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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review (Positive with No Spoilers)

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer, Oscar Isaacs, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Domhall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Beneicio Del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels

Synopsis: Immediately after The Force Awakens, the Galactic Republic is no more following the use of Starkiller Base’s superweapon. Hounded by the superior power of the First Order, the Resistance is a remnant struggling for survival. Against this backdrop, Rey (Daisy Ridley) struggles to adapt to her new powers despite finding Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

A film’s purpose is to push the audience, to guide us into the unexpected and therein find resonance with the tale. The Last Jedi does its job very well. Pushing the viewer between dismay and revelation, The Last Jedi leaves you in awe when the credits roll. Upending characters, uprooting expectations and ladened with twists, The Last Jedi is a stark contrast to The Force Awaken’s recycled nostalgia. The grandiose orchestra between good versus evil which has been Star War’s hallmark is sidelined. In its stead, The Last Jedi is a thread of different characters’ parallel journeys between the past and the future. Rian Johnson’s focus on characters moulds The Last Jedi into a film not seen before in Star Wars.  

A bold departure from the franchise’s foundations, The Last Jedi will be praised for its maturity and originality in the years to come. In the present, Rian Johnson’s choices will disgruntle and divide fans expecting a rehash. An absence of answers to questions raised two years ago will cause many, myself included, to feel cheated by differing degrees . Viewers of Looper will notice Rian Johnson’s repeated error of focusing on characters over plot details. This mistake pushes The Last Jedi to commit the worst sin of The Star Wars prequels, outright omissions and references to unknown past events which steal away much needed exposition. The differing fate of two major characters at The Last Jedi’s conclusion veers away from the rest of the film’s commitment to originality. Yet in the moment of viewing, all misgivings dissolve away in the rush of pure adventure amid a galaxy far, far away.

I watched the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS. I remember The Return of the Jedi beginning as the tape unspooled in the machine. Luke Skywalker appeared and  I knew he would be victorious. Silent and collected, draped in the black attire of a Jedi, Skywalker emanated an invulnerability and a purpose regardless of his surroundings. The Last Jedi swipes away all certainties. Every character is conflicted, their purpose tested and their perceptions of the world ultimately changed. From Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) to Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi is a lesson taught across different characters about what strength, weakness, and success really mean. Through this lesson, the characters learn who they really are. Atop this moment of conviction or failure is layer of moral ambiguity alongside a willingness to kill off characters.

Despite the desperate times humour pervades The Last Jedi.  A lot of the gags bear Johnson’s hand as his previous film Looper does have its laughs. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron have their expected comedic moments but more unexpected jokes come from Luke and Leia (Carrie Fisher). Leia’s interactions with Poe as both teacher and friend have their chuckles. Luke has the goofy kookiness of an exile which Yoda displayed in The Empire Strikes Back. Part of Luke’s comedy comes from Rian Johnson letting Mark Hamill be himself, especially when he interacts with his old droid companions.

From extras to old favourites, every actor and actress excels in their role. Adam Driver bears a menacing teenage angst as Kylo Ren, without wallowing in the self pity which rendered Anakin Skywalker needlessly morose. Some of my favourite moments in The Last Jedi were the exchanges between Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Kylo Ren. Unlike the originals which did not develop the relationship between Darth Vader and the Emperor; Snoke treates Kylo as a student, offering him kernels of wisdom between rebukes. Growing up watching Batman cartoons and others, only to discover Mark Hamill was behind many of the voices, proved to me that he was a great actor. The Last Jedi will prove to many beyond the cartoon world that Hamill is just as good as any major star today.

Only one character falls flat despite the actress’ great performance. The character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and her arc underscore my personal issue with The Last Jedi, that Rian Johnson’s voice is bookended by J.J.Abrams and Disney. The overlap creates a disjointed transition between two directors creating different films with no shared source material. Atop of this is Disney ultimately dictating events. Following a spectacular opening space battle which may be Johnson’s best visual work, Rose arrives. Throughout her arc, Rose exudes an artifice, a clear purpose to create emotion and add meaning. Despite the actress’ attempts Rose never feels genuine, feeling more like a mouthpiece for what we are supposed to feel rather being a real person. This is contrasted by DJ (Benecio Del Toro), a character introduced in the same plot who with fewer words, conveys what he is meant to yet still belongs to this universe. Rose’s conclusion and its effect on The Last Jedi, while building on Johnson’s themes, were an artificial insertion preparing for the final instalment. Rather than bind me closer to the story, Rose’s purpose as an emotional device intermittently brought back all disbelief.

Certain moments in The Last Jedi were clear attempts to prepare for episode IX, with one scene causing me to cackle and remember I was in a small cinema screen full of people requiring cough medicine. Beyond Rose are a lack of answers to mysteries from The Force Awakens. Major plot details gain no explanation and earlier details from prior films are overlooked. Yet The Last Jedi never feels threadbare. Johnson’s talent for characters and visual knack distracts from the flaws until the film ends.

Looper had a visual imagery grounded in the minute which weaved into the past and the future of the story. In The Last Jedi, Johnson’s attentiveness imbues Star Wars with a vividness close to Blade Runner. Surveying every payload in a rebel bomber during the opening battle immerses you in this grand scale event. Johnson’s use of wide angle lenses and inclusion of the actors’ full body in the frame gave lightsaber battles a fluid poetry. Never have these alien lands felt so real.

I am giving The Last Jedi 4 out of 5 stars. Rian Johnson had the onerous task of the new trilogy, to go beyond the old and forge something new. Star Wars is moving beyond George Lucas, transcending what we expect from the franchise. When episode IX releases, The Last Jedi can be praised as middle chapter in Star Wars’ new generation.

For those who have seen the film and disagree with my review, Hagood’s reaction was the complete opposite to mine. It can be read here.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Official Trailer]

Ok. Wow. WHAT. Those were my first thoughts after I first watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘s official trailer. It is chock full of twists or what the trailer editors made us die-hard fans believe are plot twists. In this post I want to put down my thoughts and theories about what some of these twists could be, and then both Saul and I would love to hear your theories.

  1. During Snoke’s voice over, I came to wonder who is he speaking to? His words were, “When I found you, I saw RAW, untamed power and beyond that, something truly special.” During his monologue, the trailer mainly displays footage of Kylo. However, as Snoke’s words are echoing away, Rey appears, igniting her saber. We know from later in the trailer that Snoke and Rey finally meet and it appears Snoke tries to break her through torture. Why couldn’t Snoke’s speech actually be directed at Rey? Maybe he’s making it as he’s attempting to make her feel special since she sounds lost and seeking guidance. If you’re thinking “Snoke could not have ‘found her,’ she was on Jakku and after that she went to the find Luke. When could he have ‘found her.'” I’d reply, who put Rey on Jakku? Where did Rey come from? Who are her parents? Maybe Snoke is her father or creator much as Palpatine was Anakin’s likely creator. Or possibly Snoke stole Rey from her real parents and placed her on Jakku till he was ready to tap into her power. I admit this theory is far-fetched, so if Snoke was indeed speaking to Kylo, it sounds like he’s dressing down Kylo in disappointment. For instance, “You [Kylo] were so great when I found you, so full of potential. And you’ve done nothing with it.” Could this be the origin of Kylo’s return to the Light side? Maybe Snoke is favoring Rey over Kylo and drives Kylo back to Luke and draws Rey to him.
  2. Rey pleads to Luke: “Something. Inside me has always been there. But now it’s awake. And I need help.” We all know the Force is unbelievably strong in Rey after she dominated Kylo at the end of The Force Awakens. I believe it was in this fight that Rey realized her full power and even the existence of the Dark side, since hatred can be seen on her face after the defeats Kylo. Luke also quickly realizes her power and appears to abandon her because he doesn’t want to unleash that power like he did with Ben/Kylo. The trailer shows us the price of that mistake: his temple decimated in flames and his padawans slain. If Luke does abandon Rey, this act would be doubly powerful because she already felt disowned by her parents after they left her on Jakku and she’s begging Luke for guidance as a potential father-figure. Maybe this is the motivation for her turning to Kylo and possibly Snoke.

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Luke realizing Rey’s full power and potential for both Good and Evil

3. Kylo’s words, “Let the past die. Kill it,” intrigued me. This voice over occurred as he was supposedly speeding towards Leia’s flagship with a payload of torpedoes to kill her. I say supposedly because there were so many cuts that it’s impossible to know if Leia was actually on the ship Kylo was targeting. I believe, this voice over, once again, could be aimed at someone else at a completely different moment in the movie. Who is Kylo talking to? Luke? Leia? Snoke? Rey? I’m wagering he’s talking to Rey and attempting to sway her to the Dark side. I’d be curious if he was talking to Snoke. If it were Snoke, which past does Kylo mean? His past with his parents, Han & Leia, his time with Luke at the temple, or his Dark side tutelage under Snoke with the Knights of Ren? If he’s talking about his time in the Light with Han, Leia, and Luke then that means he’s just continuing down the path of the Dark side after murdering his father in The Force Awakens. He probably is considering blowing up Leia if that’s the case. If he’s talking about his time as Snoke’s apprentice then he could be renouncing his Darkness and returning to the Light. Smashing his helmet could be Kylo’s rejection of his attempts to turn to the Dark side. However, this action could also portray his hatred for his grandfather, Vader, who he was trying to mimic with the helmet. Maybe Snoke told him he ended up turning to the Light as he was dying and this enraged Kylo so much that he wanted to kill his past. There is not enough information in the trailer for us to know which path Kylo chooses, and I applaud Disney for not giving us any more.

4. My favorite line from the trailer was Luke’s. He said it as he was on his back, speaking to someone above him. My guess is that it’s Rey who is about to leave Luke. He warns her, “This is not going to go the way you think.” This statement harkens back to The Empire Strikes Back when Luke left Dagobah to fight Vader in Cloud City and save his friends. Yoda and Obi-Wan both warn Luke he is not ready to face Vader. I think this line is Luke warning Rey that whatever “this” is, that she is ill-prepared. Maybe she’s going to face Kylo or maybe it’s Snoke. In Empire, Vader tried to tempt Luke to the Dark in Cloud City. Maybe whoever Rey faces will make the same attempt, but will Rey be strong enough to stay with the Light? The ending of the trailer gives a deafening no as Kylo extends his hand.

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The new The Last Jedi poster released yesterday with the trailer

I will end there. Each time I rewatch the trailer another tid-bit or line catches my eye or ear. Frankly, there is too little information for any of us to draw definite conclusions about the plot or outcomes of The Last Jedi. I am so happy Disney, Lucasfilm, Rian Johnson, and Kathleen Kennedy refused to give us fans much more than this.

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Benicio del Toro’s character, DJ

Personally, I still have plenty of questions. Like what did Snoke mean by “Fulfill your destiny.”? How does he know what Rey’s destiny is? Where was Benicio del Toro’s character, DJ? Where will Laura Dern’s character, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, fit in? What planet does the bad ass battle take place with the new AT-AT’s and the Mad Max land speeders? Why is Finn back in First Order fatigues? What is the spark that Poe is talking about? A trailer is supposed to raise such questions without providing answers. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t hypothesize and make our own plots and theories. Saul and I would love to hear yours. Please leave them in the comments below.

By Hagood Grantham

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Behind the Scenes Trailer]

Today, July 15, in its measured roll-out in anticipation of The Last Jedi‘s December release, Disney delivered its second “trailer” for the film. While it is not a real trailer, the short video reveals just under three minutes of riveting tid-bits. We’ll discuss some key aspects of it below, but first, here is the trailer:

Key aspects:

  1. During their interviews, Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill hint that The Last Jedi will depart from the Star Wars norm. I, and I’m sure many other fans, would welcome such a departure after The Force Awakens highly derivative plot.
  2. In a brief clip, Kylo Ren appears in front of an elevator and walkway that looks incredibly similar to The Emperor’s throne room in Return of the Jedi. Maybe we will meet Snoke here, face-to-face. But once again, I hope this does not indicated that Rian Johnson is ripping off the earlier films like J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan did with Awakens.
  3. Who are the Stormtroopers with the black, First Order emblem emblazoned on their arms and wielding weird claw weapons?
  4. This video is laden with intriguing creatures and characters. I hope they mean that multiple, rich and well-thought out planets will fill The Last Jedi, unlike the two, rather boring planets from The Force Awakens.
  5. I’m extremely excited to meet Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro’s characters who we see for a few seconds in the trailer. The only thing I know about del Toro’s character is that people call him DJ. I also know he was a bad ass in Sicario so hopefully his savageness will carry over.
  6. We see Finn exiting his bacta tank so he is obviously alive and Kylo doesn’t appear too badly injured from the slash Rey dealt him at the end of Awakens. Also, who are the two young gentle sparring with him? Possibly, Luke’s padawans that Kylo and the Knights of Ren massacred? Rey seems to also have some sword fighting ahead.

Sorry if I criticiseThe Force Awakens too much here, but after each viewing, I dislike it more and more. Its dialogue failed to fit into the Star Wars universe, its world building seemed lazy, and, as I mentioned earlier, its plot relied way too heavily on A New Hope‘s.

I have high hopes for this installment, in no small part to Rian Johnson.I hope his skill at film making remains iconic and deft in this endeavor into the Star Wars universe.

The Last Jedi [Teaser Trailer]

Outlook: Face-melting excitement

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Benicio Del Toro, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, & Kelly Marie Tran

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Hagood’s Review: 

To be perfectly honest, I cried when Rian Johnson introduced the trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi at Star Wars Celebration Orlando. I am beyond excited for this movie. But I must steel myself and try to be logical.  I was equally excited for The Force Awakens and after three viewings of it, I must admit, I’m a bit let down. Rogue One was a much stronger movie and I’m hoping that Kathleen Kennedy and Lucas Film have learned that Finn’s modern dialogue/humor and a hackneyed plot do not belong in the Star Wars universe.

Now, to the trailer. It begins during Rey’s training. The first shot shows her scared and out of breath with Luke’s voice telling her to breath. This harkens back to Luke’s training on Dagobah when he entered the cave to face his fear. I’m sure Luke will not take his training of Rey lightly, especially after losing all his former padawans to Kylo and his Knights of Ren. He’ll want to overly train her so she can survive another bout with the new Dark Lord. Also, during The Last Jedi panel, Mark Hamill mentioned that Daisy was his “dog” then he caught himself and said “companion,” which I’m sure means Luke puts Rey through hell.

I was quite fond of the shot of Rey standing above the sea pit during another training session and the next shot of her training with the lightsaber as Luke looks on. Kylo’s crushed and smoldering helmet is certainly intriguing. Why did Kylo destroy it? Does he feel he finally realize that he needs to forge his own path instead of trying to follow Vader’s? Was he even the one who destroyed it?

Also, what are in the Jedi scrolls Rey touches? How did Luke get them? Didn’t the Sith destroy them after they executed Order 66? I was happy to hear Rian Johnson say that The Last Jedi will uncover more of Rey’s backstory. That was another one of my qualms with The Force Awakens. It just stated stuff (i.e. Maz having Luke’s lightsaber) without backing things up. Some mystery is fine, but I hope this movie substantiates such plot holes.

There was a distinctly Mad Max-esque shot on a desert plain that seemed to have AT-AT’s in the distance fighting Alliance (?) land speeders. This match-up will hopefully best The Force Awakens land-air battle between The First Order and the Alliance on Maz Kanata’s planet of Takodana. I found that battle to be an unfulfilling tease due to a great set-up but poor payoff.

Another question that arose for me was the fire scene at the end. Was that a flashback to the Knights of Ren destroying Luke’s training academy or in the present? Thankfully Kylo is back (my favorite character) and he seemed to be in the present because you could see the scar on his face that Rey dealt him.

Finally, what does Luke mean by “It’s time for the Jedi to end?” Does he mean they need to evolve like the Sith did when they transformed into the Knights of Ren? Or does he mean something completely different?

I loved this trailer. This is how trailers are supposed to be made. It gave away no plot, but instead raised many questions without answering them. Kudos to Disney, Lucas Film, Kathleen Kennedy, and Rian Johnson. I cannot wait for The Last Jedi. 

Saul’s Review:

Given the striking opening to this trailer, The Last Jedi may be the best directed Star Wars film so far.

In the teaser trailer, we see the First Order retaliate following their loss of Starkiller Base, mirroring The Empire Strikes Back. Captain Phasma walks towards a burning settlement while a rebel base is attacked. Clearly the First Order are going to be a far more ubiquitous menance in this film, instead of threatening the galaxy via a doomsday weapon hidden on a remote planet. It would be interesting to see the First Order begin to take over more of the galaxy, and finally expand beyond the edges of space. Hopefully, we will not lose old man Luke Skywalker due to the First Order’s wrath.

I have two questions following the trailer. Firstly, what will Finn’s role be? He briefly appears in what seems to be a medical capsule, but no other information is given. More importantly, does Luke’s belief that the Jedi must end mean that he is now between the lightside and the darkside? If he is, what new order will emerge?

For the trailer, see below: