This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Dennis’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Finally - the film that I spend two years waiting for! It marks not only the continuation of the Skywalker saga, but also the second installment in the saga about our new heroes that began with “The Force Awakens” back in 2015. To say that I was excited about this film, would be a huge understatement. I spend two years thinking about the questions that J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan posed in the last film. I spend two years thinking about how Rian Johnson would try to top everything that Abrams managed to achieve with his “Star Wars” film. And I spend two years thinking about the how this film would rank among the “Star Wars” film, a franchise that is near and dear to my heart!
To give you the short version first: I LOVE this film! I love it even more than I did “The Force Awakens”, a film that managed to feel like a proper “Star Wars” film. It is because, Rian Johnson delivers a film that does not only feel like a proper “Star Wars” film, but manages to BE a real “Star Wars” film in a way that no film since “Return of the Jedi” managed to do. Not only do we get an emotional continuation of Rey, Finn and Poe's stories, but also some great moments for the remaining members of the original cast. Even though the story is really fulfilling on it's own, Johnson manages to capture it in jaw-droppingly stunning images, which not only make it one of the years most beautiful films, but also the best looking “Star Wars” film. Okay, that's the short version, but now on to some more detailled praise of Rian Johnson's fascinating sci-fi adventure.
I loved how “The Last Jedi” managed to surpass the structure sameness of “The Force Awakens” and actively use it to mislead and surprise the audience with some of the most shocking twists of any “Star Wars” ever. This is most obvious with the fate of Snoke, who I thought was predestined to be the Emperor surrogate and therefore the big bad in episode IX, but Johnson throws a wrench into the machine and stops the mix of “Empire”s and “Return”s plot dead on it's tracks. Whereas “The Force Awakens” used it's resemblance to “A New Hope” as some sort of crutch to create a bridge between the old and the new, which worked quite nicely in my opinion, “The Last Jedi” is bold enough to use it as a clever misdirection and somehow manages to address it within the story itself, as legends and the power of myth-making is buried deep inside the DNA of Rian Johnson's film.
The dynamic between Rey and Ben is really awesome and works incredibly well, which is partly because of the strong acting chops of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, but also because of the conflict between them. It's genuinely stunning to see how much (sexual) subtext is layered under their force Skype conversations and their fight scene inside Snoke's lair (easily one of the most stunning set of the whole franchise). Even though I suspected Ben to turn his back on the dark side, I am more than happy with the way his character took, as it is not only logical, but now, looking back on it, almost nescessary.
I'm still baffled by the almost sneaky way that Johnson snuck some “Rashomon” into his “Star Wars” film, without making it too obvious. Luke Skywalker and his arc is maybe my favorite thing about this film, as it takes everything that we saw in the original trilogy and gives it a satisfying twist and conclusion. Mark Hamill is “capital A”-acting in this film and damn, I like the sight of that. Even if some of the scenes are just a bit too much, I think that he gives his legendary character a more than worthy sendoff, even though it's not the end.
But it is most certainly the end of general Leia Organa-Solo's story and although the “Leia in Space”-segment was not entirely my tea, I have to say that I am really happy with the way that the film said goodbye to it's princess. The bit before the bridge gets blown to smithereens was so emotional, that I had tears in my eyes, although the film was only in it's opening minutes. Her third act return was surprising and once again really fantastic. Yet, her most emotional moment for me was the one, in which Luke hands her Han's lucky dice. The scene does such a good job to say goodbye to Carrie Fisher, as well as her character that I was bawling. I don't exactly remember what Luke says in this scene, but it left a hole in my heart that was just devastating. It's the perfect way to end her journey!
Poe Dameron and his character traits are dissected in a way that I wasn't expecting either. After the astonishingly dark realities of warfare are addressed in the otherwise rather comedic opening action sequence, Poe is not only stripped of his rank, but also put into place, as the renegade pilot is not what is needed at this point of the story. He has to accept that heroism is not only found in heroic sacrifices, but also in leadership and the hard decisions one has to make as a leader of man. It feels like an even better tuned version of Han Solo's arc during the original trilogy and especially episode VI. Although I think that it does work most of the time, I'm a bit conflicted about some of the plot during Poe's storyline, because his conflict with Laura Dern's character, Admiral Holdo, seems to be more than just a bit constructed. But I can see that happening in a real command structure, so I have to sort this problem under the “nit-picking” category. Especially, as Holdo gets to deliver one of the BEST moments of the “Star Wars” films. Period!
But now to the most controversial storyline of the film: Finn and Rose' (Kelly Marie Tran) trip to the casino city on Canto Bight. I read a lot about how this storyline is “filler” or “a waste of time” and while I somewhat agree with the argument that it is a little bit too long, I think that it is far from being just “filler”, as it is a vital part of the world building in “The Last Jedi”. This story is about bringing hope to those under the yoke of those in power and while it is goofy in places (we're still talking about “Star Wars” here), I think that the scenes manage to bring that point across. The much needed ambiguity that the otherwise not really needed character of Benicio del Toro brings to the situation, is also a very welcome addition to the galaxy. The sequence and the fact that the mission ends up being not really successful, is a great story beat, as it shows that even in the darkest of nights, even the smallest embers still shine a light. I think that Rose says it best, when she says that they shouldn't fight against what they hate, but fight what they love. The detour was necessary to arrive at this scene and to make this point. The sequence is a thematic one and that's ok.
My best friend, who was majorly disappointed following the screening, complained about the humor of the film and while there are about two times that a scene got dangerously close to the consequence-free nature of the Marvel films, the stakes were put back into perspective and gave the film weight that most of the before mentioned superhero films lack. The opening scene, for example, has humor, because it's in Poe's nature to crack a joke or annoy the fascist forces of the First Order with essentially a prank call, not because it's some studio mandated jokes-per-minute obligation, but because it comes from the characters themselves. And even though the scene is funny, we then are presented with the horrifying “reality” of warfare, as we witness the deaths of several Resistance pilots, including the horrible fate of Rose's sister. When we witness such devastation or emotional scenes with Leia and Luke, I'm quite okay with some one-liners or cute Porgs to lighten by mood.
In a way, “The Last Jedi” wraps up like this already is the final installment of the Skywalker saga. The penultimate scene shows the remnants of the Resistance all crammed into the Millenium Falcon. Luke is gone. Kylo is now the supreme leader of the First Order and but the spark of hope is still alive in the galaxy, which is then shown in the finale scene, in which a slave boy, who possesses the force, as well as the ring, Rose gave to him, looks up to the sky and reveals the rebel symbol of the ring – a literal symbol of a new hope.
I'm not quite sure, where episode IX will continue after this. It can't retread the plot of episode VI, because Rian Johnson literally killed it with the death of Snoke and it would be a betrayal of character to flip Ben Solo to the light side, after his choices in this film. We'll see how J.J. Abrams chooses to end the Skywalker saga in two years, I guess, but in the meantime, I will be rewatching “The Last Jedi”. More than once.
I think it's time to bring this monster of a review to an end and because of that I would urge those, who felt burned on their first watch, to go back to it. I know that not everything is perfect. I know that Rian Johnson's bold choices are not universally embraced. And I know that some will end up nit-picking this film to pieces, but for the love of the force, give this film a second chance, because it not only reinvents some of the things that we thought to know about “Star Wars”, but might also be the thing that saves “Star Wars” from becoming stale and just another film franchise. May the force be with you. Always!