The greatest film franchise of all time produces yet another hit
Star Wars has proven time and again that it is the greatest movie franchise ever conceived. It combines the magical wonder of Harry Potter with the stoic philosophy and wisdom of Lord of the Rings, wrapped up in an epic space opera the likes of which Star Trek can’t quite compare to. Episode 8, The Last Jedi, is no exception. The moment you see those iconic words “A long time ago in a Galaxy far, far away…” and you hear that John Williams score, you begin to drink from the proverbial fountain of youth because for the next two and a half hours or so, regardless of your age, you are once again or for the first an awestruck kid reveling in childlike wonder at cinema’s most fantastic saga. This film isn’t perfect nor is it the best in the series, but it’s refreshing, beautiful and great in so many ways.
First and foremost, Rian Johnson who directed this film did a great job. Stepping in to direct a work like Star Wars is by no means an easy feat. Fans of this series are about as passionate as you can find anywhere. While J.J Abrams is the mastermind behind the latest trilogy, Johnson has only the second film to take on. Regardless, he did a great job. He manages to provide brilliant and beautiful shots while still making sure the actors performed and each scene was watchable for more reasons than just the visuals. Far too often in this day and age are directors too heavy handed on providing beautiful visuals and not enough content, such as in Blade Runner: 2049 from earlier this year. Johnson was also tasked with writing the screenplay for the film which was also good. However, as many have pointed out in Episode 7, that film followed a structure very similar to Episode 4. This film is not too different in that the first half of the film is essentially Episode 5, but it does enough to differentiate itself in the second half. Johnson does excel in both his directing and writing at one thing: keeping the audience guessing. After seeing the original trilogy more times than I should admit I thought I would be able to figure out where it would go, but the story and the focus of the film was unique and unguessable. While most scenes were unpredictable, some things were visible from a million miles away. Another great thing Johnson does is that his story incorporates far more characters than just the main squad as all other Star Wars films have and it comes off pretty well for the most part. In fact, the opening sequence alone, which utilizes only a few of the main characters, proves to be better than the entirety of last year’s Star Wars film Rogue One. There are only a few points where you realize if you spend too much time away from the main squad that this film sort of feels a bit like Rogue One, and by that I mean boring.
Johnson’s work was by no means perfect. One mark against him is the editing or the way the film was cobbled together. You’ll find that far too often during this film you’re jumping between one of the three plot lines going on concurrently in the film and this only serves to break tension. Sometimes you’ll be so incredibly wrapped up in a scene and will be dying to know what happens next, but then you jump to another scene and stop caring about the previous one. On and on you go in this carousel until you go into each scene with muted excitement rather than edge of your seat tension. Part of it is due to the way the film is put together, but part is due to the way the film is written as well. In addition to that, the film sort of takes a page out of the Marvel playbook, another Disney franchise, in that it incorporates a lot more comedy than usual. Star Wars rarely ever incorporates much comedy and it’s often during the rare down times. However, because this film sports very little downtime, the comedy comes at tense moments and is at times less of a welcome relief and more of a badly timed sketch. It’s like telling a good joke at a funeral. It was in bad taste. It’s a real shame because many of the jokes are far funnier than any parodies you’d find elsewhere such as SNL. In addition to that, because of these comedic changes, General Hux has essentially been reduced to a cartoon villain that is easily fooled and incapable of leading. Another knock against the film is that the film sports two plot lines which soon becomes three, however, only the main plot is of any real interest while the other two get way too much screen time for the lack of comparably amazing content it provides. The weaker subplots are only compounded because the characters are written a bit poorly at times and lack the wonder and genuine watchable quality they did in episode 7. Save for Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac’s characters, you’ll see a step down in quality of character writing. With that said, the main plot was quite amazing and in any other context, the other two subplots would be good on their own.
The real amazing thing about this film is that it compliments Episode 7 really well when you consider the screen time each character gets. In Episode 7, Rey and Finn occupy a majority of the film’s story, with Kylo Ren, Chewbacca, Poe and Leia popping in here and there. However, this film largely focuses on Kylo Ren, Luke, Leia, Poe, and Chewbacca while putting Rey and Finn on the back burner. Episode 7 was in many ways Rey’s story. Episode 8 is in many ways Kylo Ren and Luke’s story. The balance is great and while you might not be able to appreciate it now when you begin binge-watching the series all over again in the years to come, you’ll see how great it is.
The performances throughout the film were relatively strong. Carrie Fisher really does go out with a bang in possibly her most exciting role yet. On top of that, Oscar Isaac really comes into his own and delivers a killer performance that makes him a standout in this film. John Boyega and Daisy Ridley were amazing knockouts in the last film but have lost a step in this one. Finn was great for the most part but lacked a lot of the subtle charm he did in Episode 7, but this is mostly due to the way his character was written. Daisy was good for the most part but also sort of hit or miss at times. She seemingly has lost the wonder and amazing depth her character once had and is instead a 2-D copy of a young Luke Skywalker, but this could also be due to the way her character was written as well. Either way, those two didn’t shine as brightly as they did in Episode 7. Domhnall Gleeson can join them in not outdoing their previous performance, but for him, the reason was definitely because his character was poorly written for. He certainly went steps beyond to make his character appear and sound more villainous and for that, he should be given credit.
By far, the biggest knockout was Adam Driver who has proven time and again that pretty much regardless of the quality of the script that he can pull more out of a character than any other actor in Hollywood today bar none. He is everything Anakin Skywalker was meant to be. The ultimate Jedi with great untapped potential who is drawn to the dark side. However, unlike Hayden Christensen’s character from the prequel, Driver is incredibly relatable in every way. His anguish is visible in the most telling of ways and the incredibly difficult dichotomy he has to play as one who is in between a true Jedi and a true Sith comes off at an Oscar-worthy level. While most average actors would come off as indifferent, Driver truly looks like his very soul is splitting apart at the seams and he can’t decide which he wants to be. Johnson might have been a bit weak in the character development department for much of the cast, but here he was good enough to give Driver a role to really sink his teeth into. What makes a great villain, or a great character in general, is not solely based on how good or evil they are, but on how gray his morals are and how relatable his path is. Everyone watching the film will see his story and begin to truly feel for Kylo Ren. After Episode 7, I fell in love with Rey’s character and everything she stood for. After this film, I fell in love with Kylo Ren and saw myself in that character who above all is like us, imperfect.
At the end of the day, this is a good Star Wars movie and to be a good Star Wars movie is to be a legendary movie in any other context. If there was ever a must watch film of the year, this is certainly it. Do yourself a favor and check out the best experience you’ll have in a theater this year and probably next year as well.