Looks Like We Need To Hire Some More Jedi
Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Although we all have our complaints about the prequels, most of us can at least agree on what's bad about them. Sure, there are apologists for the first three Episodes, but long run the fandom has pretty much decided to write off most of those movies (except for the few cool sequences, like the lightsaber duel at the end of The Phantom Menace or the opening chase through Coruscant in Attack of the Clones). personally, unless I'm doing a project like this, I steadfastly refuse to watch those three movies at all.
While while we can all agree on the hate lumped on those films, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi has proven to much more divisive among the fandom. Ignoring the MRA guys who hate the movie because of its diverse cast, most of the hate for the film seems to come about because of the story and structure. There's a lot going on in the film but it's hard to say very much is accomplished (at least, not until the climactic last act). It's a film that has a lot to say, but it doesn't say it very well at times, and then ends a bit muddled around the edges, leading to a rather baffling movie experience.
Picking up almost immediately after the events of Episode VII: The Force Awakens, we find the last base of the Rebellion under siege by the First Order. Fleeing their home base, the Rebellion has only one shot at survival: flying through hyperspace away from the First Order and finding refuge with allies to try and rebuild. Unfortunately, the First Order somehow has a way to track the Rebellion through hyperspace (something that should be impossible, so we learn), and as soon as the Rebellion ships pop out of hyperwarp the First order is right on their heels. The fleet has to figure out their next moves before all their ships run out of fuel and they're sitting ducks for the First Order.
Meanwhile, Rey has been sent on the important mission of finding Luke Skywalker (using the map we had in the last movie). This, too, picks up right from the end of the last film with Rey handing Luke his old lightsaber... which he immediately tosses away because he's done with the Force. After trying, and failing, to restart the Jedi Order (with Ben Solo turning to the Dark Side and destroying everything Luke had built), Luke turned his back on everything and went into hiding to avoid the Force, the Sith, or the Jedi every again. Rey, though, has to convince him to not only train her but also rejoin the fight. And she needs the help because, for some reason Kylo Ren (aka Ben) is tied to her via shared visions and Rey feels herself being pulled towards him, and the Dark Side. Luke, the Last Jedi, has to find a way to trust the Force again or the Rebellion may be doomed forever.
As we noted in my review of Episode VII, it's easy to draw a parallel between that movie and Episode IV: A New Hope, with both films having similar story structures and overall plot lines. In the same way, a parallel can be drawn between Episode VIII and prior middle-trilogy film, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Both films feature the lead Jedi (Rey, in this context) heading off to a remote island to find a wise and powerful Jedi Master to teach them the ways of the Force, but the teacher (and their training) leave a lot to be desired. At the same time, the Rebellion's last outpost is under attack and the Rebels have to flee for a distant rendezvous. The setup is the same between the films, but how Episode VIII goes about its story is both how it differentiates itself and where it gets into trouble.
To begin with, I understand that the Rebellion gets stuck between a rock and a hard place when their quick escape is suddenly halted when the First Order tracks them down. It's a nice twist and it shows that the First Order was ready for something like this (after the Rebellion was able to slip through the Empire's fingers in a similar scenario in Episode V). Issue is, the Rebellion then doesn't really seem to have any other plan for what to do after this. Leia is knocked out by an attack on the flagship and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) has to take over the fleet. While we eventually see that she had a half-way decent plan, Holdo keeps everything under wraps for... reasons that are never properly explained. Because of this, crew morale goes down, our heroic pilot Po doesn't trust her, and he puts his own plan in motion to save the fleet. And it's a plan that, eventually, goes tits up and puts the fleet in even more danger than it was before, leading to drastic losses across the board.
For starters I don't understand why Holdo wouldn't share her plan with the crew, why she had to play everything so close to the chest. It's never establishes that the Rebellion has a spy actively working in its ranks, and we're never given the impression that Holdo distrusts those around her. In fact, by movie's end, she ends up showing a certain amount of compassion for Po, so what is the big deal with sharing some details? If she had, Po wouldn't have put his own secret mission into action and most of the Rebellion's fleet would have been saved. The movie tries to pitch it as Po's mistake, something he'll have to carry with him and learn from the experience, except its Holdo's failure as a leader that caused the issue. In the end Holdo gets a heroic, self-sacrificing moment to prove her point and Po is left shaken to his core. It doesn't work.
Meanwhile, Po's secret plan involves sending Finn and new cast member Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) out to find the "master code breaker" on a casino planet and get them to help Finn and Rose sneak into the leading Star Destroyer and turn off its tracking system so the Rebel fleet can escape. This plot line is flaw for a couple of reason, the first of which is that it feels like a glorified fetch quest from a bad Star Wars tabletop RPG adventure. Find this colorful character, get them to do this item so you can then do this other item. It never really gels into a plot you can care about, not like the plight of the Rebellion or the detante between Rey and Luke. It comes across more like the writer realized Rey and Po had storylines so they had to give Finn, the other member of the trio, something to do.
The fact that the quest ends up being not only ineffectual but actually hurts the Rebellion in the process only makes it that much worse. I get what the writer was trying to do, to push the Rebellion into dire straights and show that even the best intentions can harm the cause. The quest also has long screeds about how there is no good or evil in the galaxy, just two sides that, from an outsider's perspective, seem the same. While it's interesting to have a new perspective raised in the Saga, someone raising a voice that isn't black and white or good and evil but shades of grey, but the person making the argument (a character that acts detached and uninterested in anything) sounds like the people who say there's no reason to vote in elections (in the real world) because both sides are the same. They aren't and you have your head in the sand if you think that. Having the detached guy say this makes him sound like an idiot and ruins whatever point the writer might have trying to make.
And yet, despite the flaws I felt were baked into the story, there's a lot to like about The Last Jedi. For starters, while I have issues with Po and Finn's stories, I enjoyed both the characters, as well as new addition Rose. Theres great chemistry among this trio and all are enjoyable to watch. In the moment it's hard to find fault with their performances and, in fact, they help to carry the movie -- first time I watched the film I enjoyed the hell out of it and didn't have qualms with the story at all, it was only on repeated watchings that flaws really became apparently, and credit is due to the actors for selling the material so well. Even when I dislike where the story is pushing them, I still enjoyed the characters themselves.
And the storyline between Rey, Luke, and Kylo is fantastic. Honestly, the Jedi should be the draw of these movies and they should get the best stories -- it's a universe with space wizards and laser swords, after all -- so I really loved that The Last Jedi really nailed this plot line It's tight, it's focused, and it makes you appreciate not only Luke and Rey but also Kylo as well, a feat I didn't think was possible the first time I watched Episode VII. If this movie had been a season of television, I could easily see going back to watch it more than once, just skipping past the episodes dedicated to Po and Finn and their stupid plans so I could focus on the Jedi.
The climax, too, is a visual treat. Once everyone essentially gets on the same page and all the players collect down at an old, abandoned Rebel based in the middle of nowhere for a final confrontation, the film really comes together. It starts with an attack on Snoke's flagship that's gorgeous to see, a real visual treat (that reminds me of anime). That's coupled with an impressive lightsaber battle between Kylo, Rey, and Snokes guards in a red room that I could watch over and over again. Then we have the invasion of the planet with features visually stunning speeders throwing red dust on a white planet, hulking First Order machines that look so good, and a fantastic final battle between Kylo and Luke. Everything about this last sequence is amazing. If only the rest of the film could have been this good throughout.
The Last Jedi has its moments, not just in its climax but throughout. There are great moments of humor, amusing asides and fun character beats, and it all picks up from the beginning of the film (with an opening I enjoy a lot although I know some fans aren't so into it). Essentially, enjoying the film is taking the good with the bad. When it gets going and the film really clicks, it's fantastic. Then you have moments like the long sequences on the Casino world that feel like they came from a different, crappier movie (one of the prequels, perhaps). It leads to a very uneven film that, at times, you almost want to skip through to get back to the stuff that works. Overall it's not nearly as successful as Episode VII but, at the same time, it's highs reach so much higher. I can see why fans are annoyed at times by this movie but I do enjoy it. I don't know if I can easily recommend it, but I think the movie is pretty good all the same.
Continuity and Issues:
When Snoke is communicating with Hux via hologram, how can he use his Force powers? That's a huge distance to try and use his powers. Don't they have a limit to their range.
Force Ghost Yoda (with Kung Fu Grip, now available wherever toys are sold) shows up in the film, and it's great to see the weird little puppet guy again. However, Yoda can still use his Force powers and even interact physically with the real world. In the Jedi can do this after death, why is everyone so concerned about the death of the Jedi Order. Seems to me like any Jedi that don't come back as ghosts and immediately start wrecking the First Order (let alone the Empire after Order 66) are just being lazy. Clearly death isn't any kind of limit on their powers.