Hi folks, Precious Roy here with my friend and fellow contributor Wheels… since our reviews come from opening night, we decided to share a column and talk it out!
PRECIOUS ROY: I think this is far and away the best Star Wars film in the series. I’ve heard some reviewers say that, and I’ve heard some disagree with that. But nothing George Lucas has made has yet been on par with this film, and certainly not STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. For me, it’s not even close. For its time, STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK may have had more oomph, and certainly a better sense of romance. But take away those big reveals, and the great film that remains is not in the same league as this one.
WHEELS: I think it's one of the strongest Star Wars films. It's odd but at this point, we have to sort of stop seeing them as special events now. There will be at least one Star Wars film every year for the foreseeable future. This means there will be good ones and bad ones, and that's okay. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is easily one of the best Star Wars movies so far. I don't know if it's better than Episode V. It is a shining example of why bringing in fresh talent with bold new ideas was a good call by Disney. Rian Johnson has created an immensely entertaining film with few flaws and has cause Star Wars to feel fresher and more vital than it has since the original trilogy. It very well could be the best Star Wars film but that will take more than one viewing of the film to determine that... but it is on par with the very best of the franchise.
PRECIOUS ROY: This movie made me a kid again. I was eleven when Episode V came out. Unlike Episode IV, we did not get first-night tickets but had to wait in a very long line to see it the day after, before the story was ruined by other kids. And I was so filled with questions: how is Darth Vader the father of Luke? What will they do with Han? Will Leia turn to Luke now, with Han gone? What does it all mean?
Unlike that movie, I left this one with all my questions answered. We know what happened between Luke and Ben Solo. Rey’s parentage was revealed two weeks ago in BATTLEFRONT 2, but the movie touches on it briefly (and, I think, deliberately misleads the audience). We know what Holdo is about. We know what DJ, Benicio Del Toro’s character is made of—
PRECIOUS ROY: Heh! Yeah… we get answers and don’t feel cheated by those answers. I walked out of the theater feeling I had really witnessed something that tapped my childhood and actually surpassed it.
WHEELS: One thing that really surprised me about the film, in a positive way, was that it was truly unpredictable. I'd be lying if I said the truly surprising appearance by Frank Oz as "Empire"-era Yoda didn't get me giddy with child-like wonder!
PRECIOUS ROY: D.J. was a great update on Han…
WHEELS: ..and who could've imagined that Snoke would end up being such a non-issue in the story? His death and the way it occurred was the biggest surprise of the film for me and it showed that Rian Johnson was completely unafraid to shake things up. It makes me wish he was seeing the trilogy through to the end instead of J.J. Abrams. I can't imagine Abrams bringing the same level of creativity and fearlessness that Johnson did.
PRECIOUS ROY: it occurs to me that this film is a response to the toxic element of the fandom who cry, “This isn’t my old Star Wars” or “They killed my childhood” whenever someone tries to reinvent something whilst sticking to the canon and the central core premise. Because STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI not only gets Star Wars in the broadest sense, it gets Episode VII. It deals with the sins of J.J. Abrams, not swiftly, but in a proper arc. He dispenses with the re-brandings whilst acknowledging and going THROUGH them, not around them. Resistance becomes Rebellion again.
WHEELS: I agree with a lot of this. This is definitely the subtext of branching away from what came before and making it almost. The driving force of the film. "Kill the Past". This is a new Star Wars, a more morally complex saga for the age in which we find ourselves...
PRECIOUS ROY: There is resolution, and excitement for a new chapter. There’s no cliffhanger, just continuation. It dispenses with the bullshit of “who is this mysterious figure” and says. “we know where they stand now.” There’s betrayal, but it leaves a door open for comeuppance AND opens a big, broader question for us about cycles of us vs. them.
Yes, there’s a very strong, direct political message in this film, and the central-to-far-right will not like it (if they choose to see it at all). The First Order wants to control the universe, at any cost. The Resistance won’t win if they continue to seem themselves as opposition. They need to make a change, not with a brick through a window, and not with old legends, but with new heroes. I love that the epilogue reveals that the biggest win of the movie is made by Rose, a character who might be (to many fans) a throw-away support character.
WHEELS: The film was full of moments that made my inner child who grew up with Star Wars ingrained in them cheer with delight. Rey and Kylo working together to take on Snoke's bodyguards was without a doubt the best action sequence that has ever carried the Star Wars name.
PRECIOUS ROY: Oh, agreed! I felt at times I was watching a story written by a kid who didn’t like some of the bits in Episode V and decided, “I’d have done this instead of that.” Only now that kid has grown up, helms major tentpoles, and manages to do them proud!
WHEELS: And I could talk for hours about how great it was to see my childhood dreams of what Jedi Master Luke Skywalker would actually be like in a battle.
PRECIOUS ROY: Every major character, and a few supporting ones, each has a unique development arc, and it’s told in the course of a 152-minute film. Rey goes from pupil to master. Kylo Ren goes from indecision to mastery in parallel with her—different yet equal, light side and dark side. Finn goes from survivor to hero—
WHEELS: Poe wants to simply action-hero his way through the challenges he faces and he learns that is not always the best approach.
PRECIOUS ROY: Yes! Leia goes from hope to despair. Rose, who we meet through her awesome sister, goes from devotion to sabotage. And Luke goes from burnout non-participant to bad-ass partisan, on a scale you won’t believe until you see it.…
WHEELS: The standoff at the end of the film between Luke and Kylo is the perfect sample of what bringing a talent like Johnson can do for the franchise. His framing of their standoff like a samurai film was a truly striking visual in a film Full of beautiful imagery… and to see the full extent of Luke's powers in a way that we never even considered before as fans of Star Wars... well, I don't think I've ever had a more satisfying moment than watching Luke shrug off volleys of attacks like they were mere annoyances for him. The reveal of how he accomplished that caused the audience I saw it with to roar in approval at just how powerful "Master Luke" is.
PRECIOUS ROY: Mine, too! And what growth, considering first-act "chuck the saber" Luke.
WHEELS: Luke hides away. A childish, simplistic response to a failure and the story shows us that it's only when he chooses to be active, while at the same time nonviolent that he actually makes a difference again.
PRECIOUS ROY: And the fragility of Luke, as well as that of Kylo and Hux… the light side of the force confronts these moral failures and chooses to act on it. The dark side pretends they were never embarrassed. That’s a lot to joust, within a space fairy tale.
WHEELS: Heavy ideological concepts for a film about magic space samurai.
PRECIOUS ROY: Even BB-8… a droid… has its own development arc. For some, that will be film-school crap, and they’ll complain, and feel like Johnson did them wrong; I think it’s absolute mastery. That Johnson did that and still told a thematic overall story as well, speaks to his strengths as writer/director and confirms the trust Lucasfilm has put in him. I can’t WAIT to hear what Mike Hill makes of it.
In the cleverest way possible, Rian Johnson has both the heroes and the villains wrestling with the idea that the past is an obstacle to the future. Johnson deftly shows, in multiple scenes, that it’s not important to hold on to the form of what was… what’s important is that you understand, love it, and move on from it. It’s what M. Night Shyamalan tried to do with LADY IN THE WATER, but fell flat on his face. I’m reminded of when Norm McDonald was fired and Colin Quinn took over SNL Weekend Update, and how they broached the subject.
WHEELS: It seems to me that the main idea behind this new trilogy is the idea that parents inevitably fail their children. This leads those same children to strike out on their own paths (whatever that may be) until they have their own failures and the cycles begin anew. This is personified throughout the film in subtle and not so subtle ways.
As I stated before, heavy ideas… that I don't think would have been present at all if George Lucas was still steering the ship.
PRECIOUS ROY: One of the best things about the film, that I haven’t even touched on yet, it the sense of humor. Johnson is a master at making things funny and still on point for the character. I never felt pulled out of diegesis for a gag. I was laughing and yet still firmly rooted in the worlds of Star Wars. That is not an easy feat to pull off.
WHEELS: This is where we are going to disagree. I thought Johnson's use of humor was definitely strong (the bit with Hamill pitching lightsaber was so perfect and well-timed that it may be one of my favorite moments in the film). That being said, Star Wars humor in general I think is leaving me behind. I felt like the jokes in this film while well-constructed often times pulled me out of the story and caused some frustration for me. This is entirely my personal preference though and for people who love humor in their space fantasy films will find a lot to enjoy here. it's A vast improvement over watching Jar-Jar step in Poo, for example.
I loved how Johnson actually made this Star Wars film feel like an actual war film. The opening battle sequence is easily one of the best dogfight sequences in the entire series and anytime there was any sort of battle it was shot as if it was a serious as you need any other film about military conflict. It was so effective that when Johnson teased that a character might not make it I believed it if each time because that was the effective tone he established.
PRECIOUS ROY: Yes… and the trenches at the abandoned Rebel base called back more than just Hoth, it called back to The Great War and this sense of needless conflict and of a responsibility to stand up. This is Star Wars that dares to question the Force.
Wheels and Precious Roy hope you’ll enjoy STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI as much as we did! Thanks for reading.