By Andrew Jenck
**Warning: Minor spoilers to follow but no big plot reveals. Read at your own risk.
Star Wars is a great challenge for filmmakers, in dealing with a franchise meant to appease about every demographic while still staying intrinsically true to the Original Trilogy to maintain enthusiasm for future installments. The franchise, since the acquisition by Disney, remained in a comfortable position of nostalgia and much less risk taking and that did ease us back into the franchise, Disney appeared to maintain that strategy for a good while. However, Disney handed the keys over to director Rian Johnson, known for a lower budget, more creative-driven filmography, for the eighth installment of the episodic saga. Although still performing very well critically and financially, it has a split fan base. I’ll admit, I did have issues with the film upon first viewing as so many liberties and events are thrown at you. However, after further assessment and re-watching it, I can safely say that I am very much on the positive side and despite some glaring issues; it makes for an engaging, even challenging film that you don’t see in PG-13 blockbusters any more.
One of The Last Jedi’s most impressive feats is its ability to deconstruct the mythology and popular mainstays of the franchise into a narrative that transitions from a nostalgic to an innovative stage of the franchise. There are still obligatory callbacks and replications of past scenes but they feel more in service of amending the status quo. In The Force Awakens, Han walked into the Millennium Falcon with warm feelings, but here, Luke walks in with a sense of sorrow. There’s a sequence that mimics the throne room from Return of the Jedi, but leads to different implications for the characters and enforces its themes.
There’s one great discussion between Rey and Luke about how the Jedi’s legacy has been exaggerated and overrated, including Luke’s, that show some of the teachings must be abandoned rather than maintained. This goes very well with Kylo Ren and Rey’s development in attempting to live up to the legacy of their predecessors but needing to focus on making their own mark instead. Legacy is still an important factor in inspiring hope, and the film finds a nice middle-ground. Not everything is as important as it appears.
The Last Jedi also follows a different structure than the other films, which can be off-putting for many. I do enjoy Po Dameron’s arc for the most part as he needs to be put into place and more level-headed, though it can have some contrivances in the plot. Finn’s, and new character Rose’s, subplot has gotten a lot of flak. And it’s definitely understandable. While it goes over better upon second viewing, and I do like the idea of classes in Star Wars, the execution makes it feel out of place and tonally awkward. I like the resolution in the end for the sake of Finn’s development, but it could’ve been shorter and felt too much like our world. However, as with the rest of the film, it does play into the theme of failure that each of the characters play through; that’s why some of the plot is intentionally pointless and some liberties occur to play into false expectations and its themes.
I will admit that not everyone will be satisfied with the execution as this film has noticeable flaws. There’s one scene involving Leia using the Force but done more in the line of a super hero. There can be one too many comedy bits that act like speed bumps in the emotional scenes. These don’t stop the momentum but are still jarring. There are some contrived plot points in Po’s story, depending on your tolerance for that stuff. Finn’s subplot ends on a sour note. Certain plot threads and smaller character moments from The Force Awakens feel absent. Finally, I would’ve liked it to go further with its moral ambiguity. For some these flaws can be a deal breaker, and I’ll admit I’ve dwelled on them and question if I was just blinded by the hype.
Each time, though, I go back to the great moments between Kylo, Rey, and Luke. The Force is used in unique ways here that allows for some of the best moments in the franchise; the stand-out being Mark Hamill showing a Luke far different from what we’ve seen but which still works well in this story. That’s the key to this film: it’s still Star Wars but has moments and aspects not commonly found in Star Wars. If you were someone who had issues with the film but have been thinking back on it, I’d recommend that you see it again. Most of us are used to immediately liking or disliking a film but some require further assessment and analysis to be truly appreciated. That’s one of my goals in doing Drew’s Reviews, and this is one that fully supports that. May the force be with you in 2018.