So, yeah, obligatory- SPOILERS!
Really, if you read this and complain, the only person you have to blame is yourself, and society. You’ve been warned.
So I went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi this Sunday, and my overall impression for the spoiler-phobic is this: it was amazing. Better than The Force Awakens. Better than any movie in the “prequels.” Better than Return of the Jedi. It’s that good. And I had managed to avoid all on-line conversation about it until today, when I went on-line, and in addition to the many positive reviews, I saw ... a lot of anger. A lot of hate. A lot of suffering. A lot of the dark side of Star Wars fandom.
So let me get this out of the way first- is this movie perfect? No. Of course not. But, and I will be gentle here, no Star Wars movie is. Did you love A New Hope? Well, then ... sit down for a second.
Luke’s whiny obnoxiousness and bad line readings weren’t a choice; it was an actual problem with the movie. I could keep going, but the basic point is that we all view certain things with an amount of nostalgia ... and if you don’t believe that, wait until you get into an argument with some young ‘un who will tell you why the prequels are better than those old, hokey Star Wars movies.
So, yeah, this movie wasn’t perfect. To start with, it’s really, really hard to make the second movie in a planned three-part trilogy. We all loved The Empire Strikes Back, but the primary reasons are because of the epic reveal (Darth Vader is Luke’s father ... what, too soon?), because it was shockingly mature and dark, and because George Lucas let someone else (Kershner/Kasdan) put a stamp on the movie. Also? Because we know what happened next (Return of the Jedi).
But this movie’s problems can be summed up very simply; SuperLeia flying in space. In an otherwise excellent movie (IMO), that one scene made me go .... oh ... not so great. Because other than that, the movie did an amazing job in these aspects-
1. Carrie Fisher. Okay, put aside SuperLeia. Here’s the thing; the audience knows what happened in real life. The people that made the movie knows that the audience knows. For a decent portion of the fan base, that knowledge is hanging over their heads; the interplay between real life mortality and what we are seeing on screen (other than SuperLeia) was artfully done in subtext, without overwhelming the film as fan service.
2. Ren/Rey. There are a lot of very good performances in this film, but the core relationship, between Kylo Ren and Rey; wow. Star Wars has had a habit of taking great actors and making them seem mediocre (Ewan McGregor) or taking, um, actors and making them seem terrible (Hayden Christensen). I cannot say enough good things about how this movie developed and deepened this core relationship.
3. Supporting Characters. From Rose to Holdo to Hux, the film is filled with great characters, fully realized. Some people complain about DJ (played by Benicio del Toro), but he did a good job with the role; it’s not his fault that, strangely enough for a Star Wars film, there were just too many other good characters, and it wasn’t just an opportunity for Samuel L. Jackson to get a purple lightsaber.
4. Subverting expectations and fan service. The film played with expectations, sometimes matching them, sometimes subverting them. The two best examples are probably when Rey and Ren meet Snoke, which is just like Luke and Vader meeting the Emperor, until it isn’t, and the final battle, which masterfully elicits the sense of the first battle on Hoth in Empire while still upending the expectations (it’s salt) ... which leads to ...
5. Cinematography. It’s a beautiful film. The final battle, with the white cover of salt on the red ground, is a masterpiece. The FTL explosion (you know what I am talking about) was breathtaking. Even the shots on the island were just gorgeous.
6. Humor. There is a lot of genuine humor in this film. I understand that it might have gone a little overboard for some people (cut to reaction shots of porgs in the Millennium Falcon), but it’s not like we are discussing Thor: Ragnarok.
7. Set pieces. I have met people who defend the prequel based solely on the battle with Darth Maul. Well, they are wrong. That said, good battles are awesome. And while this is filled with a lot of good battles (in addition to the fine character work), the Ren/Rey/Snoke/Praetorian Guard sequence is, IMO, the best fight sequence yet in any Star Wars film.
Everyone will have different opinions. Maybe some people will hate this film because, hey, they posted a 30,000 word essay on who Rey’s parents are, and they don’t like the answer this film provides. Others might find the whole FTL attack by Holdo to strain credulity (I have to admit, I have some questions ....). But this movie gave me ... ahem .... a new hope for the franchise. The Force Awakens was cool and all, but it was also SAFE. I know that they needed safe after the prequels, but it was just ANH with lens flares (hardly an original observation). This movie is many things, most good, some not so good, but at least it isn’t safe.