Star Wars: The Last Jedi

dir. Rian Johnson
reviewed by Dakota Drobnicki

There is yet another disturbance in the Force. The notoriously fickle Star Wars fanbase (which, yes, includes yours truly) is up in arms yet again over the saga’s newest chapter. For a particularly telling example, the Rotten Tomatoes audience rating for The Last Jedi currently sits at a whopping 56%, one point lower than the abysmal Attack of the Clones‘ audience rating.

When The Force Awakens came out, it was criticized up and down by fans for seemingly playing itself too safe, for paralleling too many plot beats from the original 1977 film. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve run into who honestly believe The Force Awakens is the worst Star Wars movie out there for that very reason — wait a second, worse than the prequels? WHAT?!?! This movie with a decently developed slew of new characters and a strong emotional core is worse than the entire dull, lifeless, sterile prequel trilogy because it takes a few too many steps to follow A New Hope? Quit bugging.

(If you actually want a Star Wars movie that does undo itself with an unbearable amount of fanservice, try watching Rogue One in all its dull, pandering glory. I’d genuinely put The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith above that tripe in a heartbeat.)

The Force Awakens went to its extent of “rhyming” (as George Lucas once famously stated for the prequel trilogy’s own parallels) to re-establish the Star Wars universe for general audiences and fans alienated by the terrible prequel trilogy. It set the stage for a sequel that would hopefully come much more into its own.

The Last Jedi is not a movie out to play it safe, to parallel The Empire Strikes Back to great lengths. (When it does turn to poetry, it’s only to a bare minimum.) It’s really out to make some outright bizarre twists and turns on the mythology, and to give its new base of characters the same kind of development the original crew had between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

It succeeds… beautifully.

(Please note: I’ve attempted to keep the following plot synopsis as generic and spoiler-free as possible, but it’s really not 100% possible with this movie. Read the following paragraph at your own risk or skip over it for a less spoilery assessment.)

In the midst of a battle between the Resistance and the evil First Order, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a secret private island he intended to grow old and die on, having renounced any desire to continue the Jedi way. She tries to convince him to train her in the ways of the Force and unlock her potential. Finn (John Boyega) wakes up from the coma he was left in at the end of The Force Awakens and, with the help of a mechanic named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), tries to figure out how to prevent the First Order’s ships from tracking their fleet even through hyperspace. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) attempts to convince Rey through a telepathic connection that Luke is evil and to join his cause. Finally, do the Porgs help the Resistance to bring down the First Order? (lolnope)

(End synopsis.)

Much like how The Empire Strikes Back is a vastly superior movie to A New Hope, The Last Jedi is way better than The Force Awakens. It’s a weirder, more daring and emotionally satisfying film, the twists on the mythology and how the Force works service the story in fascinating ways, every character is granted a healthy dose of strong development, and the few elements that worried me from the trailers never overtake the more interesting events going on.

The “cuteness” of the Porgs, for example, threatened to be a step too far to obnoxious toyeticism if those Furby-ish creatures had suddenly overtaken the movie in the way the Ewoks or Jar Jar Binks did long ago. They not only barely appear in this movie, but they also lead to the film’s most disturbing and darkly humorous scene courtesy of Chewbacca. I don’t mind their minimal appearance, though, they creep me out.

Luke’s story arc throughout this film is by far its most fascinating. An old, grizzled Mark Hamill is a wonderful sight on the screen and commands his scenes with a more profound weariness than Harrison Ford had shown last time as Han Solo. His arc is augmented with the strange “new” Force abilities that have raised numerous complaints from longtime fans, but they enrich the movie and give it the sense of freshness many of those same fans demanded after The Force Awakens.

That all being said, I was weirded out by a scene in which he milks a light-green fluid out of creatures who have full-blown human breasts for udders and drinks it raw in front of Rey. My Thursday night audience also seemed to be shook by this bizarre sight, and frankly this is the one thing I don’t care if I spoil. It’s the kind of thing I’d expect more from Heavy Metal than good ol’ family-friendly Star Wars.

This movie is visually beautiful in ways not even The Force Awakens could manage. The numerous space battles in the movie never stoop to a video game cutscene feel, a la the opening battle sequence in Revenge of the Sith or even some of the less impressive battles in The Force Awakens. Even the action scenes take some oddball turns, though; if you don’t care about spoilers, ask anyone else who’s already seen the movie about that bizarre moment with Princess Leia early on.

I’m excited to see what happens with the upcoming Episode IX after this rousing and daring piece of cinema. I’m glad to see a cultural giant go and take wild risks, even if the movie was going to be a safe bet on massive box office success either way. It’s imperative that you go and see this movie not once, but multiple times if you can, each time allowing yourself to acclimate to the odd twists and turns it makes.

In short, you need to go see this if you love Star Wars. Even if you don’t, you might as well— if you’re like me and you’re stuck in Bemidji over this holiday break, you won’t have the opportunity to see the even more daring films of late like The Disaster Artist or The Shape of Water anyway. (However, you will be able to see highly anticipated masterpieces like Just Getting Started or Father Figures instead! Yay!)

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