For the last year, I have been saying: we are going to know whether the new trilogy is good or bad when the second film comes out. The Force Awakens alone didn’t give us enough data to judge where the story is going and how are the plot and the characters going to be treated. And now, after having watched the second film, I feel I was right: The Last Jedi has made it clear where the new trilogy stands, what is its purpose and its chief themes, and whether the characters and the universe are treated “right” or not. This is a spoiler-free review, so read on fearlessly, even if you are just contemplating whether to watch the film…
Compared to J. J. Abrams…
Let me start by comparison with The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi is… way better. Now that is a measure you can apply whether you liked the previous episode or not. Much of it is, like I have hinted at above, given by the fact that TLJ already knows where it stands. Characters have been introduced, the time of treading safely around known tropes is over, or at least for most part. TLJ feels like it is still tied by the remains of the tether, but is successfully pulling on them to break free completely.
That said. There were a few moments when I was afraid that The Last Jedi was going to be bad. Specifically, 99% of these moments fell into the first ten minutes or so. After that, it was perfectly fine. My anxieties mostly stemmed from the fear of two things – recycling tropes and too many silly jokes. Like I said, recycling tropes actually didn’t happen, and if something initially made me think “have we seen this before?”, I didn’t have such feeling for the rest of the film.
Regarding silly jokes – there were a few moments when I wasn’t sure TLJ was going to take itself seriously enough. My pet peeve in many contemporary movies are the “jokes” we have seen for example in The Hobbit, à la a fat pig falls on somebody’s head, or farting CGI animals (being infamous already in the prequel trilogy). In a supposedly “realistic” movie, they break the immersion, because you can’t take them seriously. Fortunately, in TLJ, we are really talking about isolated incidents, and the main reason why they worried me at all was that there happened to be several of them in a row during a short period of time. That said, there are also jokes that are actually very good and funny.
…the Darkness Looms…
Now it seems the good moment to say that the plot itself is actually pretty dark. In fact, it is so dark that at times, I thought it couldn’t get any darker, and then something dark happened again. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a merciless horror, and it doesn’t have the gritty realism of Rogue One. It is rather the darkest hour that is the part of every epic tale. Like The Empire Strikes Back after A New Hope, or even like Attack of the Clones after The Phantom Menace, The Last Jedi continues the trend of the second part of a trilogy being the most desperate hour of the story. One thing I appreciated about TLJ, repeatedly, was the notion that even heroes can fail or make mistakes.
One thing related to this is character development. It can be safely said that TLJ has succeeded in making its characters, both old and new, interesting and also believable. The old protagonists get a lot of character development; actual development. There is a lot of interaction between old and new characters and also old and old characters, X with Y and Y with Z and Z with L. Oh, okay, I have to mention two by name, because it’s the thing that has been dividing fans since forever: Rey and Kylo Ren. It is no spoiler to say that they do get some interaction in this film. Obviously. But I should remark that before TLJ, I belonged to the camp that couldn’t care less about their relationship (in the broadest sense). Now, I actually do care – by which I mean to illustrate that it has been handled very well, and in a way that can be objectively appreciated by everyone, regardless of what you think about what it should be like, whether it should be romantic or not, whether it is “healthy” or not, and so forth. It is a well-written development of their interaction.
Regarding the newly appearing characters, I have only positive impressions. They seamlessly fit into the story and the performance of the actors also helps (incidentally, I think everyone’s acting has been fabulous in this one). Kelly Marie Tran (Rose) is an amazing actress and she makes a marvel out of the character of a simple maintenance worker. Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Holdo) portrays one of the most impressive and well-written secondary characters I have seen in a while. And Benicio Del Toro’s character (DJ) brings in some familiar elements, but in a new way – and through him, the audience gets a glimpse of a different perspective of the entire story. I appreciated that very much.
Last remark regarding the characters – after the one disappointment in Rogue One, meaning: making it seem like there were no women in the Rebellion at all (besides Jyn Erso), The Last Jedi has made sure this doesn’t happen again. TFA didn’t suffer from the problem of not having female extras, but TLJ has enough as average soldiers and pilots to make it clear that there is no difference or discrimination whatsoever in either case. For me, it has reached the ideal state, where you do not care and stop counting whether or how many of the people on-screen are male or female, because there are simply Resistance (or First Order) people, and they can be both, equally likely.
Visuals, Space Battles, Lightsabers…
When it comes to the film’s atmosphere, I have to say it isn’t the most impressive thing about the entire film. It isn’t bad, of course. Visually, it is a times mildly above-average, at times average. Apart from the couple of appearances of CGI animals, I wasn’t disturbed by any “obviously CGI” moments at all. The sceneries of space and Luke’s island are pretty, but if there was one thing that was actually beautiful, it would be the setting of the “salt desert” planet we have briefly glimpsed in the trailers. It has some amazing new ideas for new environment, and that is good: after “recycling Tatooine under a different name” in The Force Awakens, we can be happy that finally, finally we get to see environments we haven’t seen in Star Wars yet. Let’s hope the trend keeps up in the future. (Once again, I hope that the necessity to play it safe and recycle familiar places was just the case of the first hesitant steps of the first movie.)
Battle, space combat and lightsaber duels are also something that belongs to Star Wars visuals. Here I feel like somebody has overheard my call for what constitutes a Star Wars film. There are both. Lightsaber battles have some nice visual parts, and overall I am happy that the makers weren’t afraid to show us new things. (And if you have watched the trailers, you know that it isn’t only lightsabers that clash.)
What pleased me the most, however, was space combat, because finally, after much neglect, we got a space battle that you can follow and see what is happening. One could even say that Star Wars has finally become Star Wars.
And while talking about visuals, I have to mention music. At least on my first watching, I have noted one specific new theme, plus a lot of old themes and their variations. The music is obviously good, John Williams is John Williams. No surprise that we hear Rey’s theme again, and I don’t think it would be a spoiler if I say that Leia’s theme or its variants appear in the film a couple of times as well. There is, like I said, one specific new theme that stood out at one point of the film; and it was very powerful (also because it was during a very powerful scene – but it complemented it perfectly). It helps that this particular theme draws on another, already existing theme known from the old movies. (If you actually have seen the movie and have no idea what I am talking about, you were probably too distracted by the scene itself. Hint: it plays a bit before that one scene where the dust clears.)
The Last Verdict
So how does The Last Jedi fare overall? In my opinion, it is a very good film. The plot is solid, and we finally get the impression that this trilogy is going somewhere. Even more so, we have a decent idea where it is going, which The Force Awakens certainly didn’t show at all.
The new trilogy has been advertised as “the closure to the Skywalker Saga”, and I didn’t believe it after watching TFA, because it seemed like anything but that. The Last Jedi sets everything to its proper place and TFA feels more like prologue now to introduce this new setting. This is not a story about a New Darker Lord and New Bigger Weapons, but it really IS about the closure, and about the future of the Galaxy. And don’t be scared, this is handled well.
There are enough epic moments in the story, even though we have seen more epicness concentrated in some other films. Perhaps, despite the undisputable epicness of some moments, the execution is lacking in some little details that could pump up the atmosphere. In the same way, dramatic plot twists (you know, the “I am your father”-type) are possibly not as dramatic or entirely unpredictable as in some other films, but it doesn’t devalue them. After all, an ideal dramatic plot twist is one that you can watch repeatedly and it works, meaning it possesses something beyond just the shock value.
Characters and their development are definitely the highlight, and even people who didn’t like, say, Kylo Ren or General Hux, might change their opinion on them. That is certainly a mark of good writing. The return of the “old generation” is also handled well, Master Luke Skywalker lives up to his family’s name, and so does our still beloved General Leia. Perhaps in her case, it seems like she could have been given a bit more space, but I strongly suspect that it has to do with the overall plan being impacted by Carrie Fisher’s passing.
Is The Last Jedi worth going to cinema once? Yes. Is it worth going to cinema twice? If you are at least a fringe fan, probably still yes. Is it worth seeing three or more times? I am going to tell you once I have done that, and it is fairly likely that I will.