The good and bad of The Last Jedi

Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi premiered in the United States on December 15, 2017. The movie is the second of three installments in the sequel trilogy. (Photo courtesy of fandango.com)

The Last Jedi: A marvelous addition to the Star Wars saga
The Last Jedi is not worth the hype

The Last Jedi: A marvelous addition to the Star Wars saga

By: Ashley Tysiac, Junior Editor

Since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released in 2015, people have been widely anticipating the sequel, The Last Jedi. After two years of waiting, including a movement of the initial movie release from May, 2017 to December, 2017, fans finally received the next chapter of the acclaimed Star Wars saga.

And it definitely lived up to the hype.

The Last Jedi picks up right where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) visiting the long lost jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in hopes of convincing him to join the Resistance cause led by his sister General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Meanwhile, the First Order, led by a forceful General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and a conflicted Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) set out to destroy the entirety of the Resistance.

Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) set out to halt the First Order from destroying Resistance ships, taking down the entirety of the Resistance allegiance with them.

Compared to the first movie of the third Star Wars trilogy, The Last Jedi is much more action-packed, with many more space and land battles that make it eye-catching. Like past Star Wars movies such as The Empire Strikes Back, it contains many different subplots filled with adventure.

Many fans have argued that the movie is too incohesive because of the multiple subplots and a plethora of characters. However, I enjoyed how the different plots revolving around Rey, Ren, the Resistance, and the First Order all connected together in the successful conclusion of the movie.

Additionally, the character of Kylo Ren is much more developed and stronger, and I appreciated his role in the movie. Ren seemed like an unimportant new villain in The Force Awakens that had been created on the fly, yet in The Last Jedi, Driver affectively reveals Ren’s inner weaknesses that make him a much more developed figure.

There are also many obvious parallels between The Last Jedi and the acclaimed The Empire Strikes Back, which pay great homage to the original Star Wars trilogy. Director Rian Johnson exquisitely fine tuned the little details in the movie to create the clever similarities.

Nonetheless, the questions that fans were left with after viewing The Force Awakens remain unanswered or unsatisfactorily answered. I left The Last Jedi feeling upset as to how the questions were resolved in the plot of the movie.

But there is no denying that The Last Jedi is a marvelous addition to the enormous Star Wars chronicle.

The Last Jedi is not worth the hype

By: Sydney Tucker, Staff Writer

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.  Read at your own risk.

Ever since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in October 2012 and announced that it would be making a new Star Wars trilogy, fans have been hotly anticipating the new films.  Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, the second of three movies in the sequel trilogy, premiered in the United States on December 15, 2017; however, despite the excitement for the film from Star Wars fans across the country, it was ultimately a disappointment.

I will not deny that The Last Jedi was a good film.  Nevertheless, it was just that: a good film that in no way stood out out to me from the many other mediocre newly-released films that I have viewed recently.  The Last Jedi truly had nothing spectacular about it.

Furthermore, deep flaws stained the film.  One of the most prominent issues that I have with The Last Jedi—and that I had with Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens—is the lack of character development.  Characters are important pieces to any film; if I do not like the characters, I probably will not like the movie.  I did like the characters in The Last Jedi, but director and writer Rian Johnson simply tried to take on too many characters at once, leaving characters underdeveloped and viewers confused at their actions.

One mistake that Johnson made when it came to the characters was assuming that all fans would already be acquainted with the characters from the original trilogy—Star Wars, Episodes IV–VI—such as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)  and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher)  Thus, Johnson felt free to add many new characters.  However, I did not find myself familiar with the returning characters.  Luke might as well have been a whole new character because he had changed from an idealistic, loyal hero to a grumpy hermit who haphazardly tossed priceless weapons over the sides of cliffs.  I found myself failing to comprehend the character of a whole new Luke while also attempting to understand the many new characters that Johnson added to the franchise.

Two characters that Johnson introduced to the trilogy, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), served completely unnecessary roles and only took valuable screen time away from protagonists that should have been the main focuses of the movie like Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).  Johnson could have removed both Rose and Holdo from the movie with little consequence to the plot, for both characters were simply pointless martyrs.  Johnson should not have introduced two completely new characters and expected the audience to sympathize with them when they become martyrs only 45 minutes later in overly dramatic scenes.  I felt no emotion about their sacrifices and did not shed a tear over Holdo’s death and Rose’s horrific injury.  Further, I did not understand either of their motives.

In addition, for all the hype that Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) received, prior to both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, her role—as in The Force Awakens—was completely underwhelming and utterly disappointing.  For the first time, Star Wars had a female antagonist, but she was only on screen in both movies for a few minutes at most.  Moreover, Finn, a lowly stormtrooper-turned-Resistance fighter, managed to defeat her, an expertly-trained caption, in combat and to possibly even kill her.  Phasma deserved the treatment as the revolutionary new character that Star Wars advertised her to be, and unfortunately, neither Abrams nor Johnson was able to deliver.

That brings me to Finn.  I liked the idea of having a stormtrooper join the Resistance, but both J.J. Abrams—the writer and director of The Force Awakens—and Johnson wasted Finn’s potential.  I thoroughly enjoyed the movie until he tried to run away from the Resistance.  His flight in The Force Awakens was also where that film lost me.  Finn is such an ambiguous character to me, and I do not understand his decisions, which makes him hard to connect with.  After Finn attempted to escape from the Resistance, the entire movie went downhill.  Also, at the end of the film, Johnson should have made Finn a martyr instead of having Rose “save” him; it would have made for a satisfying ending to Finn’s arc in the sequel trilogy.  His want to sacrifice himself was the one desire I could understand.

The point at which Finn tried to leave the Resistance was when Johnson introduced multiple subplots.  The majority of the movie revolved around three stories: Finn and Rose seeking to turn off the First Order’s tracker, Leia, Holdo, and Poe escaping the First Order, and Luke training Rey (or refusing to train Rey) in the ways of the Force.  These multiple plots only added unneeded length to the movie and baffled the audience.  I was constantly having to remind myself of what had happened, for example, the last time I saw Finn and Rose.  Johnson could have neatly trimmed down that lengthy two-and-a-half hour runtime if Holdo, Poe, and Leia’s subplot had been removed.  I loved Carrie Fisher and her portrayal of Leia, but the character’s role in the film was not significant.  Neither were Holdo’s martyrdom and Poe’s mutiny.

In order to cut back on the film’s length, Johnson additionally could have removed the movie’s many forced elements: jokes, creatures, and confusing scenes.  Many fans agree that the porgs—the bird-like creatures on Ahch-To, where Luke trained Rey—were adorable, but to me, they just screamed marketing.  The porgs were only there to make Disney money off of plush children’s toys.  Also, in an attempt to lighten the tone of the film and to appeal to children, Johnson included many jokes in the film, but most seemed unnatural and downright unfunny.  As Mark Hamill himself stated in an interview, “In Hollywood,…it’s not important if it’s of high quality, only if it makes money.”

Moreover, The Last Jedi consisted of perplexing sequences, such as when the First Order blew Leia into space.  Miraculously, she was able to survive the vacuum of space by using the Force to pull herself back into the Resistance’s ship.  This scene bewildered me and only seemed overdone.  Even in Star Wars, no character should have survived what Leia went through.  Finn and Rose’s subplot of trying to track down a codebreaker was another example of a perplexing segment of the film.  Johnson added the unique, intriguing idea that in the Star Wars galaxy, there were arms dealers who profited from the war; however, he did so in an elaborate, drawn-out scene of the “party planet,” Canto Bight.  He attempted to introduce new themes to the story, but they seemed out-of-place and inconsistent with the rest of the film.  For example, the part where Rose and Finn rescued the abused camel-like racing animals, fathiers, should have been removed.

Johnson also could have shortened the movie if he had not taken so much time to add drama to unneeded scenes.  For example, the death of Rose’s sister, which opened the movie, seemed boring and drawn out.  At first, I felt invested in her quest to bomb the First Order’s Dreadnought, but the excessively long scene only caused me to wish for her death to come quickly so that the plot could continue.

However, some aspects of the plot did strike a chord with me.  Many of Johnson’s ideas for the movie were admirable, but he simply executed them poorly.  For example, I liked the aforementioned idea of there being war profiteers, as well as child enslavement on Canto Bight; nonetheless, Johnson did not need that whole elaborate scene on Canto Bight to add these ideas.  Additionally, I enjoyed the ideas of there being “gray” Force-users who are neither Jedi nor Sith and of Luke wanting the Jedi to end.  Even so, with Luke’s limited screen time, I found myself asking at the end of the movie, “Why exactly did Luke want the Jedi to end again?”  He seemed to waffle back and forth between wanting to end the Jedi and wanting the religion to continue.  First, he refused to train Rey.  Then, he did train Rey.  Next, he wanted to burn the ancient Jedi texts.  Later, he hesitated, so Yoda sent a lightning bolt from the sky to do it for him.

Speaking of Yoda, I admired how Johnson brought back the puppet of Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz).  Overall, the C.G.I. effects were well done—as expected, but the fact that he brought Yoda as a puppet instead of as a C.G.I. character speaks volumes.  The overuse of C.G.I. was one of the main complaints about the prequel trilogy, and I am glad that Johnson was able to make up for those earlier shortcomings.

Despite the fact that Yoda was not C.G.I.,  his cameo seemed out-of-place.  Yoda’s characterization was consistent with his mannerisms in Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, but in the more serious The Last Jedi, he did not fit.

Along with the appearance of Yoda, The Last Jedi shared many similarities with The Empire Strikes Back and with Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.  The Force Awakens had unfortunately mirrored the plot of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope perfectly, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that that was not so with The Last Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back.  Most of the parallels were subtle and tasteful, but a few were stretching it a little too far.  One such similarity was the scene where Rey was staring at multiple versions of herself in front of a mirror of ice.  This scene was supposed to echo the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke had a brush with the Dark Side and fought an apparition of Darth Vader.  However, Johnson poorly executed the scene with Rey and only left me feeling uncertain of the significance of what had just occurred.

Furthermore, like The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the JediThe Last Jedi featured three prominent plot twists.  (Thankfully, I was able to watch the film without anyone spoiling them to me.)  First was Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) murder of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).  It echoed Darth Vader’s (voiced by James Earl Jones) overthrow of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi.  This twist was thrilling and completely unexpected, which is what Star Wars is all about.  However, my excitement turned to confusion as I asked myself, “Why did he just do that?”  At first, I assumed that Ren wanted to ally with Rey, but then he turned against her.  I found myself once again completely confused with Ren’s constant waffling between the Dark Side and the Light, another effect of poor character development.

Next, Ren revealed to Rey that her parents were insignificant junk traders who sold her for drinking money.  This reveal, reminiscent of the famous line, “I am your father,” from The Empire Strikes Back, was completely underwhelming.  There was one key difference between the “Dad Vader” reveal in The Empire Strikes Back and the “insignificant parents” reveal in The Last Jedi.  During A New Hope, Ben Kenobi (Sir Alec Guiness) told Luke that Darth Vader had killed his father.  Therefore, the audience never questioned Luke’s parentage, so the “Dad Vader” shock was that much more surprising.  In contrast, in The Force Awakens, characters constantly mentioned Rey’s parents, and Abrams deliberately did not reveal their identities.  Thus, Star Wars enthusiasts speculated for two years on who Rey’s parents might be with theories ranging from Obi-Wan Kenobi to the Emperor himself.  Although the reveal that Rey’s parents were nobodies may have been unexpected, it did not have the surprise value that the “Dad Vader” reveal had simply because fans knew that this parentage reveal was coming.

The third major reveal—or, rather, shock—was Luke’s death.  This event completely caught me off guard.  I found Luke’s return to the Force, much like Yoda’s return to the Force in Return of the Jedi, suitable for Luke’s character.  I also enjoyed the idea of Force users being able to project their images across space, like Luke did when he “fought” Ren.  Ultimately, Luke’s demise was unsatisfying for me simply because the movie did not do him justice; he did not have enough screen time in the film.

Possibly my favorite parallel between The Last Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back occured on Ahch-To.  Rey noticed an X-wing starfighter underwater in a small pool, much like how when Luke went to train with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, his X-wing sank in the swamp.

This similarity between the two films was just one example of the many details that Johnson artfully paid attention to.  Another example was that when the apparition of Luke fought Ren on Crait, he did not leave any red footprints in the salt, for he had no substance.  In short, for the previously mentioned fact that Johnson did not overdo the resemblances between The Last Jedi and previous Star Wars films, I prefer his directing over Abrams’s.

In The Force Awakens, Abrams left many important questions unanswered, but in The Last Jedi, Johnson did not answer them and did not even address some.  These lingering uncertainties at the end of The Last Jedi left me feeling wholly unsatisfied with the movie.  For example, we still do not know the Snoke’s identity.  The Sith supposedly died out with the Emperor, so what is he?  The most we know about him is that he apparently wears an unfortunate golden bathrobe and is only the height of a normal human.  Also, The Force Awakens included in brief shot with the Knights of Ren, so many fans expected them to play a role in The Last Jedi.  Unfortunately, no one even mentioned them in the film.  Hopefully, Star Wars, Episode IX—currently set to premiere in the United States on December 20, 2019—will provide answers for fans’ nagging inquiries.

Overall, The Last Jedi was a high-quality film, but it simply had glaring flaws that made it difficult for me to fully enjoy the movie.  Sadly, Johnson did not give the exceptional actors a chance to shine due to limited character development; additionally, certain aspects of the movie only left me baffled.  With only a few changes, Johnson could have transformed The Last Jedi from being a mediocre movie to an outstanding one.  Likewise, I probably did not enjoy The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi due to my high expectations for both films.  A Star Wars movie that is the perfect balance of old and new is impossible to make; therefore, I and other fans unsatisfied with the movie need to appreciate what Disney has gifted to us.  It was my dream as a child to see more Star Wars films, and I received exactly for what I had wished.  Anyway, the movie will most likely grow on me with time.

Any Star Wars movie is definitely worth watching (yes, even the prequels).  However, if you did not enjoy The Force Awakens, be prepared for The Last Jedi to only disappoint you.  Perhaps Abrams will improve the quality of sequel trilogy with Episode IX, which Disney has currently set to premiere in the United States on December 20, 2019.

 

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