PG-13. Minutes ago (MINUTES AGO!) I wrote about how silly the PG-13 rating is when it comes to Star Wars. Admittedly, this one has a darker tone, so I can kind of get the PG-13 thing. But it's Star Wars. You know that there were going to be little kids in this audience. I wouldn't even really get mad at parents for bringing their little kids to see a new Star Wars movie. It's Star Wars. The reason that we call these movies PG-13 is because they are live-action adventure movies. That's it. That used to be PG. Honestly, think of all the kids with BB-8 on their backpacks. Do you think their parents are thinking that they aren't thirteen yet?
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
I honestly feel bad about trashing this one because I feel like I've been convinced that I'm wrong about my opinion. The biggest thing about this movie is that the critics love this movie. They think it is the bee's knees and there probably is some validity to that criticism. But audiences, including myself, don't exactly agree with how awesome this movie might be. I will say this: I have been reading more articles on the backlash of this movie than I have for any other movie in recent memory. Part of it comes from my opinion of Rian Johnson. I was preaching Brick for the longest time. (Speaking of Brick, who has my copy of Brick? Also who has my Superman film franchise box set? Who keeps taking all of my stuff?) Then Johnson really impressed me with Looper. When I heard that he was going to be involved in the new trilogy, I may-or-may-not have done a karate punch thing of enthusiasm. With the recent announcement that he would be spearheading a new post-Skywalker trilogy, I knew that The Last Jedi was going to be a hit. But I kinda didn't love it.
I didn't hate it either. I'm definitely going to rewatch it. That was the repeated quote on the Literally Anything podcast. I knew I would rewatch it someday because I don't think I've fully digested it. I just know that there were a ton of icky parts that stuck to my ribs sooner than the parts than I actually enjoyed. I wonder if that's true about most things. The negative things tend to stand out stronger than the parts that were really great. In my Force Awakens review, I focused on how Star Wars has completely unfair expectations set on it. We may never get a perfect trilogy again and to simply label something Star Wars doesn't necessitate quality. The idea of a B+ Star Wars movie is the same thing as an F Star Wars movie. (It's a Star Wars Villa-fail, guys. *groan*) I think what really hit me is that I didn't really understand Luke. I knew that Luke was going to be a bit of a turd / curmudgeon in this one. The fact that he's living alone on Space Ireland was a big hint. That massive beard just sold that in one. But I really had a hard time seeing the same man that was in the original trilogy. That's part of the message of the story. It is a bit of our heroes letting us down. I read an article (I told you I did!) that talked about why it is great that The Last Jedi destroyed our childhoods. Fanboys have gotten way too precious about their nostalgia and their childhoods, so The Last Jedi subverting those expectations might not have been the worst thing in the world. But I want to examine Luke Skywalker a step further than that. I don't really get Luke's attitude in the movie. I'm going to start superficially and discuss his very odd comedy stylings. I don't like jokey Luke. Yeah, that seems picky. I like jokes in Star Wars, but Luke has always been criminally unfunny. I don't believe that isolation on Space Ireland made him hilarious. (Also, nerds, I know it's called Ahch-To. This isn't my first rodeo and it's now Space Ireland.) I don't think that I've been more removed from a character than probably Luke's best joke in the film. It's the "reach out" joke. I really think it is a great joke and guffawed. But it felt more like Mark Hamill than Luke Skywalker. I don't even blame Hamill for that because it wasn't in Luke's character. The rest comes from his dislike of the Jedi. I get it. He's really angry at himself, but he's taking it out on the Jedi. But that also doesn't scan with the character's history. From Luke's perspective, he's only known a limited number of Jedi and these Jedi were good people. (But what if Luke became friends with a million Force ghosts, Tim? To that, I respond, "Have you considered writing extended universe fiction?") One was a father and one was a beloved, if not harsh teacher. Why would he hate the Jedi? Also, the idea that there's always a bad guy who misuses that power is true of every profession, so give the Jedi a bit of a break. Possibly the only trait that makes this choice make sense is the fact that the movies just found another way to make Luke whiny again. Meh.
Also, this movie is just stupid long. I know, a film guy complaining about how long a movie is. I love me some Lord of the Rings Extended Editions and Kubrick films hold a special place in my heart. But this movie just left me so bored by the middle. The middle is the oddest padding that this movie didn't really need. I'm kind of talking about the weird adventure surgically grafted to this film. What makes The Last Jedi feel different from the other films is that there isn't much adventure to the movie. There's a sense of excitement to the other movies, but The Last Jedi is a very long discussion about the nature of war and mythology as one team waits for the other team to run out of gas. The whole diversion to the casino planet is just to give Finn something to do. Finn really has nothing to do in this movie, so they gave him a story that did not fit with the story at all. I kind of like the results of this mission and I'm going to try not to spoil how this entire plan plays out, but it really is a stalling tactic. It ties an important idea to the movie that doesn't need all that buildup to explain: What if the Resistance aren't necessarily as good as they seem? War is evil on all sides and I really like that Star Wars is looking at that narrative. But this is also a universe where Finn was kidnapped from his family as a child to becomes a soldier for the First Order. This is the same First Order that wiped out a star system in the last movie. I like the idea that the Resistance isn't as goody-two-shoes as we are led to believe, but there is a moral chasm between the two factions. This also brings up the problems I have with DJ, played by Benicio Del Toro. One, I don't love celebrity casting in Star Wars because all I could see was Benicio Del Toro and Laura Dern up there, not their respective characters. Secondly, I think that Johnson was trying to say something with DJ, implying that not everyone turns out like Han Solo or Lando. Some people actually are just selfish jerks. But that character's character choices were all over the place. I think that comes from the need to surprise the audience with the character's abrupt change. LIGHT SPOILER: But one thing had to be sacrificed and that was credibility. DJ started by being oppressed to actually being a scoundrel. When you accept that he's a scoundrel, he proves that he has a heart of gold. Only he doesn't, because ONE MORE TWIST, he's terrible. That's such odd storytelling. All the choices that went into those moments seem just throwaway. Any relationship that you establish with DJ is all kind of garbage because none of it was actually real. Or maybe it was real, but the movie asks you to invest in this character only to have him be nothing but a punk the entire time. That's a really cynical view.
FULL SPOILERS. I tried ducking spoilers for a while. I thought I could make it through, but I have to talk about Space Laura Dern (General Holdo...have you not been reading? I know my stuff, but I'm also extremely flippant!) and Luke's new superpowers. I also have to talk about Rey's parents and I'm now aware that this review might take me through Christmas to actually finish because I have so many gripes to the movie. Space Laura Dern is pretty great, except I can only see Laura Dern with a purple wig, which is probably David Lynch's caveat to letting her perform in something that isn't his at this point. But her choices don't make a lick of sense. Oh, I get it. Have faith in the Force. But even a Jedi would adapt to fluctuating circumstances. For a guy who loves messages about faith, it is a really weird one to have. It's that old parable about praying to God for rescue, but ignoring the rescue vessels that come before God does. Holdo goes out of her way not to tell Poe any part of the plan. Mid mutiny, she's completely calm and implying that she's doing something criminally dumb. It is only the very conveniently timed Leia resurrection. (Aw jeez, I just remembered that I have to talk about Carrie Fisher too. See you next Christmas, I guess.) None of that makes any sense. Also, the suicide run looks awesome and is a great emotional beat, but that opened the door to "Why wasn't that done before in Star Wars history? You know, when the circumstances were even more dire?" This is all part of the things that are meant to keep an audience in suspense while being intentionally misleading. I don't like when character choices don't make sense. That's what a lot of this movie is when it comes to trying to tell a good story. The message itself is great. But Johnson, in an attempt to tell this message, has these characters make these oddball choice that no rational person would actually do.
The Jedi / Force-sensitive are also insane Mary Sues in this movie. Remember in the prequel trilogy how easy it was to kill a Jedi? Between Luke and Leia in this movie, I now believe that the Jedi are Neo in the last Matrix movie. They can do so much. I get Leia's abilities in this one and I have a theory about why she is so overpowered in this movie. I know that Episode IX was supposed to be Leia's big movie. (I was made aware that The Force Awakens was Han's movie. This one is Luke's movie. The next one as Leia's actually makes a lot of sense.) There has been this tease that Leia would be the great savior of the Jedi. The death of Carrie Fisher put this movie in an awkward place. Believe you me, I applaud the choice to not kill Leia in this movie. I'm sure that there was some temptation to simply kill a character because they had the opportunity. In fact, there would have been a really easy way to do it. When Luke fades into the Force, just have a silhouetted shot of Leia disappearing as well. I'm glad they didn't do this, but that was an option. In my mind, the original draft of the movie had Leia being injured in the attack on the cruiser, but not blown out into space. Probably the movie teased something minor, like using the Force to slow down a beam from falling onto her. But then, when Fisher passed, they gave her the major moment in this one. But it was so huge. The Jedi can do anything in this movie. They established a pretty solid power set and then kind of fan serviced all over this one. Force ghost Yoda can can down a lightning strike on a tree? Why isn't he using this on Star Destroyers? (The answer is, "Because that's silly and would ruin the plot." Exactly.) My co-host on Literally Anything often says that the Jedi are the worst part of Star Wars. I thought he was a grump, but he might be right. The mythology has gotten too deep. It has gotten to a point where I don't care about it anymore, and that might be the worst thing for Star Wars. That Dark Side hole just seemed stupid to me at one point and I never thought I would get there. The books and the tree and what Jedi can now do just seems like we're changing the power set with each passing moment. I don't know. I would have loved Luke to just knock over the Walkers, but not bi-locate.
You know what? I don't have the patience to get into Rey's parents. I'm going to do a speed run through this. I love the answer of who Rey's parents are...if the other movie completely didn't imply that this answer was impossible. From Rey's perspective, she always just thought her parents were folks. They didn't have this great destiny and this kind of craps on the previous movie for even thinking it. This movie gets all its points from stealing from other movies. I love the answer. I cannot establish that enough, but again, it doesn't scan with what happened before. Why would people be losing their minds over Rey's lineage if there was nothing to actually play out. But I do like the idea that the greatest among us come from the most oppressed. Again, this ties into the first image of Luke tossing the lightsaber away because he could. It just craps on all of the vulnerability we put into the last movie.
From the Rey / Snoke scene on, I mostly enjoyed the movie. The Snoke destruction, while again problematic, was a great twist. The fight sequence with Kylo Ren and Rey was fantastic. The Finn / Phasma fight was ridiculous, establishing that Phasma was just the Boba Fett of the new trilogy: a lot of hype with little payout. I loved the established look of the salt planet and much of the movie is gorgeous. But again, with the salt planet, Rose is a big disappointment. I was really thinking I was going to like her character, but denying Finn his sacrifice is a big choice. Yeah, it all worked out, but just like Leia waking up just in time, there is no way that Rose would have known that Luke was going to be there. There's just all these moments where Johnson is trying to subvert expectations. But the only way he pulls these moments make no logical sense whatosever. I want to like this movie so badly, but I don't think I really do. The more I think about it, the more stray fibers I find. As a message, I think the movie actually has a lot to say and I really applaud trying to do new things. But the movie just has so many glaring problems that I don't know if I'll ever really get behind it. Like I keep on harping on, I'm going to see this movie a few more times. It's Star Wars, after all. I have to give it more chances than I would any other film franchise. But I do need some space from it, perhaps.
Wow, this review was long.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.