by Ethan Gathman
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is the most recent addition to the “Star Wars” filmography. Easily one of the most anticipated movies of the year, it was a surprise when its release was followed by a myriad of opposing reviews. I wasn’t sure what to expect or even how to feel as I made my way to the theater. Even after the movie ended, I was still quite indecisive about my feelings on it.
Overall, I find the “The Last Jedi” to have an unusual story. Throughout its two and a half hour run, I was never fully invested in what was going on. A lot of that, I believe, stems from the fact that it takes such a different step from other recent movies in the franchise. It’s telling a different kind of story than “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” While that isn’t inherently a bad thing at all, the writers still need to recognize what makes “Star Wars” the special thing that it is.
For example, one of “Star Wars”’ most defining traits is its characters and the dynamics between them. Some of the most golden, sentimental moments from the original trilogy come from the characters talking with each other. But in “The Last Jedi,” the three main characters spend almost all of the screen time separate from each other. There’s hardly any connection between the characters that we’re supposed to love and root for. This problem is at its most apparent when Poe sees Rey for the first time — in the last five minutes of the movie! How have these two major characters not once met after all of this time? This is not at all in the spirit of “Star Wars.”
On top of spending their time apart, most of the characters still managed to be wasted in “The Last Jedi.” Finn achieves essentially nothing in this movie (except for falling in love with newcomer character, Rose Tico). He also defeated Captain Phasma in the most unwelcome of ways, considering that she is also an underplayed, wasted character. Poe Dameron kind of just argues his way through the movie, making rash decisions that don’t fit the character we were introduced to in “The Force Awakens.” Rey’s story arc is also unusual, but we’ll return to that later. Finally, there’s Kylo Ren, who actually has a pretty decent arc that will make significant changes to the “Star Wars” universe.
Rey’s story arc addresses another issue that I had with the movie. I had a lot of excitement for her meeting with Luke Skywalker. I thought it was going to mirror Luke when he met Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back.” I hoped he would teach her the ways of the Jedi, and through rigorous training and discipline she would learn how to control her powers and carry on the Jedi tradition. That is not what happened.
I knew nothing good was going to happen after Luke comically threw his lightsaber away, breaking the serious tone that had been set up years before with the ending of “The Force Awakens.” It was a very very cheap laugh that made me physically cringe. From there, we learn that Luke has disowned the Jedi and cut himself off from the force. He spends most of his screen time moping around his island, giving Rey the runaround as she tries to get his attention.
When he finally trains her, it’s nothing. It’s a brief, five-minute scene that has none of the charm or character that made the training scenes with Luke and Yoda special. Still, by the end of the movie, Rey is using the force like it’s second nature. Really? For a two-and-a-half hour movie, they dedicated as little time as possible developing Rey’s skill with the force.
These are just some of the few decisions made in “The Last Jedi” that I found to be unusual. Now to be clear, I’m not against all of the decisions made in this movie. Kylo Ren kills Snoke in an incredibly unexpected twist. At first, I was very against this move by the writers, but as I thought about it more, it grew on me. I have to appreciate the risks being taken by this movie. It tries and succeeds at differentiating itself from previous Star Wars movies — my biggest criticism of “The Force Awakens.” It’s good to see that there are still filmmakers in Hollywood willing to break some rules.
I also can’t help but compliment the movie on its superb visuals and artistic direction. It’s a far more aesthetically pleasing movie than most of its predecessors. I absolutely love its use of colors, especially red, which was effectively used for Snoke’s throne room and in the final battle. In the past decade or so Hollywood has been obsessed with gray tones. This is a fad that was started by “The Dark Knight” has stuck around pretty consistently in most Hollywood action / thriller movies. “The Last Jedi” is a great breath of fresh air with its intricate colors and contrasts.
So, is the force with “The Last Jedi”? I’m going to say no. While it does succeed in several areas, it really ignores some of the key factors that make “Star Wars” what it is. In my opinion, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is actually a better independent movie than it is a “Star Wars” movie.