Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (PG-13)
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Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (PG-13)
Okay, so I got to see this movie almost two weeks after it came out, and I'm writing this review almost a full day day after watching it. I must say, a lot of stuff happened in this movie, and I'm sure there are a lot of details I've already forgotten, as well as a lot I'd like to omit from my review, to avoid too many spoilers. (But it's also the think of thing I'd probably like to rewatch someday on DVD, and pause every few minutes to edit my review. And maybe someday I will, but for now I'll do my best to remember what I wanted to say about it.) Of course, it's been two years since I saw The Force Awakens, and I've forgotten plenty of details about that. So if this movie contradicts anything in that movie, I didn't notice it. (But maybe I will if I ever get around to rewatching the previous movie.) As with that movie, there's been a certain amount of backlash from the fandom about this one, mostly for reasons that piss me off, and my feelings about that backlash can best be summed up by this meme-ified tweet I saw on facebook before I saw the movie (which you can see for yourself, to the right of this paragraph). (You should also check out the Pop Culture Detective Agency episode "How the Last Jedi Defies Expectations.) Meanwhile, there is something about the previous film that I didn't spoil in my review of that one, which I should probably do now: In "The Force Awakens," Kylo Ren killed his father, Han Solo. ...Which was heartbreaking, and it's hard for me to move past writing that sentence, to start talking about the events of this movie. (It's also heartbreaking, IRL, that Carrie Fisher died a year before this movie came out, although she had finished filming her scenes in it.) But I suppose I must get on with the review. I do want to say that this film had its fair share of heartbreak, too, but that's mostly stuff I'll avoid spoiling, this time (and will presumably reveal in my review of the next movie, whenever I see that). But before I get into the plot, I want to say that while some people might think this movie wasn't quite as good as "The Force Awakens," personally I thought "The Last Jedi" was better, on nearly every level. I liked the previous movie a lot, and I still think that whenever I get around to seeing it for the second time, I might even love it. But this one, I loved the first time I saw it. I thought it had a better (and more original) story than the previous film. I thought it had some of the best humor of the entire franchise. And... well, I'll just get on with the plot, now.
It begins where the last movie left off. The Resistance has just destroyed the Starkiller Base, but they know that the First Order is already ready to strike back, so they begin evacuating their base on D'Qar. (The evacuation seems to be largely directed by Lieutenant Kaydel Ko Connix [Billie Lourd], a character who was introduced in the previous movie, but by the time I saw this, I had totally forgotten she existed.) Unfortunately, a First Order fleet shows up before the evacuation can be completed, and the Resistance can't expect any help to arrive, because of the New Republic's capital star system having been destroyed in the previous movie. A group of Resistance starfighters, led by Poe Dameron, make a dangerous attempt at a bombing run on a First Order dreadnought, which General Leia Organa calls off when it seems it will be too costly (in terms of both lives and ships). However, Poe ignores her orders, which results in the loss of all of the Resistance's bombers. But because of the heroic actions of a bombardier named Paige Tico, the dreadnought is destroyed, though it cost her her life. Later, back on the Resistance cruiser, Leia demotes Poe from commander to captain for his disobedience. The cruiser and what remains of the evacuation ships jump to hyperspace, but unbeknownst to them, the First Order is able to track them.
Meanwhile, Finn has been unconscious since the end of the previous movie, recuperating from injuries in a bacta tank (or bacta suit). But now he wakes up. He soon runs into Poe, who is happy to see him, and says Finn must have a thousand questions. Of course, Finn has just one: "Where's Rey?" (This, I thought, was a great way of segueing to scenes on planet Ahch-To, where we saw Rey find Luke Skywalker at the end of the last movie.) Rey's mission is to bring Luke to join the Resistance, as they need him now more than ever. But she also hopes he can train her to become a Jedi, and possibly find answers about her parents. Unfortunately, Luke has no desire to train anyone, nor to fight the First Order. In fact, he believes it's time for the Jedi religion to die out entirely. (Some fans, perhaps including Mark Hamill himself, were understandably upset about this change in Luke. But personally I thought it made perfect sense. Events can change people, and we've obviously missed out on a lot of events in Luke's life, over the past 30 years. We do get a glimpse of the event that changed him the most, in a series of flashbacks that change perspective based on who's telling the story, Luke or Kylo Ren. So I totally believed in Luke having become what he is now. But perhaps more importantly... and this is something of a spoiler, but I feel it needs to be said... by the end of the movie, he does change his mind. He may not be the same naive farmboy he once was, he may have a darker edge to him, but I believe that in the end, he's essentially the same person he always was. Just more mature. For another line of reasoning about this, see Bryan Young's article, How the Last Jedi Got Luke Skywalker Right.) Anyway... I think his reasons for not wanting to train Rey are valid, and I even think his reasons for wanting the Jedi Order to end are valid. (Hell, I could have added some reasons of my own that he didn't even touch on.) But ultimately, I think a better answer to the errors of the past is to change the way Jedi do things, rather than abandon the entire concept of Jedi. And that seems to be what will happen.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Um... So, Rey and Chewbacca are both on Ahch-To, waiting around for Luke to change his mind. Meanwhile, we're introduced to some cute little critters called porgs, images of which had been seen before the movie was released, and were popular with a lot of fans. (They're kind of like a cross between puffins and hamsters, or something.) But they're of no importance to the story. Meanwhile, Finn learns that Leia has a sort of beacon bracelet thing that would let Rey find the Resistance, when she was ready to bring Luke to them. However, when the First Order fleet (including Supreme Leader Snoke's ship, another dreadnought) unexpectedly catches up with the Resistance as soon as they drop out of hyperspace, Finn realizes that finding the Resistance would mean Rey's death, so he decides to get the beacon as far away as possible. He's stopped in his attempt to leave the fleet by a mechanic named Rose Tico (Paige's sister, who is mourning Paige's recent death). At first Rose is excited to meet a hero of the Resistance, but when she realizes he's trying to leave, she thinks he's a coward. However, when he tells her that the First Order was able to track them through hyperspace (which should have been impossible), they start coming up with a plan together, to sneak aboard Snoke's ship and deactivate the tracker, so that the Resistance fleet could safely escape via hyperspace. They share the idea with Poe, who is eager to help (as is BB-8, I guess). But Poe doesn't think they should share their plan with the current leader of the Resistance, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), with whom he's already had an unpleasant encounter. (Holdo assumed command after an attack by the First Order killed off various other officers, and left Leia incapacitated.) But to get past the First Order ship's defenses, they'll need the help of a codebreaker (or a hacker, which in the SW universe is called a slicer, though I'm not sure that term was actually used in the movie). So they call Maz Kanata, but she's busy. However, she does recommend a codebreaker, and tells them where to find him. Finn, Rose, and BB-8 go looking for him, while Poe stays behind on the Resistance cruiser. It seems like they locate the codebreaker in a casino, but before they can talk to him, they're arrested. They end up getting help from another prisoner (Benicio del Toro), who is also a codebreaker. (Personally, I suspected he might have been the one they were looking for, and that the gambler they saw in the casino and thought was the one Maz had recommended might not have been a codebreaker at all. I don't think anything in the film ever definitively negates this idea, but I'm probably wrong.)
Back on the cruiser, for reasons I've already forgotten, Poe stages a mutiny against Holdo. (I think he got some help from Lt. Connix, among others.) But that was only briefly successful. I won't reveal how that ended, but I thought it was pretty good. And honestly, I thought from the start that the mutiny was a terribly misguided idea, and that Poe's opinion of Holdo was completely unwarranted. And it eventually turns out I was right. (I should say that for the most part, I like Poe. He's funny, he's obviously a great pilot, he's loyal to the cause, and I'm all for questioning authority. And if Holdo had explained her plan from the start, maybe Poe would have given her the loyalty and respect she deserved. Still, I also don't think leaders should always feel obligated to explain themselves to their subordinates. Sometimes it really is best to follow orders and trust that there is a plan. It's ironic that Poe thought his and his friends' plan was "need to know," and Holdo didn't need to know, but never for a second considered that her plan was need to know, and he didn't need to know. ...On the other hand, plans like his, little rogue missions, are the kind of thing that decades of movies [in the real world] have set us up to expect will win out despite overwhelming odds. And of course, our movies are Poe's reality. So maybe he can't be blamed for thinking the way he did. Still, one of the things I liked most about this movie was how that expectation was subverted, for a change.)
Speaking of which, Finn and Rose and BB-8 and the codebreaker they found (whom the internet calls "DJ," though I don't remember hearing a name in the movie) manage to break into Snoke's ship, and find the room that houses the tracking device. Unfortunately, a First Order droid that looks a lot like BB-8, except all black, apparently spots BB-8 through its "disguise," and leads some stormtroopers (including Captain Phasma) to capture the intruders before they can disable the device. (Images of this droid, BB-9E, had been seen before the movie came out. I rather expected it to have a larger role in the movie. Also, it reminded me of the show Benji, Zax, and the Alien Prince [completely unrelated to Star Wars], in which there was a good droid named Zax, and the villains who were always chasing the titular good guys had a droid of their own, which was like a more advanced, evil counterpart to Zax. So I was hoping for some important rivalry to develop between BB-8 and BB-9E. But it didn't. Sigh.) Meanwhile, Rey also shows up on Snoke's ship, for her own reasons, I guess. (I have done my best to refrain from revealing much of anything that happened with Rey on Ahch-To, because I think it's some of the most important drama in the movie, and the most important franchise development in the movie, so I really don't want to spoil it.) But once aboard the dreadnought, she's immediately captured and brought to Snoke, who wants to use her to find Luke. I really don't want to spoil how that turns out. But Rey hopes to turn Kylo Ren back to the light side, which reminded me of Prince Zuko's whole character arc throughout Avatar: The Last Airbender. I won't say how her efforts turn out, though. I will say that there's a pretty cool fight that actually involves Snoke's crimson-clad elite guards, which I liked, because I don't recall ever seeing any major fighting done by Imperial guards or their ilk in any film of the franchise. (I do have a poor memory, though.)
Anyway... our heroes eventually all escape from the dreadnought, and rejoin the Resistance, the survivors of which land on a planet called Crait, which has a very old Rebel base. Lt. Connix sends out a message from Leia, asking for Resistance allies scattered across the galaxy to come and help. Meanwhile, what's left of the Resistance has to try to hold out against a massive attack by the First Order. (There are also some crystal foxlike creatures that were seen before the movie came out, and while I don't want to say what role they end up playing in the story, I will say they were less significant than I expected them to be. Like, seriously... porgs, BB-E9, foxes, pretty much every cute or cool-looking thing that was teased before the movie was released were a lot less important than I expected them to be, which was disappointing.) But our heroes do ultimately manage to escape, after receiving some help from an unexpected source. So the movie ends on a hopeful note, even if the Resistance is now far more desperately outmatched than ever before.
Despite having said a lot more than I intended to, I have left out a few major spoilers, and a lot of details. I will say that a vague answer is finally given about Rey's parents, but I don't think there's any reason to believe it. (I'll also say that for awhile, I was thinking she might be a clone, but that seems pretty unlikely.) On the other hand, I sort of wouldn't mind too much if the answer given were true. Or at least... partly true. I mean, the part about Rey's parents not being anyone of special significance. I think that would be in keeping with pretty much everything else that happened in this movie. There's Luke's idea that his family's importance (and status as legends) was overrated, even dangerous. And Rose's idolization of Resistance heroes... which as far as I can tell, just means main characters... seemed misguided, to me. And the whole idea that the galaxy's new new hope rests with the downtrodden (such as slaves on planets like the one where Finn and Rose looked for the codebreaker) seems like a pretty good idea, to me. Of course, it's nice to have heroes to look up to, but heroes (or main characters) can't do things all alone. They need people like Rose, to keep the ships and bases running. They need lots of random people manning gun turrets and holding blasters. Hell, they gotta eat, so farmers are important, too. Really, everyone's important, even if we never know their names, or faces, or never see them on screen at all. And after all, they're the ones the heroes are supposed to be fighting for. And the heroes we do get to know, like Rey, can come from anywhere, any background. And isn't that sort of the American dream? Not just that everyone is important, in their own ways, but also that anyone can become important, in very specific ways?