:Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Star Wars:  The Last Jedi
Release Date:  December 15, 2017
Studio:  Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney Pictures
Starring:  Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, and Benicio Del Toro
Director:  Rian Johnson
Music:  John Williams
Rated PG-13

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English, Beacon College

I want to like The Last Jedi.  I grew up with Star Wars and have seen every movie in the theater beginning with Episode IVStar Wars is a series for all seasons.  As a child I identified with Luke and later with his teachers Obi-Wan and Yoda.  Anakin’s struggle becomes increasingly relevant as I realize more and more that we’re always working towards either becoming a hero or a monster.  The day after I saw The Last Jedi, a stranger saw my Empire Strikes Back shirt and asked me what the Force is to me.  I said, “balance and connection.” He asked, “so you believe in it?” I said “maybe not the Force literally, but I believe in the principles behind it,” and I started talking about Joseph Campbell and his theories of myth, which George Lucas centered much of the original trilogy around.  We discussed philosophy for a few minutes and then exchanged a “may the Force be with you.”

The Force is not with this latest trilogy.  A reader comment underneath an article about The Last Jedi proclaims, “Movies are dead.  Rock and Roll is dead.  Journalism is dead.  I want the 70s back again.” I don’t know that the situation is quite as dire as this, but I have a lot of issues with this movie. “This is not going to go the way you think,” as Luke says, which seems to be the guiding aesthetic thus far for this entire trilogy.

So let’s run through some of this, what holds up and what doesn’t hold up.  There will be spoilers from here on.  To begin with who is the last Jedi?  Is it Leia, Luke, Kylo, or Rey?  Or is Jedi plural in this sense?  Or could it refer to the children at the end of the film?

The quest for the codebreaker is a pointless but not very entertaining diversion, just a bunch of senseless running around reminiscent of Rogue One.  The casino scenes are under-explored, closed in, and rushed.

The scene with Leia blasted out into space and flying back to her spaceship by using Force powers is problematic.  In the original trilogy we have seen mild evidence of her Force sensitivity and she is sister of Luke and daughter of Anakin.  However, very little, including The Force Awakens, prepares us for this event.  It’s sudden and it looks stiff as if Leia is being pulled along on a wire.  This may be due to Carrie Fisher’s own mobility issues.  We know she wasn’t in the best of health and most of the scenes with her in The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens show her sitting or standing in place.  Perhaps the move could have built up to this scene and showed it later.

Another comment elsewhere said that if we identity the movie’s theme as failure, then the movie works.  Taking flaws in a work and reframing them as strengths is a slick, sly move, but if you have to resort to that, then you know where the work stands.  Finnegans Wake is a triumph in terms of pure language, but it’s not something one reads for insight on life, plot, and so forth.  To say that its unreadability reproduces the difficulty of perceiving and understanding the modern world is an act of interpretative cover for its shortcomings as a complete piece.

Rey seems somewhat entitled.  Basically, she closes her eyes and becomes a Jedi.  There is no sense of struggle in her learning how to use the Force.  She is special just because.  Is she that naturally gifted or is this a commentary on her generation and/or a way to make that generation identify with her?

What about Kylo’s assertion that Rey’s parents are no one special?  On the one hand, this is a disappointment as it deflates a lot of the speculation and wastes the potential payoff that The Force Awakens sets us up for.  On the other hand, Kylo is not an honest character and it is to his advantage to remove any sense of roots or community Rey might potentially feel.  The uncertainty is another reason to watch the next movie.

There are attempts at humor, but many of them don’t work.  Yet it couldn’t be more obvious when and where we are supposed to chuckle unless the film supplied a laugh track.  It reminds me of an entertainer in a dying Vegas hotel I once saw who after every trick he performed, no matter how slight, twirled and paused for applause.  I like the Porgs, though.

What’s with the different versions of the final night between Kylo and Luke that leads to Kylo rebelling against Luke?  In one version told by Luke, Kylo is at fault.  In another version told by Kylo, Luke is at fault.  In the third version, told by Luke in response to the second version, Kylo misjudges a temporary lapse on the part of Luke.  Good or bad.  There is no in between.  Do or do not.  There is no try.

The scene with Yoda as a Force ghost is a surprising and pleasant interlude.  Assuming Luke really has departed, Yoda’s cameo is a reminder of how Luke—and others—might still return in Episode IX.

Ghosts, the past is a big theme of The Last Jedi.  There is the idea of letting go of Lucas and what he established.  Why, then, does the movie recycle so many previous Star Wars motifs:

questions of parentage, Rey confronting herself alone, tractor beams, coming to terms with and slaying one’s father, belief in people’s potential to return to the light side, death-star-killer-galaxy-slaying weapons, and Rey being set up to watch her allies die as Snoke tries to turn her to the dark side, and returning to Hoth?  Rather than using the classic characters as props, relays to hand things down to the next generation, would it have been such a bad thing to center the movies on Luke, Han, and Leia?

The battle between Snoke, Rey, and Kylo is good, but this means there will be no final showdown between anyone and Snoke who dies a movie early, albeit spectacularly.  Like The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi teases a confrontation between Rey and Kylo but snatches it away.

The Last Jedi is too short on lightsaber duels and philosophy. Episodes I-III as much maligned as they are did not make this mistake—and there’s a really good movie or two to be made from editing them down.  Lucas doesn’t look so bad now, does he?  The original trilogy is based on space wizards twirling glow sticks who have all read Buddhism for Beginners (compassionate behavior is the best path) and The Prince (it is better to be feared than loved), but not enough of that is here.

Is all of this valid?  From my perspective it is.  As Obi-Wan says, “many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” Seven movies and four decades after A New Hope, my point of view is the not the same as it once was.  That’s a factor acknowledged by a lot of old school fans.  Discovering, seeing, and growing with the original trilogy as a child is not the same as watching a new one as an adult.  Still, it’s more than this—not everything is great as a child and not everything is worse as an adult either.

This film is for a different generation of fans.  As Luke evaporates and joins the ether, he takes us, the longtime fans, with him.  This movie not for me.  I hope the new fans love it and find in it what I found in the original trilogy.

Yeah, I’ll still see IX on opening night . . .

Until then I will process the penultimate sequence of the movie:  Luke’s appearance as a projection and his subsequent death as he fades away looking out at the twin setting suns thinking of what’s to come . . .

Better he goes like this, on his own terms, than at the hands of Snoke or Kylo, though that worked splendidly for Han Solo.  Luke promises Kylo that if he strikes him down in anger, “I will always be with you.” Luke, you’ll always be with us.  The philosophical meaning of Star Wars; its truth of the light side and the dark side; the magic of imagination, mystery, and possibility will never go away.  As Luke tells Leia in their final scene together, “no one’s every really gone.”



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