Friday, December 15, 2017

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Why did you click on this? It's Star Wars, you already know it's good from its score on Rotten Tomatoes... just go see it.

Are you still here? Does that mean you've already seen The Last Jedi? I hope so, because I'm about to spoil everything. Seriously. From here on out, it's open season on spoilers - I'm not holding anything back. Plot, twists, revelations: it's all fair game. Let's throw in an official warning to be safe.


What the heck - let's toss in another.


Okay, I lied. I'm not actually going to talk about the plot at all, but I wanted to try and scare away people who haven't seen it yet. Because, while I'm not going into details, The Last Jedi is unusually spoiler-prone.

Hell, I heard the movie was nothing like Empire, and that was enough for me to parse out what was probably the movie's biggest twist. I'm not going to spell it out, but it was that scene where that thing happened (apologies to anyone who read that without having seen the movie, but - in my defense - you were warned).

Ultimately, The Last Jedi is largely built around subverting expectations. From Luke's first action through the closing scene, pretty much everything that happens is the opposite of what you'd think would happen, given the series's trends and patterns. But that means if you go in knowing they're messing with your expectations, you actually can start predicting where it's going. Some of the time. Maybe 25%?

At any rate, it's certainly a welcome change of pace from The Force Awakens, which was far too faithful to A New Hope, but it's worth noting this isn't always a merit. There are a few points where The Last Jedi is too fixated on being surprising and ends up tying itself in knots. The resolution to the last showdown is a good example: there were cleaner (and more satisfying) ways to get to that point. It kind of felt like the script took two immediate U-turns, rather than appear to be driving in a straight line.

But I'll take a handful of awkward scenes in exchange for a genuinely surprising story. And that's just the first improvement made to the writing.

The Last Jedi also represents an improvement in character dialogue (which was already pretty solid). Several characters - particularly Poe, Finn, and Leia - are far more interesting than they were in the prior installment. New characters Vice Admiral Holdo and Rose Tico are also great. Hell, there's an argument that Rose is the main character of The Last Jedi (at the very least, she's definitely the movie's heart).

I also want to applaud the amount of diversity in the casting. Not just major characters, either - the rank and file Resistance personnel and pilots are far more reflective of the real world than we've ever seen in a Star Wars movie. Kudos!

All that said, I felt a little cheated when it came to Rey, the MVP from The Force Awakens. She's still good here, and her scenes with Luke are a joy to watch (as were her interactions with another returning character who won't be named here, in case anyone ignored the previous 17 spoiler warnings), but the focus definitely seemed to drift away from her this time. I'm not sure this was a bad choice - it leaves them open to do more with her in the next movie - but I'd been hoping to see more of her journey than I got.

The other thing worth noting - and again, I'm not entirely sure this was a flaw - is that movie noticeably leans heavier on CG than The Force Awakens did. It looks good most of the time, and there are some nice payoffs, including some wonderful alien creatures and some cool new ship designs, but they lost a bit of the tactile, handmade feel that Episode VII delivered.

Is this better than The Force Awakens? Worse? I tried parsing that out when I left the theater and almost gave myself a headache. The Force Awakens succeeded in resurrecting the Star Wars Universe with a new cast of fascinating characters, but it followed the outline of its predecessors far too closely. The Last Jedi took the characters from Force Awakens and made them even better, then it tossed in story development you actually care about. But, at least in my opinion, it doesn't quite pull off the same visual feat.

I'll let others argue which is better - I love them both. I'm excited to see where these characters go from here and how the franchise develops.

So my recommendation is to get out to the theater and see this. Again, I mean, because obviously you've already watched it at least once.

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