Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi
Tea: The Salty Tears of “Hardcore Fans”
How fast two years pass. It is time to return to a galaxy far far away with Episode VIII The Last Jedi, a surely foreboding title. Rest assured, there will be no spoilers in the following review, though you can already get yourselves ready for a Kylo Ren character article, since he continues to be my favourite part of the new trilogy. That being said, let’s talk about the actual movie first and what worked and what didn’t. And I can already tell that “hardcore” Star Wars fans will hate and despise this movie, simply because it does away with a lot of the stupid Star Wars traditions these people expect and crave, and that is what I loved the movie for.
To my great surprise, there is no time skip between the last movie and this one. We pick up right where we left off with Rey visiting Luke, Finn being in a coma, Kylo Ren still scared from the battle on Starkiller Base and Poe being a generally enjoyable character. These are the main story threads that unfold and intertwine later on. Finn’s is probably the weakest story thread of them all, simply because every instance feels far too long. Him being paired with a new character was not a bad choice, but his arc-bits always take a bit too long to unfold. Poe’s arc has the opposite problem, he goes through his development too fast and it all wraps up quickly when it could have used five to ten more minutes of elaborating. Rey’s part is twofold: All the stuff later on and when it focuses on Luke rather than her is execute quite competently, but the real problem is just her lack of character. Which does not mean that Daisy Ridley is not acting phenomenally, because she does, you can tell her growth as an actress, but she has little to nothing to work with. Rey has no strong inner conflict, no motivation, no hardships to overcome. It follows the same trajectory as The Force Awakens. Things are just handed to her without any struggle. She never evolves like any other character which is a shame for such an important leading role. Do not get me wrong, her character is not the same by the end of the movie, at least in a technical sense, but she never changes based on choices, events, tragedies etc. Her character changes because it has to change, not because it is organic in any way.
– “Go away, I am not buying anything.” –
Which brings me to the final character: Kylo Ren. Oh boy, my love for this character is well documented, but what can I say, he is just a compelling character. Whatever all the other arcs missed in time spent, pacing, or characterisation is spot on in Ren’s arc. In the process, we get a lot of answers, such as why he burned down the Jedi temple, why he lost to Rey in The Force Awakens, and – I cannot believe this is actually in the movie – we get a reference, a pretty long one even, to that Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base skit and it actually kind of works within the movie as well as a reference. I do not want to spoil anything about Ren’s story, so I will just leave it at: I loved it. Hux played by Domhnall Gleeson was a blast to watch and I could tell he had a blast acting the part. He is the perfect over-the-top galactic Nazi and I love how they treat him that way throughout the film. His ridiculously overlord-like demeanour is constantly undercut by someone taking the piss out of him. It finally moves away from this fetishization of Nazi-esque imagery in Star Wars to a strong political statement against such fascist aesthetics. The other actors were all quite serviceable as well, Carrie Fisher was, of course, a big focus of the movie and while she certainly did a great job, I do not see the stand-out performance everybody else saw. Then again, I never thought Carrie Fisher was that great an actress to begin with, but you cannot make critical comments about a deceased actor apparently. Andy Serkis is quite good as Snoke and without spoiling anything: I loved what they did with Snoke. I just loved it. When you see it, you will either fully agree or disagree. I’d love to hear your take on it.
– Adam Driver steals the show in pretty much every scene he is in. –
A big point of contention is the character of Luke Skywalker. I will say this, this is not the Luke from the original trilogy, so much is for certain. A lot of people despise his change and past choices, but all of that simply because they wanted more of the same, they wanted the original Luke. And this is the main point of his character’s story. Therefore, I cannot fathom how one can neglect such irony in disliking the change to the image of Luke when it is all about an image of a war-time hero. I enjoyed the direction they took the character in and the consequences for the remaining movie. Hamill also acts the part really well with the conflict showing in his expressions throughout the scenes.
Visually the movie is gorgeous. Simple as that. From the creature design to the planets. Everything looks great and is widely imaginative. The red planet which is prominently featured in the trailers is a visual marble which gets utilised to great effect. And then there is one specific scene which just knocks everything else out of the park. There is no doubt you know what I am talking about when you have seen it. It is a beautiful actions set-piece with everything on point: camera, sound, visuals. It hits at the exact right moment and simply works out amazingly. And I am glad to say that the John Williams is finally back. I did not really enjoy the Force Awakens soundtrack, but this one manages to recapture the old feeling while evolving it for the new movies, just like such a soundtrack built on a franchise should. The right balance between recognition and invention.
– “It’s salt.” A screenwriter’s way out. –
But now I have to talk about the things that did not work out so well. The most glaring one is humour. The movie has far too many funny moments for my taste. Not that I do not appreciate a light-hearted moment here and there, but some scenes were just never able to build tension because there were so many funny moments sprinkled throughout. Remember those cute penguin-like creatures from the trailers? You will be seeing them a lot. A LOT. And they will always take away tension even if tension would be very welcome at some points. Which does not mean that the humour does not work, most of the time it does on a basic level, it is just that it does not really fit the tone of the scene. Dunking on Hux is always fun, but simply alleviating the tension of a fight by having a penguin scream into the camera is something else entirely. There is an incredibly artificial conflict on the resistance’s side which I could not wrap my head around. Basically, it boils down to a new character who has always been there and who is also important, but was just never mentioned before, showing up and refusing to disclose information for no reason at all. It does pay off in the end, but in the most roundabout and forced way possible. There is a really awkward scene with Leia and I mean really awkward which I suppose was to be a tribute to the actress, but it was just so odd and out place I did not know what to do with it.
– Cute, but way too much in the movie. But still cute. –
The Force Awakens was basically filled with nostalgia bait and there are still a lot of these in here, but they are fewer and better established. There is no more hard name dropping like “tell them Han Solo got the Millennium Falcon back” which still makes my toenails roll up. There is a huge nostalgic moment which is handled incredibly well and a lot of subtle call-backs as this movie basically works its way through Episode V and VI in terms of references. And finally, there are fan theories. This movie cancels out all the ridiculously stupid fan theories out there. A truly more than welcome move as all the theorising around the characters was getting intensely annoying. I praise the movie just for that alone.
– The aesthetics of the movie are certainly one of the strongest aspects. –
While The Last Jedi may not perfect – and no one expected it to be – it is a strong continuation of The Force Awakens. Your enjoyment of this one will hinge on whether or not you liked the first one and its characters. All the actors are quite good with Adam Driver being the strongest of the bunch. There are problems mainly with tone and sometimes pacing, but it is an enjoyable movie, a fun ride, an entertaining time to spent and Star Wars should always be like that. If you thought The Force Awakens played it too “safe” this is exactly the movie you are looking for. It deconstructs the Star Wars tropes in a spectacular way.
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