Movie Review - Star Wars: The Last Jedi
By Matthew Huntley
December 21, 2017
"I’m hopeful now that 'The Force Awakens' has opened and is already breaking box-office records, the filmmakers will feel they can at least attempt to take the mythology in a newer, different direction.” These were the closing remarks of my review of “Star Wars: Episode VII,” and unfortunately, “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi,” has deflated that hope somewhat. About “Episode VII,” I had also written it too closely echoed “Episode IV” (ironically subtitled “A New Hope”) with regard to its narrative developments and the roles of the characters, and if “Episode VII” is to “Episode IV,” then “Episode VIII” is to a combination of “Episode V” and “Episode VI.”
Once again, the filmmakers seem inclined to merely retread previously explored “SW” territory rather than go out of their way to devise newer, bolder, more daring plot threads. With a franchise as popular as “Star Wars,” I can understand them being cautious and self-conscious about not stepping too far outside the lines, probably because they're afraid of disappointing ardent fans, but come on, this is the ninth major “Star Wars” feature, and because the series is so profitable and will always have a place in the cinematic universe, the studio and filmmakers should care less about pleasing fans by giving them what they want and instead challenge them by giving them what they need, which is a shake up of the “Star Wars” universe as they know it and to have them consider there's perhaps more going on in the galaxy besides the same old Resistance vs. Empire conflict. It's been done already.
Watching “The Last Jedi,” I recalled the story lines, characters and events from both “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” the parallels to which almost seem deliberate. Instead of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) traveling to the remote planet of Dagobah in “Empire,” where he trained to become a Jedi master with Yoda, Rey (Daisy Ridley), the mysterious female warrior introduced in “The Force Awakens,” heads to the remote island planet of Ach-To to train with Luke, where he's exiled himself for reasons I won't reveal. And instead of Luke walking into the Dark Side Cave and seeing his face behind Darth Vader's mask, Rey dives into a similar cave on the island and sees a reflection of herself in a mirror.
Other similarities abound. Instead of the Resistance fighters, led by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) scheming to destroy the second incarnation of the Death Star, which they did in “Return of the Jedi,” the latest crew of rebels, led by now General Leia, pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), ex-storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) and maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), carry out a plan to prevent the The First Order (the current name for the Empire) from being able to track Resistance ships after they've jumped into hyperspace. And instead of Luke seeing there's still conflict, and therefore “good,” within Vader and saving him from the Emperor, whom Vader eventually kills, Rey believes she can save Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a.k.a. Ben Solo, from succumbing to the Dark Side and convincing him to resist the evil Snoke (Andy Serkis). I could go on, but you get the idea.
Because “The Last Jedi” has been assembled using the same tried-and-true “Star Wars” formula, the result is a film that's exciting at times but gradually runs out of steam once we realize it's not going to push itself beyond the mold of a typical “Star Wars” movie. Yes, the action and special effects are exquisite, and there are a few original aspects to write-director Rian Johnson's screenplay, including the unexpected humor; the aforementioned character of Rose Tico and the relationship she develops with Finn; a high energy chase sequence and intriguing plot development on the casino planet of Canto Bight, which the movie would have been wise to explore more in depth because it's one of the few aspects of the galaxy that felt fresh; the relationship between Rey and Ren and the way they communicate via the Force; and the dramatic final showdown between Luke and Ren.
But its virtues aren't enough to make “The Last Jedi” worthy of recommending. Many die-hard and even casual “Star Wars” fans will likely walk out of it elated and thrilled, and they may even think they've just seen a masterpiece, but will their feelings be a reflection of this installment's actual merits or the memories it invokes given its similarities with the beloved “Empire” and “Return of the Jedi”? I would suggest they ask themselves whether or not they feel most of the pieces of “The Last Jedi” simply go where they're “supposed to,” and if their answer is yes, then maybe they should consider the film has sold them short because it didn't bother to rattle or exceed their expectations, but merely fulfill them.
To me, “The Last Jedi” and the main “Star Wars” series in general are too complacent. They're still above average as far as entertaining science fiction epics go, but I think it's time the filmmakers follow the leads of Luke and Rey and walk into a Dark Side Cave of their own. Perhaps then they can face their fear of potentially upsetting fans and really invent some new twists and angles that push this franchise in a different direction. It would be nice if its famous tagline, “far, far away,” reflected the actual story and character developments, because right now, things seem all too close and familiar.