The much anticipated second installment in the sequel trilogy of Star Wars is finally upon us. As with The Force Awakens, a lot of fans are walking away from The Last Jedi with mixed feelings. A great representation of this juxtaposition is the critic review score on Rotten Tomatoes compared to the audience score: 93% vs. 56% as of this writing. Even here at AiPT! there is no consensus on whether the lived up to its lofty expectations. Our two reviewers, JJ Travers and Michael Pursell are passionate life-long fans and as with many others who’ve seen the film, found themselves on opposite sides of the fence.
Michael: You’d be hard pressed to find anyone walking out of this movie that did not at least think the film looked beautiful. If nothing else, it was extremely well shot. Rian Johnson did some back and forth between character dialogue that really worked despite them not even being in the same room, and he uses a vertigo shot down the side of a cliff face for a very inconsequential sequence. It’s consistently applying detail like this that to gives every moment of this movie importance. Canto Bight, which seems to be everyone’s least favorite part, was filled with unique characters and dressed to the nines in a futuristic luxury that only a galaxy like Star Wars could provide. There are so many worlds which have been created through the saga but Crait was a unique addition I’m very happy they came up with. You’ve seen most of what it has to offer from the trailers (if you decided to watch any of those) but using white on red was so visually appealing. I only wish the film allowed more time to explore the interior of the planet beyond a very brief fly through.
JJ: Whether you love it or hate it, everyone will be able to agree that this film is beautiful. All of the film’s big emotional moments felt that much more impactful and striking because of the quality of the shooting, sets and costumes.
I’m a man who doesn’t like a heavy dose of CGI in his films. It frustrates me to no end when a director goes the lazy route and CGI’s characters and sets that could be built. It really shows me that a director cares about what they’re doing when they take the time and effort to build and craft. So while there’s plenty of CGI here (which I expected) it doesn’t feel overused. There’s a good balance between actual costumes and sets with CGI filler when necessary. The creatures especially all looked great. The porgs, crystal foxes and aliens at Canto Bight were such a treat thanks to a good mixture of costumes and CGI.
Michael: This is where we’ll begin to disagree. The main antagonist and protagonist, Kylo Ren and Rey continue to shine in this installment. Their scenes, whether together or apart, are the most redeeming moments for me and I would have never guessed this was the direction their interpersonal relationship would have gone. Leia’s supporting role is also wonderfully done and was a great but unfortunate sendoff.
That’s kind of where my positives end though. Everyone else falls flat, not progressing beyond their previous incarnations. Some of them even regress. Finn was a character that had so much potential but goes through his phase of being a scared boy learning to be a hero again in spite of his failures. Poe doesn’t move beyond being a hotshot pilot and never redeems himself for the poor decisions he makes. Luke is my biggest gripe and I agree with Mark Hamill’s initial dislike with the character’s direction.
JJ: There’s so much about the film I enjoyed but the characters were definitely the biggest draw. Since we first encountered Poe he hasn’t evolved beyond a hotshot pilot for the Resistance and that lack of growth comes back to bite him with a very hard lesson. This rude awakening finally leads to a confrontation with his failings and results in a reformed soldier. I’m excited to see his role within the Resistance evolve alongside his new perspective.
Finn was the only main character whose story I was disappointed with. It felt like they hit the rewind button on his arc, threw a new coat of paint on it and presented it like something new and shiny.
I was caught completely off guard with the choices made in Leia’s story concerning the big moment we were all expecting. It felt like it was handled completely wrong. It’s difficult to say more without spoiling, but every fan that I’ve spoken with who’s seen the film is on the same page here. Outside of my issues with that decision, Carrie Fisher was wonderful in her role and it felt really special watching her.
Luke felt intricately tied to both Rey and Kylo’s story. A lot of fans are likely to be frustrated with the unexpected path his character was taken down, but when I put my childhood romanticizing of the character aside, I was able to appreciate how they humanized him. We’re able to see what having the weight of an entire galaxy and the status of a legend put upon one person’s shoulders can do to them. It’s easy to forget that our heroes are human too, with all the flaws that come with it and I think that was the story Rian Johnson was trying to tell with Luke.
My favorite part of the film was watching Rey and Kylo. Both characters took huge steps forward in their journeys and really grew into the lead roles we’ve been waiting for them to reach. The self doubt and conflict we’ve seen them both struggle with is processed and largely a thing of the past. By the end of the film each of them is solidly established as the lead protagonist and antagonist for the saga.
Snoke gets a hard pass. Look for our discussion on the character in next week’s AiPT! Podcast. It’ll be chalk full of spoilers and ranting nerds about this dude.
Michael: I’m sure for many this was the biggest letdown of the entire film. To begin with, the central driving force of the movie is a drag that takes up far too much time and is pretty nonsensical. It is accompanied by a Finn subplot that also takes too much time away from the real story everyone cares about and is ultimately irrelevant. I’m sure what everyone wanted was the return of Luke Skywalker, which is not going to go how you think. I’ve come to appreciate it a little more after thinking it over the entire day, but still was not the Skywalker story I was hoping in this sequel trilogy. While I didn’t see The Last Jedi as a retread of Empire Strikes Back, I do get the vibe that these two films are hitting the reset button on the original trilogy and are essentially going to lead up to the story we all wanted these three films to tell in the first place, but with Disney’s own creations at the forefront.
Speaking of which, this was SUCH a Disney movie it hurt. While The Force Awakens was better about it, the not so subtle comedy that has to exist in all of their movies was just frustrating and far too common here. There were also a couple of quintessential Disney one liners that felt forced and not Star Wars at all. While my expectations were to leave the theater thinking “Where does the Resistance go from here?” in actuality I left thinking “Where does Episode IX go form here?” There was some devastating moments for both the Resistance and First Order, but neither side showed their concern for the future in the end. There were some red herrings in this movie to questions we wanted answered, but nothing left me wondering what comes next. I feel like I already know.
JJ: It’s hard to believe anyone will walk out of this film having predicted the story Rian Johnson chose to tell. I’ve seen the film twice already and I’m still chewing on a lot of the choices he made. There are many controversial moments that are already spurring heated debates within my own group of friends, the AiPT! staff and the internet at large. The theme you should expect to see in most prevalence is failure. You’ll find it in every layer of the plot and bravo to Johnson for using it so successfully.
On the whole I was mostly pleased with how the majority of the film’s plots resolved themselves. But there are certainly a few bumps along the way. Finn’s story was probably my biggest issue with the film, as it felt largely unnecessary and the outcome of the main plot wouldn’t have deviated without its inclusion. I was hoping for so much more out of Luke’s story and initially felt let down. But after a few hours post-film I thought about it and I can’t see how they would have satisfied fans without either mirroring the Yoda/Luke in Empire Strikes Back or having him upstage Rey’s role as the lead protagonist of the film. For the most part our new heroes and villains find themselves right where they should be: at the forefront of the story with a unexplored road ahead of them. There’s a lot of comedy here and maybe at times a little more than there should be. That being said, I enjoyed the quirky moments and silly one liners.
While there’s always been a loose formula to the big stories in the Star Wars universe, it’s refreshing to get blindsided by the unexpected. That’s what The Last Jedi‘s story did to me; it kept me guessing and surprised me every time I thought I knew what to expect.
Michael: The folks at Lucasfilm, including Kathleen Kennedy and Rian Johnson, took some real gambles with this latest installment of Star Wars. Ultimately I think they were looking for an all encompassing crowd pleaser but unintentionally split the fan base with the direction of The Last Jedi. I’ve personally only seen it the one time, but will most certainly see it a dozen more before owning it on digital in a couple of months. My hope is that while my initial reaction is that of dismay, after several views I will come around to what this movie means for the future of Star Wars. There are parts I know I will never like but the action is both fun and intense despite missing a proper lightsaber fight. Upon further sittings I have no doubt there are a million things sprinkled in the 2 1/2 hours I didn’t catch, and I look forward to that.
As a huge fan, I’m amazed so many critics saw this movie on par with Return of the Jedi and I wonder what it is they are seeing that I’m missing. Or maybe it’s what I’m seeing that they refuse to admit. If I end up watching this even half as many times as I did any other Star Wars film, though, I guess it’s still good in my book.
JJ: Removing a bandaid can hurt, but in the end it has to come off. That’s just what Rian Johnson did to the Star Wars universe. It had to come off for this story to continue to progress. This is understandably a pain point for a lot of fans, because let’s be honest, we’ve all romanticized the original films. But thankfully Rian Johnson did what needed to be done and moved us past the old generation of Star Wars. So yes while it had its stumbles along the way, Star Wars: The Last Jedi accomplished its goal in the end by making us care about a new generation of heroes and villains.