Is Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi the best film in the series? It’s hard to say immediately after seeing it, as it’s a film that demands reflection. At the very least, it’s in the top three of the series without question. Nothing can match the original Star Wars in terms of filmmaking innovation and cultural impact, and The Empire Strikes Back will forever remain as one of the model examples of how to do a sequel right. Even so, The Last Jedi might be a better overall film than any of its predecessors.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. None of the Star Wars movies are. Even the good George Lucas entries have questionable dialogue (and the less said about the bad ones, the better). The Force Awakens was a great restart for the franchise but too similar to the original to really excel, while Rogue One did something different but suffered from underdeveloped characters and one of the creepiest special effects ever (well, at least until Battle Angel Alita opens). This article will address The Last Jedi‘s flaws, but ultimately its problems are minor compared to its numerous strengths.
SPOILERS for The Last Jedi (and the series in general)
15. PRO: MARK HAMILL – BEST ACTOR?
It might be a lot to ask for a Star Wars film to get any acting Oscars. Only Alec Guiness as Obi-Wan in A New Hope was ever nominated. That said, in an ensemble that’s already the best collection of actors the series ever had, Mark Hamill completely steals the show. Hamill brings the darker tone of performance he’s developed in his voice acting work over the years back to the character that launched his career to begin with, and the results are stunning.
The Last Jedi both breaks down and redeems Luke Skywalker. It’s both a far cry from the character in the original trilogy and a completely convincing evolution of that character. He hasn’t become a bad guy, but he’s haunted by the awareness of his own failures. He’s intensely serious while able to pull off some humor in his grimness. And his final sacrifice is simply astonishing.
14. PRO: A FITTING SEND-OFF TO CARRIE FISHER
At one point in The Last Jedi, General Leia is blown into the vacuum of space. It looks as if she’s a goner, but then something miraculous happens: for the first time in one of the movies, we see her use The Force to save herself. Going into the movie, it was inevitable Carrie Fisher’s final performance was going to be emotional, but damn, when her theme music plays in that moment, somebody please pass the tissues!
Carrie Fisher’s a joy to watch throughout; just effortlessly wonderful. The strength of the script is in large part thanks to her as well, as she worked with Rian Johnson on rewrites. Even a small idea of hers like giving everyone “space jewelry” is presented in poignant, plot-relevant ways. Who knows how Episode IX handles her absence, but The Last Jedi reminds us why we miss her.
13. CON: UNEVEN PACING
At two and a half hours, The Last Jedi is the longest Star Wars movie, and it feels it. The beginning and ending of the movie are perfectly paced, but the middle section of the movie does drag a bit at times. It’s a lot of set-up for worthwhile pay-offs, but it’s that set-up which could have most easily been improved with another edit.
The second act alternates between three plotlines, and perhaps the drag is in waiting to get to the most interesting plotlines. The Rey and Luke scenes are the best, while the spaceship escape action with Poe’s mutiny is solidly engaging. It’s the diversion at the Canto Blight casino planet that’s the least interesting. It works well enough thanks to great characters and developing the universe’s politics, but it’s where the most trims could be made.
12. PRO: ADDRESSES FLAWS OF THE JEDI AND THE REBELLION
Many fans came to this conclusion before The Last Jedi: the old Jedi order kind of sucked. They caused their own destruction from incompetence. Their emotional repression drove Anakin to the Sith. They were so closed off and elitist most of the galaxy didn’t even believe they existed. Some Extended Universe titles worked to deconstruct the Jedi mythos, but in The Last Jedi, it’s Luke himself tearing down the Jedi, and with good reason.
The Jedi aren’t gone in the end, as Rey will still carry on that legacy, but she’ll have to reshape it into something new. One of the movie’s themes is that purity is impossible. Even the Rebellion isn’t pure good; their weapons come from the same war profiteers as the First Order’s. Just as there might still be good left within Kylo Ren, Rey has to be willing to confront rather than avoid the Dark Side.
11. PRO: GENUINELY UNPREDICTABLE
Not since The Empire Strikes Back has a Star Wars film been so shocking. The Last Jedi‘s master trick was to do almost the opposite of Empire‘s twist. “I am your father” was a shock in 1980, recontextualizing the series as a family drama. Many a fan theory predicted a similar twist regarding Rey’s parentage in The Last Jedi. The reveal that Rey’s parents were in fact nobodies has angered a chunk of the internet. Yet opening up the world of Star Wars, escaping “chosen one” legacies and showing heroes can come from anywhere is a good thing.
Speaking of surprises, did ANYONE expect Snoke’s death? If this trilogy was strictly imitating the original trilogy as Force Awakens did to A New Hope, you’d expect him to die like Palpatine in the third installment. But no, he’s off the table, the First Order’s in chaos and anything could happen next.
10. CON: PHASMA IS WASTED
In the hype build-up to The Last Jedi‘s release, Gwendolyn Christie claimed the film was going to delve “deeper” into her chrome Stormtrooper character. The combination of a great actress and a cool costume had fans hyped to see what Captain Phasma would be like in The Force Awakens, but the part was little more than a glorified cameo. Disappointingly, it’s more of the same in The Last Jedi. The only thing “deeper” about Phasma’s part is the chasm she falls into.
You can read the Phasma novel for a more complex Phasma story, but in the main movie series at this point they might as well lean into her apparent uselessness. Yeah, it sure looked like she died in this one, but why not bring her back for an even sillier, more humiliating defeat? Why not make her Wile E. Coyote to Finn’s Roadrunner?
9. PRO: THE BEST LIGHT SABER FIGHT EVER
Holy Sith! Was that the best lightsaber fight ever or was that the best lightsaber fight EVER? Beginning with the surprise death of Snoke, Rey and Kylo Ren’s team-up takedown of Snoke’s throne room guards was the scene everyone didn’t know they were waiting for. Only Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars miniseries can match it for kinetic choreography, and this has the advantage of both being a real live-action fight and of enjoying some PG-13-pushing brutality.
Beyond just the sheer pleasures of watching the battle, it also marks new ground for the characters. The tense interactions between Rey and Ren are pushed to new levels of ambiguity. Their fight alongside each other emphaiszes the uncomfortable common ground between these two young adults, each trying to reshape their universe to opposing ends.
8. PRO: … TOPPED BY THE BEST STARSHIP BATTLE EVER
The throne room lightsaber fight isn’t even the film’s most stunning action sequence. That honor goes to the battle of Crait. This battle has it all. TIE fighters battle speedsters in the air while trench soldiers try to hold off Stormtroopers and AT-AT vehicles on the ground. The First Order has a giant laser to boost their side. The Resistance has Luke Freaking Skywalker.
Visually, this battle makes great use of the landscape. That red salt on the white ground, as well as the Millenium Falcon’s escape through the crystals, makes for beautiful imagery. Also Gareth Edwards’ “It’s salt” line is destined to be one of 2018’s most popular reaction gifs. More than anything, the moments of heroic sacrifice are some of the series’ most moving: Rose’s rescue of Finn establishes a wonderful positive ethos, while Luke’s reconnection with The Force is the greatest way he could possibly go out.
7. CON: UNEXPLAINED OVER-THE-TOP POWERS
This issue has been overstated by a lot of the film’s critics, but it is there to an extent. To be clear, this isn’t talking about Luke and Leia’s big moments. It makes perfect sense that powerful Force users who’d built up so much unused energy over the decades would be able to pull off some astonishing feats, and Luke’s intense Force use actually kills him, so these moments are perfectly built up and executed well.
Rey and Ren’s vivid psychic connection is captivating from a filmmaking perspective, but that’s one thing which could have been explained better. If the reason for their link is “because Snoke,” then it would have helped to establish Snoke as a character better. But the real overpowered character in this film is BB-8. It’s not unprecedented for droids’ abilities to vary wildly between films (see R2D2 in the prequels), but seriously, what CAN’T that little ball do?
6. PRO: AMAZING CINEMATOGRAPHY
It’s not exactly a surprise that a new Star Wars movie looks incredible, yet The Last Jedi goes above and beyond what’s expected. The Force Awakens‘ big visual accomplishment was recreating the look and feel of the original trilogy, just with better special effects. Rogue One offered a grittier perspective on familiar iconography. The visuals of The Last Jedi, like the rest of the film, fit in with the established world, but continually offer new and amazing sights.
The scene where Luke teaches Rey about The Force at once looks like nothing in any other Star Wars movie while beautifully illustrating the themes key to the whole saga. The color schemes are striking: red and black for the throne room, red and white for Crait, shocking black and white for the destruction of Snoke’s ship. So much of The Last Jedi is simply beautiful to watch.
5. PRO: JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF PORGS
You probably decided your feelings about Porgs the second you saw one in the trailer, but if for some reason you were on the fence about them and waiting to see how they were actually portrayed in the movie, you can relax knowing they’re wonderful. They’re significantly cuter than Ewoks and a lot less distracting. They’re just a fun part of the landscape of the film and never become obnoxious. The way Chewbacca cooks them also looks absolutely delicious.
There’s really only one complaint you can possibly make about Porgs: that everyone knows what a Porg is. As with the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, no one ever once utters the word “Porg” in The Last Jedi. In spite of that, everyone and their grandmother knows what an Ewok is and what a Porg is, because Disney and LucasFilm control our minds. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
4. CON: STILL NO ON-SCREEN LGBT REPRESENTATION
Technically, The Last Jedi is the first Star Wars film to feature a canonically queer character (presuming R2D2 and C3PO are merely a platonic couple, and not counting the offensive stereotype that was Ziro the Hutt in the Clone Wars movie). The novel Leia: Princess of Alderaan confirmed Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo is pansexual. But, as with Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok or Dumbledore in Harry Potter, the movie avoids adressing her identity. Her hand-holding goodbye with Leia could be viewed as romantic, but it’s all up to interpretation.
Disney’s Star Wars movies have been excellent in regards to racial diversity and gender equality, but the avoidance of LGBT representation continues to prove frustrating. Oscar Isaac says he plays Poe as having a crush on Finn, but they still haven’t addressed that crush in The Last Jedi. Poe and Finn barely even share screentime here. Hopefully future movies remedy this oversight.
3. PRO: THE MESSAGE OF HOPE IS AS RELEVANT AS EVER
It’s been a rough year for the world (no need to elaborate, you know what this is referring to). Hope can be hard to come by; many feel as if they’ve lost it. The Last Jedi understands this. More than that, it accepts it as a normal way to feel, because, like all things, that sense of hopelessness will pass. Someone will come up with a new strategy in the war, someone will inspire a rekindling of faith, things will get better.
The Star Wars films remind us that no matter how terrible things are, giving up simply isn’t an option. It’s one of the strengths of the series as a whole, but the timing of its release gives The Last Jedi extra punch. Just A New Hope served as a pick-me-up for a nation recovering from the Vietnam War, The Last Jedi offers moral strength to face today’s crises.
2. PRO: A REJECTION OF NOSTALGIA
The moment where Luke throws away his old lightsaber serves as a test to see whether you’ll love or hate The Last Jedi. Many are angry that The Force Awakens‘ cliffhanger was followed up in such a way. Yet that moment is a mission statement for The Last Jedi‘s philosophy. There’s humor in the moment, true, but it’s not a cheap joke. It’s a statement that this is a movie about discarding nostalgia. It foreshadows the beautiful scene where Yoda’s Force Ghost destroys the Jedi Temple.
This rejection of tradition is, ironically, profoundly traditional, tying into Buddhist concepts of impermanence. It also works as a meta-statement on how a series like Star Wars needs to stay fresh. Old stories are valuable inspiration (the final scene makes this clear), but new orders must be built.
1. CON: IT COULD ALL BE FOR NAUGHT
It must be said, a lot of the reason The Empire Strikes Back has its great legacy is that Return of the Jedi didn’t mess up too badly. Sure, Jedi had problems of its own, but had it walked back on Empire‘s revelations, both movies would be thought of worse today. Just look at how much opinion of The Matrix Reloaded fell in light of Revolutions to see how a lousy final chapter in a trilogy can do retroactive damage (both Empire and Last Jedi are better than Reloaded ever was, but still).
Hopefully, despite delays, shake-ups and Carrie Fisher’s passing, J.J. Abrams can bring this trilogy to a satisfying conclusion in Episode IX. Even if Episode IX disappoints, it seriously better not undo Last Jedi‘s bold narrative choices. Rian Johnson’s opened up the possibilities of Star Wars. It’d be a shame to see those possibilities close.
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