Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn't an easy
movie to talk about without digging into deep spoiler territory, but
by God I'm going to give it a shot!
I was lucky enough to see the film at
its world premiere at the gargantuan Shrine Auditorium in LA this
past Saturday, so take that into account. Being in a 6,000 seater
surrounded by the cast, crew and random celebrities in the first
audience in the world to watch this movie can certainly have an
impact on how the movie worked for me. I have tickets for Thursday
and Friday nights (because I don't mess around when it comes to Star
Wars) and will be able to test just how much being in that audience
had an effect on my opinion, but here are some immediate thoughts on
Rian Johnson's middle film in the new trilogy of Star Wars films in
The Last Jedi isn't a passive film.
Big, big things happen here. By the end of the movie the galaxy as we
know it is in a much different place than it is at the start. The
film opens just after the events of The Force Awakens. It's actually
a pretty great choice to start so close to the ending of the previous
film. It gives this story an urgency as the remnants of the
Resistance flee their base, the First Order determined to stomp them
out once and for all.
Starkiller Base may have been
destroyed, but it did its job in wiping out the central government of
the galaxy, leaving the Resistance little but a tiny militia way
out-gunned and out-manned by the First Order.
The spark of the Resistance is dying
despite their victory in The Force Awakens. The big question is
whether or not the Resistance's actions can inspire the rest of the
galaxy to stand up to Supreme Leader Snoke, Kylo Ren and the rest of
the First Order because as we begin this new movie the Resistance is
down to about 400 people and the First Order won't rest until all of
them are eliminated, determined not to make the mistake the Empire
did and let the Rebels grow in power.
Once again they place the hope of
igniting that passion in Luke Skywalker. It worked before, surely it
would work again, but Rey quickly finds that Luke isn't exactly
gung-ho about returning to the spotlight and for good reason.
Writer/director Rian Johnson has placed
every single one of these characters into situations where they have
to face their worst fears. Poe has to come to grips with the fact
that following his gut has consequences and being good at blowing
shit up isn't always enough. Leia has to face the very real
possibility that she has failed with the Resistance. Finn found his
courage in TFA, but only when it comes to his friendship with Rey.
What about his devotion to the movement? That is tested here. Luke
has removed himself from the equation completely because he fears he
will do (and has done) more bad than good. Can he open himself up to
the force once again? Rey confronts the dark and the light within
People expecting a remake of The Empire
Strikes Back are in for a surprise. In fact, surprise seems to be the
modus operandi here. Johnson constantly defies expectation, resulting
in some of the most cheer-worthy moments of the entire saga. He also
makes strong choice that will surely enrage some hardcore fans,
delight others and result in hours upon hours of debate,
deconstruction and conversation.
I believe every single one of his
choices are inspired and meaningful. Nothing is done cheaply here,
every choice is earned and shows a deep insight into character
complexity and thematic clarity. The final shot (don't worry, I won't
spoil it), for instance, is atypical of this franchise, but sums up
every single thing this movie's about in one beautifully composed
The Force Awakens was a rollercoaster
ride that re-introduced us to the Star Wars many of us felt had been
gone since the Original Trilogy. The Last Jedi has some big moments,
but is a little more introspective and actually makes The Force
Awakens even better.
We get a better insight into Kylo Ren
in particular. He got criticized for being too emo in the last film,
something I didn't really buy. I loved his set up as a lost
character, his dark and light nature constantly fighting within him.
He desired to be Darth Vader, but had to force himself into the
darkest aspects of his grandfather's persona. It didn't come easy.
That's interesting to me. In The Last Jedi that struggle is magnified
and a choice has to be made, one way or the other.
Snoke is handled so much better here as
well. His power is shown, his intelligence is revealed and the CG
work on him is infinitely better than hologram dude from the last
film. He's a real threat now and as powerful as he's shown you're not
sure how the hell the dwindling Resistance has a chance against him.
Rey's character growth is actually much
more subtle than you'd think from the trailers. Much like Kylo she's
trying to figure out just who she is, hanging so much on her
parentage to give her a clue what kind of person she is and what her
place in the world is, which weirdly mirrors the fandom surrounding
the character. The answer to that question is wholly satisfying to
me, but I'm not sure how the rest of fandom is going to take it.
Leia is done very, very well here. She
has some meaty stuff to work with. What Johnson does with her
character here is some of my favorite stuff in this new film. I love
it so much I'll just leave it at that and pick up the discussion
after everybody has had a chance to see the movie.
Luke. It's tough to talk about his
character in any sort of detail without putting you ahead of his
story, but I will say that Mark Hamill totally brings his all to this
part. Luke is frustrating, inspirational, likable, grumpy, dickish,
compassionate, cowardly and brave all at once. He's beautifully
written and expertly performed. Much like with Harrison Ford's return
as Han Solo in the last film there are moments of pure nostalgic
magic when you see glimpses of the Luke Skywalker from the OT poke
through this older version of the character.
The new characters likewise benefit
from Johnson's rich character writing. Rose Tico, played by Kelly
Marie Tran, in particular shines as a lowly grunt that has the heart
of a Rebel fighter. She's a true believer and her enthusiasm is the
kind that changes hearts and minds. She's a crucial character to this
story because she embodies everything good about the Resistance and
the Rebel Alliance before it. She's kind, proactive, loyal and
doesn't take any shit.
Benicio del Toro's “DJ” is a
murkier character, a rogue in every sense. He's shaped in the Han
Solo mold of a pirate that's out only for himself, but Johnson knows
that you'll recognize this exact Star Wars character type and makes
sure not to take it in the direction you're expecting.
Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Holdo is not at all what I expected. She's a figure that is quite prominent in the Resistance and ends up carrying some of the most emotional weight of the movie. It's so damn nice to see Dern in this universe and the only problem with casting her in this movie is that she's not in every frame and you kind of want her to be.
Porgs. What to say about the Porgs? I
love 'em. There's an especially awesome scene around a campfire and
that's all I'll say about that, but yeah, they're adorable and you're
going to either love how cute they are or they'll annoy the hell out
of you. Thankfully Johnson doesn't overuse them, so either way you'll
The film looks like a million bucks
thanks to Steve Yedlin's gorgeous photography. The battle scenes are
especially spectacular. John Williams is still on his game with a
driving, yet delicate, score that sits shoulder to shoulder with his
best Star Wars work. ILM does a great job with the VFX, with only a
few wonky comp shots on the casino planet of Canto Bight that stuck
out to me. Snoke in particular is an impressive feat considering that
he's photoreal and shaped in a way that absolutely can not be makeup
yet doesn't land in the dreaded Uncanny Valley. There is one other
bit of CG weirdness that is a tad off-putting, but ultimately
successful. Vague, right? Trust me, you don't want me to say more
The practical effects are righteous,
too, especially when it comes to some of the creature work done.
There's some deeper stuff I'm dying to
talk about, especially when it comes to some of the main themes of
the movie, but even bringing those up could get your geek brains
firing in ways that'll put you on the path to figuring out the movie
before you see it and I don't want to do that. I will say some of the
themes of the movie have to do with Hope and Nostalgia or the lack
thereof and to me that's the real interesting thing about this movie,
but I'll write something next week that dives deeper into that after
everybody's had a chance to see it.
On the whole, The Last Jedi is a
fantastic film that really moves the Star Wars Saga into some
unexpected territory. It's not a retread of Empire, but does borrow a
little bit of Empire's structure which really keeps the flick moving
through its 2.5 hour runtime. All the characters are interesting and
complex and there's absolutely no pussyfooting around some real deal
consequences to actions taken.
In short, The Last Jedi is an assured
film. If you had any doubt that Johnson wasn't able to make his movie
the way he wanted to without being forced into safe territory by some
kind of committee then this film should put your doubts to rest. This
is a bold, emotional, surprising entry into the Star Wars franchise
and one that I can't wait to watch over and over and over again.