James Rosario is a writer, filmmaker, and musician based in the Asheville, NC area. His record label, Bigger Boat Records, releases...
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Directed by Rian Johnson
Reviewed by James Rosario on December 28, 2017
1. Possible spoilers ahead
2. Blue language alert
3. This piece borders on analysis, and is therefore atypical of a traditional review—you could call it a reaction to existing criticisms, perhaps.
Nobody hates Star Wars films quite like Star Wars fans, a fact that has been made abundantly clear with the reactions to the latest franchise installment. Critics—myself included—are clearly in the favorable corner. Fans on the other hand are split, with heated debates raging all over the internet and Holiday gatherings alike. Let’s get one thing out of the way. There are things to dislike about The Last Jedi. It’s not a perfect film, but do the issues it has outweigh what the film achieves? Absolutely not. No way. No how. The Last Jedi is a truly great addition to the Star Wars canon, regardless of what some website rating system, or some know-it-all, might tell you. It’s a remarkable film, and is so for a whole host of reasons. If you find yourself in the negative corner on this one, I’d really like to know why, especially if you consider yourself a fan of the franchise and its future.
Let’s talk a bit about what people seemed to dislike about The Last Jedi. First, the “jokes.” Okay, jokes can be tricky in any movie. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. That’s pretty much the nature of comedy, and when you sneak them into an action / sci-fi / space opera, you have to be very careful. In the sold out showing that I attended, they mostly worked. If you didn’t appreciate the attempt at humor, fair enough, but I’ve got to tell you, not liking a few of the jokes is no reason to pan a film, especially one this well made on every other level. I get it, maybe the “holding for Hux” bit at the beginning was a bit much, but let me tell you something: I went back and watched the originals recently (Episodes IV, V, and VI), and guess what, the jokes start from the onset in each of them. So, as my daughter says, “Boo to you.”
Next, Leia floating through space. This was weird and somewhat jarring at first, but I gave it some thought. I didn’t find it weird in the “Oh my God this is so stupid” sense, but weird in that this felt like a huge turning point in Leia’s character and a demonstration of her previously unexplored Force abilities. The problem is that we, as inhabitants of the real world, know that this won’t—or more accurately can’t—be explored further because of Carrie Fisher’s untimely death. Wherever they were going with this seems to be lost to real life tragedy. They could have cut it, I suppose, but I’m glad they didn’t. Carrie Fisher was a great actor and an amazing human being. To rewrite the story because she’s gone would have been no kind of tribute at all. So, yes, it was kind of weird, but it wasn’t stupid. Under the circumstances, I found it touching and fitting. It’s a sweet tribute to her spirit.
The Canto Bight sequence is another object of ire for many fans, and probably my biggest gripe with the film as well (the extent of my issues with it are its length, nothing more). I don’t feel that it was an unnecessary inclusion, however. In fact, I found it to be one of the franchise’s most overtly and on the nose political statements in its 40-year history (a good thing). If you’re complaint is that Star Wars shouldn’t be political, then I would wonder if you’d ever seen a Star Wars movie before (or any science fiction film, book, or TV show in general, for that matter). Canto Bight points out that, just as in the “real” world, class distinction is alive and well in a galaxy far, far away, and that the resistance is essentially a class war between the “haves” and “have-nots.” The science fiction genre has been a political allegory since day one, and so have the Star Wars films. Whether you’ve picked up on that or not is your own business, but I urge you to examine your own beliefs and get back to me. It’s there for a reason, even if you can’t see it.
And then, of course, there’s the “it doesn’t feel like a Star Wars movie” complaint. Well, you may be right on that one, but to that I say with volume and vigor, “GOOD!” One of the key themes of the film is that perhaps it’s best to leave the past just where it is. Multiple characters (good guys and bad guys) extol this wisdom for dramatic and narrative purposes, but I believe that director Rian Johnson was making a very clear point. It’s simple, really: Do you really want the same movie year after year? Disney has basically promised us a new Star Wars film every year until the end of time. Changes need to be made if the franchise is to remain even marginally relevant. Your childhood will not be ruined, I promise (were you even born when A New Hope was released?). Embrace it! It’s a hell of a lot more fun than holding on to something that never really existed anyway. And let’s face it, The Last Jedi is far and away the most cinematic of any film in the franchise. It’s a downright beautiful film to look at. More thought and care has been put into making this a work of art than any of the other movies. That is not a bad thing. I say again, that is not a bad thing.
I fear, however, that many of the most vocal detractors are panning the film for a more sinister reason. To put it simply, they have issues with the role that women take in the film. To those of you who hold these opinions, I have one thing to say: Fuck you. There’s a lot of man-children out there who are challenged by women in leadership roles, and again, fuck you. There is nothing stereotypically “Hollywood” about the women of The Last Jedi, and this is a problem for many basement dwelling Neanderthals. These women are smart, strong, and bad-ass. They aren’t competing for a man’s affection, and they have genuine respect and admiration for each other’s accomplishments. They are not “bitches.” They are measured and logical. Their decisions are made with careful thought and planning. They give orders to men. They do not wear skimpy clothing. They are not eye candy. They are heroes and role-models, and if you have a problem with that, I’ll say it again just to make sure you heard me: Fuck you.
My daughter is three years old. At an age where the princess is just about the most important figure in a young girl’s life, her favorite is Leia. She thinks Rey (Daisy Ridley) is “super cool and awesome.” I can think of no better film characters for her to look up to. Strong women are in short supply in Hollywood. Apparently, it takes a science fiction film to portray realistic ones.
I’d like to point out something else: The Last Jedi is a great movie for kids. What I mean is more than that kids will likely enjoy it. I mean it’s a great movie for them. Young girls will grow up to be bad-asses because of Leia, Rey, Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) —and young boys will grow up to let them. Positivity is an amazing influence on a kid’s life, so why not give them films that offer hope, equality, and respect above all else. The future is unclear, naturally, but the lessons of The Last Jedi aren’t. The way things are going, fighting for what’s right, just, and noble may very well be the cornerstone of our children’s futures. With the path we’re on, in the years to come, it’ll be a necessity for all of us. I’d like to think that the kids will have better tools to do a better job than we did. If Star Wars is a lesson plan for that, so be it. The spark of revolution can come from anywhere, even 40-year-old movie franchises. Bottom line, kids are sponges. If they can absorb the hope and fighting spirit of The Last Jedi, it’s within their grasp to change the sorry state of affairs we’ll be leaving them with. For that alone, The Last Jedi serves as a meaningful piece of art.
It's also a fun, action packed story with great effects, and interesting new characters. I personally find the continuing arcs of Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) more compelling than anything that’s come down the pike so far, and I started watching a long, long time ago indeed. This time around, the rebellion and the characters have more footing, therefore more weight. The Last Jedi is simply more in-depth than any other installment, and that’s just a fact. Sorry, but it’s true whether you like it or not. The franchise is in very capable hands, and I’m confident history will back me up on this. Also, Luke is way more bad-ass than he’s ever been.
It’s by no means a perfect film. Yes, there are plot holes, yes there is dumb stuff, but if you hate it for that, logic states that you should also hate every other film in the franchise (if you can take your rose-colored glasses off for a minute you might see that). All the films have issues. All of them. This one’s issues happen to be executed with a hell of a lot of style and panache, and with the added benefit of having much more substance, both socially and visually, to make up for it. You can’t please everyone, and you never will, but what Rian Johnson and his team have created is much more than a Star Wars film. It’s a game plan for the future of the franchise, and for what I’d like the future for my kids to look like. It’s cheesy as hell to say, but movies can make a difference, and this one just might. I’ve got hope anyway.
The Last Jedi is currently playing at every theater in the galaxy.
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