Basically I really liked it, but here are two long takes based on seeing the film, immediately going to sleep, then writing down my having-slept-on-it thoughts
The worst I can say about The Last Jedi is that not very much really happens. Which sounds like quite a big flaw, and it is a flaw, but it’s not much more than the old middle-film problem of having to mark time between the opening and the finale. It’s just a bit more noticeable here, since it stands in comparison to the very well-loved Empire Strikes Back and that film’s big revelations. While The Last Jedi has its share of surprising turns, there’s no comparable bombshells here, and so the film has to rely mainly on its ability to dazzle, entertain and deepen our connection to the characters established in the first film.
This, it does extremely well, with a few exceptions - Finn gets paired with a very endearing new character but their plot line, while not entirely unlikeable, feels a little too removed from the rest of the action. Given the film already suffers from a little bloat, I think I would have preferred it if they had stuck closer to the main action. I hope and expect they will get more of an opportunity to shine in the finale.
What makes The Last Jedi really work for me, though, is that it does the job the first film started of passing the baton onto the new cast, in a way that respects the source material, but is not reverent to it - it wants us to let it go and put our trust in this new bunch. Unlike Empire, which set up the finale by plunging the cast into despair, it’s ultimately a film about hope. The most desperate moments are often are punctuated and sometimes punctured with physical and verbal humour, in a way that largely worked for me (although there’s an argument that there’s a few too many of these moments). And so it works because it’s a film that doesn’t want you to despair, even in the darkest moments.
To elaborate on what the film is doing thematically with hope vs despair, I think about the moment when Luke, moodily goes and then hesitates to destroy the last remnants of the Jedi by burning the tree containing the old, sacred texts. And how Ghost Yoda just cheerfully blows up the tree with lightning and basically tells Luke to lighten up, that none of that stuff actually matters. That moment crystallises the message of the film, for me. It’s telling us reverence to the old ways isn’t going to be what saves this situation, a conclusion that Luke half-arrives at but needs Yoda to tell him that that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any reason to hope. Luke isn’t wrong when he says the Jedi need to end, but what he fails to understand is that it’s all the baggage around the Jedi that’s the thing that really needs to end.
That willingness to literally set fire to the old is what makes the irreverence in the script feel right to me. The original trilogy established the force as a tumultuous battle between good and evil, and the prequels doubled down on this with its po-faced treatment of the Jedi order and its traditions.
Here, everything is presented as a bit more messy, a bit more human, while (mostly) avoiding a ‘both sides’ style analysis. When DJ lectures Finn and Rose on the realities of wartime profiteering, it feels like a moment of earned skepticism about a sharp divide between the ‘Good Guys’ and the ‘Bad Guys’. It helps us understand his later betrayal, but it doesn’t expect us to forgive it. There’s no redemption for him, yet at least.
And then, when Kylo Ren kills his own master, for a moment we are left to wonder for a few minutes whether this could be turning into a redemption scene, a whole film too early. But in the end, the film doesn’t ask us to forgive that this is a tyrant and a murderer as in the end of Return of the Jedi. If Kylo Ren gets a redemption, it’s going to have to be more complicated than a switch-flick back to the light side.
I think what is most likely to divide people is the amount of time the film spends being dismantling or outright mocking things previously set up as weighty in the past. But just because of those themes of letting go of the past and trusting in the new that I find that tone succeeds.
It works for me when Snoke basically turns out to be an overconfident space-jerk in a Gold Lamé dressing gown. It delighted me when General Hux’s attempt to establish himself as a credible villain are punctured every time by the script. And I grinned through Luke Skywalker’s performance, initially deflating his legendary status set up as an expectation in the first film, and in the end, living up to it all the same, but only as his final act.
Even the weakest plotline of the film, Finn and Rose’s casino exploits, worked for me on some level - set up to be another standard issue Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy, it turns out to be exactly that, but not in the usual way. A resort for the ultra-rich and decadent, the glamorous veneer of which initially takes Finn in but doesn’t fool Rose for a second. It’s still standing by the time the pair leave, but it was pleasing to watch the trail of chaos left in their wake. And that final shot hints at the start of a revolution on a grander scale than the resistance, which could be a fun thing to watch.
I thought this was a good Star War