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December 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review Roundup

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released Friday to mixed-but-generally-positive review among The Sun’s Arts and Entertainment Staff. Several staff members contributed short reviews, and here are the main points: 

  • The film played along with the established Star Wars plots and themes, but added some originality that was lacking in The Force Awakens.
  • Mark Hamill’s Luke was more impressive than ever.
  • Some of the character development and one of the subplots fell short.
  • The battle scenes, lightsaber fights, and new planets met the necessary standards of excellence.

Here are the staff’s thoughts: 

If I were to describe The Last Jedi in one word, to both credit and critique it, it would be “different.” A New Hope Reloaded (err… The Force Awakens), though a great film, seriously lacked originality. The same cannot be said of Rian Johnson’s first directorial foray into the legendary franchise; The Last Jedi shows us awesome stuff that we’ve never seen before! On the opposite side of the same coin though, it tries some new stuff that totally missed the mark. The theme of this film is balance. Light and dark. Naivety and understanding. The same balance is representative of the movie as a whole — good and bad — albeit more good than bad in my opinion. For starters, this is the best Mark Hamill’s ever been on screen (his iconic run as the voice of the Joker aside). As in The Force Awakens and Rogue One, the action sequences in the film are breathtaking, if only by virtue of how good the effects are. It’s worth specifically mentioning that the movie absolutely nailed all of its lightsaber fights. The character progressions of Rey, Kylo and Poe (surprisingly) are all immensely satisfying and the new ways in which the movie uses the “Force” are innovative and exciting. All of this is enough to make The Last Jedi a solid and worthy entry into the series, but for the first time in my life I left a Star Wars movie with inklings of disapproval.

Some of the stuff Johnson and company tried to introduce in this film just didn’t connect. The Last Jedi is really funny, but at times that humor almost feels like the movie nervously shying away from sincerity. Additionally, though I can see why the theme its exploring is interesting, the entire Finn and Rose storyline fell short. I also thought that Benicio Del Toro’s inclusion in the movie was entirely unnecessary, though he as an actor did a lot to make his character unique and memorable. Finally, I felt that a lot of the growth we saw in Poe’s character was based on largely fabricated happenings and that Laura Dern’s character should have been absorbed by Leia in what was all-in-all a strong send off for the beloved actress. Most of these complaints are merely tangential to my general enjoyment of the movie but are substantial nevertheless. So when someone asks me for my “sage movie wisdom” about The Last Jedi, I certainly won’t respond with hyperbolic praise (as you might expect from a lifelong Star Wars fan), but simply with a curt “good” and nothing more.

-Nick Smith, nsmith@cornellsun.com

 

This is a movie for all of you who complained that The Force Awakens was just a remake of A New HopeThe Last Jedi adds fresh elements to the Star Wars mythology and a number of genuinely surprising twists, which is no small feat for the ninth film in a franchise. At almost every moment when we think that the film is simply going to hit a beat from The Empire Strikes Back, it completely subverts our expectations.

Additionally, director Rian Johnson has crafted the most visually stunning entry in the entire series. The standout final action set-piece is a sight to behold, as crashing ships tear up the white surface of a salt planet to reveal a rich, scarlet-colored mineral underneath, making the battlefield look like a piece of red velvet cake. Along with being a feast for the eyes, the story is character-driven. Each of the three relationships between Rey, Kylo Ren and Luke is explored deeply and satisfyingly (the “Force FaceTime” sessions help ramp up tension). Not every plot-line works and a few character arcs feel forced, but this is another entertaining and imaginative Star Wars movie that is more risk-taking than any since the original trilogy. Rank it second overall behind Empire Strikes Back, I probably would.

– Lev Akabas, lakabas@cornellsun.com

 

In one of The Last Jedi’s climactic moments, an enraged Kylo Ren vehemently states “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. It’s the only way to become who you were meant to be.” For Ren, this declaration is birthed from a raw and primal avarice; he is willing to destroy all ties to his former self in order to fully embrace the dark side. Rey, meanwhile is viewed as an idealist, a believer in old legends and one who holds onto hope even at the cost of realism. This has always been the central theme of the Star Wars saga: is hope strong enough to push back against the darkness or will it simply be consumed by it? The Last Jedi’s strength is that it manifests this idealistic conflict as an inherently physical one as well: whether it is a sole X-Wing (piloted by hot shot pilot Poe Dameron) mounting a seemingly-suicidal assault against a First Order dreadnought or Rey stubbornly insisting that Luke Skywalker teach her the ways of the Jedi.

Yet I also viewed Ren’s diatribe as a meta-critique aimed at the entirety of Disney’s Star Wars sequel trilogy, a reprimand to the Mouse House for taking the original saga storylines and renovating them with superior special effects and younger permutations of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. Would The Last Jedi completely ignore and forgo all of its past films that came before it and dare to be something wholly different, or would it try to strike a balance? Judging by the trailers at least, The Last Jedi looked dangerously close to being a rehash of Empire Strikes Back rather than a proper homage: Icy planet with mechanical walkers? Check. An apprentice goes to unknown planet to train with a secluded Jedi master? Check. Some iteration of “fulfill your destiny?” Check. Yet while many similar story beats are taken from Empire, it is within these familiar conventions, that director Rian Johnson is able to be innovative. This may not be the Star Wars you are looking for, but it will not make you utter “I have a bad feeling about this” either. The fight sequences are dazzling, the Porgs’ charm are only matched by comicality, and Mark Hamill fits snuggly back into his role as Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, providing a performance steeped in nuance, pain, and passion. The Last Jedi delves deeper into the mythology of the Force, telling a story of honor and makes this galaxy far far away seem just a little closer to home.

-Zach Lee, zlee@cornellsun.com

 

While Kylo Ren is desperate to start something wholly new, writer-director Rian Johnson doesn’t necessarily feel the same way. We all love some hat tips to the original trilogy that changed so many things forever, but the multitude of them in The Last Jedi is a tad disappointing, to say the very least.

That being said, it’s unfair to say the film lacks innovation. For one, I love how it responds to the new wave of feminism.The story is largely shaped by powerful, independent women who know what they’re doing and don’t need guys to tell them otherwise. The story opens with attractive rebel pilot Poe Dameron determined to fulfill his mission despite Leia’s order, which leads to heavy losses of the fleet. Poe later challenges Vice Admiral Holdo, who stands her ground and is proved to be right at the end. Newcomer Rey reminds the legendary master Luke of what his real quest is, although Mark Hamill still got the most heroic moment of the movie (I mean, let the man have his last glory). And this new girl Rose Tico won my heart instantly. True, her subplot with Finn drags and doesn’t progress the plot by much, but what her character suggests is that every-woman can be a hero regardless of position, race (snaps to casting an Asian actress!), and background. In fact, with the confirmation that Rey is not another Skywalker, this latest installment is really breaking through and expanding the universe beyond one family’s drama – and that, honestly, is worth it.

There are also a few moments of absolute visual awe. In the scene where Rey sees herself multiply in a mirrored space that seems to reach infinity, her reflections first move in unison with her, then in an echoing sequence. It’s a poignant moment of introspection, which reminds me of Johnson’s earlier sci-fi thriller Looper, whose protagonist has a similar philosophical quest of looking for self and where one comes from. And my personal favorite scene is this: Rey and Kylo Ren touching hands in their minds across galaxy. I mean, despite the thrill with these two potential star-crossed lovers, there’s no better way to channel Ren’s inner conflict and self-doubt, and to hint at the fact that this precious connection between Rey and him can be the key to the rise of “the last Jedi”, whichever one of the two that might be. And the action sequence of Kylo Ren and Rey fighting Snoke’s guards in perfect harmony (just like the climax of Mr. and Mrs. Smith) drew a collective gasp in the theatre on the night I went. I am excited to see where this connection will take us in the next movie.

Another thing worth noticing in Snoke’s chamber might be the crimson wall, and this genius use of color red without having excessive blood comes back in the final battle scene on planet Crait. While in love with thee high auteuristic elements, I also can’t help but wonder how much of them fits in the original universe and the way a Star Wars story is usually told. It’s a tricky balance for sure, and that might be the biggest problem with The Last Jedi: Johnson tries to twist the familiar story around by adding in his iconic touches, but in the end it fails yet again to steer away completely from the template. It was a wild, emotional ride, but a tad disappointing, even for a non-fan like me. For writer-director of Episode IX J.J. Abrams, I only have one thing to ask for: “let the past die,” as Kylo Ren says, “kill it if you have to.” There’s enough foundation-building, and it’s time to show us what these characters are truly meant to be.

-Ruby Que, yq62@cornell.edu

 

Did I watch the same movie that everyone else did? Have our standards for Star Wars fallen this much?

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is so obviously the result of backwards planning that is makes me sick. I can very clearly picture the people at Disney sitting Rian Johnson down and telling him “Rian, we need you to give us this many new characters, kill these people, create a new cute marketable alien species, and shoot enough cool scenes to put in the trailer.” While it’s admirable for Disney to want to increase its representation of minority characters, it’s hard for me to believe that in a galaxy with thousands upon thousands of sentient alien species, most of them are still human and white. The story also isn’t quite compelling enough, and on closer analysis seems to contain more plot devices than plot. Everything from the crystalline foxes to Benicio Del Toro’s character to Finn’s entire story arc fails to do anything other than fill plot holes or give your eyes something to look at. If you’re doubting that, try to justify the lack of an explanation of what happens to Del Toro’s character, or how no one seems to notice that a lot more people would have lived if Poe and Finn had just trusted Vice Admiral Holdo. I will admit that Luke was a fantastic character, and that the dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren was incredible, but it’s sad that if I was going to make a Last Jedi movie of my own, those would be the only parts I wouldn’t change.

Look, it’s a fine movie, but it doesn’t earn the right to be associated with the original series. There’s a reason that the best Star Wars movie outside of the originals is Rogue One — a movie loses its integrity the second it does anything other than create a story. At what point do we acknowledge that raising these stories from the dead comes at a price?

-Noah Harrelson, nmh65@cornell.edu

 

I’ve spent somewhere between 100 and 250 hours of my life watching Star Wars movies, and I still don’t really understand what the whole fight is about? Like I get that there are the good guys and the bad guys but their names keep changing and I think they’re fighting to control the galaxy but I’m not sure? I also played a lot of LEGO Star Wars and read a couple of those kids’ books that take place in the Star Wars universe so I really feel like I should have a better grip on what’s going on and who’s whose boss.

The joy of Star Wars, though, is that the films are still an exciting watch that most people can get into without knowing what’s really going on. It’s a crowd pleaser, and universally fun and meaningful. The Last Jedi is no different, it’s fun to watch, has great visuals, generally charismatic characters and followed the formula that a Star Wars movie should. Star Wars has never been big on switching it up, and it doesn’t need to start now; the joy is in keeping the formula but changing the details. It stays comfortable and easy to watch and love, but it’s fresh and new and exciting.

However, The Last Jedi still lacked in a few key areas. There was a clear difference in the tone of the movie with a change in direction. I find each of the previous trilogies to be fairly cohesive, and this one already stuck out a little bit from The Force Awakens. Also, there were some jokes that just did not land. They hung in the air of the theater and I think everyone was deciding whether to laugh at the moderately-funny quips that seemed out-of-place. Finally, the characters introduced in the new film didn’t get their due development and moments to shine. Vice Admiral Holdo and Rose both felt sold short, and I think this trilogy is at its max of the number of characters it can develop enough to be worthwhile.

-Katie Sims, ksims@cornellsun.com