Movie Review with Brandon Yechout – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I’ve always felt that the Star Wars films are a bit overrated. They’re technically stunning, of course, but it seems to me that people often tend to disregard the series’ consistent weaknesses. It has admittedly been some time since I’ve seen the original trilogy in its entirety, so perhaps this opinion will shift upon a rewatch. Luckily, as the series is still going strong, I have a more recent metric to gauge my criticism by. I was mostly unimpressed with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and, disappointingly, I feel much the same of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Between the two of them, though, I must say that I enjoyed “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” the most, a view that appears to be shared by most critics but ferociously opposed by many Star Wars fans.

I should preface this by stating that this review is being written with the assumption that the reader has seen at least one of the original “Star Wars” films or “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Some characters may be mentioned with the assumption that you already know of them if they were featured in a previous “Star Wars” film. This review is also going to contain a couple of spoilers, so consider this a spoiler warning. With that out of the way, I’ll share a quick summary of the film’s plot. The film picks up exactly where “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” left off, as the Resistance flees from their headquarters and are tailed through a lightspeed jump by the First Order by way of newly developed tracking technology. Without enough fuel to continue putting up a chase, they are left in a grim position. Meanwhile, on a far-off planet, Rey begins training as a Jedi under the guidance of the legendary Luke Skywalker. She quickly discovers, though, that Luke, who was initially reluctant to teach her, is holding on to a few sinister secrets of his own.

One of the things that I was surprised to find myself enjoying were the visuals of the film. Firstly, I understand that the Star Wars films have a storied history of spectacular practical effects, a reputation that is well deserved. This film is expectedly heavy on CGI, and I wasn’t particularly bothered by that. Often I find there is a degree of elitism to the undeservedly harsh bashing of CGI in any film, which only serves to further undermine the legitimate discussion there is to be had of the problems that surround the overuse of CGI. I don’t think it would have been to the film’s benefit to employ practical effects in its spectacularly grand space battles like it was to, say, the benefit of “Blade Runner 2049” to admirably construct miniatures for many of its scenes (it should also be noted that the majority of the creatures in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” were actually created through practical effects, as opposed to CGI). The greatest strength of CGI over practical effects is its ability to play to a certain aesthetic that would have been either not as effective or impossible to achieve with practical effects, and I was pleasantly surprised to see even flashes of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” using it in this fashion. Two scenes come to mind right away in this regard, the stormy night on Luke’s island, and the confrontation between the First Order and the Resistance on the planet of salt. The rest of the film looks great as well; of sweeping scale and, on occasion, vivid color.

By far the film’s greatest strength, and the main reason that I enjoyed it more than “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” was its willingness to take chances. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was so terribly frightened of taking any risks at all that the film came off as a complete beat-by-beat retreading of the first Star Wars film. Everybody seemed to eat that up, for a time, until the novelty (or lack thereof) of it all wore thin, whereupon I saw many people who were once adamant in their praise of the film sober up to its derivative nature. This is where “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” differs. Rather than attempting to copy what has already been done in the franchise, it offers up something fresh. I really enjoyed the “perpetual chase” aspect of the film, for instance, wherein the Resistance is relentlessly pursued by the First Order for the entirety of the film’s runtime, and the Resistance ships have not enough fuel to escape but just enough to stay barely out of reach of the brunt of the First Order’s attacks. The film also expands on the Force, and how characters are both able to connect with it and make use of it. This appears to be where many dedicated Star Wars fans seem to be taking up trouble with the film; however, as somebody who has never really cared too much about Star Wars, I was appreciative of the fact that the film was willing to try something new.

Quite a lot happens in this film as well, so much so that I’ve actually not much of an idea as to how they plan on resolving the story in the third film. The resistance is decimated, as is much of the First Order. Snoke is killed around two-thirds into the film, as Kylo Ren and Rey team up against his team of elite guards in one of the film’s best scenes. Instead of turning against the First Order, however, Ren then decides instead to assume Snoke’s previously held position of Supreme Leader and shape the regime around his ideals. A bit of moral ambiguity (though somewhat of a platitude) is even brought into the franchise through Benicio del Toro’s character, who also delivers the film’s best performance.

By far and away the worst aspect of the film, though, was its consistently weak and insipid writing, something that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was also no stranger to. The dialogue throughout the film ranges from the inept to the borderline insulting, and it weighs the film down like an anchor. The film also has the dubious honor of featuring one of the most god-awful lines of dialogue I have ever heard from any popular film. Ever. It comes towards the end of the film, after one of the film’s new characters, Rose (who is inexplicably able to pilot a speeder craft, by the way, despite only being a mechanic for the Resistance who has never actually participated in any Resistance operations in the field), prevents Finn from going through with a suicide mission by crashing into his craft with hers and sending both of them off to temporary safety. While Finn tends to her as she lies severely injured in the wreckage of her craft, she speaks to him these words of unparalleled wisdom: “This is how we win. Not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love.”

They’re not going to win by fighting the First Order? They need to “save what they love,” really? This line meant to be some memorable, poignant proverb from one of the film’s unexpected heroes, and the best they could do was this trite nonsense? At this point in the film, watching it in the theater, I heard my father let out a begrudged sigh, and I looked to my side to see him bury his head into his left hand as a look of intense annoyance overtook his face. Though I was not as dramatic about it, I felt much of the same.

The film’s substandard writing also extends beyond just the dialogue of the film, leading to many poorly thought-out or downright stupid scenarios. I’ll specifically discuss some of the most egregious examples. I mentioned already Rose being able to pilot the speeder craft; in that same scene, Luke mysteriously appears inside of the rebel base to aid them in their stand against the First Order and confront his former apprentice. This is the first time he’s been seen in decades, mind you, and nobody says a thing. Nobody brings up the fact that he’s just suddenly appeared after all these years, and the oddity of his inexplicable appearance inside of the base, behind all of the rebels, is only mentioned in a fleeting remark. He merely looks at Leia for about a minute, then exits to face Ren alone and buy the Resistance enough time to evacuate. It’s later revealed that Luke was merely projecting himself there through intensive manipulation of the Force, but that hardly excuses the nonsensical behavior of everyone around him during this scene.

Speaking of nonsensical, I’ll now touch upon what is possibly the most controversial scene of the film. Near to the film’s opening, there is a scene wherein Leia is sucked out into space without protection, and is thought to be dead for a brief moment. She quickly re-awakens, and uses the Force to hover herself back into the spacecraft, whereupon she is taken to the ship’s medical bay in critical condition. Let me repeat. She hovers herself back into the spacecraft using the Force. The Force. This is the first time she has ever been shown with the ability to manipulate the Force, and nobody comments on it, not even herself. It isn’t mentioned once. She also enters the ship through a simple door; you know, after the entire bridge of the ship has been blown apart and depressurized, they merely open the door for her, and she comes in, without sending the majority of the ship’s crew out into the vacuum of space. Why have they been wasting resources on airlocks all this time, then, if they were completely unnecessary? This has been the most universally hated scene of the film, from what I can gather, and the hate is one-hundred percent deserved.

While I do believe that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a decidedly flawed film, to hold “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on a pedestal above this film as many have been doing is simply absurd. Yes, the writing in this film is disappointingly (though expectedly) poor, but that was also the case with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. What “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” lacks in true, meaningful substance, it makes up for with its boldness. A film that wasn’t afraid to take chances in such an established franchise as this deserves at least that level of recognition. A respectable effort, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” easily earns its position above “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” as the better film. Brando’s rating? Three out of four stars.