Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A Review
Over the years I have had more than a handful of arguments with my ill informed Dad about which space epic was the superior Sci-Fy franchise, Star Wars or Star Trek. Because he is very old and a big nerd he has always come down on the Trek side while I fight tooth and nail to show him that he is simply not cool enough to understand the tapestry of awesome that George Lucas was weaving. I always just figured his mind was slipping and did not have the mental capacity left to understand how dope lightsabres are but then I did the unthinkable you guys, I started watching The Next Generation, ya know, to make the old man feel good.
Well what do ya know, that Jean Luc-Piccard done stole my heart and i found myself enjoying TNG quite a bit. I figured that now in my 20's, death is creeping ever closer and I like my Pop had become uncool and boring. After realizing that could not be the case because still get excited to bring my Millennium Falcon with real working lights out every once and a while, I knew there must be something else. Maybe Star Trek actually provides something Star Wars cannot, maybe plot and dialogue are as important to a movie as characters and X-Wings. This brings is to The Last Jedi, would it be able to repair some of these issues plaguing the galaxy? Or just push them further into the black hole?
Yoda knows I had my issues with The Force Awakens, but most of these issues were superficial and selfish as a huge fan of the series who just wants to see it be as great as it can be. In the years since it's release I still stand by most of my complaints eg. "why do they keep taking Kylo Ren's helmet off? Vader does not take the helmet off and if its good enough for Darth Vader its good enough for Kylo Ren." I have also discovered that The Force Awakens is incredibly watchable even with it's flaws, hell I am watching it in the background right now. The plot holes and character issues seem to fall away on home viewings and the sheer fun of it all shines through. It becomes harder to take your eyes off the screen than think of all the ways the movie let Joseph Campbell down.
The Last Jedi also has this innate quality to keep the viewer locked in even with major issues. I don't know weather it is just my love of the series or something magical about the film making but it is a hard movie to take your eyes off. If there has been one part of this trilogy that has been absolutely perfect it's the way they are filmed. Everything looks shiny and new and to be honest it can be hard to go back to the original trilogy right after watching these new movies. A great looking movie can help to gloss over some of the bumps in the rest of the issues but unfortunately The Last Jedi has some pretty deep nicks.
Enough talk of flaws, lets lay them out. The writing of The Last Jedi is in a word...... awful. Lawrence Kasdan, who is responsible for writing some fantastic movies, a few of which include Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars films The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi was the original writer of The Last Jedi. When problems arose with the script for The Force Awakens, Kasdan was ripped from The Last Jedi and plugged into the staff of The Force Awakens.
When Rian Johnson was hired as the director for The Last Jedi he requested that he be allowed to re-write the script from scratch. Disney obliged and while I have obviously never seen the original script, I can only imagine Kasdan had a little more in store for us. The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi are certainly connected with the events more or less taking place moments from each other, but you get feeling that the connection between the two is a bit wobbly. The plot is one of the weakest in any Star Wars movies, there are large chunks that after the final credits roll you will find yourself questioning weather or not they were even necessary at all.
Probably the most disappointing part of the writing is the way almost every character is handled. The Empire Strikes Back is one of the great hero journeys in all of movies and The Last Jedi feels like one of the worst. There does not seem to be any quantifiable growth in Ray as she learns about the force and the dark side. Luke Skywalker, the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy is treated like some random Jawa and becomes a pitiful mentor in the process.
Fin continues to have both his courage and heroism tested, but seemingly in the same ways that he was in The Force Awakens and thus it feels like covered ground. Poe is probably the character that was the most realized in The Force Awakens and it stays that way into The Last Jedi. He is the Han Solo of this trilogy and is easily the most interesting character when Jedi's are not on screen. He provides a bit of Han Soloin his attitude with the X-Wing piloting skills of Luke.
While I have my issues with him and his mask, Kylo Ren has actually become one of my favorite characters in the entire saga. Without spoiling anything Kylo sees a bit of a change in his motivations, but the change is well laid and satisfying. Kylo, like Darth Vader before him has become less of the villain and more of the antagonist, what is the difference you may ask? A villain wants the total destruction of the hero and an antagonist wants more or less the same thing as the hero, but has a different world view and disagrees with the hero's path to success. Snoke like the emperor fills that villain role but that is a character with problems all his own.
While the plot and characters are pretty bad, the overall direction of The Last Jedi is really great. One of my other big complaints about The Force Awakens was there was not really any great space combat. Johnson changes that right away and gives us a fantastic battle right in the first scene. There are some great, massive set pieces here that are handled beautifully and really help to distract from the shotty plot. We visit a few new interesting and visually exciting planets this time around, something that I thought was also sorely missing from The Force Awakens and there is also a plethora of new creatures, not to mention a First Order version of BB-8 which was probably the best thing ever.
To be fair Star Wars is a series that has never been looked at for it's plots or dialogue. What attracts people to the series is the setting and the characters and even with the issues with the latter this is still a pretty enjoyable movie. Please understand that the only reason that I go so hard on this movie and The Force Awakens is because I love Star Wars, almost more than anything else. I want these movies to be amazing and anything short feels like a missed opportunity. If Star Wars wants to go the Marvel route and release movies constantly the quality has to be higher than this for it's tent pole movies but one decent Star Wars movie a year will definitely satisfy this reviewer for the time being. While writing this I figured out what really seperates Star Trek and Star Wars, one is Star Wars.....and one is not. Have a happy holidays everyone!