2017 has been filled with “anticipated” films and yet none of them feel quite as anticipated as Star Wars: The Last Jedi, what’s sure to be a billion dollar film and a dominating presence for the next few months. The film exceeds expectations in many ways and falls flat in others, but overall, it’s 2.5 hour thing of force, action, and a surprising amount of humor.
The Last Jedi focuses on just a few settings and plot points but its themes are consistent for each. Like The Force Awakens‘ homage and comparison to A New Hope, it’s difficult to not compare The Last Jedi to Empire Strikes Back. Both are the middle chapter of a trilogy but how each film parallels each other is an interesting thing. The Last Jedi, like Empire, is about “hope.” It’s a word that’s brought up numerous times and unlike Empire‘s down take on that theme, The Last Jedi gives us a more inspired version that guides us to the yin of the Empire‘s darker and more negative yang. This film sees the light beyond the darkness the spark of rebellion from a small flame and it makes sure we see it too.
The film picks up from The Force Awakens with the Rebellion on the run and the First Order in pursuit. It’s really one long space battle and pursuit with some side quests. The issue at hand is the Rebellion’s lack of fuel making it inevitable the First Order will catch them to finish them off. Numbering just 400 individuals, hope is dim. A mission is cooked up to give the Rebellion a chance to escape and survive involving pass codes and disabling the main pursuing ship. A sidequest taken up by Finn and new character Rose (played by Kelly Marie Tran) and takes us to one of the few different locations, a gambling world that’s beautiful but with a dark undercurrent.
Here too the concept of “hope” is explored but in this case, it’s a discussion about what “hope” the 99% have against the 1% that exploit them. Though subtle, this is where the film gets its most outright political with an exploration of excess and what the wealthy 1% do with their money. Rose, representing the common worker, discusses the exploitation of ore and mineral and while she describes the world as beautiful can’t help but seeing the corrupt darkness it represents. A class warrior angle is presented and out of everything, it’s one of the more interesting aspects of themes. War has raged and there’s going to be individuals who profit off of it either through the sales of arms or exploitation of worlds and people. Here, that’s on full display.
When not focused on Finn and Rose’s quest, or the impending doom that is the pursuit in space, the movie explores Rey’s exploration as she attempts to lure back Luke Skywalker to help her and the Rebellion. Luke is a grizzled old man who has given up the ways of the Jedi instead living as a hermit at an old Jedi temple/outpost and attempting to enjoy his life. He’s seen the folly of the Jedi and the failure they represent and after his attempt to restore the Order, and it’s failure in Kylo, he’s given up deciding it’s best for the Jedi to die out and let a natural balance to the Force take over. Rey’s focus is to get Luke back into the battle thinking he represents the hope the Rebellion needs but she also wants to understand her own history and what she’s experiencing herself.
The Last Jedi is a brutal film with no problems destroying ships, sets, and killing characters and in each instance doing so with a style and look that’s jaw dropping. Director Rian Johnson (who also was the writer) delivers an amazing looking film with a style unto itself focused on using color to create the mood and setting. Every costume, everyone room, every scene has a color palette carefully chosen and to be debated for years. What’s Rey’s dark blue/grey mean? Why is Luke wearing black? There’s choices in that space alone which could see endless articles written.
Johnson also gives us nostalgia. There’s scenes that outright call back to the original trilogy. A speech in a elevator lift, a talk about what someone might do, they’re dialogue and scenes at times that feel lifted from other films emphasizing an almost cyclical nature of it all. There’s also throne room scenes that feel like they’re straight out of Return of the Jedi. And even Revenge of the Sith gets a nod in some ways.
Things aren’t all great. There’s some characters that fall flat like Benicio Del Toro‘s DJ whose delivery just feels like another take on the Marvel’s the Collector. And, the choice of the actor for the role seems rather odd as the screen time for this is rather limited. Again, Gwendoline Christie‘s Phasma goes down as the most overhyped and underused character in a long time. While there’s a final conflict between Phasma and Finn, it feels forced as if Johnson had to come up with something for the character. Snoke’s fate too feels a little too abrupt and anticlimactic with too many questions left out there. Finally, while I like Rose the character, she quickly turns into a do everything character starting as a maintenance person and then flying a plane in the final battle as if every person in the Rebellion excels at everything (the defense is she’s shown piloting a ship, which questions why she was in her maintenance role to begin with). And not all the settings work too, while I appreciated its themes of the 1%, scenes in the gambling world also feel a bit there for the kids based on some of who we meet and what happens. It lightens up what otherwise is a pretty dark film.
But, there’s also so much that’s good.
The film has a surprising amount of humor and there’s some really good laughs. It does a great job of taking our still relatively new heroes of Poe, Finn, and Rey, and adding more to them as to why we should like them. The action sequences are jaw dropping at times with space battle after space battle and an ending move that’s “holy shit” levels of amazing.
But, what I keep coming back to is that theme of “hope.” Johnson gets how to take a theme for a film and weave it into everything. From the obvious, the “hope” of escaping the First Order and the “hope” of sparking a new Rebellion, but also the “hope” we place in heroes. There’s the instance of it that Rey places in Luke where the idea of legends vs. reality is explored, but also Poe and his interaction with Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (played by Laura Dern). Poe must learn to respect “hope” in some ways and that direct results that are clear might not always be the answer. Sometimes you have to accept and “hope” things will turn out all right in the end.
And that’s where The Last Jedi and Empire Strikes Back diverge the most. Empire had us looking for “hope” but ended on a “down note.” The Last Jedi seems to recognize in this day and age that wouldn’t work and we need a real Rebellion, we need to see the sparks, and the film reminds us that from the tiniest flames a raging fire can grow.
Through it’s setting of constant pursuit, it’s acceptance of a dire situation, and it’s focus on the better tomorrow, Star Wars: The Last Jedi feels like it embodies today’s zeitgeist of “the resistance” and creates a Rebellion for us to be believe in.
Overall Rating: 9.0