In Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke & Rey go to extreme lengths to unsuccessfully kill a lone Mynock that got into their Midichlorian factory before Luke finally agrees that nobody cares if The Force is slightly less than 98% pure. The original title was Star Wars: The Ultimate Jedi Who Wastes All the Other Jedi & Eats Their Bones, but that was too long a spoiler to print on posters.
I was one of the few not wowed over by The Force Awakens. Rogue One was even more superfluous. Only Rian Johnson’s filmography had raised my hopes for Episode VIII. Seeing it with The Wages of Cinema was a pleasant surprise. Please peruse this Porg podcast! Then real SPOILERS happen! (Several of these SW:TLJ Bingo spaces are accurate.)
SW:TLJ is kind of like the reverse of Empire Strikes Back. The beginning & end of ESB are so good that fans gloss over the draggy filler that is its middle. The new installment has such a spectacular middle that I forgive its sandwiching parts for being comparatively underwhelming. They’re still engaging, but that center just hits all the sweet spots!
This is a sumptuously filmed movie. Its vibrant cinematography strikes a solid balance between detail & minimalism. The battle scenes have more variety than the typical raid on a Death Star sequences. I’m thankful Stormtroopers are kept to minimum since they’re terrible. The finale’s red salt is a metaphor for all the gore we don’t see. Even a holo-call to Maz Kanata is dynamic! This movie finally does impressive new things with The Force. It’s finally trying to catch up to Jean Grey with long distance astral projection, live-saving forecefields, & remote wielding weapons.
I’m still salty Mark Hamill prioritized this over The Flash’s latest winter finale! (That makes one of us.) Hamill is great as curmudgeon hermit Luke. (There’s no reference to if he ever married Mara Jade.) He tells Rey she knows nothing of The Force like Kermit talking to Peter Falk in The Great Muppet Caper. He agrees with me that the Jedi are made of failure! They can’t even preemptively murder kids correctly! His daily ritual of harvesting green milk from naked aliens is shown, but we’re robbed of piggyback training. His fake-out of hysterical Kylo Ren was a great note to go out on.
Rey is susceptible to the Dark Side yet her inner darkness is just a crystal infinity mirror? Much of the buzz for the movie hinged on Rey becoming a Sith, but she’s almost too well adjusted after that vision. (We also learn she’s not a secret Skywalker.) Luke declares her his Jedi heiress, but it would’ve been better if she insisted she’s a Force-wielding middle ground between the extremes. (She does wear almost as much gray as Gandalf.)
BB-8, Finn & awesome newbie Rose Tico (she met him when Finn’s
deserter instincts concern for Rey resurfaced) go to Space Monaco! Not only is this a nice visual change of pace for the movie, it also expands the world building. We see war profiteers & learn about exploited planets. As someone who’s never been satisfied by the politics of Star Wars (it seems like only human aliens are invested in these galactic wars), this was a step in the right direction. The terrific trio make as hash of their low key espionage, but they do meet Benicio Del Toro as Gambit.
Poe Dameron is the sole survivor of what became an impromptu suicide mission because Resistance bombers have major design flaws. He also makes Hux as the butt of his joke, which reminds me that I don’t actually care for any of the First Order villains. The early conflict of the film is then the First Order chasing the Resistance ships for hours but not being able to destroy them until they run out of forcefield fuel. This is a really odd set-up that doesn’t have enough momentum. Cutting back to the more leisurely Rey training, although it probably didn’t happen concurrently unless time flows differently on Luke’s planet, doesn’t help. The First Order suddenly being able to track ships across lightspeed implies there’s a spy in the Resistance, but this is a red herring.
Vice Admiral Holdo has purple hair & command of the Resistance while Leia recuperates. Poe foments a mutiny to counteract her perceived incompetence. (Poe & Finn barely share any scenes. Debate whether this is an anti-Stormpilot conspiracy in the comments.) If she’d just been forthright with her strategy, unnecessary drama could’ve been avoided, but I guess they needed something to spice up this subplot. She lightspeeds the Resistance flagship into Snoke’s, & the resulting destruction is breathtakingly gorgeous! It’s a bummer Holdo went down with her ship.
The movie finally pays off one of the most tantalizing lines of ESB. “No, there is another” officially means Leia has The Force! Suck it everyone that thought the Jedi ghosts were talking about Darth Vader! Also suck it, Jedi, for being too chauvinistic to bother training Leia. It was misogynistic to presume that only Vader’s male heirs had Force powers. (Everyone should have Force powers since it flows through all life.) This princess rescues herself from icy space death! (R.I.P. Admiral Ackbar.)
After giving Han & Luke send-offs after their spotlights, it feels like Episode IX should be about the freshly vindicated Leia. The finale of this trilogy will have an uphill battle compensating for the death of Carrie Fisher. It’s been said they won’t replace her with a CGI doppelganger, but having her character be offscreen for the entirety of the finale sounds terrible in a different direction.
My favorite part is its center when when it swerves by homaging Return Of The Jedi instead of ESB. Supreme Leader Snoke is slain! Screw you, zombie Palpatine clone or whatever you were supposed to be! Kylo may epitomize the worst of the fandom, but he gets points for this. Then Rey & Kylo buddy up for a kick ass fight with Snoke’s Praetorian Guards that aren’t just window dressing like the old Imperial Guards! The silent destruction of the two spaceships is perfection. It’s galactic disaster porn at its finest!
As expected, the Porgs are there for comic relief merchandising. These black-eyed puffin-corgi hybrids don’t contribute to the plot so they’re not as awesome as Ewoks. They & the fish-nuns add levity, but it’s strange so much of the humor is easily detachable instead of being integrated (BB-8 aside). Vulptexes & Fathiers are cute species as well. There’s a shocking lack of any intriguing new alien side characters.
Captain “only my Stormtrooper armor is useful” Phasma is almost redeemed. Will she implausibly return next installment only to be unceremoniously dispatched again? More importantly, where’s Lando Calrissian & Wicket? They’d make an awesome odd couple duo!
Even without its subtitle, Episode VIII seems like it ought to be the last Star Wars film. It looks like both the Resistance & First Order are down to their last forces. After picking up her comrades, Rey could’ve easily swung around in the Millennium Falcon & blown the distracted First Order to smithereens. I would’ve been very satisfied by this. Not everything needs to be a trilogy. I don’t envy J.J. Abrams (again, because finding fresh talent to replace Colin Trevorrow was too hard) having to follow this installment.
After being convinced that there doesn’t need to be any more Star Wars movies, The Last Jedi restored my faith in The Force. TLJ keeps everything that worked in TFA & either jettisons or improves upon the rest. It takes enough risks that pay off that it feels like a legitimutant film rather than a hollow nostalgia cash-in. May the Porgs be with you!