I have to start this review with two statements. This review will be as spoiler free as palatably possible and if you haven’t seen this movie yet, please don’t read any further. If you’re trying to decided whether or not you want to see a Star Wars movie, I don’t think my effusive fanboyish prattling is gonna be what puts you over the edge. And it is precisely the fact that my tone, critical or otherwise, might color your experience before you even park yourself in your local movie theater, that I think you should wait to read this until you’ve seen it. So, if you’ve either met this prior criteria or refuse to take advice, here’s my review of Coco again.
That was a little joke. Here’s a Star War.
For starters, everyone that had an inability to look past the parallel themes between The Force Awakens and the original Star Wars can rest easy in the awareness that The Last Jedi isn’t a carbon copy of The Empire Strikes Back. There are worse movies to copy than one of the greatest movies of all time but I digress. Not to say there aren’t things that will remind you of Empire but this isn’t any different than the fact that you see lightsabers, Jedi and space battles in every other movie in the main saga. What’s new in this film will be what people will be talking about for two years straight until Episode IX comes out.
One of the main criticisms of The Force Awakens was that it didn’t add a whole lot to the Star Wars universe but The Last Jedi handles that immensely well. Picking up right after the end of The Force Awakens (literally, like it might be just a few hours after) The Last Jedi wastes no time dropping you right into the action. This feel, this tension is a huge part of what drives the film, which is evident from the beginning of the crawl to the pre-credit wipe. It reminds the viewer that even though Starkiller base was destroyed and Kylo Ren was humbled at the end of the previous film, the Resistance is still on the run and is now without the aid of the ceremoniously blowed-the-f-up Republic.
I really enjoy that there’s no gap in the timeline between the two most recent films. One of the most important aspects of this new trilogy is endearing its new stars to the audience while paying homage to the old guard. The Last Jedi begins to shift the balance to the new kids in a big way, both subtly and overtly at times. What’s interesting about this is the nature of the character of the four new leads. Where Kylo Ren and Poe Dameron are established characters with rich backstories who both posses immediate and obvious attribute that key into series archetypes, both Finn and Rey essentially do not exist until they are introduced to us.
Keeping up with those two characters in particular, not allowing for their legends or exploits to be buoyed by time spent “off camera” really does a lot to build a rapport between the characters and the audience. Seeing Finn continue to be of a single mind within the first 10 minutes of him being on screen is not only one of the first big laughs of the film but a reminder that he is still trying to find his place, not only in the Resistance but in the Galaxy. This is even more evident in Rey, who we meet in the same place we left her: standing in front of Luke (freakin) Skywalker, holding out Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber.
As much as The Force Awakens was a bridge to the gap, not only between trilogies but to the next generation of fans, it was a celebration of the original big three: Luke, Leia and Han. Even if we didn’t see the legendary Luke Skywalker on screen until the very last moment, the fact that the impetus for the entire film was finding him goes to show the reverence for the OGs. You can only rely on nostalgia and pay homage for so long however and The Last Jedi fully places the future in the hands of its new characters, the newest of which is Rose, Resistance maintenance worker and total badass.
A lot of the dark side of the Star Wars fandom came out when they realized that three quarters of the new leading cast would be minorities, and that anti-inclusive bent reared its ugly head again when Rose Tico was announced as a new character. Played by Kelly Marie Tran, Rose spends the majority of the movie paling around with and saving the ass of Finn, while providing a more grounded response to the insanity of what’s going on in the galaxy. Even though Finn and Poe and the majority of the people in this movie are neither Force sensitive or of the Skywalker lineage, they’re all still heroes or legendary in one sense or another. Having Rose work as not only the audience surrogate but as the real heart of what the Resistance is all about creates an almost instantaneous bond with what will surely be a fan favorite.
There is real growth, consistent with the passing of the generational torch, in all of the main characters. And almost all of these moments are tied into not only major plot points, but some of the most interesting and shocking scenes in the film, even the series. The Last Jedi is action heavy… in spots, and this is where my major criticism comes from. I never thought I’d write these words but this Star Wars movie feels a little too long. I know, who am I?
It may have been a problem with feeling that certain moments couldn’t be edited out, or maybe it was part of a larger effort to keep this from being a straight up action film, but there were certainly periods of inaction that reminded me that I was in a movie theater. I wasn’t ever bored, all these moments were filled with information and character development but upon thinking about it in hindsight, it felt like it could have been tighter. The positive side to this padding is that the majority of it was dedicated to lore building which I’m a huge fan of. The Force, as both an idea and a religion, were explored and displayed in new and interesting ways that I’m sure will create a lot of discussion in the community.
The thing I’m currently struggling to remember, still vibrating on the Star Wars frequency, is whether or not I had an emotional response on the level I did with The Force Awakens. Seeing Carrie Fisher on screen for the first time since his passing definitely had me checking my eyes for dust buy beyond that, the extent of my experience was alternating “cool!” and “awesome!” and “holy s#!t!”. It may be unfair to expect that of The Last Jedi considering that The Force Awakens was brand new Star Wars but it’ll probably be something I’m able to parse out a bit better on my second viewing… or third or fourth.
The Last Jedi is a much an experience as it is a movie and like all Star Wars films, it’s something that is almost impossible to approach with a critical eye. Not that it should be free from that but it’s unique experience that you just want to turn your brain off for and be a part of, and in that aspect it’s amazing. The action sequences in this movie are gorgeous and breathtaking. There are major twists and turns, surprise cameos and absolutely amazing scenes that will test even the most staunch opponents of spoilers’ resolve. This is a movie that needs to be talked about because it’s just so damn cool, Star Wars die hard or not. And while it does linger at times and feel a bit long, it never feels like something isn’t happening. Everything feels important and earned, it just when stacked against some of the most incredible sequences in the series, whatever flaws may exist feel heightened. But your buddy Frankie really enjoyed himself, so if that’s your metric for whether or not to see a movie, please see this one five times.