A few years ago, in a galaxy far, far, away… J.J. Abrams rekindled a franchise that had been killed by CGI, hollow-characters, horrible acting, and plots about politics. Against all odds, ‘The Force Awakens’ was a smash-hit. It’s Star Wars, it was going to kill at the box office even if it SUCKED. But it didn’t and introduced us to new friends, new heroes, and brought back the ones that we loved and had action figures of. That film left us on a mysterious island, ending by showing us an old man; Luke Skywalker - the famed Jedi knight who was now only a shell of his former self.
Good news is that director Rian Johnson has created a solid Star Wars movie. A few hiccups here and there but overall pretty solid. I got teary eyed when Luke Skywalker sees R2-D2 again, and of course the fact that Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) is no longer with us made parts of the film bittersweet. Overall, it seems as if the gripes I had with ‘The Force Awakens’ had all been bandaged. “Emo” (Kylo) Ren (Adam Driver) had less lines this time around so less of him sulking and being overly emotional, comedically smashing things and being really over the top with his Force powers. It is still there, but there is much, much, less of it. But where they fixed some things, and fixed a few problems, they made a whole slew of new ones.
Throughout the ‘Star Wars’ movies (the prequels are dead to me) we get significant character development. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), for example, had a full character arc throughout the films going from a ‘scoundrel’ and ‘fly boy’ to becoming a general and caring less about himself and more about the growth of the Rebel Alliance. In this new Star Wars trilogy, we really just get shells of characters that don’t really change over the course of, at least, these two films. It seemed as if every time we cut to General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) he is just shouting: “Die, Die, Die!” What I’m saying is that it takes a really good actor to sell a one note character. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is also an excellent example of this. I was hoping that we would get to know more about him, he has his own Marvel comic book series, that I guess they explore his character more there that they feel they don’t have to do it in the movie. It seems as if his whole purpose, and they even make fun of it at one point, is to make hairbrained decisions and blow stuff up. It is a major change from the competent pilot and leader he was in ‘The Force Awakens.’ Oscar Isaac is such a good actor he could carry his own Star Wars film, but instead they relegate him to this hacky comic relief. Also that potential ambiguity for having Poe Dameron be the first major LGBTQ character in the Star Wars universe is gone - which I found to be a letdown and I think it detracts from the layers of the Star Wars Universe as a whole.
One of the things that stand out in this film’s detriment is the celebrity cameos. If I am supposed to believe that we are in a galaxy, far, far, away - and then sitting there is Justin Theroux, this big name Hollywood actor, the 4th wall is broken a little bit. I get that people are fans of Star Wars and want to be in the film even if they are not getting paid. But they handled this well in ‘The Force Awakens,’ if you want to be in a Star Wars movie and you’re famous, throw on a Stormtrooper uniform.
As much as ‘The Force Awakens’ got us away from overuse of CGI like they used in the prequels, ‘The Last Jedi’ throws us right back in. Taking us to a planet that is almost entirely a Star Wars CGI version of ‘Monaco.’ Where again, they try to recreate the organic magic of the cantina scene in ‘A New Hope.’ But the overuse of CGI again really takes away from the immersiveness of the film, instead we are watching, essentially, a cartoon. It doesn’t do much for the movie’s plot either and really causes the movie to drag. Clocking it at 152 minutes, ‘The Last Jedi,’ is really long and cutting this scene down significantly would have really helped the pacing of the film. It sets up nicely, what might be the best ending ever in the Star Wars universe, but it could have been about twenty minutes shorter. This CGI planet scene carries with it the really heavy handed political messages of colonialism, war profiteering, and animal cruelty. This is Star Wars, not some Fox Searchlight film, there is no need for political undertones. I thought a Star Wars movie was supposed to be fun?! Wasn’t Princess Leia a slave? Hello? Nobody cared then. We get that the First Order is bad. Nobody explained that the Empire was bad in the originals or where they got the money to make weapons. Nobody cared, they were bad because they were bad - good/bad, light/dark, heroes/villians. The audience gets it, it doesn’t need to be spelled out and put on some big neon CGI sign.
As exciting as it was to see Mark Hamill reprise the role of Luke Skywalker, I couldn’t help thinking how incredibly creepy he was as he would just loiter in the dark or standing over people while they slept; constantly touching things with his metal hand. Luke Skywalker is pretty much the only role Mark Hamill has played where he is a hero - everything else he plays a creepy villain. Maybe he’s just been playing creepy villains so long, he’s just going from muscle memory on this one. Plus, doesn’t he have the most elaborate way of getting food? WTF?
These are gripes in what is a largely entertaining movie. ‘The Last Jedi’ has some really cool moments and really awesome highlights that I really, really enjoyed. The universe is expanded quite a bit, we get some interesting new characters, and we get some new uses of Force powers never before seen on the big screen. Overall, this movie is very awesome! Star Wars is just embedded in the heart of so many people, that when I see this hammy CGI and get Vietnam flashbacks of the prequels, I have to say a quiet prayer to myself: “Please Satan, don’t let them mess this up.”