The middle film in any trilogy is always simultaneously the easiest, yet most difficult film to both judge and make.
No responsibility to set the standards like the original, nor the responsibility to tie up loose ends and provide resolution to the genetic heritage of its forbearers like the finale. The middle child is free to let loose, mix it up a bit and try new things and broach new ground.
It’s a pity then that apart from a short 10 minute stretch in the last 45 minutes, the film otherwise proves to be a very slight letdown…
Questions, and answers perhaps?
To say there was a lot riding on this film would be an understatement.
Would The Force Awakens be a fluke? No.
Would we get answers to Rey’s parentage? A qualified* yes.
Would we see any impact of Han’s death? No, not really.
Would the ancilliary characters get worthy screentime? Well, yes, but too much.
Would Kylo turn to the light? Err…
Would Rey turn to the dark side? Again, errr…
Would Leia be written out in this episode, following Carrie Fisher’s untimely death? Nope. That’s been held over until Episode 9.
Whilst watching the film, all throughout I had a very good time, and thoroughly enjoyed it the entire time. It was only after the credits began to roll that I started to feel like the film was missing something more. Something midway through to give the remainder of the reasonably lengthy running time some legs, and energetically launch the storyline into the final film. Something to turn some pre-conceived notions on their heads, akin to the immortal “No, I am your Father” of Empire Strikes Back, the film to which TLJ will inevitably draw comparisons.
Whilst there was a small twist (that inherently wasted what could have been a great character – more in the spoilers section below), that then lead into the best sequence of the entire film, it wasn’t anything that hadn’t been speculated about, nor could’ve been gleaned from the previous film.
Where in The Force awakens Rey was joyously wide eyed, naive and enthusiastically chasing adventure whilst discovering her powers, in The Last Jedi she’s more pedestrian, dull even, to a degree. Sidelined somewhat by the need to cram in storylines for multiple characters established in TFA, including a risible main storyline that played out like a dull Wile. E. Coyote vs Roadrunner in space. Rey’s storyline here feels like a second string to a non-existent first, which squandered the character for very large stretches of screen time.
Similarly Finn was entirely wasted on a throwaway plot point that could and should have been wrapped up inside of 20 minutes, but which instead lasted for nearly 2 hours of the film’s running time. Not to mention the completely out of nowhere romance with a character, neither of whom had shown any romantic interest in the other (and no, it’s not Rey).
Poe definitely got the best character arc here, and is visibly being lined up to take command when Leia necessarily bows out for the final film. This, despite the fact that he managed to throw away so many of his own fighters to make a point at the film’s opening.
Then we get Luke Skywalker. The long, LONG awaited return of the original trilogy’s lynchpin character. A mythical figure of legend both inside and outside of the films, he has hermited himself away on a remote planet in self-imposed exile after failing his students, chief of whom is the film’s antagonist, Kylo Ren. While not exactly wasted, it felt like his time in the film was rather pointless in the end, well at least up until the final 20 minutes or so. Huffing like a spoilt child he caves and begins to “train” Rey, which has less than desired consequences…
Then finally there’s Kylo himself. Probably the character that showed the most growth, and a good effort from Adam Driver. Even more visibly conflicted about his chosen path, veering off it completely at several points, then back on again, but still wobbly.
Pacing and Final Thoughts
The pacing of the film could have been a bit better, with one section of the film that oddly didn’t make it at all into trailers potentially ripe to be cut out completely to tighten up the timing a lot more.
And in terms of setup for the final film, there wasn’t a lot of meat left to work with by the film’s end, ending on a fairly ambivalent note. Hardly the grim hope that we were left with by the end of Empire.
Overall the film, whilst good and definitely one I’ll be rewatching again soon, wasn’t quite up there with The Force Awakens for me.
Where I would’ve marked TFA as a 8.5/10 if I had marked it in my review, The Last Jedi would probably get a 7.5/10, or at a real push an 8 at best.
Rian Johnson, the writer & director had an opportunity here to shake the foundations of the universe, and for a while it looked like he might do that, and for those aforementioned 10 minutes or so I was really excited, but ultimately? Like I said on Twitter after seeing it:
And when I thought they were leaning towards the true balance option, I was excited, like giddily so. But the doubling down on Light vs Dark at the end left me coming away somewhat disappointed.
— Sar (@nerdrooted) December 18, 2017
So in summary, The Last Jedi is a good film, up there with the series’ best without a doubt, but ultimately it fell just a wee bit short of its predecessor for me, and Empire still safely sits atop its throne.
If you’re reading this section, and haven’t seen the film, then on your own head be it!
Ok, so the 10 minute section I’ve mentioned a couple of times? It played directly into where I thought (and still think) the series is ultimately heading: The rejection of the Jedi AND the Sith, the Light and the Dark, into a more Grey future, where both sides of the force have their uses and merits. Where neither is superior, inferior or preferable to the other.
In short, Rey gives herself up to Snoke, in an effort to turn Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo) towards the Light. Throughout the film the two have telepathic Skype calls, and Rey senses that Kylo is teetering on the brink, and teeter totter he does fall down.
He kills Snoke (yes, he’s now dead), thus wasting what could’ve been the great character I mentioned before in the final film. However this act then kicked off a fantastic sequence where he and Rey join forces and fight side-by-side against the force-baton wielding Imperial style guards in Snoke’s throne room. The two have a chemistry that is undeniable, and throughout this entire sequence I was so happy that the potential for both to reject their initial leanings and turn towards true Balance, the Grey, was potentially going to come true.
And then Kylo goes and blows it all, by saying something stupid like
I love you..together we can rule the Galaxy as Father and Son…equals. To which Rey then recoils and then the two then fight each other, and thus begins the descent to the film’s conclusion where it appears both have redoubled their affinity for their chosen side (Rey the Light, Kylo the Dark).
As I said, potential that was then immediately blown, because both characters turning towards a more balanced approach where Kylo would acknowledge the Light side within himself, and Rey might bust loose a few Sith-style lightning bolts is yet sadly to be realised. Perhaps in Episode 9?
The main thrust of the film though was a fairly nonsensical low-speed chase between the First Order and the remnants of the Rebellion fleet, where the Rebels only had enough fuel for one more jump, yet knew that somehow the First Order could track them through hyperspace. This was completely a WTF plotline for me, because there was no clear reason given as to why the First Order couldn’t just accelerate to burn the Rebel fleet’s fuel reserves quicker, or indeed catch up to them and blow them apart. Instead we got a plodding plotline where A chased B through space at a set speed for 120 minutes, like a really bad, unfunny Benny Hill chase skit.
This led into the plotline with Finn and new character Rose, who decide to go find a codebreaker to get them onto the lead First Order ship and disable their tracking facility. They end up in a Casino city, not even getting the codebreaker they’re there for, and take a randomer (Benicio Del Toro) who says he can get them where they need to go. They apparently are impressed by his shoving a playing card into a high-tech lock and thus opening their joint cell door, with this act then meaning they entrust this character not only with their own lives, but that of the entire fleet?
Massive surprise that he double-crosses them then… Criminals, eh?
And then, towards the end, after 2 hours of these two characters working alongside each other and showing absolutely no interest, Rose then saves Finn from sacrificing himself because “You save the ones you love” and then kisses him before passing out.
Completely out of left field, unwarranted both by the characterisation and plotline, and completely blindsiding the entire audience who gave up a collective WTF in response.
In a similar mode of thought, the question of Rey’s parentage was answered to a degree.
*Kylo revealed to her that her parents were in fact absolute nobodies. Junk traders on Jakku who traded her away for drinking money, buried in unmarked graves. which if true will leave a distinct dour note on the character’s arc. So no, she’s definitely NOT Luke’s daughter. Speaking of which…
The designated old-school lore character to pop their cogs this time? Luke. He mentally projects himself to the planet Kylo is facing down the remainder of the Rebels on, to draw him out and stall for time. This succeeds, whereupon the effort of doing so appears to be too much, he dies peacefully then fades away like Ben Kenobi in A New Hope, or Yoda in Empire. All this while the remainder of the entire rebellion fled on the Millennium Falcon. Yep, there’s that few of them left now.
Speaking of which, Yoda makes a cameo here. And it’s back to puppet Yoda this time, like that of Empire. And I’m glad, as I wasn’t a fan of CGI Yoda over Puppet Yoda in all honesty.
At the end of it all, it may sound like I’m a lot more down on this film than I actually am.
I enjoyed it, I honestly did, a lot, but a large part of it felt like a mixture of pointless treading of water, to allow characters to run around doing a lot of not very much for long stretches of the film, that for a lot of the time led nowhere useful or interesting.
It’s a real shame, because this being that aforementioned middle film, there was so much more potential to shake up the foundations of the Star Wars universe, but, like most of the film ends up being a missed opportunity in order to play it safe.