A short review of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017)

I’ll never be able to love “Star Wars” the way its lifelong fans do.  After the unexpected magic of the first three films, the subsequent movies almost always seemed to me to be just space fantasies for kids, formulaically developed to hit all the right notes and sell licensed merchandise.  (The exception would be last year’s generally excellent “Star Wars: Rogue One,” which uniquely felt like a genuine, human story that a creator wanted to tell, rather than something brainstormed until consensus in a corporate writers’ room.)  With that said, I’ll happily report here that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was actually very good — as someone with little favorable bias toward the franchise, I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

The movie simply got more right than it got wrong.  It’s still a marketing-oriented space opera developed for mass appeal, but it managed to rise above that because its many elements included more hits than misses.

If I had to pick one thing that made this movie succeed for me, it’s the balance it struck between its epic war story and its narrower sword-and-sorcery central plot thread.  I like how the film began with an interstellar war — it had ordinary, mortal, relatable human characters fight and make sacrifices.  Anyone can relate to characters like that because they are interchangeable with people fighting a war in our world.  (It was also excellently rendered, in terms of fantastic visuals and some creative ideas.)  Only afterward does the movie layer in the far-out Jedi stuff, which contrasts the war story and adds complexity to it.

The second thing I liked about it was its terrific special effects — I’ve never seen a “Star Wars” movie without them, even if the prequels had a more cartoonish, toylike quality to what they depicted.

The third, I think, was the return of Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker.  Hamill is actually quite a good actor, and his skilled turn here was alternately funny and dramatically convincing.  I found myself more nostalgic after watching Luke’s return to the franchise than after Han Solo’s return in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015).  (And I love Harrison Ford just as much as everyone else in the universe.)

Is there a lot to nitpick?  Sure.  In addition to some plot holes, the character of Rose was rather annoying.  (Spunky young idealists can grate on the nerves if they’re too cutesy and seem to ingratiate themselves to the viewer.)

But a far larger weakness is that “the force” has become more of a deus ex machina than ever before.  I can’t be specific here because I want to avoid spoilers, but both the Jedi and their Sith counterparts employ incredible new powers in the movie that are absolutely unprecedented.  It isn’t explained at all, and it isn’t consistent with any prior “Star Wars” movie.  And it feels like a cheat that is both sweeping and … a little strange.

Still, I’d recommend this movie — even if you didn’t love every “Star Wars” movie you’ve seen in the past.

I’ll end with a quick note about the “porgs” — those little penguinesque aliens that are supposedly dividing longtime fans into opposing war-camps.  I loved the damn things.  It makes perfect sense that Luke’s hideaway planet would have local fauna.  And I read that the filmmakers actually did include them for an understandable reason.  The island shooting location’s landscape was inhabited by puffins.  It made more sense to overwrite them with CGI stand-ins than to digitally remove them altogether.

 

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5 thoughts on “A short review of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017)

  1. Chris says:

    Spoilers ahead — abandon all hope ye virgin eyes who enter here….
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    What is so unbelievable about the explanation of the force? It was very much in line, as spoken, with everything we know in the lore. The movies generally added and grew more powerful with force powers each iteration. Examples:
    4. Alter weak minds, force choke, guide proton torpedoes, make someone hear something they didnt, speak after death, feel *something* when a planet is destroyed over great distances
    5. Force pull objects, lift heavy objects (xwing), see the (possible) future, force jump, converse over great distances, visions, force ghosts
    6. Force lightning
    1-3. Holding breath for long time, force push, absorbing force lightning, force (yoda) gymnastics,
    7. Force interrogation/mind reading, more visions
    8. Force projection over great distances, (we already knew audio, this just added video – with great strain – both sides used it – Snoke in limited bursts, Luke in a great exertion with dire consequences), more visions, Leia’s limited power is not dissimilar from previous views of it in a force-pull sense, and we knew she was sensitive

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Now on this I couldn’t disagree more with you. I hated this movie. I’ve been a fan since I was 13 and I saw “A New Hope” in the theaters in 1977. Umpteen times. Of course at the time we just called it Star Wars cause no one realized what was yet to come. I was okay with the prequels, I appreciated the world Lucas was trying to build. Wasn’t that much into them though. When the Force Awakens was announced I was so pumped and then was so pleased when it was done so well. It respected the original movie yet was also able to incorporate new elements. I wished we could have gotten some kind of a reunion between the three, but okay…I still liked how it was handled (and got a little misty when Han and Chewie climb aboard the Millenium Falcon). I liked the new characters.

    So I was really stoked for The Last Jedi. I was very disappointed. Rian Johnson didn’t just want to subvert expectations he basically said, “F-you!” to the fans. The movie was basically a re-do of Empire/Return of the Jedi even down to Rae being led to the Emperor in shackles by the person she hopes to save. Now, I did find the part where Kai Lo Ren turns away from the Emperor but then tells Rae basically, “Let’s go it alone. Both sides of the force are using us” an interesting twist (and one that could have led to some interesting plots in future movies). But by that time I was so irritated by the movie that I’d given up. And Luke? I was already frustrated that Luke didn’t appear in the key part in Force Awakens. Then this movie takes the character and turns him into something unbelievable to the character. Again, the idea of Luke being a Hermit uncertain whether or not to get involved again is interesting. But this is a guy who believed that he could turn the most evil being in the universe, Darth Vader, back to the light side and he succeeded. He saw it was possible with his father (and was willing to die in order to force his father’s hand during the show down with the Emperor). Would he so easily give up on the son of his sister? I know what they were going for, it was just awkward and clunky and basically a cheat at the end. Both Mark Hamill and Luke Skywalker deserved better.

    Liked by 1 person

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