With the release on December 2017 of the next Star Wars movie in the new trilogy, The Last Jedi, Disney committed one of the biggest offenses to the Star Wars lore ever seen on the big screen. Some very serious questions regarding character origin, and what was to become of said characters moving forward, were left unanswered on the previous movie. These questions could’ve easily been answered, if not in their entirety, at least in part, so the plot for the next two films wouldn’t be so convoluted, or have so much stuff to cram into them. But that’s neither here, nor there. J.J Abrams decided to tell his story the way he saw fit, but, he at least had, apparently, laid out the main plot points, and written outlines for the next two movies to follow through those plot points.
Enter Rian Johnson
Before given the rare, and unprecedented opportunity to not only helm, but also write the script for the next Star Wars movie, Rian Johnson had only one movie to his name, that remotely resembled a major Hollywood production. The low budget Sci-fi flick Looper (2012), starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, was a success, grossing a total of $176 million worldwide, on a budget of $40 million, but nothing to indicate that Johnson was prepared to handle such a massive property as Star Wars. It was ultimately a bad decision. A decision that rests solely on the shoulders of producer Kathleen Kennedy, who decided to, not only, hire such an inexperienced director, but also, to give him absolute creative control of the film, allowing him to write the script, all by himself, disregarding the storyline that had been previously laid out by J.J Abrams and Co. The end result: baffling, to say the least.
After the soft reboot of Star Wars: A New Hope, that had been The Force Awakens, everyone was understandably expecting The Last Jedi to pretty much be a re-tread of The Empire Strikes Back. And, from what we could see from the first scenes of the movie, it very much seemed to be going in that direction. The Resistance was, once again, on the run from the Empire/ First Order, and we’d left Rey on the planet Ach’to, to be taught the ways of the Force by Luke Skywalker, much in the same way that Luke had gone to Dagobah to find Yoda. Boy, were we in for a surprise.As soon as Rey hands the lightsabre over to Luke, and he tosses it over his shoulder, things start going downhill. Luke comes off as a bitter, reclusive old man, who doesn’t want anything to do with, either the Resistance or the Force. But the surprises don’t stop there. After miraculously escaping the First Order, following a massive space Battle in which the Resistance suffers massive losses, and managing to jump to light speed at the last second, they are nonetheless found by the First Order, who apparently have found a way to track the Resistance fleet through Hyperspace. Ever heard of that one before?. Me neither. What follows is basically a two and a half-hour snail-pace Chase between the First Order fleet, and the Resistance’s, but not before a Fleet of TIE fighters led by Kylo Ren, attack the High Command ship with General Leia Organa inside, and blowing it to bits. So, Leia should be dead, right?. Nope. We find her floating adrift in Space, still conscious, and somehow, she manages to call on the Force, to fly her way across the vacuum of Space to the nearest ship, where she is rescued. Ever seen a Jedi Master, let alone a Force apprentice do that?. Yeah, that’s right. Finn, who has just woken up from his Bacta tank healing chamber, learns of the desperate situation in which the Resistance finds itself in, and also about Rey’s whereabouts, and her instructions on where to find the Fleet once she retrieves Master Skywalker, as she was given a tracker by Leia before she left. He knows that the The Resistance is doomed, so he decides to go after her, but he’s stopped by a Ship Maintenance officer named Rose Tico, who thinks he was about the jump ship on an Escape Pod. Rose convinces both him and Poe Dameron, that there’s a way they can disable the First Order’s Lightspeed tracking system by boarding the Mega Star Destroyer where the main Tracking System unit is held, with the help of someone who can disable the device. Maz Kanada points them in the direction where they can find an expert tracker who can help them, which is the planet/ casino Canto Bight. After stealing a Space shuttle, somehow undetected by both the Resistance and First Order, landing the ship on a no parking zone on the planet , being arrested and thrown in a cell because of it, in which they meet a dubious individual, who goes by the name of DJ, and says can help them, escaping prison, returning to the Fleet, breaking into the Mega Star Destroyer, disguised as First Order’s officers, finally finding the Tracking Device, they end up being double crossed by DJ, and delivered into the hands of the First Order. Talk about subverting expectations. They eventually escape from the clutches of the First Order, after the Resistance creates a diversion that allows a small Fleet of Resistence ships to flee, once again undetected, ( I’m starting to wonder just how efficient the First Order really is, given the unlimited technological resources they have at their disposal), to the nearby planet of Crait, where there is an abandoned old Resistance base. Said diversion consists of flying a Resistance Starship at Lightspeed directly at the First Order, causing massive destruction and mayhem, and allowing Rose and Finn to jump a First Order Space Shuttle, and follow the Resistance to Crait, where the final showdown will take place. The crashing of the Resistance Ship into the First Order Fleet is undeniably one of the most striking, and beautiful images ever seen on a Star Wars movie, all the more impactful because the crash occurs with no sound. Very powerful stuff, indeed. So is the final attack on the Rebel Base on Crait, where the planet’s surface consists of an upper layer of salt, and crimson coloured crystals underneath, making for some very striking imagery. Those shots of the Resistance’s rickety, haphazardly put together, mini-fleet assembly of old Speeders going up against a massive wall of Gorilla AT-AT Walkers, and a humongous Laser Cannon, is one, among many, eye-catching scenes throughout the movie. Looks is not precisely the problem on this movie. In the meantime, Luke has been trying to teach Rey about why the Jedi Order has to die. That the Galaxy is better off without them. Let the Universe sort itself out. Better to stay out of its way. Does this sound like the Luke Skywalker who told Obi-wan that his father, Darth Vader/ Anakin Skywalker, could be redeemed?. Who couldn’t wait to jump on an X-Wing to fight the Empire?. It sure doesn’t. Not only that. During the course of her stay on Ach-to, Rey learns to communicate and interact, throughout Space, with Kylo Ren. Admittedly, and in spite of never hearing of this Jedi power before, I’ll say that, this is a very neat way of working around how to establish a love/hate relationship between Kylo and Rey. Through their conversations, Rey learns of the real reason why Kylo turned against Luke, and she starts to realise that there might yet be a way to turn him back to the Light, saving the Resistance at the same time. According to Kylo, Luke tried to kill him, and that’s why he pushed back. Luke confides Rey that he’d started sensing the Dark Side on Kylo, and that he was the one who attacked him, destroying the temple, killing the rest of his Apprentices, and running away with a group of followers, the so-called, Knights of Ren. It is later revealed to Rey in a vision that Luke was all but ready to strike Kylo down in his sleep, and that Luke has been lying to her all this time. Once again, does this sound like the sort of thing that legendary Jedi Master, and heroe of the Rebellion, Luke Skywalker, would do?. It goes against everything that we knew and loved about the character. So, a disillusioned Rey goes back to the Fleet and lands on Kylo’s Mega Star Destroyer in an attempt to turn Kylo to the Light, much in the same way that Luke did on Return of the Jedi. There she is confronted by Supreme Leader Snoke, and this seduction scene plays much in the same way that the one in Return of the Jedi did. She’s teased and provoked by Snoke, like Luke was by the Emperor, and even grabs Kylo’s lightsabre to try and strike him down. She’s forced down on her knees in front of Kylo, and Snoke orders him to kill Rey. You think you know where this is going?. Think again. In a rather surprising turn of events ( we should be used to this by now), Kylo slices an un-suspecting Snoke in half, with Rey’s lightsabre. There goes the supposed big baddie of this trilogy. I’m guessing Andy Serkins didn’t have this in mind when he signed on for three movies. What follows is a very visually interesting lightsabre fight sequence between Kylo and Rey and Snoke’s Pretorian Guard, even though the choreography is a bit iffy at times. You would think that this means that Kylo and Rey are now on the same side, and are gonna be fighting shoulder to shoulder against the First Order in the next movie?. Nope, far from it. On the contrary, Kylo begs Rey to join him, and shockingly reveals that there’s nothing special about Rey’s origin, that her biological parents were filthy traders, who sold her for money and liquor. I guess that means no secret Jedi lineage origin for Rey, then?. She’s not a Skywalker. Nothing remarkable about her. Why, that’s a bummer. Not sure this is what J.J Abrams had in mind when he wrote the outline for all three movies. But, whatever. Most people would have stopped caring at this point. So, Rey goes on the Millennium Falcon to Crait to fight alongside her friends, who are all but cornered by the First Order, and New Supreme Leader Kylo Ren. When all seems lost, Luke Skywalker shows up. After one last heartfelt moment with his sister Leia ( you cannot fault Rian Johnson when it comes to giving good direction to his actors), he goes outside the Base to confront, all by himself, Kylo’s fleet. Kylo orders his troops to shoot him down with everything they have. Luke is dead, right?. No Jedi, no matter how powerful, could possibly survive that much firepower, right?. Wrong. Luke, in one of the cheesiest gestures seen on a Star Wars movie, brushes it off his shoulders, and lightsabre in hand, faces off against Kylo. Lightsabre duel of the Century?. Not quite. After some incredible dodging skills, Luke is all but ready to give up and wait for Kylo to come to his senses. Not surprisingly, Kylo strikes Luke down, only to find out that he’s been fighting a ghost. Surprised?. So was I. Apparently Luke, through some nifty Jedi Astral proyection power that no one knew the Jedi had, has managed to proyect his spiritual being across the Galaxy to Crait, to serve as a distraction, and buy the Resistance some time to escape, to fight another day. What a way to go, right?. Apparently, the Astral proyection effort has left Luke so physically and spiritually drained, that he all but disappears into nothingness. And that, my friends, is The Last Jedi for you. So, what have we learned on this movie. That Starships can be tracked through Hyperspace. Nothing new; J.J Abrams did something similiar in Star Trek: Into Darkness, (a movie that broke quite a few rules of its own). That Jedi can Astro proyect across the Galaxy, and fly through the vacuum of Space, that the First Order are incompetent, that Snoke wasn’t that important after all, and that Rey comes from nothing. Are your expectations subverted yet?.
I’m gonna be completely honest with you. I really liked this movie the first time I saw it. I don’t know if it was because of the hype, the visuals, or the fact that I saw the movie in a special midnight screening, the day before it was officially released. The fact of the matter is that I really liked it. Some of the stuff I saw left me flabbergasted, I won’t deny it. Leia surviving in Space, and flying to the nearest ship, Luke’s grumpy and happless attitude, the death of Snoke, the shocking revelation about Rey’s parents, the Astral proyection thing…, but I decided to go with it. The previous one had been a let down, and this one was at least doing something different, and taking risks, baffling as some of them may be. I went to see it with my brother a few days later, and apparently word of mouth still hadn’t settled in. The theater was filled to the rafters, and even though I generally still liked it, I started seeing the cracks. Needless to say, my brother proved to be the smarter one, and disliked it on first viewing. We went to grab some dinner, and after asking him, he started pointing out the reasons why he hadn’t liked it. The baffling attitude of Luke Skywalker, the often silly and out-of-place sense of humour, the Leia Outer Space flying scene, Luke’s Astral proyection antics…All valid reasons, but not enough to convince me at the time. I eventually bought the movie, of course. Like everything Star wars, I have to own it. It was then, with more time, and more viewings under my belt, that the whole thing started to crumble on itself. It didn’t stand the test of time, in my eyes. For all these reasons I just pointed out, the bad writing, the silly humour, ( not surprising when I heard on the Audio Commentary to the movie that Rian Johnson took a lot of references from British humour, and especially, The Monty Python), Johnson’s constant efforts to surprise, and subvert expectations for the sake of subverting them, without really serving a purpose in the story, and the weird twists and turns that left the writers of the next movie with nowhere to go ( it’s biggest crime, and one that has left J.J Abrams with the thankless task of trying to get out of this hole, in which Rian Johnson buried him). Only time will tell how much damage has been done to the franchise, but the ripple effects have started to be felt throughout Lucasfilm. Kathleen Kennedy is most likely out, and rightly so, as she was the one who brought in Rian Johnson to breathe new life into Star Wars, almost running it into the ground in the process. On May of the following year, Solo, A Star Wars Story, came out. Well documented stories of a troubled production, with a last minute change of directors, most of the movie having to be re-shot, causing its estimated budget to balloon, bad word of mouth and fan backlash following the Last Jedi, caused the movie to bomb at the Box Office. Undeservedly so. And as I said earlier, the very difficult position in which the trilogy was left, storywise, after Rian Johnson’s middle chapter, has made it very tricky for the likes of J.J Abrams to get back into the fans good graces, with a movie that, will not only have to course-correct many of the mistakes made on the previous movie, but also please the fan base, and translate that into financial success at the Box Office.
I couldn’t possibly finish my rant about this movie without mentioning the technical merits that this movie has. And it has them in spades. The movie, this time, was not shot entirely on film. It was a mixture of 35mm, and digital cameras. It’s got beautiful Cinematography by Steven Yedlin, a gorgeously put together Production Design by one of the best in the Business, Rick Heinrichs, Neal Scanlan, once again as Creature and Special Effects Supervisor, delivers some of his best work to date (the Canto Bight Casino sequence with its large menagerie of Alien Creatures is a stand-out), both the Space and Ground Battle sequences, with their increasing dramatic tension (the bombing raid at the beginning of the movie comes to mind), are wonderfully shot, even though I would argue the physics of a bombing raid in Outer Space, the performances are up to par ( Mark Hamill does, what is probably, the best performance of his career, even though he fundamentally disagreed from day one with Rian Johnson’s take on his character), the Throne Room sequence, in which Snoke tries to seduce Rey, with its bold red colours, is a marvel to behold, coupled with a masterful motion capture performance by Andy Serkis (a shame that both his performance, and his role were cut so short in this movie), and I really liked the dynamic between Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and Daisy Ridley’s Rey. The way they communicate throughout the entire movie, and the lingering doubts that Driver shows regarding the intentions and motives of his character, are a testament to the brilliance of Adam Driver as an actor. It’s a shame the way some of the out-of-place humour makes it’s way during some of their exchanges. One scene in particular, in which Driver doesn’t have his shirt on, is cringe inducing. Another high point of the movie was getting Frank Oz back to voice and puppeteer Yoda. Yeah, that’s right. Like with most of the creatures on this movie, they went fully practical. They found the original moulds created by Stuart Freeborn, and reconstructed the Yoda puppet as faithfully as they could. It was a joy to watch. So was watching Carrie Fisher’s last work on the big screen. She’s got some truly wonderful dramatic scenes here, and it was very nice seeing both her and Hamill reunite. If there is one thing that I cannot fault Rian Johnson, as I said earlier, is how crafty he is, when it comes to directing actors. It is a shame that his talents do not extend to screenwriting. That, and his wonderful sense of placing characters within the scene. In fact, some of his best stuff regarding character development was left on the cutting room floor, and can be seen as Deleted scenes on the Bluray Supplemental section. But, then again, so can some of the stuff that was fortunately left out, some of them peppered with that same stupid sense of humour that plagues most of the movie. There’s a particular deleted scene that gives more weight, and and a more fitting send-off to the character of Phasma, that the one that made it into the final cut. Pity, since I think that Abrams had better plans for her, in the long term. The Wizards of Industrial Light& Magic and Chris Corbould and his Practical Effects team deliver, as usual. The use of some of the locations like the West Coast of Ireland, and Skellig Michael Island, which was used to recreate Ach’to, Croatia, where some of the scenes and background plates for the Fathiers Chase sequences were shot, and the Salt Flats outside Bolivia, that were used as background plates for the scenes that take place on the planet Crait, are breathtaking. Last, but not least, I couldn’t possibly go without mentioning the great John Williams. His efforts, once more, serve to round up the technical and artistic aspects of this movie. His score, on this occasion, is mostly dark, sorrowful and rarely uplifting, befitting the movie’s tone and subject matter. It is a pity that all this wealth of technical artistry ended up being in the service of such a bad script and a fundamentally disappointing movie.
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