Star Wars The Last Jedi Review: All Hat and No Cattle

Here we are again at the release of yet another new Star Wars film – the 3rd in as many years. What follows will contain massive SPOILERS so if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi and don’t want to know what happens then you should probably read this after you do see it (unless you don’t care about spoilers).

Writer/Director Rian Johnson has given us another chapter in the Skywalker saga and with it he has brought the possibility of a great Star Wars film and not just another retread of what has come before (ala The Force Awakens). I have to say that while Johnson does deliver on bringing us something new and somewhat different he also falls in to the trappings of repeating certain themes, scenes, dialogue and ideas that we’ve seen before.
I was excited to see this movie. The trailers made it look very good and from everything I’ve seen, heard and read this really felt like it was going to be the Star Wars movie a lot of us fans have been waiting for. I felt the same way prior to seeing The Force Awakens as well and that turned out to be not so great.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

We all saw the Porgs and feared that we were in for another Ewok or Jar Jar Binks escapade, but surprisingly the Porgs were the least of this film’s problems. From silly plot points to corny one-liners and even some crummy CGI, The Last Jedi focuses too much on the past while trying to simultaneously destroy it – reflecting the film’s overall story arc for Rey and Kylo Ren.

This recurring theme in these new saga films about destroying the past and coming in to your own is what Kylo Ren focuses on in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. By first killing his father, Han Solo and now in The Last Jedi grappling with the urge to kill his mother, Leia Organa and his mentor, Luke Skywalker, Kylo wants to destroy his past, but moreso because he doesn’t want to face it and less because he’s trying to ascend to something greater. At one point Kylo pleads with Rey to help him destroy the Rebellion, the Sith, the Jedi and everything old so that the two of them can rule the galaxy together.
Sound familiar? It should as it’s similar to Darth Vader‘s plea to Luke to help him destroy the Emperor and rule the galaxy as father and son in The Empire Strikes Back.
In The Last Jedi that Empire scene is combined with the throne room scene from Return of the Jedi where the conflict of one character (Darth Vader) has now become the conflict of two characters (Rey and Kylo Ren). While the scene doesn’t play out quite as you expect, it lines up with the previous films so much that it makes me wonder why Johnson didn’t try something new instead of rehashing stuff we’ve already seen before in the Original Trilogy.

Critics and fans alike criticized this film from the start as mimicking The Empire Strikes Back the way The Force Awakens mimicked the original Star Wars. From Rey being trained on a mysterious planet by a lost Jedi Master to a battle on a white planet with AT-ATs, it seemed that we were possibly in for another reboot of another Original Trilogy film.
The Last Jedi doesn’t follow Empire exactly (nor did The Force Awakens follow the original Star Wars exactly) instead they both borrow from all 3 of the original films.
Some might see this as homage, while it feels more like a rip-off remake than something new and fresh that I think most Star Wars fans would like to see. Since the prequels this Skywalker saga has reflected its origins through repeated lines of dialogue, familiar settings, similar character arcs and actions and an overall focus on Anakin Skywalker and his son, Luke as well as the dynamic of The Force and it’s dichotomy of light VS dark. The Last Jedi is no different as it rehashes familiar phrases, imagery and plot lines from previous films all with the intent to connect the old with the new, even though the entire premise of this new trilogy is to destroy the past to make way for the future. It’s a bit confusing and I might consider it to be genius if it was actually done intentionally to make the audience feel as conflicted as Kylo Ren does, but like George Lucas before him, Rian Johnson’s callbacks are nothing more than touch stones to make Star Wars fans connect this new trilogy to the original so it feels like a Star Wars movie when in all reality it sort of isn’t.

J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson seem intent on killing off the old to make room for the new quite literally. In The Force Awakens Abrams kills off Han Solo while in The Last Jedi Johnson kills of Luke Skywalker. While it’s not surprising to see these older characters go, it just makes you wonder why Lucasfilm is so hell bent on killing them off entirely.
While both deaths fit in to the stories they happen in I can’t help but wonder why you have to kill them and not let them at the very least ride off in to the sunset at the end of the third film, even if they’re never to be heard from again. Since Carrie Fisher has left us before the filming of Episode IX, I do wonder how they are going to deal with her real-life passing in the Star Wars universe when Leia lives through The Last Jedi.
Admiral Ackbar even dies in this movie without a second thought, as if he was just another background character along with many other Rebels whom you have no attachment to making it feel similar to The Force Awakens when those five planets are destroyed by Starkiller Base but you have zero emotion about it because you don’t know who those people are. It’s like that.
I thought I even saw Greg Grunberg‘s character, Snap Wexley go out in the first five minutes with no recognition whatsoever. It may have just been a random pilot though. It’s hard to tell as the first 10 minutes of the movie are fast-paced and dizzying with cuts. It’s reminiscent of the opening to Revenge of the Jedi in a way and instead of easing in to The Last Jedi we’re thrust in to a huge battle sequence right out the gate. This is a bit jarring and leaves you feeling somewhat confused as to what is actually going on.

This sensation sticks with you for the remainder of the film.

So the plot is this, Rebel/Resistance ships escape their base just as The First Order finds them and brings in this giant Dreadnought Star Destroyer with giant laser cannons to blast them all to smithereens. Before they can do this Poe Dameron flies out in his X-Wing to meet them and stall for time. He destroys the turrets on the Dreadnought, evades TIE Fighters and insults General Hux with the first of many eye-rolling moments in the film that are an attempt to be humorous but just don’t seem to fit within the context of Star Wars.
Next they bring in these bomber ships to try and destroy the Dreadnought. All the bombers get destroyed save one which drops its payload only after a seemingly tense moment of a character we know nothing about trying to reach the remote control which will open the bomb doors and drop them on the Dreadnought.
It’s a scene that’s supposed to evoke tension, but honestly it just felt very drawn out thus losing said tension in the process.
So with the Dreadnought destroyed the remaining Rebels fly back to the main ship so they can jump in to Hyperspace and get away. We’re shown a rift between Poe and Leia here where he is impulsive in his actions which end up getting people killed whereas Leia is intent on schooling him about thinking first, even though later on she abandons this concept when they get chased by the First Order once again and she agrees to letting him go and fight impossible odds.

During this time Finn wakes up from his recovery pod and Poe finds him walking around aimlessly in some sort of liquid squirting hospital gown with only one question on his mind. Where’s Rey?
Now before we jump to Rey’s plot, let me fill you in on the absurdity of what happens next. The Rebels realize that they can be tracked through hyperspace. The First Order follows them but before they can jump away again they realize they’re running out of fuel and another jump would render them helpless since The First Order can simply follow them where ever they go.

So what do they do? They travel at sublight speeds just far enough ahead of the First Order destroyers to keep from getting destroyed.
What I found absurd about this is why the First Order couldn’t jump ahead of the ships, or at the very least have other ships jump to their location and destroy them. It was really one of the dumbest story elements in the movie. Why couldn’t the Rebels (or are they the Resistance still? It seemed confusing as they kept interchanging these titles) jump to an allied planet to get some help?
They simply stay “ahead” of the Star Destroyers so they’re “out of range”, which makes no sense really. And why are these Rebel ships able to out run Star Destroyers? In the original Empire they could keep up with the Millennium Falcon – I doubt the technology of Star Destroyer engines has decreased since then. So it seems really stupid that the entire plot of the first half of the movie is just the Rebels staying ahead of the First Order until they run out of fuel at which point they will catch up and destroy them. So now it’s a “beat the clock” movie.
It’s a really stupid premise and I couldn’t believe that Rian Johnson thought this was a good idea.

Meanwhile Kylo Ren goes before Snoke who belittles him and shames him and essentially calls him a silly child. He mocks him for wearing a helmet and tells him that he will never live up to be anything close to what his grandfather, Darth Vader was. This upsets Kylo of course and so he lashes out by destroying his helmet, thus leaving him helmet-less the rest of the film, showing off his scar that Rey gave to him in the first film. It’s a visual metaphor of course for Kylo, and I actually like him better without the helmet.
So Kylo goes out in his fighter to attack the Rebels and destroy them once and for all. During this attack Kylo blows up the main ship’s hangar bay, nearly killing Poe Dameron and BB-8.
Both survive of course but all the other pilots and the ships in the hangar are all gone. Kylo then circles around to attack the bridge and thus killing his mother, Leia. Like the trailer shows there is an inter-cut scene between the two where we assume they are somehow connecting via The Force and Kylo hesitates and ends up not firing. Instead the two TIE Fighters flying escort go ahead and fire torpedoes destroying the bridge, killing Ackbar, the bridge crew and sending Leia flying through space.
So now as an audience member we think, OK, that’s how they’re killing off Leia. Not the best death, but it makes sense. But then you see her dead body floating through space (intact and unscathed I might add) and suddenly she’s still alive and uses the Force to push herself towards the airlock. The scene was bizarre and I didn’t appreciate Johnson’s trickery in making us believe Leia was dead and then “bringing her back to life”. It also felt a little morbid considering Carrie Fisher died after filming the movie.

The whole thing sounds convoluted, doesn’t it? Well, it is and it’s very clunky story-telling. I didn’t care for any of the Rebel scenes. Alas it was only the beginning of what would go on to become one of the strangest Star Wars movies I’ve ever seen.

There are a lot of lines and jokes in this film that don’t really fit in to a Star Wars movie. Lines that come across as sounding ad-libbed by the actors and less like the characters they’re portraying. Now some might say that the original Star Wars was full of dialogue that used phrases and words relevant to the time period in which they were made, but they never really took me out of the movie like they did in The Last Jedi.
Luke’s comment to Kylo, “See you around, kid” felt like it belonged less in Star Wars and more in a Humphrey Bogart film. Rey’s comment to Kylo about “putting on a towel” was awkward and felt very out of character. I also found the phrase “God speed” spoken by Laura Dern’s character to be strange and out of place since God isn’t really something recognized in the Star Wars Universe.

When we do shift from the Rebels and their ridiculous plot line we’re taken to see what Luke finally says to Rey when she hands him his old lightsaber. He takes it from her, stares at it and then tosses it over his shoulder and walks away.
While I understand Rian is trying to do something different here the whole thing comes off a bit daft as the once Jedi hero seems to have become a bitter old man who has no desire to help his sister or anyone else for that matter and just wants to die alone.

It’s not what we expect from Luke and I can understand why Mark Hamill was against his character being portrayed in this manner. But, Luke eventually comes around and helps Rey and everyone and the crotchety old Jedi redeems himself – but not before running in to his old Jedi Master, Yoda who appears to Luke as a puppet rather than a CGI character. While I admire Johnson’s desire to “keep it old school” in this case, the Yoda puppet looked very strange and distracting. His behavior was also odd and overall I wish they hadn’t put him in the movie.

Also, Luke milking an alien for blue milk and drinking it fresh had to be one of the most bizarre and ridiculous things I have ever seen in a Star Wars movie.

Chewbacca doesn’t get very much screen time in this movie, nor does Artoo or Threepio. You really get the sense that they’re trying to phase out the older characters so they can push these new characters on the current generation of kids.
It’s fine, I get it, and honestly it doesn’t bother me that much. I just wish they could give a character like Chewbacca the same level of attention they give Luke and Leia. He deserves it.
Also most of his scenes were comic relief that involved Porgs. And while I enjoyed the Porg eating scene and the Millennium Falcon Porg infestation, it seemed that Chewie was more of an afterthought and the butt of jokes rather than being a vital part of the story.

Canto Bight was a terrible plot line and was just an excuse to have another “cantina-like” scene with lots of strange aliens and characters. Benicio Del Toro‘s character was somewhat interesting, but like Phasma, Admiral Holdo and even Snoke, he was ultimately a throwaway that served only to move the plot along without any real impact.

Also, the scene with Admiral Holdo staying behind to “drive the ship” was absurd. First of all the ship should have had an auto-pilot, or a droid could have stayed behind even – but then when they show her on the ship she’s just staring out the window. Everything Johnson did with the Rebels was honestly pretty stupid and every death was meaningless.

This also brings me to Snoke. His death made the character pointless. Here you have this new and mysterious character from The Force Awakens that everyone is trying to figure out and then in this movie you just kill him off and he’s gone. No backstory reveal, no real connection to the story other than being used as a plot device to move things forward – this insanely powerful Sith, who can Force flip General Hux from across the Galaxy can’t sense that the lightsaber next to him is being moved by Kylo Ren in to position to kill him? Really?
Yes it served the story but using characters as plot devices makes them pointless to the overall story as they become tools rather than people. They might as well be objects in the room. And speaking of objects, now Luke’s lightsaber – originally Anakin’s – is destroyed. After all of that fuss about it in The Force Awakens and much like Snoke it’s destroyed for no other reason than to move the plot along.

We also have a new character, Rose. She is the sister of the bomber who dies at the beginning of the film and you learn this because they both have the same necklace. She is introduced when Finn is trying to escape because he has a beacon that tells Rey where to find the Rebels and he wants to get as far away from the First Order as possible so Rey doesn’t come back in to this mess.
Subconsciously I think we were all feeling a bit like Finn in just wanting to leave this trainwreck, but Rose discovers his intent and stuns him after gushing over him as being a hero and suddenly realizing he’s seemingly just a coward.
While he’s technically not, Rose doesn’t give him time to explain before she renders him unconscious. Finn comes to as Rose is taking him to the brig. During this brief exchange they figure out how the First Order is tracking them and decide that they’ll have to board the Star Destroyer and deactivate the tracking device.
It’s very convoluted and while seems to add more depth to the film by going somewhere other than the 3 locations we’ve seen thus far in the movie, the premise behind them going is a bit weak. The scene with Maz Kanata was ridiculous as well. She tells them where to find a hacker who can get them on to the First Order ship during a fire fight of some kind and while it seems fun and whacky, it felt to me like another stupid plot device to move the story forward with little regard for good storytelling.
I also thought it was strange that Poe and Maz acted like good friends when Poe wasn’t even there when Han took Rey and Finn to meet her and we never see the two meet. It was an odd choice I thought.

The film continues on with ridiculous premises and throwaway scenes and characters that bloated the film. I don’t understand why this movie had to be over 2 hours when there was plenty they could have cut out that wouldn’t have affected the movie one way or the other.
And for some reason Rose has a ring with the Rebel insignia on it. She makes a point about talking about people all over the galaxy believing in the Rebels and what they stand for and we get a little back story about her and her sister coming from a horrible place and finding the Rebels to fight alongside and make the galaxy a better place.
So what I didn’t understand was the ring. Do you get a secret Rebel decoder ring when you join up? It seemed very hokey and was even hokier when the little boy they run in to is wearing it at the end of the movie.

Speaking of which, the last scene w/ the boy, the broom and the reveal of him as a Force user felt tacked on and I almost wonder if that boy is going to be a part of Rian Johnson’s next stand-alone trilogy of films.

Honestly there’s so much going on in this movie that it’s hard to cram it all in to a single review. The Rebels eventually make their way to a planet that happens to be near to where they’re flying in space. They escape to the surface to this abandoned Rebel base and we get a lot of Empire‘s Hoth Battle all over again.
Between Finn’s near suicide attack, the “crystal critters” and Luke’s “appearance” and subsequent “fight” with Kylo Ren, the whole thing gets very tiring and a bit ridiculous. The movie feels drawn out and I think Rian Johnson could have used another set of eyes on this script to make it better.

Meanwhile you have Rey and Kylo Ren who seem to be able to connect through The Force and can see each other and you can tell that Rey thinks she can turn him back to the good side. All the while Luke is trying to train her and while we get a more OT explanation for The Force rather than a midi-chlorian exposition, Rey’s training seems to be very short and ineffective over all. He teaches her 2 things I think and then she runs off to try and convince Kylo to convert to the good side.
Simultaneously we have a story arc about Ben Solo and Luke Skywalker and why he destroyed Luke’s Jedi Temple and we discover that Luke was going to kill Ben as he saw the dark side in him. We have two sides to the story and in Kylo’s version Luke was going to slaughter him in his sleep. In Luke’s version he explains that he had a moment of weakness and as soon as it came it was gone and that he felt horrible and that he failed as not only a Jedi Master but also as Ben’s Uncle.
Again, I understand Luke’s reluctance to Rian’s treatment of Luke overall, but at least he redeems himself in the end. I think fans (myself included) were wanting to see Luke face off against Snoke and/or Kylo in an all-out battle, but what we got was a trick. Why these modern filmmakers feel this need to trick the audience is beyond me. Maybe you should focus on telling a good story and then focus on misdirection rather than having the misdirection be the meat of your plot.

Vader telling Luke that he is his father did not detract from the story in Empire. If anything it made the characters more rich and interesting, but it never got in the way of the overall film. In The Last Jedi there are a couple “reveal” moments that really do get in the way and convolute the story. Specifically Luke’s “hologram” at the end. It’s a nice trick, but once you realize what’s going on it feels like you’ve been cheated and ultimately it makes you feel like a sucker and in the end you don’t get any kind of real confrontation between Luke and Ben. Instead you get some ridiculous Jedi mind-trick while Luke gets his wish and dies alone.
The other major “reveal” is Rey’s lineage. We’re teased through the movie by this and when Kylo finally tells her the truth (or is it?) it’s a bit of a let down. Suddenly this character everyone has been rooting for and been fascinated with becomes a nobody, and I feel like the audience loses interest in Rey now that it’s revealed that she was nothing more than an abandoned child on a backwater planet that nobody wanted.
But is this the real truth, or was Kylo merely manipulating Rey? I’m not sure to be honest, but I have a feeling J. J. might actually reveal that to be the case and Rey is in fact connected to the greater story.

Yes, there are a lot of problems with The Last Jedi – so you might ask what did I like about the film, and I will tell you that there are a few moments I did enjoy.

Some of the Porg scenes were actually funny, as were some of Rey’s scenes with the inhabitants of Luke’s island, although these scenes didn’t really feel like they belonged in a Star Wars movie. I did like Luke as the reluctant Master and I thought his character arc actually worked well for the film. I enjoyed Kylo Ren’s character and his struggle with who he wanted to be and his need to be accepted. I liked the connection he and Rey shared, even if it wasn’t 100% genuine. I liked that Rey’s parents were nobodies. That she has no connection to anyone we know. It fell in line with what Johnson was trying to say about the Force, and that anyone can really use it and feel it because it connects everything and so the Jedi and Sith are really moot at this point.
This was amplified at the end when the small boy from Canto Bight was revealed to be a Force user. While the concept is somewhat interesting and lets Force users be something other than Jedi or Sith, it does take away the entire dynamic of the saga by abandoning the core of the Star Wars Universe.
I also liked Luke and R2 reconnecting aboard the Falcon. The hologram projection of Leia seemed a bit much though.

Did Rian Johnson take risks and give us things we’ve never seen before? Absolutely. I’m just not sure he took the right risks and a lot of these things we’ve never seen before are probably because they don’t really belong in a Star Wars movie.

In closing I just want to reinforce that The Last Jedi just doesn’t feel like a Star Wars movie. Much in the same way that The Force Awakens didn’t either. The pacing is off, the comedy is too over the top and these writers and directors are putting stuff in that makes the movies too self-aware and takes you out of the Universe they’re trying to create.
Are there cool visuals? Sure! But as George Lucas once said, “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”

If I had to give The Last Jedi a rating on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being Attack of the Clones and 10 being The Empire Strikes Back) I’d give it a solid 6. While there were some cool moments, they were few and far in between and were sandwiched between ridiculous scenes, terrible jokes and pointless characters.

With a Han Solo stand-alone movie coming next May and the final saga film the year after, I’m not sure Star Wars’ future looks that bright to me at this point. If this is the direction things keep moving in I don’t think I’ll stay interested.

To borrow from the film itself, I feel like it’s time for Star Wars to end.

1 Comment

  1. But as George Lucas once said, “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” Thank you for that. So many these days have forgotten this piece of knowledge. And thank you for the honest review not the gushfest I saw from other places but not dripping with vitriol that I’ve seen from others. I would give it a 5.5/10 but I’m a little more critical. Like you I saw it as a half decent “Sci-fi” movie.. but not part of an epic saga film we’ve come to expect.

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