Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Spoiler-free review
I got out to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi a couple of nights ago. But before we get to the review… two things:
1) Remember my rant a few years ago about how awful movie theaters are? And later how I found movie theaters that corrected those problems? Well, to see any movie now, much less a Star Wars film, I'm really particular about where I see it. Since I'm in Seattle at the moment, I'd hoped to go to the Cinerama again, where I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. However, we found an alternative, and much to my surprise… it was at a theater chain. In this case: AMC/Loews. And while I think most AMC/Loews theaters are still little more than wallpapered outhouses, this one had something special going for it: one of their screening rooms had been turned into a Dolby Cinema.
So, what does that mean? Well, first, it's new. That means it hasn't been trashed yet. The screen is new, and clean. The seats are new. The floors aren't a sticky mess. But better than that - it's fully equipped with the latest Dolby projection and audio systems. So that means there's a better-than-average chance that the picture and sound may be somewhat correct (in this case, both were excellent). Plus, the seating is vastly improved. The old seats have been removed and the theater completely restructured with fully adjustable, electrically-controlled leather* recliners. Big and comfy, with tons of legroom. Plus, the rows are tiered in such a way that the theater is much steeper, and each row has a knee wall in front of it, giving uninterrupted sight-lines throughout the room.
*(probably not actual leather)
And better still - the seats are reserved. No waiting in line with the huddled masses in order to maybe find a decent seat. We ordered online a few days in advance, and were able to score some excellent seats for a midday showing.
The downside? Well, it's more expensive. A lot more. By the time you add in "convenience" fees**, it's almost $20 per ticket. For a movie. A popcorn and a drink added another $15. So… yeah. Crazy expensive. Plus, the bathrooms still stink like an open sewer.
**(does this mean they owe me a refund for all of the times it was inconvenient to see a movie there?)
But ultimately, for me, since I don't see that many movies, and presentation makes a huge difference in my enjoyment of a movie, it was worth the extra money. So if they have a Dolby Cinema in your area, you might check it out.
Especially if you have to sit through 24 minutes of trailers. 24! A quarter of my popcorn was already gone by the time the movie started.
But if they don't have a Dolby Cinema, avoid AMC/Loews like the plague. Seriously, their other theaters are toilets.
They aren't like toilets, I think they actually are toilets.
2) As I was getting ready to see The Last Jedi, I thought back to Return of the Jedi. What did the title mean? Who was the returning Jedi? Was it Anakin Skywalker returning as the Jedi he had once been? Was it Luke Skywalker returning, now as a Jedi? Was it plural - the Jedi as an order returning in the person of Luke Skywalker? Beats me. I'm still not sure. Just some food for thought.
There's no such ambiguity in Star Wars: The Last Jedi though - by the end of the film, what The Last Jedi means is pretty clearly explained.
So, on with the review! Cue the Spoiler-free Review theme music! (For the sake of variety, this time it's Sugar, Sugar by the Archies, for no particular reason.)
Actually, you ought to hear Micky Dolenz's version from his solo album Remember. Totally different take on it.
Oh right. The review.
So, first things first - I enjoyed The Last Jedi. I know there are some fans out there who outright hated it, but I'm not in that camp. Much of it was a lot of fun, which is what a Star Wars film should be. There wasn't anything that I really disliked about it, although there were some things I was disappointed in. But I thought it was better than The Force Awakens, although a lot of that is because The Last Jedi wasn't just a rehash of the original Star Wars.
Carrie Fisher has a more significant role in the movie, and her presence in Episode IX will be sorely missed. Mark Hamill actually gets to speak this time, and does several other things as well! He easily has the strongest performance in the movie, and this movie is as much about Luke Skywalker as any of the newer characters. In fact, pretty-much everyone has an expanded role in the film (save for Captain Phasma, who does a little more this time around, but really is becoming something of a punchline), but therein lies one of the problems of The Last Jedi: it's a long film. A bit too long.
While Rian Johnson does a good job of keeping the film and its different plots moving along, there's a bit too much of it. Most notably, the side quest with Finn and Rose is entirely unnecessary. It's kind of a throw-away B-story - something that would be more suited to an old Marvel Star Wars comic book, rather than taking up so much time here. The Last Jedi would have been a sleeker, more streamlined, and possibly more effective story without it. Parts of their story are fun, but a lot of it feels like "We better give Finn something to do - since he doesn't fit in anywhere else".
There's also a significant amount of fan service in The Last Jedi - scenes that were added in just to please the audience - with a number of overt homages to The Empire Strikes Back. While those can be fun, I tend to find them distracting since they remind you that you're watching a movie, rather than just letting you sit there and enjoy the new movie for what it is. Also, I felt some of the humor was a little too… familiar. Not in terms of it being recycled, but in terms of it feeling like contemporary, pop-culture humor. Star Wars humor (when it worked best) was always kept in the context of the Star Wars universe, and felt natural. Some of the humor in this film felt forced (pun not intended), or overused. The Porgs were completely unnecessary, but they didn't bother me all that much, since they didn't have as much screen time as I feared, given all of the marketing hype surrounding them. There were a couple of scenes with BB-8 though that were just too over-the-top, and seemed like they'd be more at home in a HISHE parody, than the actual film.
As for those disappointments I mentioned - there are a couple of significant plot points that weren't handled very well. I'll expand on those a little here, plus add another. Please use Spoiler tags if responding to these:
That's basically where I'd put The Last Jedi. I didn't have any issues with how the characters were handled. I didn't have any preconceived ideas about how Luke Skywalker should or should not have acted. I went to the movie to find out what had happened to him - not watch online fanboy theories play out. I never read any of the non-movie books (save for Splinter of the Mind's Eye, and a couple of the early Han Solo books). None of the Expanded Universe matters to me, so I had no alternate histories for this film to live up to. I'm sure they're good stories - but I don't expect them to be canon any more than the Marvel Star Wars comics that I collected as a kid. I just enjoyed them for what they were.
I generally liked the performances in the Last Jedi, the notable exception being Snoke, who looked even more fake here than in The Force Awakens. Mark Hamill brought great emotion to Luke, and a depth we'd never seen before. Carrie Fisher seemed far more at home in The Last Jedi, and really shone brightly as the heart and soul of the Resistance, and her final scenes are a poignant reminder of what will be missed about her. Daisy Ridley was solid again as Rey, and Adam Driver still makes for an interesting, conflicted Kylo Ren
The action sequences in the film were solid - although there were a few scenes lifted a little too directly out of The Empire Strikes Back. Stop with the homages already, and come up with something new, please. The special effects were all up to the best of modern standards, except, as already mentioned, Snoke. He never looked convincing, he walked badly (like bad CG animation, not like he was limping or something), and I didn't think much of Andy Serkis' acting, either. He seemed very flat, and never truly menacing. Also, Chewbacca looked a little odd at times. I know Peter Mayhew is no longer in the mask, but I'm wondering if they were attempting some CG trickery or had changed something significant about his face, because his mouth didn't look quite right.
Where The Last Jedi actually worked best for me were the scenes with Luke coming to terms with his own past. Again - I went to this film to find out what had happened to him. Mark Hamill might not have agreed with the direction of Luke's character for this film, but that didn't stop him from doing a powerful acting job with it. We already know the Jedi were flawed and often made mistakes out of hubris - especially in the prequels. Even Obi-Wan turned out to be somewhat of a jerk with his "certain point-of-view". So Luke having some conflict in his own past shouldn't be that surprising - Jedi or not, he's still human. I think that makes him even more compelling. I enjoyed seeing Mark Hamill back as Luke Skywalker, and really delivering a performance worthy of the character. I spent decades assuming we'd never get to see Hamill back again as Luke. So I'm glad we finally got that. And if it wasn't what people were expecting - well, maybe sometimes that's a good thing. I get pretty tired of going to see movies where I can predict everything that's going to happen.
Some people may be unhappy with Star Wars being in the hands of Disney now - but remember what happened when it was in Lucas' hands? Remember Jar-Jar? Li'l Anakin? Teen angst Anakin? That absolutely awful dialog between him and Padme? And remember that Star Wars was effectively dead as a movie franchise when George had finished Episode III? Star Wars will never be everything everyone wants it to be, anymore than Star Trek will ever be everything everyone wants it to be. It can't measure up to peoples' nostalgia, memories or expectations. Overall, The Last Jedi was fun movie. For me. That's all I needed out of it. Anything beyond that is a bonus. And it was way, way better than the prequels... and a certain Muppety, Ewok Turd. No movie is perfect, and I doubt any Star Wars movie will ever live up to fan expectations. The Last Jedi didn't meet all of mine either, but neither was it predictable. Nor was it bad. Long? Yes. Incomplete? Sure. But I'm satisfied that seeing it was time well spent. I had fun. I really enjoyed watching Luke's story play out. I'd recommend it. It's a good popcorn flick. And a little bit more.
What I'm not looking forward to, is that J.J. Abrams will be back for Episode IX. Ugh. He'll probably introduce trans-galactic-hyper-underwear for traveling millions of lightyears without needing a spaceship. Or he'll bring in a race of time traveling, Force-weilding space Leprechauns. The last thing Star Wars needs is time travel. Can you imagine the mess that would cause?
Star Wars: The Last Jedi probably should get about a 7.5/10, but in order to score it higher than The Force Awakens or Rogue One, I'll have to give it an 8.2/10.
Yeah… that's probably being inconsistent with peoples' expectations. I'm sure someone will just absolutely hate this review because of that.
(After writing this, I read this review at Slashfilm. I think it actually addresses some of my own complaints very well, and has a good perspective on the film.)