintroduced some missed characters (Lando!) prime for applause opportunities. I would have liked more material from Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2D2 (who is hardly in the film at all). Those three are your absolute staples. Maz Kanatta: I loved you the first time around, yet I hardly knew you. Luke’s lightsaber: I can only hope that’s further discussed. (I’d be surprised if it gets to be).
Yet, everything that’s here is still solid. The personal cave moment for Rey is chillingly reminiscent of a thought provoking scene from “The Empire Strikes Back.” Lifting rocks carries a meaning to the strength of a main character. Debates regarding the necessity of the Force and the Jedi are introduced which lends to conflict from a story perspective and within the characters. New ways to use the Force are presented, all good, all pleasantly surprising.
What bothers people, though, carries little weight for me. I don’t necessarily need to know Snoke’s background. Why should I? He’s only a device to move the protagonist. How will Leia be approached from this point on? What’s to come of Luke? How about that little boy with the broom? Rey’s background? Well, here’s another conundrum. Has she learned the truth about her history? Was she lied to? I’m happy to debate with fans until all of this is revealed, or ever revealed. That’s what is fun about “Star Wars.” Questions like these sustained this franchise for 41 years. It’s why we continue to return to these films. We are invested in these tales.
Rian Johnson as director and writer was never going to make any of this easy for us. He was not supposed to. That’s what the first installment was for, and much appreciated from prior director JJ Abrams. “The Last Jedi” does not have those applause moments that other installments have. Still, it keeps the viewers on their toes, and wanting more. So I’m content and happy to watch it.