Talking Movies [May the Sith]: Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (2019)


While May 4th is known the world over as Star Wars Day, many also choose to extend the celebrations of the course of three days, with one of them being the “Evil Star Wars Day” of May 6th (as in “Sith”). This year, I’ve been using the three Star Wars Days as the perfect excuse to go back over the Original Trilogy.


Talking Movies

Released: 22 September 2019
Originally Released: 25 May 1983
Director: Richard Marquand
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Original Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $32.5 million
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse/James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Ian McDiarmid

The Plot:
After rescuing Han Solo (Ford) from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt (Scott Schumann), Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker (Hamill) prepares himself for a showdown with his father, Darth Vader (Prowse/Jones) while Princess Leia Organa (Fisher) and the Rebel Alliance prepare for one final, all-or-nothing assault on the partially-constructed Death Star II in the hopes of ridding the galaxy of the Emperor (McDiarmid) once and for all.

The Background:
By 1983, George Lucas’s science-fiction “space opera” had developed into an extremely successful series of films and multimedia merchandise; yet, though the wave of books, action figures, and videogames that were released back then was prominent, it merely only hinted at the nigh-unstoppable reach of the franchise. After Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980) proved an incredible, if divisive, box office success, Lucas began financing a third film and looking at potential directors (including Steven Spielberg). Eventually, he settled on Richard Marquand but was frequently on set offering advice and assistance. Originally produced under the title Revenge of the Jedi, Lucas eventually altered the title and would clash somewhat with star Harrison Ford over the fate of Han Solo: Ford wanted Solo to die but Lucas was vehemently against it and, eventually, talked the former carpenter around. Although Return of the Jedi didn’t make quite as much at the box office as its predecessor, it was still an incredible financial success, making over $475 million at the box office and finishing first at the box office for six of its first seven weeks of release. The film’s critical reception appears to have been the opposite of Empire’s, with critics of the time largely praising the film and modern audiences generally regarding the film as the weakest of the Original Trilogy for its more child-friendly inclusions and derivative elements. As with the other films in the Original Trilogy, Lucas later revisited and augmented the film using modern technologies which has resulted in one of the most derided inclusions of all the alterations Lucas has made to his influential trilogy.

The Review:
I touched upon this in my review of Empire but when I was a kid, I knew about Star Wars and I liked what I saw but I hadn’t really ever had the opportunity to watch any of the films from start to finish; they never seemed to be on television (we only had the basic four channels back then) and the VHS tapes were quite hard to come by until the 1997 Special Editions were released. As a result, while I can recall snapshots and snippets of each film, the first one I remember sitting down and watching from start to finish (or, at least, enjoying all the way through) was Return of the Jedi and, for a long time, it was my favourite of the Original Trilogy until I came to find a deeper appreciation for The Empire Strikes Back’s bleak brilliance.

As good as the film is, I could have done without Jedi‘s more derivative elements

Still, there is a lot to like about Return of the Jedi; the effects, for one thing, are at their peak in the Original Trilogy and it represents the culmination of each character’s journey and arc since we were first introduced to them. Unfortunately, a lot of it is a bit redundant as we’ve already seen a fully operational Death Star before so returning to that well was a bit derivative and it lacks both the gritty, “lived-in” feel of Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (Lucas, 1977) and the large scale impact of Empire but what we’re left with is still a pretty decent rollicking space adventure when you focus on Luke’s journey and the desperate battle against the partially-constructed Death Star II.

Leia puts her love for Han ahead of her commitment to the Rebellion and fights by his side.

When Jedi begins, the Rebel Alliance are in a bit of disarray; though the threat of a new Death Star lingers ominously in the background, Princess Leia risks everything to deviate from concocting an assault on the space station to infiltrate the sordid palace of the disgusting and nefarious slug-like crime lord Jabba the Hutt in order to rescue her beloved Han. I mentioned when reviewing Empire how, in the previous film, Leia’s militaristic and pragmatic façade was slowly and methodically stripped away as her more human, vulnerable, and emotional side came to the forefront through her burgeoning feelings for Han and nowhere is that best expressed than in her putting aside her commitment to the Rebel Alliance to rescue Han. Once he is safely back amidst the Rebel Alliance, she then steps away from her more diplomatic role as a co-ordinator and commander to join Han in the mission to knock out the Death Star II’s shield generator, now fully embracing both her proactive, action-orientated abilities and her softer, more empathetic side.

Luke’s powers and confidence have grown significantly but he’s still far from a flawless character.

Leia’s infiltration is just a mere part of the grand plan to rescue Solo, however, and it’s all been devised by Luke Skywalker. Now a far cry from the wide-eyed, naïve farmboy of A New Hope, Luke is garbed head to toe in black and Jedi robes, confidant in his ability to use the Force and sure that he has the power and ability to rescue Solo with a minimum of fuss. As impressive as Luke’s newfound abilities are, however, he’s not without flaws; he doesn’t bank on Jabba resisting his Jedi mind tricks or Han emerging from the slab of carbonite with temporary blindness. His concern for the well-being of his friend, particularly his treasured Leia, also causes him to receive a blaster shot to his cybernetic hand during the rescue though they are, nevertheless, successful.

Luke believes in his father’s good side so blindly that he’s willing to put his life on the line.

Somewhere between movies, Luke has grown considerably and, despite receiving only a crash course in Jedi training, is all-but a Jedi Knight when Jedi begins. However, upon returning to his wizened master Yoda (Oz), Luke learns that he must confront and defeat Darth Vader if he is ever to become a true Jedi. Luke is aghast at the suggestion, sure that he is unable to kill his father, and his doubts are further compounded when the spirit of his first mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), reveals that Leia is actually his twin sister. Rather than dwell on the romantic and sexual feelings and moments they shared in the previous films, Luke resolves to instead attempt to turn his father from the Dark Side and redeem him rather than kill him and is so convinced that Vader is in conflict between his good and bad feelings that he’s even willing to die in this attempt.

Though still a loveable rogue, Han has matured into a full-blown team leader.

After being freed from the carbonite and recovering from his vision loss, Han fully commits to the Rebel Alliance and their desperate crusade against the Death Star II; to show just how far his character has grown over the years, rather than simply laughing off or walking away from the Rebel cause, he voluntarily agrees to lead the ground assault against the shield generator and takes up a commanding position with ease and grace. He’s still the most charismatic of the characters and actors, however, and maintains that gruff, rugged edge that made him so likeable but he’s also clearly developed as a character, showing layers of vulnerability and leadership, respectively, where he previously only showed selfishness.

Lando has committed himself to the Rebellion, earning the rank of General between movies.

Han reluctantly hands the keys to the Millennium Falcon over to his former smuggling buddy Lando Calrissian (Williams); it’s not addressed onscreen why Han immediately trusts Lando considering he was betraying him to Vader and the bungling bounty hunter Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) in the previous film but, regardless, Lando is now an accepted and integral part of the Rebellion and trusted enough with leading the head-on assault against the second Death Star. Still emitting a cool, smooth charm, Lando fulfils the role of a principal figure in the Rebellion as easily as Han, as though he was merely hiding from his greater destiny all this time.

The Ewoks see Threepio as a God, putting him in a comedic predicament.

Once again, our heroes are supported by the droids C-3PO (Daniels), R2-D2 (Baker), and the Wookie, Chewbacca (Mayhew); this time around, Threepio gets a bit more of the spotlight as he is revered as a God by the tribal-like teddy bears known as Ewoks and shines in his comedic contributions and an abridged, adorable retelling of the saga so far. Artoo, meanwhile, doesn’t really get a whole lot to do beyond being Luke’s unquestioning confidant and getting the Rebels into the shield generator stronghold and, similarly, Chewbacca is taken away from the space action to join Han’s ground party where he humourously bonds with the Ewoks and commandeers an All-Terrain Scout Transport (AT-ST) walker during the big forest battle.

Either Luke kills the Emperor or he kills Vader; either way, the Emperor wins.

Although the Emperor was retroactively inserted into Empire, he was first introduced in the flesh here in Jedi. After the Force and their kind were openly mocked and treated with scorn in A New Hope, its humbling and affecting to see that the Imperials fear the Emperor almost as much, if not more so, than Vader himself. A cackling, manipulative, wizened crone in a dark robe, the Emperor’s words are full of confidence and poison and he is so convinced of his victory that he willingly leaks information about the Death Star II to the Rebels in order to lure them into a trap. Seated in his enigmatic throne aboard the second Death Star, the Emperor taunts and cajoles Luke in order to fuel his anger and affect his turn towards the Dark Side; everything the Emperor says is designed to push Luke further and further and he even leaves himself completely defenceless, seemingly ready to die so that Luke can turn to the Dark Side and succeed him. His true motivation, of course, can be read through subtext; the Emperor wants Luke to battle, kill, and ultimately replace Vader as his apprentice and he (the Emperor) doesn’t really try to hide this motivation.

Vader secretly plots to turn Luke and overthrow the Emperor.

As for Darth Vader, he is at his most conflicted in Jedi; in A New Hope, he was a mere puppet, almost bored with the mundane routine of his life, but he was a driven, focused force of nature in Empire. In Jedi, we see just how committed and devoted to his Emperor Vader is; he willingly bows in the Emperor’s presence, speaks for him to the Imperial subordinates, and seems in awe (or fear) of the Emperor’s power and ability in the Dark Side of the Force. In Empire, Vader offered Luke the chance to join him so that they could overthrow the Emperor and you can tell, even with the featureless helmet and after shunning Luke’s assertions of his inner conflict, that Vader truly desires to unite with his son to displace the Emperor’s authority.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Return of the Jedi really ups the ante when it comes to practical and special effects; it’s truly a shame to see what a mess Lucas made of the Prequel Trilogy by relying so heavily on computer-generated characters and effects when the standards for the suits and puppets and stop motion work were so high in Jedi. Jabba makes an immediate impression thanks to being a huge, tangible puppet; slimy and disgusting, he’s little more than a lackadaisical slug but is so expressive and lifelike that you really buy into his presence and menace.

Return of the Jedi‘s puppets and practical effects were the best in the series at that point.

Similarly, the effects on the Rancor are still commendably impressive; a large, bipedal, nightmarish monster, we’ve never seen a character engage with a monster like the Rancor in the Star Wars films before and it’s very impressive the way the filmmakers pulled it off. Similarly, the integration of the Imperial Walkers into the more complex environment of the forest moon of Endor is equally impressive, marred only by the poor effects seen in the speeder bike chase.

The film’s desperate, climatic space battle is extremely impressive and exciting.

Return of the Jedi also features the best space battle of the saga so far as the entire Rebel fleet converges on the second Death Star and the second biggest twist of the series is revealed when the Death Star starts blowing up their frigates with its super laser. What follows is an intense, suicidal mission as the outnumbered and outgunned Rebels desperately engage with countless TIE Fighters and numerous gigantic Star Destroyers until Han’s group manages to bring down the shield and allow Lando to lead the assault into the space station’s superstructure. It’s a big, visually impressive space battle and leagues beyond the more gritty skirmish we saw in A New Hope; because of the sheer amount of ships and destruction happening onscreen at any one time, you really get a sense of the urgency and overwhelming odds that the Rebels are up against and that ths is their last chance at defeating the Empire for good.

Vader is overwhelmed and overpowered when Luke explodes into a relentless rage.

Ultimately, though, Vader willingly engages his son in the most brutal and emotionally charged lightsaber battle of the saga so far; like the Emperor, Vader taunts Luke, threatening his friends and sister to goad him into giving in to his hatred and anger. This works a little too well, however, as Luke flies into a rage and relentlessly pummels Vader, severing his cybernetic arm and rendering him beaten and helpless. Now held at the mercy of Luke’s lightsaber in a thematic reversal of the conclusion to their last battle, Vader wheezes helplessly on the floor, even holding a hand up as if to ward off Luke’s wrath and it is only when Luke compares his own cybernetic hand to Vader’s prosthetics that he realises how alike they truly are and he dramatically casts aside his lightsaber and refuses to kill his father. Insulted and angered, the Emperor unleashes his full power on Luke and reveals a peak at the true destructive potential of the Force; prior to Jedi, the Force was an abstract concept with a multitude of uses but never truly tangibly seen onscreen but the Emperor’s devastating Force Lightning changes that and it’s extremely unsettling to see him cackling away and taking such pleasure in roasting Luke alive.

One act is apparently enough to atone for a lifetime of genocide…

Darth Vader is deeply perturbed by these events; literally turning his head to his suffering son and his all-powerful master, physically evoking the conflict deep within his dark heart. Ultimately, Vader chooses to turn on his master, hoisting the Emperor up and casting him down a vast chasm to his death and absorbing the full, lethal force of his master’s lightning at the same time. Many like to argue that this one act redeems Vader (and Jedi goes out of its way to show this as the case as Vader, now restored to the form of Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), appears alongside Obi-Wan and Yoda as a Force ghost at the film’s conclusion, now content and happy) but I actually take issue with this. It’s a poignant and moving seen seeing Vader’s scarred and vulnerable true face as he has one last heartfelt moment with his son but does one act, no matter how pivotal, truly make up for the years of torture and genocide that Vader personally revelled in? I would argue that it doesn’t and that it takes the focus off of Luke who, for me, is the true “Chosen One” of the saga and that Anakin’s destiny was to sire the Chosen One rather than be it himself.

The Summary:
Many people like to rag on Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and I can understand why: the plot is largely derivative, the inclusion of the cute and cuddly Ewoks was a bit jarring, and it seems like a much shorter, far less intense film of the most part. For me, personally, I have no real issue with the Ewoks as they help to expand the Star Wars universe and tell a decent story of primitive cultures triumphing over superior forces (acting as a pretty on the nose allegory for the Rebellion itself in many ways) and the film’s intensity ramps up considerably once the big space battle and the culmination of Luke’s journey begins. No, for me, Return of the Jedi’s flaws lie in the disappointing trend it set for further Star Wars films to focus more on call-backs and redundant elements than trying something new; not only does the Death Star return, the first portion of the film returns to the bleak, barren, boring landscape of Tatooine and, while it does something new with this environment, it’s disappointing to me how many subsequent Star Wars films re-used this desert landscape or returned to the idea of a planet-killing super weapon. Still, that aside, there’s a lot to like in Return of the Jedi, particularly if you focus on the assault against the Death Star II and Luke’s emotional confrontation with his father and it’s easily the second best film in the Original Trilogy for me.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Where do you rank Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi against the Original Trilogy, and the other films in the Star Wars saga? What did you think to the inclusion of the Ewoks and bringing the Death Star back into the story? How about the Emperor; what did you think of him and of Darth Vader’s sacrifice in the film’s finale? Do you feel that one act redeemed Vader or do you agree that one act cannot be weighed against a lifetime of evil deeds? What did you think to the revelation that Leia is Luke’s sister? How are you celebrating May the Sith today? Whatever you think, drop a comment below and let me know and thanks for joining me in revisiting the Original Trilogy over the last three days.

Talking Movies: Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Talking Movies
StarWarsSkywalkerLogo

Released: December 2019
Director: J. J. Abrams
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $275 million
Stars: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Ian McDiarmid

The Plot:
When a threat of revenge is issued by the long-dead Emperor Palpatine (McDiarmid), Rey (Ridley) is drawn into another confrontation with Kylo Ren (Driver) in the search for an ancient Sith device that will reveal the location of the resurrected emperor and decide the fate of the entire galaxy,

The Background:
So, this is it; for better or worse, the “Sequel Trilogy” of Star Wars (Various, 1977 to present) movies comes to an end. For me, this has been a disappointment since Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (ibid, 2015), which was little more than a retelling of better Star Wars stories but with better effects and writing, and only exacerbated by the dreadful Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (Johnson, 2017). Rather than show us a galaxy thriving under the leadership of Leia Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) New Republic alongside Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Jedi Master Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) reconstituted Jedi Order, we inexplicably have a galaxy threatened by the First Order (who are somehow, consistently, more powerful than the Galactic Empire ever were despite all the losses from the Death Star and Starkiller base…) and being opposed, once again, by a rag-tag resistance group. The Last Jedi then pissed a lot of people off by dropping the ball on Rey’s origins, killing off Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) without any fuss or fanfare, and doing away with Luke purely so that Rey could shine as the titular “last Jedi”. Somewhat spooked by reactions to The Last Jedi (and the two spin-off movies, despite the fact that I actually preferred both of them to the entire Sequel Trilogy), Disney roped J. J. Abrams back into the fold to get the Star Wars franchise back on course and, what we’re left with, is a hodgepodge of fan service, damage control, and desperation as he frantically tries to wrap up not just the Sequel Trilogy but the entire Skywalker Saga itself!

The Review:
The Rise of Skywalker kicks off with Ren immediately locating one of only two Sith wayfinders and travelling to the forgotten Sith planet Exegol where he encounters Palpatine, who wastes no time in providing half-assed explanations regarding his resurrection/survival, Snoke’s origins, and motivations for Ren reconstructing his helmet and getting back out their to kill Rey. The implication seems to be that Palpatine transferred his spirit into a clone body and was controlling Snoke like a puppet to convert Ren but…it’s not dwelled upon much at all, which really makes you feel like you’ve wasted your time watching any of the previous movies.

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Despite it all, Driver brilliantly showcases Ren’s duelling nature.

Plus, like, the emperor surviving really undermines the Rebellion’s victory and takes a lot of power and urgency away from Ren, who is otherwise portrayed fantastically by Adam Driver. Imagine if Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) had been as wonderfully torn between rage, indecision, and love; Ren is constantly on the edge, flipping between extreme focus, exploding in anger, and struggling with committing to the Light or Dark Side.

StarWarsSkywalkerBuddies
Thankfully, the chemistry between these guys is a highlight of the film.

As for Rey, she’s been spending her time training with Leia and studying the Jedi texts she obtained from Luke while Finn (Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Isaac) return with news of the emperor’s return. Thankfully, this leads to the three of them heading out to Pasaana to try and find the other wayfinder and end the emperor before he can launch his master plan (called “The Final Order”…which really should have been the title of the movie as the title is dogshit…). One of the strengths of Abrams’ Sequel Trilogy has been the writing and dialogue and Finn, Poe, and Rey have great chemistry together; they bicker and talk like real people and real friends, which is always refreshing after sitting through George Lucas’ stilted, robotic writing.

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It’s always a pleasure to see Billy Dee Williams.

In all honesty, the plot of The Rise of Skywalker boils down to a glorified fetch-quest; the heroes bounce around the galaxy trying to track down the wayfinder and, eventually, find themselves teaming up with Star Wars staple Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) and exploring the remains of the second Death Star, where Rey’s super-duper true origins are finally revealed. Alongside such blatant fan service, The Rise of Skywalker is also gloriously peppered with epic space battles and some of the best lightsaber battles we’ve ever seen, all bolstered by some of John Williams’ best work. Unfortunately, I cannot get over the missteps the franchise has taken since The Force Awakens and the film feels a bit rushed and slapped together in places as Abrams desperately performs damage control to rush the film, the sequels, and, stupidly, the entire saga to a conclusive finish…and still ends with the door left so blatantly open for future films in the series.

The Nitty-Gritty:
So, if you hated Rey before, you’re probably going to hate her even more when it’s now revealed that her parents weren’t nobodies; instead, Rey is inexplicably Palpatine’s granddaughter…which raises so many questions like: when did Palpatine have a son? Who was his mother? Why would he ever left his progeny live? Why has it taken him so long to track them down and kill them? These questions are trumped by a far more pressing one, though, which is literally the question of why Palpatine is even alive at all. Obviously, this is a cheap move to ensure that audiences will flock in droves to see the film out of nostalgia but it really takes away from the victory on the second Death Star and Abrams did very little to justify it. I really feel like we needed a more blatant explanation of his survival and the nature of his relationship with Snoke but, instead, it’s hand-waved away in the laziest way possible.

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The emperor’s threat is issued and destiny awaits…

Also, while he’s been rebuilding himself and his power, the emperor also build an entire fleet of Star Destroyers, all fully manned and armed with planet-killing weapons. Where did he get the resources and manpower for such an endeavour? Fucked if I know, but he did. Not only that, but Richard E. Grant is randomly in charge of the fleet as General Pryde, because I guess Colonel Sandurz was busy that day and I guess Adrian Edmonson was unavailable and Abrams saw how Johnson reduced the already pathetic General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) into a whiny little cry baby. But it’s okay because it turns out Hux is so jelly of Ren that he’s been leaking information to the Resistance and, right when you think that means he’s going to do something interesting, he’s just shot dead by Pryde. Speaking of uninteresting, the fabled Knights of Ren finally make an appearance in this movie; they’re a handful of black-clad, anime-sword-wielding enforcers who…stand around doing nothing, beat up Ren for a bit, and then get killed like a bunch of punks! The big story here is the continued turmoil that Kyle Ren is going through; although he aligns with the emperor, he secretly (well….it’s not really a secret; he yells about it at almost every opportunity) seeks to turn Rey so they can team up, bump uglies, and usurp the emperor together. When Leia gives her life to distract Ren, he ends up having a heart-to-heart with a vision/memory/something of his father and rejecting his lightsaber. Reclaiming the name of Ben Solo, he helps Rey to defeat the emperor (and, by extension, the entirety of the Sith, it seems) but dies to bring Rey back to life, becoming one with the Force in the process. It’s a bit of a weak ending as it means the entire Organa/Solo/Skywalker bloodline is dead but Abrams tried to make up for it by having Rey travel to Tatooine (because God forbid we don’t go back there again!) and dramatically declare herself to be “Rey Skywalker”…despite having no claims to the name.

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The Summary:
Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is clearly the best entry in the Sequel Trilogy but, as a finale to the entire Skywalker Saga, it fails in quite a few ways. Also, it’s hard to watch without the sour taste of its predecessors tainting the film, no matter how engaging the action is or how meaningful some of the film’s heartfelt moments are. Abrams throws all the fan service he possibly can at the film and you can almost see him plastering over the cracks in the film but it’s all at the detriment of telling an original story and nowhere is this more evident than in the credits of the movie. I get that Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill are legends to this franchise but their roles are so minimal in this film yet they get top billing over Ridley, Driver, Isaac, and Boyega and that’s a bit of a joke, to be honest. In the end, I’m glad that this film has brought the main saga to an end. Hopefully, Star Wars can focus on its Disney+ shows, regroup, and, the next time someone decides to make a film trilogy, they will sit down and map out an actual plan rather than just picking out their favourite Star Wars moments and slapping them into a space/action drama and calling it a day.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

Talking Movies: Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Talking Movies
LastJediLogo

For those who have been living under a rock for the last forty years, Star Wars is one of the most successful and popular science-fiction media franchises of all time and, perhaps, one of the most beloved trilogies ever crafted. In 1999, series creator George Lucas began his Prequel Trilogy which, thanks to their abundance of CGI, questionable acting, and much-maligned narrative choices, left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, they immediately set to work in reinvigorating the franchise by beginning not just a new trilogy of movies, but also an entirely new series of spin-offs and multi-media merchandise. Excitement was high for Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015), which saw the return of fan favourite characters Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo/Peter Mayhew), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). For me, The Force Awakens had just as many positives as it had flaws; it had some great characterisation and action and was way more exciting and interesting than any of Lucas’ prequel movies. However it suffered from leaning maybe a bit too hard on nostalgia by mirroring very closely the plot of Star Wars: Episode VI: A New Hope (Lucas, 1977). This might have been a thematic choice but I feel that the massive time jump over the new renaissance of the revived Galactic Republic and Jedi Order in favour of a inexplicably overpowered Empire proxy, the First Order, and the renewed destruction of the Jedi.

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“I wonder if she means Old Luke Skywalker?…”

Anyway, The Last Jedi picks up immediately after the end of The Force Awakens; the traditional opening crawl is quite sparse as a result but, basically, the First Order apparently now reigns supreme and chaos has swept across the galaxy despite the destruction of their Starkiller base. Relentlessly pursued by the First Order’s fleet, the remnants of the Republic (now reverting to their original branding as Rebels), led by General Leia Organa, organises an evacuation of their base but they end up running low on fuel and being constantly bombarded by the slower First Order ships. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found former Jedi Master Luke Skywalker living in isolation on a hidden planet. Swamped by her own fears and uncertainties, she attempts to convince him to rejoin the Rebellion and to train her as a Jedi. Luke, however, is a broken shell of a man, haunted by his failure to keep Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) from succumbing to the dark machinations of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

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The Last Jedi is all about the new blood.

After Leia is injured from the First Order’s attack, hot-headed Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), former Stormtrooper turned Rebel hero Finn (John Boyega), and newcomer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) hatch a plan to locate a master hacker and sneak onto Snoke’s ship to disable their systems and allow the survivors can escape to safety. These three storylines weave in and out with the continued development of Kylo Ren, who continues to struggle with his legacy, his actions from The Force Awakens, and his attempts to tempt Rey to join his cause.

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The Last Jedi is nothing if not visually stunning.

If The Force Awakens drew heavily from A New Hope, The Last Jedi is heavily influenced by Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980) primarily in its juggling of multiple storylines happening concurrently and in topping the planet-destroying super weapon of their previous film with a more personal, intense storyline. Like the asteroid field chase from Empire, the Rebels end up in the slowest chase in history when they manage to stay just out of range of the First Order’s barrage, Rey’s training is as brief and vague as Luke’s, Finn and Rose are forced to turn to a rogue for assistance, and the Rebels end up in a desperate battle against Imperial walkers. There are also various obvious call backs to Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Marquand, 1983); Snoke attempts to turn Rey similar to how the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) tried to turn Luke, the Rebel forces get absolutely obliterated by the First Order similar to the one-sided Endor battle, and there’s some cute new critters used thankfully far more sparingly than the Ewoks to help boost sales of tie-in merchandise. The Last Jedi felt like a massive course correction and righted a lot of the wrongs I took away from The Force Awakens; I didn’t like that Snoke was a thing, I felt that it would be far more interesting and different to see Ren and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) at odds but in command of the First Order rather than repeating the tired “evil old wizard in command of the galaxy/pulling the strings” storyline we’ve seen for six previous Star Wars movies. As a result, I was happy to see Kylo kill Snoke and crown himself the new Supreme Leader of the First Order but, as a result, Snoke died before we ever learned anything about who he was or where he came from.

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Want to know more about Snoke? Well, too bad!

Also, while we get to see Poe develop from a trigger-happy, impulsive pilot to a competent leader, Finn’s side plot with Rose ended up just being a convoluted and largely insignificant addition that existed just to give him something to do, and his showdown with Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) was a similarly minor moment in the grand scheme of the narrative. Phasma, with her chrome-plated look (and armour that actually reflects lasers), had the potential to be a stand out character but, in this sea of new characters and overlapping plot points, is basically a nothing when she really could have been Ren and Hux’s primary enforcer. Finn’s best moment comes when he resolves to sacrifice himself to save the Rebels from being blasted by the First Order’s “Death Star cannon” but even this is stolen away from him when Rose randomly jumps in to save him and, effectively, spell the destruction of the remnants of the Republic. As we all know, Carrie Fisher tragically passed away during the production of this movie; as a result, it seemed as though her character would receive a dramatic send off, possibly in a way of adding to Ren’s impressive resume of asshole actions. Instead, she manages to use the Force to survive being blown into space and, although she spends a great deal of time injured, returns to active duty to comfort Rey by the finale. In the meantime, her duties are taken over by Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) who, for no other reason other than manufacturing tension, keeps vital information away from what remains of the Rebellion.

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It’s fair to say that Luke is not in the best place, emotionally.

Turning to Luke, I felt this was a great performance by Hamill, who really showed the depth of his acting ability here. While I am annoyed at not getting to see Luke build and lead a new Jedi Order, and I find it hard to believe that he has become a mythical figure when he hasn’t really been away from the public eye for that long, it was great to see him as a broken old man who has isolated himself to die and end the Jedi’s place in the galaxy. Rey helps to nudge Luke back into action not only through her Force proficiency (revealed to be a by-product of her lineage, another plot thread just dumped on the floor), but also reminding him that he is, for many, the personification of hope and the Rebellion in the galaxy. After a few interactions with Kylo Ren through the Force, Rey decides to leave behind her Jedi training and attempt to turn Ren back to the good side and fill the role that Luke is refusing. Although Ren dramatically kills his master and teams up with Rey to fight Snoke’s praetorian guards, they ultimately reject each other’s arguments for turning away from their chosen paths. After a conversation with the Force ghost of Yoda (Frank Oz), who is lovingly realised as a CGI-enhanced puppet, Luke comes to realise that he has to face up to the (extremely uncharacteristic) mistakes he made with Kylo. After an initial fake-out, where it seems Luke is taking a page out of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (Alec Guiness) book by giving his life to buy his allies time and teach Kylo a lesson in true power, it actually transpires that he was smart enough to project himself into that climactic battle, a feat which takes the last of his energy as he peacefully fades to the Force.

Kylo
Kylo’s “burn the past” mission statement appears to be Disney’s mantra when it comes to Star Wars.

Was The Last Jedi perfect? No, not really. It was probably about as good and bad as The Force Awakens, which basically means that, as much as I enjoyed the film, I still prefer Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Edwards, 2016). Rogue One utilises nostalgia in a far more natural way as, being set before A New Hope, it makes sense that it’s using the traditional seventies aesthetic. This Sequel Trilogy, however, seem to be a mish-mash of nostalgia, tried-and-true Star Wars narratives, and an attempt to establish a new generation of characters. With the passing of Luke and the fate of Leia up in the air due to Carrie Fisher’s death, the central Star Wars narrative as a Skywalker tale is effectively over, with only Kylo Ren carrying that story forward. All unanswered questions from The Force Awakens are either waved away or dropped entirely; what could have been an interesting tale of a benevolent Galactic Republic being whittled away by the remnants of the Empire under the command of Kylo and Hux (or Grand Admiral Thrawn) is returned to the status quo of the rag-tag Rebellion fighting an oppressive Empire, and the promise of a rebuilding of the Jedi is side-stepped in favour of a new last of the Jedi in Rey. Having said all that, The Last Jedi is still a great film; it’s big on action, humour, and heart but there are some questionable decisions that, for me, keep it from being better than, say, The Empire Strikes Back. Obviously, nostalgia plays a lot into that and there are some parts of Empire that aren’t perfect but, in the end, I can’t get over some of the biggest plot points, such Rey’s parentage and Snoke’s origins, being given no resolution. It’ll be interesting to see where the narrative goes for Star Wars: Episode IX given how The Last Jedi concludes and that I get the sense that Disney are kind of making up each film as they go along.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better


Recommended: Sure; Star Wars and action/sci-fi fans will love this movie, I’m sure, and general audiences should be enthralled by the special effects.
Best moment: There were two for me; Kylo and Rey’s team up against the praetorian guards and Luke’s penultimate battle with Kylo.
Worst moment: The film dramatically slows down after the opening action scene, the awkward and frustrating personality of Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo stands out, but definitely the entire side plot involving Finn and Rose, which ultimately ended up adding nothing to the larger narrative.