First thing’s first: I’ll mark where spoilers begin, so don’t panic about seeing something you shouldn’t.
The best way I can think to open this review is to say that I absolutely loved it. It might even be my favourite Star Wars film to date, possibly just eked out by Empire and Rogue One. I loved that it managed to remain dark, solemn, and heavy, while still bringing in the Disney-eque quippiness and slapstick to lighten things up. We got answers to questions that have been burning since the first trailers dropped for The Force Awakens. Characters felt a lot more real than they have in previous instalments in the franchise, and they had a bit more meat to them overall. I care so much more about understanding Kylo Ren’s fall to the dark side than I did Anakin’s. However, I know for a fact that the comedy bits are going to be the point of contention for the die-hard Star Wars purists that don’t want to see any inkling of humanity in these characters. Well, that and the Porgs.
This is not to say I don’t think the film had its weak points. Much of the plot revolves around a series of contrivances to get everyone in the right place at the right time, and there’s a fair few instances of deus ex machina to push things along. And I know that the standard argument here is “it’s the Force”, but there has to come a point where we say no.
If you’re reading this and haven’t watched the film yet, then I’d suggest you stop here and go watch the film. Why? Because it’s a spectacular film, but also because there are SPOILERS AHEAD. That’s right, there are SPOILERS AHEAD.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that we have four overall plots in the movie. We have the A plot: Rey training with Luke. The B plot: The Resistance fleeing the First Order. The C plot: Finn and Rose searching for a codebreaker. The D plot: Kylo and his relationship with Snoke. As we get further into the film, naturally these plots intertwine, but I figure this is the best way to discuss things at length. I’ll point out here that I understand what people are talking about when they talk about this film being indicative of the politicisation of Star Wars, but where the argument falls flat is that while the First Order are the “patriarchal” bad guys, and the Resistance the “matriarchal” bad guys, by any metric the patriarchy wins out in the end. Sure, there’s a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel, but the argument just doesn’t hold water.
Plot A – Rey and Luke
Luke is, as we established in the last film, living as a hermit on an old Jedi island on a planet in the armpit of nowhere. We get a great bit where he chucks the lightsaber over his shoulder and carries on as though Rey weren’t there, followed by her trying desperately to make him train her while he collects his day’s food. The milk scene was, I’ll grant you, really weird. Luke on the whole does a good job of basically being Yoda from Empire, except he’s way more of an asshole about it. Now I know that Mark Hamill has come out and said that this isn’t “his Luke”, but frankly that’s not his call. It’s different, but characters grow and change, and Luke has grown to be more grissled and frankly, depressed. He’s not going to respond to a call to action because he doesn’t see himself as a hero anymore. That’s just how it is.
Rey starts experiencing a force bond with Kylo comparable to the natural one between Luke and Leia (more on that later), which has a fairly substantial impact on her relationship with Luke. Luke lies about the whole deal with Kylo wiping out the Jedi temple, and eventually comes clean after she calls him out on it. Turns out that although it was just for a moment, Luke was good to straight up murder Ben Solo in his bed, and Ben didn’t take that lying down (Ha. Ha. Ha.). There’s also a subplot where Luke is understandably concerned that because Rey’s so brash and willing to “have a look” at the dark side area on the island, that she’s as susceptible to the dark side as Kylo was, and he also mentions that her strength and Kylo’s are comparable.
Rey loses it with Luke, they fight a little, Rey pointedly not giving in to the moment and attacking Luke with her lightsaber when she has the opportunity (though let’s just quietly agree how silly it is that even an out of shape Luke loses to Rey). Soon after she leaves with a plan to redeem Ben Solo. Before all this went down, we got a great moment where Chewie finds himself unable to eat one of the local Porgs that he’s already killed, de-feathered, and cooked, because they’re just so darned cute. But, y’know, since it’s already dead and cooked, that’s kind of wasteful– isn’t that worse? Always happy to see more of Chewie, so no complaints here (from me, at least).
After Rey leaves Luke decides to burn down the tree with the Jedi texts in it, and Force-ghost Yoda turns up to point out what a fruitless gesture this would be (it’s strongly implied Rey already either embodies everything a Jedi should be, or has stolen the texts). When Luke is adamant this is what he wants to do, Yoda CALLS DOWN LIGHTNING FROM THE SKY and burns the tree to ash. Awesome moment from Yoda, but it does raise the question of exactly what level of power we’re talking about here when it comes to what a Force-ghost can actually do. This will be another bit that splits the fanbase, I would imagine.
This was the best part of the plot for me. I cared what happened to the Resistance of course, but it was Luke and Rey’s relationship I really wanted to be fleshed out properly, and the film did not disappoint.
I’ll continue the Rey discussion in the Kylo/Snoke section.
Plot B – The Resistance
Poe starts us off by murdering a Dreadnought with the help of Rose’s sister (more on Rose below). Because of the heavy losses, Leia demotes him. Poe is great, because he’s the Han Solo of this trilogy, except he’s not morally grey at all. He’s totally on the good guy’s side, he just doesn’t like being stopped from doing his job without a good reason. He’s reckless. Hence the demotion.
It turns out that the First Order are somehow able to track the ships through lightspeed, which means that the Resistance aren’t going to be given any time to refuel, and are going to have to think on their feet and against a time limit. This is a neat idea, but immediately resolvable. Split the crew amongst your remaining three large ships, and jump in three different directions. Worst case scenario, the Resistance loses a third of its people, as opposed to… well, we’ll get to that.
During the escape attempt, Leia is seriously injured, and is replaced as leader of the Resistance by Holdo while she recovers. However, this is where one of my largest annoyances of the movie comes from: Leia should be dead. It’s never been established within the existing continuity that even the most skilled Jedi can survive in the vacuum of space, and Leia herself has had no formal training, yet manages to Force pull herself back into the ship to safety after being unconscious for several seconds. It felt wrong, it felt forced (no pun intended, but take it for what it is), and I legitimately hated it.
This doesn’t come up until much later, but Holdo’s plan is to get the remaining Resistance personnel to an old Rebel base where they can call for more substantial help. In this Holdo is, no question, an epicly shitty commander. Knowing Poe’s reputation for acting out, the solution would have been to inform him of the plan, at which point there would have been no need to send out Finn and Rose on their mission of stupid, and he’d have played ball. As it stands, she plays the part of the suddenly power-crazy lady who’s in over her head, berates Poe (which he takes as well as one might expect), and sows the seeds of mutiny right off the bat.
As the events of Plot C come to a close, Holdo waits to go down with the ship. She sits and watches as the vast majority of the Resistance transports are blown to bits, and then it’s as though she suddenly remembers she has a role to play, manoeuvres the ship, and jumps to light speed. Now, I don’t want to discount how amazing this moment was. She kamikaze-railgunned clean through Snoke’s ship, shearing it clean in two. But it raises four very important questions: 1) Once she realised the transports were being fired upon, why didn’t she move the ship into position to block the attack? 2) Why did she wait until almost all of the transports had been destroyed before even turning the ship around? 3) Why is this the first time we’re seeing this as an attack method– it would have come in really handy against a pair of Death Stars and Starkiller Base? 4) Autopilot?
The character of Holdo was not a hero. She was an idiot. This is the part of the plot that’s riddled with holes for me, and there’s way more to come.
Plot C – Finn and Rose
Here we have the mandatory infiltrate-the-enemy-stronghold-to-destroy-it-from-the-inside part of the film. New girl Rose stuns Finn trying to leave and find Rey, thinking that he’s deserting, which he technicallycan’t do since he’s not really one of them in the first place. This is after kissing his ass for a bit regarding his actions in the previous film. Eventually they get down to it and discuss the situation at hand. She realises how the First Order are tracking the ship, and after a chat with Poe and Maz, they set off to find themselves a codebreaker.
They attract attention right away upon landing, and quickly wind up in jail. I’ve been glossing over how brilliant BB-8 has been so far in the film, but I feel I should clarify, he has been and continues to be throughout this segment. They meet a different codebreaker than the one they were told to speak to, and after a great looking mounted scene trashing the casino city run by war profiteers, they board a ship that “DJ” and BB-8 have stolen, and head off back to Snoke’s ship.
Here, DJ betrays the pair at the first opportunity, handing them over for a barrel of cash. Somehow he also knew Holdo’s plan, which is a bit of a stretch, but I’ll take evil-Lando at face value. He goes a step further than his original trilogy expy however; he causes Resistance deaths on a catastrophic scale. I found myself getting seriously irritated at the idea of him being redeemed and joining up with the Resistance, and was super happy when the film did not go down that road. He’ll be back next film, for sure.
Just before the lightspeed railgun attack, Finn and Rose’s execution is interrupted by BB-8 atop an AT-AT walker. And it’s wonderful. This sets up a solidly okay fight between Finn and Phasma (I’m reeeeeally not feeling the hype with Phasma. Kind of like Boba Fett.). Phasma probably dies, but also almost definitely does not. The railgun hits, then Rose, Finn, and BB-8, WHO HAVE ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING, escape to join the transports landing on Crait.
This entire plot could only possibly have been put into the film to bulk out the runtime. Consider for a moment that all this accomplishes in the end is getting Finn and Rose onto Snoke’s ship so that Finn can fight Phasma. I didn’t really care for Rose as a character, and I thought the entire relationship with Finn, especially given the nature of their first meeting, was exceptionally forced.
Plot D – Kylo and Snoke
Kylo getting relentlessly picked on my Snoke is hilarious, and the outbursts from Kylo as a result are particularly character building. Whereas his violent strops in the first film felt very un-Star Wars, they seemed to make more sense here. Perhaps because we know the character better. Kylo has the oppurunity to kill his mother, finishing what he set in motion in the first film by killing Han, but he stops himself at the last minute. She still gets blasted into space though; imagine deciding you don’t want to kill someone, and then their bridge gets blown up anyway by your wingmen! So he’s in full-blown emotional turmoil here; very much dark side territory.
Snoke has the idea of creating a force bond between Kylo and Rey (a move ripped right from the now non-canon Knights of the Old Republic 2) with the end game of having both of the most powerful manifestations of the Force under his thumb. This force bond is the driving point of the Rey-Kylo dynamic, and a big part of Rey’s appearing to dip into darkness early on, and very much the reason that Kylo does the opposite, at least for a while. The best scene of the film in terms of both visuals and plot is the throne room segment. Rey gets clipped in the back of the head with her lightsaber hilt (probably the most laugh-out-loud funny moment in the film), and then proceeds to be force-tortured while Snoke insists that he knows what they’re both thinking, and that Kylo would never betray him.
I was fairly sure that was the case as well, but ever the contrarian, Kylo activates the lightsaber Snoke has on his chair and cuts him to ribbons. I was genuinely shocked to see this happen, not least because we didn’t have anything in the way of backstory for this guy. But then you get to thinking– do we need it? What follows is a solid no-holds-barred beatdown where Rey and Kylo wipe out all of Snoke’s guards in a brilliant fight scene. Of course after talking Rey realises that Kylo won’t be turned, and Kylo realised Rey won’t join him. The potential confrontation is stopped when the hyperspace railgun chops the ship in two causing Kylo to be knocked out cold.
The remnants of the Resistance make it to their last bastion, immediately followed by the significantly larger First Order forces. The First Order pulls out a death star cross battering ram to bring down the door, and the Resistance response is to send the handful of skimmers they have to bring the weapon down. The upshot is that they fail because Rose didn’t want Finn to die. She slams him out of the way just as the laser gets done charging. This was a really powerful scene where we see the Resistance literally piloting scrap in a last ditch attempt at survival, and it was utterly ruined by the forced relationship of Finn and Rose (topped with a kiss because of course).
Luke arrives, has a jokey moment with Leia followed by a serious moment with Leia, followed by going outside and tanking a few hundred blaster bolts that leave a crater in the salt flats, with him unharmed in the middle of the carnage. Rather than try again, Kylo hops down and stars trying to cut him to bits (he’s done in one master today, why not make it two?). Luke dodges for a bit, and then seemingly gets chopped clean in half, except he’s completely unharmed! Surprise, it was a force projection, and not quite the deus ex machina people are claiming it to be, as Snoke was shown to have the same ability. This delay gives Rey enough time to clear the rocks sealing up the back entrance and get everybody on the Falcon and escape. Meanwhile, back on his island, Luke dies of exhaustion after using his projection power. Which, to be fair, is a little on the weak side. It’s not established why Snoke was able to do this kind of thing without biting the dust, but Luke finds himself joining Yoda as a force ghost.
Whereas The Force Awakens could very much be considered a rehash of A New Hope, The Last Jedi is a combination of both The Empire Strikes back and Return of the Jedi, plus a good chunk of new ideas for good measure. Overall it makes good use of its time, but the entire Rose/Finn subplot could have been axed with exactly zero detriment to the film. A mistake was made in not killing off Leia when they had the chance, as now they have to do it between films.
My complaints are minimal to say the least. It was a spectacular film, and one of the very best that the Star Wars franchise has ever put out.
There isn’t a release date up at the time of writing, but the DVD/Blu-ray can be ordered here: The Last Jedi