If there’s one perfect word to describe The Last Jedi, it’s divisive. More than any other entry in the saga, people squabbled about whether The Last Jedi was a good movie or not. Whether it saved or ruined Star Wars. I tended to ignore the bulk of those who sided against it, because quite often their arguments were more focused on the gender and racial diversity of the cast than anything. However, a lot of sane individuals also brought up perfectly legitimate reasons why this film fell flat. I had a great time watching it upon it theatrical release, and today’s revisit… Made me think a lot about it.
I not going to downplay it: I still think The Last Jedi is a fine film. It’s not one of the best Star Warses, but it didn’t bore me, and that’s really all that I ask. I also think that it deserves commendation for working so hard to follow up The Force Awakens‘ constant homage with a complete deconstruction of what you would expect from the sequel. And of course, that’s something that people really seemed to hate about it, too.
I, however, am a huge fan of when media takes tropes and turns them on their ears. I very much enjoy when a storyteller completely subverts my expectations. It must be said that tropes exist for a reason, though. They’re the things that people have come to love, and expect, and make them feel comfortable. So it’s a bit of a gamble, but I think that The Last Jedi succeeds on all the majors fronts. Those fronts being the entire arcs of Kylo Ren, Rey, and Luke Skywalker. While there’s more going on in the background, these three and the relationships between them are unquestionably the focus of the film. Everything else happens to serve that purpose.
Except for Finn and Rose’s little side-quest. That was entirely pointless, outside of giving Finn something to do. He was more or less the main character of The Force Awakens, after all, so they couldn’t just drop him after Poe got promoted to Actual Character. It’s a shame that the only way to incorporate him back in was to pad out the run time with a caper that accomplished nothing in terms of moving the plot forward or developing any pre-existing characters.
I could go over the plot and point out all of the ways it diverges from expectations in meaningful ways, but then… I’d basically just be retelling the whole story. What you need to know is that The Last Jedi has a very similar frame to The Empire Strikes Back, except that when you’re expecting it to zig, it… does something else. Not even a zag, all the time. Sometimes it’s something entirely different. But these moments always surprised me, and I think that they do all pay off, though some more than others. The Resistance flees from an attack on their base, but are unsuccessful in escaping the pursuing First Order. Rey learns about the Force, but isn’t beholden to the rules of the Jedi. Luke doesn’t want to train her because he’s lost his confidence in basically everything, but mostly his own ability. Kylo reigns in his conflicted emotions to murder his master and usurp control over the First Order. It’s a wild ride, and while it’s not quite as exciting once you’re already seen it and know these twists are coming, I still appreciated them all the same.
Another thing I want to touch on briefly is that this film is an absolute feast for the eyes. Not so much because of the special effects, but rather that many shots use colour and framing exceptionally, making them pop like no other visuals in the saga.
And for good measure, here are two things I really didn’t like: The first is when Leia used the Force to escape the cold embrace of death due to exposure to space. I dunno, it just seemed… forced. Also, I take issue with Rey having full make-up in each and every scene. I know that she’s like the only pretty, young white girl in the film, but it doesn’t make any Goddamn sense. She was a scavenger on a giant ball of sand for her whole life, who could barely afford half a muffin; I can’t imagine that she had ever bought make-up before, nevermind learned how to apply it properly. But some expectations just cannot be subverted.
On to the ranking! The Last Jedi, I think, belongs a few rungs down, placing right above the prequel trilogy. While I did really enjoy watching it, it does tend to meander a bit, and not in an meaningful way. It’s tough to say whether I prefer The Last Jedi or Return of the Jedi, but I’d have to give the edge to Return of the Jedi, because it’s just a tighter package overall. If you don’t hate the Ewoks, there isn’t a single shot wasted in that film. You could probably cut twenty minutes to half an hour out of The Last Jedi and not lose anything of value. Though I suppose that Kelly Marie Tran and Benicio del Toro would, because I’d basically remove them entirely. Whoops!