Friday , 20 July 2018

Empire’s reign is over – The Last Jedi review

It’s that time of year again – the holiday season, with the gift that Disney and Lucasfilm continue to give – a brand new Star Wars film. After a return to a galaxy far, far away with 2015’s The Force Awakens, and last year’s first ‘stand-alone’ film, in actuality, a prequel, Rogue One, the war amongst the stars continues with episode VIII, The Last Jedi. Continuing the saga of Luke, Leia, Han and Chewbacca (OK, not really Han. Assumingly, if you’re reading this, you already know Han’s fate in Force Awakens.) and new heroes, Rey, Finn, Poe and the lovable droid, BB-8, The Last Jedi picks up where The Force Awakens left off, answering some lingering questions while veering off from others in unexpected ways. It all adds up to a chapter that will be exhilarating and rewarding for many, and perhaps, unsatisfying and frustrating to others (which we will get to later.)

“I need someone to show me my place in all this.”

When The Force Awakens ended, we were left with our young heroine, Rey, along with Chewbacca and R2-D2, reaching the far away planet where Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker, has remained in isolation for many years, disillusioned after having lost his student, Leia and Han’s son, Ben, aka, Kylo Ren, to the dark side. Rey must convince Luke to join the Resistance while also hoping his experience and knowledge of the Force can help her tap into the feelings and potential she has long felt within her, even as she feels an unusually strong connection to Kylo Ren. The Resistance, led by General Leia, is attempting to flee the First Order, commanded by Kylo, who remains conflicted between his loyalty to his master, Supreme Leader Snoke, and his own past. Meanwhile, ace pilot Poe Dameron, recovered ex-stormtrooper, Finn, along with a spunky mechanic named Rose, have a mission of their own which might not necessarily be in tandem with those of their superiors. Can a reluctant Luke be convinced to help save what’s left of the Resistance? Will Rey learn to master the ways of the Force? And will Kylo Ren turn even further to the Dark Side?

“This is not going to go the way you think.”

The Last Jedi gives fans plenty of what they’ve come to expect from a Star Wars film – exciting battles both in space and on land, heroes and villains facing each other in thrilling lightsaber duels, imaginative creatures and surprising reveals, while introducing new characters to compliment the returning favorites. One can’t help compare The Last Jedi to The Empire Strikes Back, which has long been considered by many fans as the best Star Wars film in the entire saga, which, frankly, is ridiculous, as George Lucas’ original film, which is now episode IV, A New Hope, will always remain the better and more satisfying film. Taken on its own, Empire feels like an incomplete movie, because, frankly, it is, leaving us with massive cliffhangers that needed another chapter to resolve. Make no mistake, Empire is an amazing film with incredible setpieces, the introduction of an iconic diminutive character in Yoda, and one of the most stunning revelations in the history of cinema, but the esteem and reverence with which it is held above all others in the Universe has always seemed somewhat unwarranted. {**** Warning – some spoilers to follow ****} In comparison, The Last Jedi is the more satisfying film in that it resolves storylines and doesn’t leave the audience hanging on the edge of a cliff, or staring into the far reaches of space at its conclusion. Surprising for the middle film of a trilogy, The Last Jedi seems almost more like a finale in the way it brings certain aspects to a conclusion and the grand canvas on which it paints its story.

“For the first time, I had something to fight for.”

Writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper) has taken what J.J. Abrams had set forth in The Force Awakens and run with it. While some may be disappointed, if not outright outraged, at the direction he has taken the series, he should be commended for not playing it safe and rehashing similar plot devices, a critique that was thrown J.J.’s way by some. The Last Jedi is certainly a Star Wars film through and through, but if feels fresh and invigorating. While much of the credit deservedly goes to Johnson, it also must go to Abrams (along with co-screenwriters of the previous film, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt) who introduced such compelling new characters in The Force Awakens. All get their chance to show what they’re capable of here. Daisy Ridley is sheer perfection as Rey, determined and resilient despite the many uncertainties in her world. Oscar Isaac is the valiant Poe Dameron, who must learn there’s more to life than being a hero. John Boyega, as the dashing Finn, has completely left his stormtrooper days behind as he’s found a clear purpose. Adam Driver once again gives his Kylo Ren an intensity and sense of conflict that will keep you on the edge of your seat. We get a far better look at Andy Serkis, the supreme leader of motion-capture characters, as the evil Snoke. Chewy, R2 and 3PO are also along for the ride, but it’s clear the newcomers have taken the controls of the ship. BB-8 is still a wonderful creation who manages to give a droid more personality than many humans. New to the party are Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo, Benicio Del Toro as a codebreaker, and Kelly Marie Tran as the aforementioned engineer who goes above and beyond her job description. It also must be mentioned that the illustrious multi-Academy Award winning composer, John Williams is back to score the movie, having done so for every live action film except Rogue One. His music is thrilling and heartfelt as always, but it’s his themes from the original trilogy which still stand out the best, although his motif for Rey is memorable too.

“So good to have you back.”

As much as the reins have been turned over to the new crew, The Last Jedi is a chance for Luke Skywalker to prove himself once again as the hero he’s always been, however hesitant as he is to leave that part of him behind. Mark Hamill steps into his last of the Jedis role for the first time in over three decades and it’s a welcome return. (And yes, The Last Jedi indeed refers to Luke, singular, as they said so in The Force Awakens, so it’s not a secret.) Hamill has undergone the most growth of any in the Star Wars filmed universe, both as an actor and with his character, here taking on the isolated hermit/mentor role as Obi-Wan Kenobi before him. He imbues his universe-weary persona with regret and unease, yet always with dignity and strength. It truly warms the heart to see him reunite with his former friends and step onto the bridge of the Millenium Falcon once again. And what can one say about Carrie Fisher, in alas, her final performance as Leia, now General of the Resistance. Her wise-cracking princess is long gone, replaced by a regal commander of what remains of the rebels’ last hope. Having lost her one true love at the hands of her only child is a burden no one should have to bear, but she never lets her feelings get in the way of her duty, a lesson for the others to take heed of. We will miss you Carrie.

“Let the past die.”

Several themes run throughout The Last Jedi, chief among them, the ability to learn from one’s mistakes. Failure is a part of life, even for the best of us. It’s how we deal with that failure and move past it that defines who we are. Another key theme is letting go off the past. It’s what a number of characters must do to move on to the next path in their lives. Oftentimes, the only way to move forward is to remove yourself from the burdens of the past. It’s a lesson that maybe some Star Wars fans should pay mind to. Those fans who are hung up on the greatness of The Empire Strikes Back, and disliked Return of the Jedi, the prequels and The Force Awakens, will probably never be satisfied with another Star Wars film (though Rogue One was generally liked by most, if not all.) But if you’ve only liked two or three out of a series of nine films, can you really still call yourself a fan? (On a side note, the animated series on Disney XD, Star Wars Rebels, is well worth watching, not only because it is considered canon, but because they are exciting stories with compelling characters in their own right, with some making easter egg appearances in Rogue One as well.)

The Last Jedi is an epic, emotional, breathtaking journey that doesn’t provide easy or expected answers to previously raised questions. Some are even tossed aside as inconsequential. While the movie is not perfect by any means – science and tactical maneuvers are questionable, a key character’s fate isn’t given the gravitas it deserves, and a certain ‘lost in space’ moment is a bit much – but The Last Jedi stands amongst the best in the Star Wars Universe. It’s rousing, surprising, suspenseful, humorous and ultimately extremely satisfying, which is what a great Star Wars film should be. Despite the title of this review, we aren’t saying that The Last Jedi is a superior film to The Empire Strikes Back. It would be presumptuous and misguided to make such a declaration with the former so new and fresh in one’s mind and the latter having been digested and re-watched a multitude of times over decades. It may take the next film in this current trilogy to determine The Last Jedi‘s ultimate standing. Who knows what’s in store for episode IX, due in December of 2019, with J.J. Abrams back on the bridge once again. The Universe is wide open. Rian Johnson has been entrusted by Disney and Lucasfilm to tackle an entire new trilogy of films beyond the current one, a task that is truly daunting. But as he’s now proven with The Last Jedi, Johnson is up to the task of staying within the Star Wars Universe, but not being afraid to take it in new, original directions. Star Wars has become a formidable and ubiquitous force, not only in the cinematic world, but in our culture as well. While others may feel differently (take a look at another Gore 4 review – The Lost Jedi – for a different perspective that flows from the Dark Side), the Star Wars Universe appears to be in capable hands with no end in sight. May the force be with us all.

— review by Brian de Castro

9 comments

  1. Great review. Introducing yoda in episode 5 was great but what about cloud city, Lando Carissian and introducing how han solo got his ship. Looking forward to seeing all the new characters. Hope to see what dean thought of the review as well.

    • Thx! It’ll be interesting to get a lot of that backstory when Solo: A Star Wars Story opens in May. Now that The Last Jedi is in theaters, we should be getting a trailer for that Solo movie soon. As for fellow Rutgers alum, Dean, we’ll have to see if he reads the review and responds – maybe by the time Episode IX comes out!

  2. Hi, it’s Skye! I love Star Wars and Rey and Princess Leia. And BB-8 too – he’s adorable.📀💽📽

  3. Hi, it’s Skye again! Forgot to say, great review, Uncle Bri – may the force be with you always! 💽📽

    • Thanks, Skye! Glad you like Star Wars. It’s the greatest saga in the universe, and there’s so much more to come – stay tuned! And may the force be with you, always, as well!

  4. Awesome review dude! I think supreme leader Snoke is alive though.. at the end of the movie Rey and Kylo can see each other again through the force but Snoke made it clear before he died that he was the only one capable of connecting the two. Next movie is going to be awesome! Looking forward to future reviews. Gore4 Life!

    • Thanks, dude! I don’t know about that Snoke theory, though, it’s an interesting one. They cut back to his lifeless corpse a couple of times and you were waiting to see if he’d miraculously arise, but never did. So I think he’s gone. It’s also in keeping with other aspects of Rian Johnson’s film – the reveal of Rey’s parents, Luke’s initial meeting with Rey, and even the Rey/Kylo Ren connection – there’s less than meets the eye. I guess we’ll see in Episode IX – Balance of the Force (my predicted title, btw.) The next film holds a lot of excitement because the way The Last Jedi ended, the sky’s the limit and J.J. and company can take the saga almost anywhere as what’s left of the Rebellion takes on the First Order. Dec. 20, 2019 is the date, but Solo, A Star Wars Story is next up May 25th!

  5. Heading in to see The Last Jedi for a second time (the very last IMAX showing at NYC’s cavernous AMC Lincoln Square), I wondered if my extremely positive feelings towards the film upon initial viewing would be tempered somewhat after reading a number of criticisms, including that of another misguided Gore4er. Though I found myself really looking forward to seeing Jedi again, would it still hold the same appeal, or would some of the backlash by so-called fans affect me as well? I am happy to report that I loved The Last Jedi just as much, if not more the second time around. Nothing bothered me about the movie – Luke’s change in demeanor, Canto Bight, even Leia in space. The humor Rian Johnson injected into the film, from Poe screwing with General Hux at the beginning to Maz Kanata slying alluding to a kinky relationship with the codebreaker to Luke brushing his shoulder after being bombarded by Kylo’s forces added immensely to an already enormously entertaining tale, and an epic one at that.

    In viewing the film for the second time, there was even more to appreciate, from all the twists and turns, will Rey or Kylo switch allegiances, all the creature moments on Luke’s island hideaway on Ahch-To. It must be assumed if you’re reading the comments to a review, you have seen the movie. So, one subtle, yet masterful reveal that Johnson included near the end of the film that many may have missed, at least on initial viewing , comes when Kylo Ren faces off against his former master, Luke. The planet, Crait, where the last of our heroes have convened at old rebel base, has a bright red soil that is covered by a thin layer of salt. This in itself makes for a strikingly colorful battle sequence. As Kylo and Luke square off, we see a close-up of Kylo’s foot slide against the surface, revealing a streak of red dirt underneath the salt. However, a short time later, when we see Luke’s foot slide as well, there is no red soil reveal. Of course, we later learn that Luke isn’t actually there at all, but has used every once of the Force to project himself over a vast distance to allow the rebels time to escape. It’s a wonderful touch, and just one of many Johnson must be commended for.

    Everyone in the cast shines, with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver especially standouts. Ridley, Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac were expertly cast by J.J. Abrams in A Force Awakens and we’ll anxiously await what he has in store for them when he returns to helm Episode IX (what I continue to predict will be subtitled, Balance of the Force.) Until then, it’s a look into Han Solo’s earlier adventures in Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story set for May 25 this year.

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