Star Wars: The Last Jedi Re-Review: A Second Viewing Adds Clarity (SPOILERS)

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Note: This re-review will absolutely get into spoilers for The Last Jedi, so turn back now if you still haven’t seen it. 

I’ve never had to do this before except once with an episode of The Leftovers back in its second season. Expectations are a tricky beast, especially when it comes to something as close to my heart as Star Wars. After seeing The Last Jedi a second time, I found that my review from the first viewing doesn’t do it justice. Yes, there are problems with the film, but some issues I had at first glance completely disappeared when I already knew what was going to happen, rather than sitting in anticipation to see what theories may or may not come true.

And now, poor Rian Johnson, after pouring his genuine heart and soul into the film, is getting lambasted by a sizable legion of fans who want to remove the film from the canon and are calling it worse than The Phantom Menace. To them I say, take a second look with fresh eyes, because The Last Jedi is the only post-1983 Star Wars film that really meshes with the original trilogy. Sure, Force Awakens and Revenge of the Sith have moments that achieve this as well, though both often feel like they’re trying too hard to do so. The singular objective of Johnson’s film is to tell its story, not connect to A New Hope or repeatedly wink at fans to get back in their good graces.

But to get it out of the way, here are all the things I still dislike about the film. Leia’s Marry Poppins scene is ridiculous and not really visually convincing—you get what Johnson was going for, and it’s great to see how powerful she is with the Force, but it just flat-out doesn’t make sense and takes you out of the movie. Also, the character of Rose, and unfortunately Kelly Marie Tran’s performance, just doesn’t work. Again here, you can see what Johnson was going for—a Resistance lackey finding heroism in herself—but Tran often undercuts the tension, and that end kiss is terribly unearned. Finally, Snoke’s death, while wonderful for the film’s pacing and overall arc, specifically Ben’s, is the only case where Johnson waving the middle finger at fan expectations is taken a bit too far. Learning so little about him before his death loosens the context of this trilogy in the timeline, and it’s already a little too loose to begin with. Who Snoke was truly doesn’t matter once Kylo Ren takes over, and that’s fine, but it does make some of J.J. Abrams’ hard-laid groundwork in VII feel like wasted time, and it’s never a good thing when one Star Wars film makes one of its kin a bit worse.

Okay, now lets talk about how perfect and emotional almost everything else is. What The Last Jedi is ultimately about is setting up the dominoes for the end of the Skywalkers. I suspect that fans are upset because that would mean the end of everything they know about Star Wars. But Star Wars is not the Skywalkers. Star Wars is blind heroism and joyful hope incarnate, and if it is to have a future, this whole f*cked up family needs to go away. And so we have Rey, not a descendent of Luke, Leia, or Obi Wan, but a nobody abandoned on the sands of Jakku by her alcoholic parents. Rey is who Luke was before Darth Vader revealed his true lineage, and she’s that Force-sensitive child the film ends on. She’s proof that you don’t have to be somebody to really be somebody, and that is the most pure, beautiful message a Star Wars movie has delivered in decades.

That sentiment is echoed throughout all of The Last Jedi, most prominently outside of Rey in Poe and Finn’s arcs. Oscar Isaac, this time given more to do than be distractingly gorgeous window dressing, takes Poe on a journey to learn that being a hero in the most heroic way isn’t always what’s going to win the day, a lesson he learns from General Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo. Multiple times throughout the film, characters are given opportunities to make the ultimate heroic sacrifice, and only two of them do: Holdo, out of necessity, and Luke because his death, standing up to the entire First Order and Kylo Ren, will reverberate across the galaxy as a call to arms to join the Resistance. Finn crashing his speeder into the hilariously named Battering Ram Canon wouldn’t mean anything and they would be down one of their best troops. For Luke, we see children re-enacting his final moments with action figures, thus fueling that same spark Poe spoke of. (Also, I feel like it barely even needs to be stated, but those kids playing Star Wars within Star Wars is just such a tender, loving thought.)

Beyond the film’s overall arc, this thing is just bursting with life and nuance at every corner. From all the creatures on Luke’s secluded island to the bustling, carefree attitude of Canto Bight, Johnson’s expansion of the Star Wars universe is as fun as it is creative. But aside from everything that’s new, the director bends the mythology to his will, playing with history with all the authority Disney has allowed him. Little details like how the tree housing the sacred Jedi texts is shaped like the Jedi Temple on Coruscant from the prequels, or more memorable moments such as Yoda’s final lesson to Luke prove that Johnson isn’t afraid to play with the expansive mythos in whatever manner he sees fit. Through this, The Last Jedi doesn’t feel like a film made by a committee, but entirely from the mind of a person not only deeply in love with Star Wars, but also unafraid of everyone else’s love for it.

Talking about a love for this saga is not unlike talking about real-life romance. The studios have always spent so much time trying to get audiences to love the films before they even come out. In retrospect, watching The Force Awakens was almost just a formality after months of teasing and talking about Star Wars going back to its roots. They told us what we were getting and then we got just that. And that’s likely why fans are so split on The Last Jedi; we were told we were getting another Star Wars movie, but this isn’t just any other Star Wars movie. It takes risks. It does everything it wants regardless of how you might feel about it. The last film in the saga to really do that successfully was Empire Strikes Back. Guess what, initial reception on that one was a little mixed too. If Force Awakens was the “triumphant” return of Star Wars, then The Last Jedi is its true return to form. It’s a rousing myth unlike any other in the series, bursting with warmth, spirit, and emotion. There are roughly six scenes that I get misty-eyed just thinking about. I mean come on, even the most cynical fan has to feel something when Luke and Leia finally reunite. For that, I can mostly forgive its more questionable narrative choices, as The Last Jedi doesn’t merely understand Star Wars, it allows it to grow and mature. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty


One Response to Star Wars: The Last Jedi Re-Review: A Second Viewing Adds Clarity (SPOILERS)

  1. Skip says:

    Now you are getting it.

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