DECLAN and DEFCON Review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

The Ups, The Downs, and the Spark that Will Light the Fire to Reignite the Star Wars Franchise

Kylo Ren marches into battle.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Kylo Ren marches into battle.

(***SPOILERS***)

The Force is strong with this one. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was not only far better than its considerably weak predecessor, it was one of the better Star Wars films in the franchise. The action was perfect in choreography as well as cinematography, the plot advanced in unexpected and truly amazing ways, and the greatest part about it all: it had the same feel as The Empire Strikes Back but was different in and of itself. There were flaws in plot and character development, as well as parts that didn’t quite work right, but The Last Jedi was more than the next installment; it was a new hope.

So, as always, let’s start with the good stuff.

The Last Jedi began right where The Force Awakens left off: Rey (Daisy Ridley) has confronted old Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) about returning to defend the galaxy, Finn (John Boyega) is incapacitated after a battle with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and Leia (Carrie Fisher) is mourning the death of her lover Han Solo (Harrison Ford), while still trying to lead the Resistance to victory over the First Order.

The Last Jedi

Words can’t truly enrapture the quality of Mark Hamill’s performance in The Last Jedi. Hamill brought a presence to the film that wasn’t the usual Luke Skywalker with perfect judgement; he is a conflicted former Jedi who has changed his perspective on everything. The part of Hamill’s role that truly brought something new to the Star Wars franchise was the fact that he questioned the very foundations on which the franchise was built. He disobeyed the idea of ‘Jedi vs. Sith’. Luke Skywalker was a broken character with a kind heart, and Mark Hamill delivered the persona beautifully.

Someone has to save our skins.

This episode was, by far, the darkest movie of all the trilogies. Everyone’s favorite Jedi died and Snoke was CUT IN HALF! Leia was sucked into space (She then had an extremely weird Force realization, but we’ll get to that in a later segment)! For a family movie, nobody was expecting that. That’s how Rian Johnson works, even if half of the fans hate him for it. But one of the holy grails of this movie was the comedy. While being so dark, it was also very funny. The scene where Chewbacca was eating the Porgs while they looked on in fear was absolutely hilarious. Everyone in the theater was dying of laughter. The beauty of The Last Jedi was the balancing act between its darkness and its light, almost like the Force.

Skywalker Sound

In terms of visuals and audio, The Last Jedi was by far the best Star Wars film to date. Colors were bright and vibrant, sounds echoed and boomed with a near perfect aesthetic effect. The lightsabers glowed elegantly, and the planetary designs were as majestic and fresh as ever. Despite the fan-wide disapproval at the Canto Byte side quest, the casino planet was rendered beautifully, and it truly looked like a brand new Star Wars landscape.

“This Will Make a Great Addition to My Collection”

Rose Tico not only diversified the Star Wars Universe, but she was an amazing addition to the Resistance roster. She is a very lovable, and, because of her side plot, a well developed character. The sister of a Resistance bomber, Rose became one of the characters that fans could relate to, but, most importantly, she wasn’t a waste-of-time character (like Maz Kanata).

Duel of the Fates

Despite having a great plot, The Last Jedi truly shines in its action sequences. The duel between Rey and Kylo Ren and Snoke’s Praetorian Guards will go down as one of the best lightsaber duels in Star Wars. It was graphic and brutal with bright cinematography, wide angles, and a choreographed display of both Rey’s and Kylo’s raw strengths. Put modestly, this battle was beautiful, and it wasn’t the only scene like it. Vice Admiral Holdo’s final sacrifice by sending her ship through hyperspace to slice the Dreadnaught in half is easily in the top-five Star Wars moments. The starfighter assault scene where Kylo Ren attempted to assassinate his mother balanced intense action and a split second of emotional appeal in a way that had even non-Star-Wars-fans whispering “don’t do it” to themselves.

“Let the Past Die; Kill It If You Have To”

Let’s be honest. Before The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren was horrible. Absolute garbage. He was a Vader-worshiping wannabe who didn’t even have the reserve to pull it off. But, with The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren became… well, slightly better. Rian Johnson knew that ‘conflicted’ and ‘whiney’ are two entirely different things, and that a villain must be feared in order to be effective. He battled in epic scenes like the throne room. He took the Resistance head on, destroying multiple starfighters and the shield generators of the Resistance ship. Kylo only whined once in the entire movie, and we should all appreciate that.

There Is (Not) Another…Skywalker

One of the most controversial things about The Last Jedi was the revelation of Rey’s parentage. Many were disappointed by the fact that she was not the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi or Anakin Skywalker, but, the truth is, this was the best way to go. Rey’s search for her parents highlighted one of the film’s underlying themes: the Force doesn’t rely on humanity. Bloodlines aren’t everything; the Clone Wars era introduced hundreds of Jedi who had no Force sensitive lineage, which is why I actually accept the new explanation as to why Rey is so powerful. The idea that Luke cut himself off from the Force, making it grant Rey immense power to equal Kylo Ren’s raw strength is plausible, and I understand it was an assist after J.J. Abrams left that unforgivable plot hole in The Force Awakens to kiss up to fans’ nostalgia (this still does not justify Rey being able to do a Jedi mind trick).

“We are what they grow beyond.”

Yoda is back. I shouldn’t even have to say more. The very wise and very green Jedi Master from the days of the Clone Wars returned as a Force Ghost in Episode VIII, and his performance was just about perfect. Yoda’s sense of humor after no longer carrying the weight of the Jedi Order on his shoulders was an excellent rendition of a fan favorite. I once joked that the greatest finesse of the film was Luke Skywalker’s trick on Kylo at the end, but the truth is that Yoda deceiving a misguided Luke into believing that he burned the Jedi texts was the real #1. Yoda returned to guide his pupil one last time, and he made sure he came with words of wisdom. “Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”

“It is Time for the Jedi to End”

Reactions have been mixed as to how The Last Jedi ended. Many thought that Luke Skywalker died too early and that his death was too sudden. Many said that this was too ‘ambitious.’ True Star Wars fans, however, should understand just how important this scene was in restoring the Force to what it is supposed to be after J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens. Here’s why:

That feeling you experienced when you learned that Luke was not fighting Kylo, but astral-projecting himself across the galaxy, is called ‘happiness.’ This scene, despite what you interpret about Star Wars, is simply cinematic, climactic genius.

Many doubters ask ‘why didn’t Luke just go to Crait and face Kylo?’ The answer is simple: how would he get there? Remember that 60-year-old X-Wing at the bottom of the lake? That was the only way off of his island. Besides, even if he could recover the ship he wouldn’t have gotten there in time. He realized that he had to do something.

‘Why did he die after saving Rey?’ Luke didn’t die of heat exhaustion, guys. That’s ridiculous. Luke died because he fulfilled his destiny. He passed the Jedi mantle onto the next generation (just like Obi-Wan), preserving the Jedi order as well as saving the resistance.

‘Why didn’t people use Force astral-projection before this day?’ The answer here is very simple: the Skywalker bloodline. Skywalkers have the power of “sight”, and this is one of Luke’s unique abilities. It is ridiculous to ask why the first time is the first time. It simply is.

I watched the original trilogy every weekend as a child, so I’m more emotionally attached to Luke Skywalker than many; if his death was undesirable I would have been madder than anyone else. Instead, I cried a silent tear for an old friend and nodded in agreement. If Darth Vader taught us anything, it should be that there is honor in a last act of defiance.

The Lucas-Art

Among The Last Jedi’s greatest qualities is the attention to detail by Rian Johnson. Like in the original Star Wars movies, Johnson slipped in small details that add to the suspense of the climax because you can only notice them the second time around. The lack of red footprints on Crait, Luke’s astral-projection’s blue lightsaber, the little boy levitating the broom to his hand in the last scene, etc. This was the beauty of George Lucas’ directing, and it is surprising that Johnson has received such hard flak from ‘Star Wars fans’ after seeing how true to the franchise this was. The Last Jedi turned the entire franchise on its head and simultaneously didn’t change a thing. That is Star Wars at its finest.

As we move into the negative part of this review, it is important to acknowledge the fact that there is a very conflicted sensation in your gut after walking out of this movie. It had its highs and certainly had its lows, making a second viewing necessary, and that shouldn’t necessarily be the case.

There Are Always Two

Before this trilogy, it was set in stone that there were always two Sith and a minimum of two Jedi; a master and an apprentice. The ‘Rey’s power meets Kylo’s power to replace Luke’ situation kinda threw that all out the window. My issue, however, is not with Rey’s Force strength, but with her lightsaber skill. According to the Clone Wars (which is still canon), it takes just over twenty years to become a proficient lightsaber wielder, making it ridiculous that Rey was able to even fight with the lightsaber after Luke BARELY trained her. This was one of the biggest disappointments in the film; Luke hardly trained Rey to use the lightsaber, and then she went off and used it just fine.

You’re Our Only Hope

Princess Leia’s window scene. It had to be mentioned. I was extremely torn when it came to this scene, because I like that it finally revealed her Force ability on the big screen. The issue is, it really didn’t. Leia didn’t use the Force to levitate to the ship, the Force resurrected her to transport Rey’s tracking beacon to the ship. She technically didn’t ‘use the Force’ until she woke up after freezing over. I also didn’t like the way this scene was executed; it just felt wrong. If they were going to suck Leia into space and have her freeze over they should have just killed her. This was one of the scenes where Rian Johnson’s “ambition” factor was unnecessary.

Never Tell Me the Odds

Dear God, Canto Byte. This side quest with Finn and Rose was universally hated by most Star Wars fans, and though it wasn’t as bad as it’s made out to be, it was pretty bad. Don’t get me wrong, Canto Byte was a beautifully rendered landscape full of awesome looking characters and lots of lore, but the entire side quest was just pointless. It’s a catch-22: the quest is needed to make people care about Rose, but it really didn’t achieve anything in the grand scheme of things. The animal abuse thing was a cute thing to add, but, again, pointless. I would not be sad if this quest was taken out entirely.

I Find Your Lack of Faith…Disturbing

This is by far the part I hate the most about this movie: Vice Admiral Holdo. Holdo was the lady who replaced Leia and crashed the Resistance ship through the Dreadnaught at hyperspeed. That scene was great and all, but I think we can all agree that her compartmentalization of the information was unnecessary. She withheld so much pointless information that she literally initiated a space mutiny, sparking a civil war within the ship while other ships were being destroyed by the dreadnaught one by one like a kid picking the marshmallows out of his Lucky Charms.

Help Me Take This Mask Off

The catch-22s never seem to stop. Rian Johnson made Kylo Ren cooler by giving him better dialogue and cooler scenes this time around so that he would actually come close to a real villain, but then he ruined it all by destroying Kylo’s helmet. The mask was the coolest part of Ren’s entire outfit! Now we have to see a fourteen-year-old-looking Adam Driver instead of a masked warrior with a tri-saber every time Kylo Ren goes into battle.

You’ve Become the Very Thing You Swore to Destroy

Controversy surrounding the death of Supreme Leader Snoke has run rampant among the Star Wars community, with some saying that his death was too abrupt and some that it was a strong foil for Kylo Ren’s character. Both of these things are true. Though Snoke’s death made Kylo Ren appear slightly more menacing and powerful, it was far too quick and occured too early. Snoke had very little character development before his death, and it was anticlimactic to kill him without further explaining who he even is. J.J. Abrams made him out to be a strong character with deep ties to Sith, and he would have made a far better villain than Kylo ‘self-esteem’ Ren, so killing Snoke in the manner that they did was a poor choice.

The Wrap-Up

The best description of The Last Jedi is ‘controversial’. The film was a strong Star Wars film, highlighting underlying themes that certainly make it worth watching many times over. It had fast paced action, a solid plot, and was a step in the right direction (at least the best direction with what we’ve got) for the new Star Wars trilogy. However, it had various scenes and concepts that were simply done wrong, and as much as Star Wars fans should appreciate Rian Johnson going for the ‘ambitious’ after J.J. Abrams’ copycat catastrophe, The Last Jedi took it way too far in certain parts. I enjoyed the story, but the film was a giant chase scene that didn’t actually advance the plot in any way. As its own film, however, The Last Jedi was a Star Wars masterpiece.