Star Wars - Episode VIII:
The Last Jedi

Star Wars - Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver

The embattled Resistance is on the run from the First Order while Rey seeks to bring Luke Skywalker out of his self-imposed exile.

After having been bowled over by Episode VII and pleasantly surprised by the quality of Rogue One, I've been in rather good spirits waiting for the next entry in the Sequel Trilogy. I was there opening night, even if it meant I was stranded until the trains started running again a couple hours after the movie ended. My initial impressions were positive but more mixed than my reception for Episode VII. Maybe raised expectations had something to do with it. I was pretty well bottomed out with the franchise two years ago. I can still remember that voice in my head back in '99 that not all was right, even if I didn't fully break down and admit my dissatisfaction with the prequels for years. I could've just gone forward and written this review based on those initial impressions, but I wanted to stew on it a bit and give it a second watch to see if I what I felt held true. While it's still early, this appears to be a fairly divisive entry, critically praised but getting a more mixed reception from audiences. Let's dig into my take on the whole thing.

Let's start with the good. Pretty much anything involving Rey and Luke was gold. I took a shine to Rey early on and I arguably like her even more now. Daisy Ridley brings a lot of charm to the role. I also like how this eager young optimist clashes with the broken-down Luke. Mark Hamill does a great job of delivering Luke's range: regret, fear, and a lot of snark. I also like the character arc they're building for Poe. I was hoping for more with him and this movie delivers. The deconstruction of the military maverick archetype is also clever. And let's not forget our villain. Kylo Ren is a lot more unbalanced here and the development of his relationship with Rey is one of my favorite parts of the film. Also, this movie makes some bold moves with the story and I have to give Rian Johnson credit for being ballsy.

Now for some of the not so good. While there's some good humor to be had (and some great funny moments to be honest), there are also jokes that don't quite work so well. It's not as bad as some of the cringeworthy "comedy" from the prequels, but it veers in that direction. On that note, the section of Finn's arc on Canto Bight was the weakest part of the story, actually feeling rather prequelesque. The message they were trying to deliver there was rather heavy-handed. Also, while I generally liked Benicio del Toro's character, I don't know if giving him a stammer as a character quirk was the wisest choice. Also, I wasn't a big fan of the Porgs. I have a feeling they'll basically be the new Ewoks. Only I never minded Ewoks. Well, at least they're not Gungans.

A lot of people criticized Episode VII for taking too much after A New Hope. You're bound to notice that this movie takes a lot of cues not only from The Empire Strikes Back but from Return of the Jedi as well. I'm tempted to joke that now that they've mined the OT, Episode IX can be a completely original story. Actually, I don't mind that history rhymes as it were and I feel that both this as well as its predecessor are enough their own stories, but clearly not everyone sees it the same way.

On a related note, I continue to feel that the soundtrack continues to rely a bit too much on samplings from the OT. I of course love the OT's music and I can understand the reasons for using the music as a bridge as much as the characters and story elements, but it leaves the Sequel Trilogy with less of its own identity. I paid closer attention for new tracks on my second viewing. Rose's theme, as featured prominently in "The Rebellion Reborn", can perhaps rightfully be considered the signature track of the film and it has a nice upbeat feel that helps offset the often dire circumstances in the story. Also, why I may have found the Canto Bight section of the story weak, the casino's theme really sells the setting. I've also come to appreciate Rey and Kylo Ren's themes more as emblematic tracks of the Sequel Trilogy. I suppose I should just accept that in the music, as in the story, the Sequel Trilogy is something that grows out of the OT and is less of its own thing as the PT was.

You might think that the somewhat mixed feelings I had on my initial viewing would grow into a sharper divide upon seeing it again, but actually the opposite was true. I came out of the theater feeling more satisfied overall. I still liked Episode VII more, but what this movie does well, it does very well, enough to make you feel generous about its missteps. If you were dead-set against the last movie, this one isn't likely to convert you, but for me, I'm happy overall and looking forward to seeing how the story's brought to a conclusion in two years.

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