A nuanced take on The Last Jedi
Having been completely bedridden with mono this weekend, I decided to do what any rational human being would do upon receiving the news that they needed to stay in bed for a week. I watched the entire Star Wars saga, end to end. I even started with the prequel trilogy which is something I’ve never done before, I even included Rogue One and Solo (better than I remembered it). Hours spent in bed with nothing but hot tea, pudding snack packs, and George Lucas’ galaxy far far away to keep me company, and it was glorious.
“Context is everything.”
Today, however, my journey came to a close. As the credits rolled on The Force Awakens, and the opening sequence for The Last Jedi began, and I was hit by a revelation of sorts. I don’t think I’ve seen one person give an unbiased take on the movie, at least on the internet. So I figured, why not give my two cents?It seems like everyone else already has. Why not bring some objectivity to a debate filled with polarized takes ranging from “totally killed the franchise” to “greatest movie ever made” both of which are completely ludicrous takes.
So with that out of the way, here is my opinion on The Last Jedi.
The Last Jedi is firmly in the middle of the pack in the Star Wars saga, it’s an ok movie, but it can’t be properly evaluated until Episode IX is released. Simply put, it’s hard to truly evaluate the middle part of a trilogy without having seen the ending. Again, I do not think that The Last Jedi is a great movie, and I’m certainly not implying that a well executed Episode IX will catapult TLJ to being ranked neck and neck with Empire Strikes Back, however, I do think a well executed Episode IX can make us overlook some of the sins of TLJ, much like how Return of the Jedi made us overlook many of Empire’s problems.
Most Star Wars fans have had the luxury of growing up in the VHS, DVD, and Streaming eras. Meaning this is the first time most of us have lived in a world where there is an unfinished Star Wars storyline out there. At least one where we don’t know how it ends (looking at you prequels). When I watched the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time, all I had to do to see the next one was eject the current tape, and pop the new one in. We often forget that we have nearly 40 years of hindsight when evaluating the original trilogy and nearly 20 when evaluating the prequels. That perspective often makes us forget what it was like to view these movies completely in context.
When evaluated entirely within the context of their release, you could make many of the same criticisms of Empire as you can TLJ. (TLJ falls short in other areas too, but we’ll get to that later)
Take a look at these two quotes from The New York Times and The Washington Post on Empire Strikes Back
“I’m not as bothered by the film’s lack of resolution as I am about my suspicion that I really don’t care. After one has one’s fill of the special effects and after one identifies the source of the facetious banter that passes for wit between Han Solo and Leia (it’s straight out of B-picture comedies of the 30's), there isn’t a great deal for the eye or the mind to focus on.” -Vincent Canby, The New York Times
“The Empire Strikes Back” has no plot structure, no character studies let alone character development, no emotional or philosophical point to make…. At the beginning and end of the new film, the bad Empire and the good Rebellion are still at odds. The fact is that there is no beginning or end, just several middle-of-the-story chases” -Judith Martin, Washington Post.
Tell me you couldn’t just replace “Empire Strikes Back” with “Last Jedi” in those reviews. I say that even as someone who would rank Empire Strikes back in the top 10 movies ever made.
Context is everything.
The Last Jedi has its problems. Some major ones at that. Many of the things that got me interested in the Force Awakens were completely axed from TLJ (Knights of Ren anyone?) and at times it felt like Rian Johnson was trying to hard to do whatever went against all the online theories about who Rey and Snoke were. Relationships that were built up in the previous movie had almost no interaction in this one (Canto Bight should have been Finn and Poe). I could continue, but I doubt I’ll list anything that hasn’t been mentioned before.
We do however need to acknowledge the good in the movie as well, and there actually is quite a bit of it.
The opening space battle was as good as any space scene in the saga. Holdo’s sacrifice from an audio/visual standpoint is one of my favorite scenes ever. Killing off Snoke was a major twist that I didn’t see coming, and the ensuing throne room fight scene was epic.
Though they may have totally mishandled Luke for the first two acts of the movie, I think him sacrificing himself to buy time for the resistance to escape, then becoming one with the force while overlooking the binary sunset with the theme playing in the background was a fitting end to one of the most legendary characters in movie history.
But even with the good and the bad in this movie, I’m going to maintain my original stance. There is no way to accurately evaluate this movie until Rise of Skywalker comes out. Period. On its own, it’s an ok movie. Let’s be entirely honest with ourselves though, which Star Wars movie on its own is objectively a great movie? They all suffer from major flaws, and when it comes down to it, are just fun, light hearted movies meant to be enjoyed, not dissected.
What makes the Star Wars saga so great is the epic scale of the narrative that it tells, and the universe it takes place in.
Again, I didn’t think The Last Jedi was great, I didn’t think it was terrible. It was a fun, lighthearted action movie that currently exists as the middle link to an incomplete story, and I say we hold off on making definitive statements about the movie until we see what JJ Abrams does with Rise of Skywalker.