The Last Jedi takes the franchise in a challenging new direction

the last jedi red throne room

The two most recent entries in the Star Wars franchise weren’t exactly ground-breaking in the way that the original trilogy was, or even the prequels – say what you will, but they were hardly conventional as compared with the original three.  If both The Force Awakens and Rogue One “filled in the edges” of the Star Wars universe, the same cannot be said about The Last Jedi.  I have to admit, I went in expecting something more conventional, basically Rian Johnson’s take on The Force Awakens.  What I got was completely different, in both an exciting and challenging new way.

First, let me just say that I am not one of those people who are moaning that The Last Jedi isn’t “their” Star Wars or Luke Skywalker.  The AV Club had an interesting piece on the entitlement of fans, and Forbes had another a few years ago about people who claim to be fans but hate more than half of the movies in the franchise they love. Sometimes I even hate read garbage like Return of Kings in order to be amused by arguments like “since 95% of Star Wars fans are white males, the series should exclusively have white male heroes so that fans get what they want.”  So, while I had a few problems with The Last Jedi, NONE are related to this nonsense.

[SPOILER ALERT]

In short, a lot of what plagued The Force Awakens plagues The Last Jedi.  There are too many new characters and not enough character development, especially of Rose (who, as an amusing aside, my friend and his family bumped into at a San Diego screening of the film – she’s reportedly very nice and tolerant of crying children).  Snoke’s death didn’t upset me the way it did some, as I maintain we never needed him in the first place.  And while I know it’s a narrative convention to break up them main characters so that they can grow independently, I missed the chemistry between Rey and Finn that made The Force Awakens so charming.  (Finn, whose nervous energy was so much fun in the previous film, gets the worse end of the split with a C plot that goes nowhere.)  Finally, Poe – who was The Force Awakens’ Launchpad McQuack in that he seemed to exist only to fly things – gets what appears to be the B or even A plot.

Likewise, The Last Jedi tries to capture the small scale of The Empire Strikes Back, containing its non-Rey plot to the Resistance fleet, but seems to continually be fighting the urge to expand the setting – first to Canto Bight, then to the First Order ships.

Little moments also seem to make The Last Jedi at odds with the rest of the franchise.  I’m not objecting to the code-breaker/con man DJ injecting a little bit of gray into the usually black and white Star Wars world, but if that’s the direction you’re heading, you need to use that as a through line and not a throwaway comment delivered near the end of a too long C plot.

Despite these criticisms, there’s a lot to admire, if not enjoy, about The Last Jedi.  It’s by far the weirdest Star Wars yet, even weirder than some of the prequels (at least we now know where blue milk comes from).  It’s funny too, almost too funny in parts.  But for those who argue that its humor is too childish, I’d ask if they’ve watched the original Star Wars recently.  It has its moments of beauty, especially the final set pieces on Crait, with its white and red sand look.  Johnson even got to add some of his signature POV shots, such as Luke vaulting over the water or – my personal favorite – the ironing machine.  (And in case anyone is wondering what my favorite part is, it’s the lightsaber to the head at the end of the throne room battle – there were vocal cheers in the theater I was in.)

Most important of its accomplishments, The Last Jedi democratized Star Wars.  It’s no longer about the only family of any importance in the galaxy.  While so many people were upset about the non-reveal of Rey’s parents, I loved it.  It’s no coincidence that the random boy at the end Force grabs the broom.  Star Wars is not just for Skywalkers anymore, and this simple decision does more to expand the world created by the original than the other films combined.

My only wish is that Johnson had taken this to a more logical and less crowd-pleasing conclusion.  A friend I saw it with said that the movie should have ended with Kylo Ren offering his hand to Rey after the throne room battle, her taking it, then a smash cut to credits.  I can’t imagine the outcry THAT would have led to though.

It was hard for me to piece together my feelings on The Last Jedi, which is the only good reason this review is so late.  About two years ago I made it a point not to read too much about a movie a really wanted to see: I wanted to go in with no expectations and make my own judgments.  The problem I ran into this time is that it’s impossible not form even general judgments (Rian Johnson does The Force Awakens), and those are as hard to shake as anything anyone else writes.  Had I read a little more about “Let the past die” and “This is not going to go the way you think,” I probably would have not been so focused on the differences between what I expected and what I got.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a little handrail going in.  But, more than anything, this means I really want to watch this one again.

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