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Non-Review Review: Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is visually sumptuous, thematically rich, but narratively clumsy.

There is a lot to love in The Last Jedi. Most notably, the gamble that Disney took on director Rian Johnson has paid off. The Last Jedi looks and feels like no other Star Wars movie. It is not simply the intimacy with which Johnson stages conversations separated by half a galaxy, nor the high quality visual effects. There is an endearing and appearing sense of wonder to The Last Jedi, as if watching a small child playing with action figures and humming the lightsabre noise to himself. The Last Jedi feels like the work of somebody continuing and expanding a story, more than just recreating it.

Rey of Hope.

Indeed, the best moments in The Last Jedi struggle to reach beyond what audiences have come to expect from the franchise. Some of this is inherited from the ambition of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, particularly in early scenes that emphasise the human cost of this galactic struggle. However, there are other more ponderous moments in The Last Jedi when it seems like Johnson and his characters are asking profound questions of the franchise itself, poking at the underlying assumptions that power this box office behemoth.

This was essential for the success of The Last Jedi. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens was an exercise in nostalgia that worked so well because of three factors; it was a palette cleanser after the prequels, it innovated by pushing background characters to the narrative foreground, and it was released more than a decade after Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Nostalgia is not enough to sustain a franchise that will be releasing one major motion picture a year for the foreseeable future. The Last Jedi needs to find something interesting to say about a forty-year-old franchise.

Seeing red.

In its best moments, it seems like The Last Jedi is lining up its arguments. It looks at the Star Wars universe through new sets of eyes, often in a literal sense. Johnson is not a director in the vein of Lucas or Abrams. Johnson is not a director who feels entirely comfortable with spectacle and scale. Instead, Johnson offers a tighter and closer glimpse at the universe and the people who inhabit it. There is a lot of focus on faces in The Last Jedi, shadows moving across them, eyes either focused or trying desperately to look away.

However, The Last Jedi ultimately lacks the courage of its convictions. The bolder and more provocative suggestions at the heart of the narrative remain just that, nothing more than implications or subtext. The Last Jedi has intriguing and bold ideas, but lacks the resolve to follow them through to their logical conclusions. Although undoubtedly less nostalgic than The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi remains too trapped by its own past to fully chart its own course and map its own destiny.

Shore thing.

“Let the past die,” urges Kylo Ren around the midpoint of the movie. “Kill it, if you have to.” It is a bold statement, but a necessary one at a point when pop culture has become saturated with nostalgia, when film franchises seem intent upon returning to familiar ideas and characters rather than finding new worlds to explore or new concepts to develop. After all, what is the point in a new trilogy of Star Wars films built around the patterns and structures of the original trilogy when the viewer can simply watch Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope or Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back at their leisure?

The modern media landscape is populated with reboots and remakes, with belated sequels and reinventions. This year has seen movies like CHiPs and Baywatch, suggesting that reboots and remakes may be reaching saturation point. More to the point, films like Lady Bird evoke nostalgia for an era not even two decades old, as if to suggest that pop culture’s past is quite literally eating itself. What happens when pp culture runs out of past to recycle? What happens when the only thing for which audiences feel nostalgia is nostalgia itself?


This is not simply a reflection of modern popular culture. The Star Wars films have always been rooted in grand mythology, in the idea of epic generational stories about children and parents. Traditionally, whether in Freudian or Campbellian terms, these stories have involved children reconciling with (and supplanting) their parents. Indeed, think of how archetypal and iconic Spielberg is as a storyteller, his narratives frequently exploring the divide between parents and children. The original Star Wars trilogy is ultimately about Luke making peace with his father… and burning the body afterwards.

Parents need to die for children to live. This is a fundamental myth. However, modern pop culture seems to struggle with this fact, trapped in some weird death anxiety and confronted by advances in both narratives and technology. Modern films exist in a world where stars need never die, preserved in computer-generated imagery as seen in Rogue One. There is something disconcerting in contemporary pop culture’s struggle with this fundamental truth, with franchises stuck in a perpetual state of reconciliation with their pasts but without laying them to rest.

Rocking her world.

It is a challenge facing Star Wars, and one of which the films are acutely aware. For all that The Force Awakens is criticised as empty nostalgia, it at least understood that one way to keep these familiar structures fresh and compelling was to look at them through fresh eyes. The Force Awakens centred upon characters usually ignored in epic narratives, both in terms of their backgrounds and in terms of their characteristics. The Force Awakens understood that diversity of perspectives could breathe new life into something overly familiar.

Elements of this carry over to The Last Jedi. The most significant new addition to the film’s cast is that Rose, a working class technician who – by her own admission – spends most of the day working behind pipes. Much like Finn, Rey and Poe, Rose is the kind of character rarely seen in “chosen one” narratives. She is not a secret princess or an essential cog in the machine. She is largely anonymous, a character who wanders into the story by luck rather than some predefined destiny.

She rose to the occasion.

There are moments in The Last Jedi when the film seems to understand the need to move past the familiar and to embrace new possibilities. Luke Skywalker spends most of the movie resentful of the mythology around him, of the way that time and ambiguity have transformed him into some legendary figure rather than accepting him as a complicated and nuanced individual. In the most powerful and affecting moments of The Last Jedi, Luke explains that nostalgia is a dangerous thing. Luke seems to understand that for the next generation to thrive, their parents must move on.

“It’s time for the Jedi to end,” Luke warns Rey early in the movie, a shout-out to the movie’s title. A late-movie cameo from an iconic character affirms this suggestion, ruminating upon the fact that Luke and the trappings of the original trilogy are “the things [the next generation] must outgrow” if they are to become their own individuals. Luke reflects upon the folly of trying to recreate a glorified and nostalgic past. “To say that if the Jedi die the light must die is vanity,” he concedes, and he is correct.

Luke outside yourself.

In its strongest moments, The Last Jedi hints at the fallacy of memory. One key and formative moment is remembered at three different points in the narrative, each vantage point a little difference and the absolute truth falling somewhere between. Luke points out (quite reasonably) that the Jedi Order were a spectacular failure when it came to protecting the galaxy, despite the romance that has developed around them. There is an understanding that an idealised memory of the past is not an accurate historical record, and should not be treated as such.

The Last Jedi hints at the absurdity of the dichotomy between “light” and “dark” that runs through the series, suggesting that even the most heroic of individuals has shades of darkness inside them, and that even the most evil individual has some small trace of goodness within them. Arms dealers supply weapons to the villainous First Order, but also to the heroic Resistance. The Last Jedi obliquely explains that people cannot be reduced to labels as simple as “heroes” or “villains”, which is a radical idea for a film series as rooted in archetypes as Star Wars.

Arctic Foxes.

The Last Jedi returns time and time again to images of characters and beings that exist outside the universe occupied by the heroes. The camera lingers on orphans and urchins on backwater worlds, children living in the shadow of the wealthy and the powerful. However, The Last Jedi goes even further than that. Repeatedly, the film turns its focus to the wildlife disrupted and disturbed by these gigantic struggles, to the natural environments torn up in these epic battles, to the beasts that are enslaved for amusement and that are driven from their homes; crystal foxes, giant horses, brown penguins.

The climax of the film unfolds upon a relatively quiet and isolated planet, one removed from civilisation. However, even then the destruction seems to exact a high price from the environment. As outdated fighters dance across the pristine white landscape, they throw bright red dust into the air and leave snaking red trails in their wake. The combat seems to scar the planet itself, the plumes of red dust evoking blood splatter and the red lines on the planet surface looking like healing scars.

Penguin some, lose some.

Indeed, even the opening sequence of The Last Jedi beautifully captures the horrific cost of this galactic conflict in human terms. As rebel bombers line up their targets, Johnson puts the audience in the cockpits and the bomb bays, demonstrating the sort of chaos that can unfold on ships carrying tonnes of weaponised explosive. These opening minutes are harrowing, evoking the most effective parts of Rogue One, suggesting that maybe the conflict at the heart of the franchise isn’t epic or sweeping or beautiful, but is instead grotesque and terrifying. However, The Last Jedi never quite commits to this brutality.

Through this emphasis on the destruction wrought by these titanic struggles, The Last Jedi seems to acknowledge the folly of playing out this familiar battle time and time again. As the second film in a proposed trilogy, The Last Jedi was always going to merit comparison to The Empire Strikes Back. Although The Last Jedi is more arch and jokey than The Empire Strikes Back, there are also moments when it feels more nihilistic, when it seems to wonder whether the universe would be a better and more tranquil place without any sentient beings to cause such carnage and such disruption.

The ides of the Imperial March.

However, The Last Jedi is still a Star Wars film. It still exists in the context of a larger Star Wars franchise, as part of a massive four billion dollar investment that needs to be protected. While The Last Jedi may broach tough and probing questions, it still has to offer reassuring answers to the audience. Most obviously, the film chooses to align its patricidal instincts with the villainous Kylo Ren, which feels like a sharp left-turn from his characterisation in The Force Awakens.

In The Force Awakens, Kylo was a villainous fan boy outraged at the cooption of his righteous franchise. His immaturity and his rage mirrored the entitlement that echoed across the internet, of self-described “true” fans who believed that these films belonged to them. Kylo Ren was a deconstruction of the dangerous tantrum-throwing fans who mailed death threats to reviewers and doxxed female critics. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren is reinvented as something radically different, he is a monstrous advocate for change. The Last Jedi can reject any argument for innovation because it comes from Ren.

Scarred to death.

Indeed, The Last Jedi is slavishly devoted to familiar patterns and ideas, unwilling to truly innovate. A lot of the movie’s key beats are borrowed wholesale from other Star Wars movies, most notably The Empire Strikes Back. Once again, the film opens with an attack upon a secret base. Once again, there is a ground attack on an icy world. Once again, the cast is broken up. Once again, the Jedi in the ensemble is sent training. Once again, the characters find betrayal on an opulent comfort world. Once again, it looks like hope is lost in the face of vicious imperial power.

At one point in the film, The Last Jedi seems to candidly acknowledge the nostalgia in which it is indulging. Early on, a supporting character tries to goad a reluctant Luke Skywalker to action with an explicit homage to A New Hope, intending to parallel the events to the current situation. “That’s a cheap trick,” Luke reflects, and he is entirely correct. It still works. There is a sense that The Last Jedi is aware of the line that it is trying to walk, the needle that it is trying to thread, to the point that even explicit homages become a source of self-referential discussion.

“Boy, these fan productions are really up-market.”

The Last Jedi is a surprisingly goofy and self-aware film, in a way that feels rather strange and surreal for an iconic forty-odd-year-old franchise. The movie opens with a gag about the villain’s evil monologuing, while the climax involves one major character referring to a trooper with a reflective helmet as “chromedome.” There are sequences in The Last Jedi that feel a little too arch, a little too ironic, a little too winking. In the original trilogy, the use of the Force to discipline failing subordinates was a source of horror and shock; in The Last Jedi, the humiliation of General Hux using the Force is a self-aware punchline.

This use of humour recalls the use of humour in the Marvel Studios films, a way of imposing an ironic distance between the audience and the action that is unfolding. It is a way to assure the audience that nothing on-screen should be taken too seriously. However, it also deflates a great deal of tension. As played by Domhnaill Gleeson, General Hux is a potentially compelling character – a version of Grand Moff Tarkin who did not die at the end of A New Hope, but lived to be a thorn in Vader’s side. However, The Last Jedi undercuts any real sense of menace or competence or threat from the character. It is unsatisfying.

Shine on, you crazy diamond.

The similarities between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi ultimately run deeper than mere plot points. The opening scroll confirms that the status quo is effectively a reset of the original trilogy. The First Order are effectively in the same position that the Empire was in the original trilogy, an overwhelming military force with almost complete control of the galaxy. The Resistance are effectively in the same position as the Rebel Alliance, scrappy rogue fighters struggling to keep their heads above water while facing off armageddon. This is all very familiar. But what does any of this actually mean?

In the context of the original Star Wars, George Lucas was trading on iconography that was both timely and relevant. The imagery of the Empire would be familiar to anybody who had lived through the Second World War, with the collapse of the Republic consciously mirrored on that of Weimer Republic. More than that, the original films existed in the context of the Vietnam War, something that George Lucas has candidly discussed. Even the collapse of the Republic in the prequels existed in the context of the War on Terror, the sacrifice of liberty for security during the George Bush presidency.

“You have some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”

However, what do the First Order and the Resistance mean in the context of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi? After all, these are uncertain times. The radical right is ascendant, with xenophobia and misogyny increasingly common. However, the current debate is not simply a rehash of the Second World War, it is more subversive and unsettling. There is a story to be told about rabid fan boys building upon the ruins of the Empire in a galaxy that has forgotten the struggle against tyranny, but neither The Force Awakens nor The Last Jedi are interested in that story. They are simply indulging in Star Wars nostalgia.

Repeatedly over the course of the film, characters explain the motivations that drive the Resistance. The heroes are striving to reestablish “the Republic.” The are struggling to set things back to the way they once were. This motivation makes little sense, whether within the narrative or outside it. As the prequels demonstrated, and as Luke argues, the Republic was a deeply flawed political structure that cared for a privileged elite and which readily gave birth to a fascist galactic empire. Even in the real world, nobody sough to topple Nazi Germany to restore the Weimer Republic. They wanted something better.

Maps to the stars.

The characters in The Last Jedi cannot imagine anything better than a romanticised past. More than that, they do not want to imagine anything better. The Last Jedi never challenges these assertions, never points out that its would-be revolutionaries might have better luck against their imperialist opponents if they were able to offer something more meaningful than a return to a status quo that allowed slavery to thrive on planets like Tattooine and which centred political power in individuals either ineffectual or corrupt. The Resistance does not have a vision of the future. They do not even have an accurate memory of the past.

The Last Jedi cannot commit to its more cynical and nihilistic impulses because of this nostalgia. For most of the film, the Resistance finds itself under siege from the First Order, with one major plot thread effectively amounting to a slow-motion deep-space car chase. These are desperate times, in which a scrappy bunch of rebels find themselves facing down a merciless imperialist power. The Last Jedi timidly nods towards the obvious questions in this situation, about means and ends and justified political violence. However, these tough utilitarian questions are a tough fit for the moral certainty of Star Wars.

That’s Luke’s private library.

To be fair, a lot of the issues with the awkward political subtext of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi comes down to the fact that both films spend a lot more time amplifying the stakes as compared to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. Given that A New Hope featured a weapon that could destroy entire planets, that is some serious escalation. Nevertheless, the original trilogy spent so much time with characters like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo that the inner workings of the Rebel Alliance were never really a point of discussion.

The primary characters spent much of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back trying to survive, with the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire seemingly abstract concepts. There was a fleeting reference to the dissolution of the Senate in A New Hope and the Emperor made a small appearance as a fuzzy hologram in The Empire Strikes Back, so there was not really an attempt to build a tangible political framework for the original Star Wars until the introduction of the Rebel Alliance High Command and the Emperor’s visit to the Death Star in Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi.

It all falls to pieces.

However, both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi come with this extremely detailed and deliberate hierarchy built in from the outset. As a result, The Last Jedi cannot be just the lead characters running from the bad guys as they were in The Empire Strikes Back, it has to put an entire political movement in apocalyptic peril. As a result, the film shifts the focus away from the characters and on to broader political themes about how these sorts of political entities behave. However, the plot is not set up to support this weight.

Indeed, the plotting in The Last Jedi feels decidedly clumsy. Johnson’s script has to dance around the fact that the Resistance and the Rebel Alliance have never behaved like freedom fighters or terrorists, leading to strange situations where characters take an inordinate amount of time to reach obvious and pragmatic solutions to very simple problems. The Last Jedi introduces shadings of nuance and ambiguity, but Johnson cannot follow those ideas to their logical conclusions. There is a sense that The Last Jedi might have been a stronger movie if Gareth Edwards had been allowed to chart his own course on Rogue One.

Taking the matter in hand.

To be fair, Johnson’s plotting is a little awkward in The Last Jedi. Strangely enough for the writer and director of Looper, Johnson’s narrative struggles a little bit with the technological trappings of the Star Wars universe. Of course, the science in the Star Wars films has always been loose and ambiguous, with the scripts paying more attention to the mysticism and magic. However, the technology within the Star Wars universe always made some semblance of sense, extrapolated from forties or fifties military science into a distant future that was also somehow the past. There was something resembling internal logic.

However, The Last Jedi repeatedly and clumsily falls back on technobabble to justify necessary plot contrivances. The characters repeatedly state that there are certain things that the First Order cannot do, certain protections that rudimentary technology affords the Resistance. However, The Last Jedi repeatedly sets up these rules in order to break them. However, the film never breaks these rules in interesting or compelling ways, never uses these rules to subvert audience expectations or transcend imposed limitations. The film breaks these rules because it is the easiest possible path to the next plot point.

“You did fill out those insurance forms I gave you, right R2?”

This is particularly frustrating because these broken rules could be narratively interesting. At one point, the Resistance wonder how the First Order could have tracked them through Hyperspace, because that is considered an impossibility. The Last Jedi suggests any number of interesting ideas through fleeting glances and awkward silences. Are the First Order tracking the Resistance using the same beacon that will guide Rey home, which would be a clever and ironic twist? Is there a traitor in the Resistance, which would add a bit of dramatic tension? Neither turns out to be the case, the First Order just has some magic technology.

A lot of the plotting in The Last Jedi unfolds along this line, with tangents and diversions that serve to extend the narrative without pushing it forward. A lot of the plot of The Last Jedi can be summarised as a series of “… and then…” plot points, with several of the film’s major dramatic beats having no real pay-off. In narrative terms, both Finn and Poe are largely irrelevant to how The Last Jedi plays out, despite the fact that they take up a lot of screentime and drive a lot of the action.

BB-Love trumps BB-Hate.

To be fair, something similar could be argued of the plot following the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back, which could be seen as a narrative stall before the film enters its third act. However, at least that plot thread in The Empire Strikes Back has a sense of clear forward movement. There is never any real sense of abstraction in the Millennium Falcon subplot in The Empire Strikes Back, in that the crew’s objective is always clear: to escape the Empire. In contrast, the characters in The Last Jedi always seem one or two steps removed from the big overarching crisis.

Still, there is a lot to recommend The Last Jedi. Several of the major plot developments do seem refreshing and compelling, with several of the film’s character beats consciously deviating from the playbook established in the original trilogy. While The Last Jedi never manages to escape the shadow of The Empire Strikes Back, the film does manage to subvert a few key expectations for major characters. In particular, Johnson plays the audience’s expectations of pacing about where the big twists will come in the film’s overarching narrative structure.

“Forget the First Order. I’m hiding out from the Aosdana people.”

More than that, The Last Jedi has a distinct texture. It is perhaps the most visually striking Star Wars film, which is saying something considering how iconic and influential the series has been. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back established an aesthetic that came to define American science fiction. Johnson packs the films with memorable and distinctive imagery, both in terms of tangible physical locations and in the computer-generated landscapes that have come to populate contemporary blockbusters.

Perhaps what is most striking about Johnson’s direction is the simplicity that he brings. His compositions tend to be clear and uncluttered, saturated with rich and vibrant colours. Many of the scenes involving the First Order unfold on a set that looks almost minimalist, with a sleek black floor and a gigantic wall that is lit in shades of red. The climactic confrontation unfolds against the backdrop of a white canvas; as the characters move across it, they throw up plumes of red salt that makes for a striking contrast.

Scratching the surface.

Even the character-focused scenes feel a lot more intimate than those in The Force Awakens. Most notably, once the Force connects Ren and Rey, the two begin conversing across the gulf of space. Another director might try to represent these conversations in an abstract manner, using imagery consistent with the shiny blue “Force Ghosts” or the holographic projectors employed for the purposes of communication. However, Johnson opts for a more minimalist approach, cutting between two locations as if cutting between actors conversing on the same set.

The Last Jedi is an impressive film. It is well-made and well-constructed, combining striking visuals with bold ideas. However, The Last Jedi is ultimately hamstrung by its own sense of nostalgia, but the restrictions that it imposes on its own ambitions. The Last Jedi is a film that holds on too tightly to the past, when it recognises the need to embrace the future. There is a poetry and an empathy to The Last Jedi that elevates the film, but it occasionally feels too much like a child gazing in wonder at the stars but afraid to reach out towards them.

41 Responses

  1. The advertising for the film was less tasteless than when Lucas was still running things. You can choose not to see the film and go about your business without seeing Yoda on a pack of Rolaids

    Still, most of the early reviews were titled “WHOA NEW DIRECTION, TLJ DOESN’T GO WHERE YOU THINK IT WILL GO”, pretty much ensuring that it will.

  2. “The Last Jedi hints at the absurdity of the dichotomy between “light” and “dark” that runs through the series, suggesting that even the most heroic of individuals has shades of darkness inside them, and that even the most evil individual has some small trace of goodness within them. Arms dealers supply weapons to the villainous First Order, but also to the heroic Resistance. The Last Jedi obliquely explains that people cannot be reduced to labels as simple as “heroes” or “villains”, which is a radical idea for a film series as rooted in archetypes as Star Wars.”
    To be honest I believe that such themes were already explored in many parts of the old extended universe, sometimes better, sometimes worse.

    • That’s fair. But there’s a big difference between an extended universe tie in which reaches maybe thousands of people and a blockbuster seen by millions. (Okay, there’s give-and-take on both figures, but it’s still fundamentally different to do this for a niche audience as compared to a mass audience.)

  3. “The modern media landscape is populated with reboots and remakes, with belated sequels and reinventions. This year has seen movies like CHiPs and Baywatch, suggesting that reboots and remakes may be reaching saturation point. More to the point, films like Lady Bird evoke nostalgia for an era not even two decades old, as if to suggest that pop culture’s past is quite literally eating itself. What happens when pp culture runs out of past to recycle? What happens when the only thing for which audiences feel nostalgia is nostalgia itself?”

    The really ironic thing is that Star Wars was itself a massive nostalgia-fest in the first place: it was George Lucas’ love letter to the Republic serials of his childhood and a little before (Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, etc). As was Indiana Jones a couple years later, another franchise we can’t seem to let die.

    I generally hold to the argument Cracked.com once made that “Hollywood needs to stop making remakes and go back to making rip-offs.” Rip-offs, like the original Star Wars, allow you to indulge in nostalgia while still doing your own thing; you’re not trapped by the same characters and plotline and universe, or established fanbases saying “you got [X character]/[Y plot point] wrong!” (See also, Stranger Things).

    “Parents need to die for children to live. This is a fundamental myth. However, modern pop culture seems to struggle with this fact, trapped in some weird death anxiety and confronted by advances in both narratives and technology. Modern films exist in a world where stars need never die, preserved in computer-generated imagery as seen in Rogue One. There is something disconcerting in contemporary pop culture’s struggle with this fundamental truth, with franchises stuck in a perpetual state of reconciliation with their pasts but without laying them to rest.”

    For my money, a version of this is also one of the things that killed the old expanded universe (years before it was officially decanonized). They kept writing more and more stories set further and further into the future, but they just couldn’t relegate Luke, Leia and Han to the back seat, so the entire next generation was stunted and ultimately never allowed to take center stage. (Eventually prompting a “Luke Skywalker Must Die” fan article that made the rounds five or six years ago).

    “The Last Jedi hints at the absurdity of the dichotomy between “light” and “dark” that runs through the series, suggesting that even the most heroic of individuals has shades of darkness inside them, and that even the most evil individual has some small trace of goodness within them.”

    Didn’t the original trilogy basically say this already? And then the prequel trilogy, however clumsily, expand on it? If the big insight TLJ brings to the franchise is something that’s been there all along, that’s… not encouraging.

    • You have some good thoughts, Chris.

    • I’d highly encourage you to watch the movie and judge for yourself if you haven’t already. I respect Darren a lot, but I think he has it all wrong in this review. The Last Jedi isn’t perfect, but it’s absolutely not a rehash of earlier movies and not a nostalgia-fest (and I’m someone who thinks TFA was just a lazy rehash of A New Hope). TLJ is easily the boldest Star Wars movie to date. It overturns many of the conventional tropes in Star Wars storytelling. I suspect most people who don’t like the movie will think it’s not enough like Star Wars. Personally, I’m really happy Disney decided to take a risk with Rian Johnson. I saw things I thought I’d never see in a major franchise blockbuster film.

    • I think the original trilogy endorsed the light/dark divide. The prequels toyed with it, but that largely got thrown out when everybody decided that the prequels were the wors tthing in the history of human civilisation. (They were pretty bad, but they had some good ideas.)

      • Isn’t the whole point of the Luke/Vader conflict precisely that “even the most heroic of individuals has shades of darkness inside them, and [especially] that even the most evil individual has some small trace of goodness within them?” That even someone as apparently evil as Vader isn’t so far gone that he can’t still be reached, and that even someone as apparently good as Luke is should beware of succumbing to the same temptations (the whole point of the Dagobah duel)?

        In fact, the biggest critique of this story arc I hear these days is actually that it goes too *far* into blurring the lines between good and bad. (In that it downplays the fact that just because Vader did one good thing doesn’t mean he’s suddenly “good,” it doesn’t wipe clean all the evil he would’ve committed over the last twenty years, and also, “now that it’s MY son that’s being threatened by the Emperor, NOW I’m going to turn against him” is at least partly a selfish act).

      • Yeah, but Jedi doesn’t portray Vader’s defense of Luke as a selfish act, which I think you’re right to point out it is. It treats good and evil as something akin to a switch inside of Vader. In fact, the decision to kill Vader off at the end is incredibly convenient plotting, because it allows the script to side-step holding Vader to account for any of the evil that he has committed.

  4. I’m really puzzled by this review. You claim The Force Awakens, a play-by-play rehash of A New Hope, felt fresh, but The Last Jedi, which departed more from the storytelling conventions of Star Wars than any previous film, felt too nostalgic? I really respect your views Darren, but I just saw the movie last night and I just don’t see where you thought the movie relied too much on nostalgia. If you don’t mind talking spoilers in the comments, I’d love to hear more specific critiques.

    I agree that the whole setup with the scrappy Resistance fighting the evil Empire/New Order seems too much like the Original Trilogy, but Johnson inherited that from JJ Abrams and TFA. I don’t really see what else he could have done there. Maybe Johnson could have introduced more ships from the Republic to make it more of an even fight between the Resistance and New Order.

    I do agree with you about the humor. I thought the film was hilarious, but I also wonder how well the humor will hold up on rewatching it.

    I’d love for you at some point to write a longer form essay about franchises. It seems like with any franchise there’s a tension between innovation and familiarity. The point of a franchise is that it’s working within a preexisting set of characters or storytelling conventions. At the same time, you don’t simply want to retell the same story (a la TFA). You seem to strike the balance more on the innovation side, but at what point should storytellers just set drastically different stories in an entirely new story rather than use an existing franchise? What are the limits of innovation in a franchise?

    I will say this. I can’t think of another franchise that feels anywhere near as innovative as Star Wars. Marvel films have become extremely generic, all of the Bond movies have the same protagonist, the later Alien films are all duds, etc.

    • I’ve gone over this on Twitter, but the movie’s over reliance on nostalgia is best explained by the way that it gestures at breaking away from the past only to circle back at the last minute.

      Luke throws away his lightsaber. BUT IT CAN BE RECOVERED!

      Leia is unceremoniously sucked into the vacuum of space and killed early in the movie. BUT SHE SUDDENLY HAS SUPERMAN POWERS!

      Luke and Yoda burn down the last remnant of the Jedi Order. BUT REY ALREADY HAS THE BOOKS!

      Luke thinks it’s time to end the Jedi Order, and to have a new beginning. BUT REY IS ACTUALLY A JEDI!

  5. It’s interesting that many fan takes on Last Jedi are either that it did not answer everything neatly the way they had hoped or that it did not deconstruct the franchise and push it into something it’s not. What those takes have in common is they both view it as a Star Wars Movie. Simply viewed as a film it works as well or better than any entry in the series. “This is not going to go the way you think,” is a line that has been used by a lot to describe the film itself but I think it applies, perhaps more so, to nearly every character’s journey within the film. It is essentially a story of a lot of people trying to be heroes and failing while the one person who understands what it takes to truly be a hero is reluctant to embrace that path.

    • Yep. I mean, I actually quite like its stubborn rejection of Abrams’ Mystery Box. Which I didn’t talk that much about in the review, because spoilers! But I did think was clever and necessary.

  6. One critisism everyone have with Finn and Rose’s storyline and I don’t agree is that it made no difference or it didn’t move the story forward. To me the point of that storyline is that even if we fail, even if we believe we made no impact we have no idea who we have inspired along the way or whose life we changed. This boy at the end met Rose and Finn who represent the resistance and saw them doing the right thing, saw their kindness and that force sensitive boy one day may choose the light side thanks to the ‘pointless’ actions of Finn and Rose. I think this is briliant and it goes with the main theme of the saga that everything is connected through a magic force. Not to mentioned that it raised a few isssues about the wealthy in the Galaxy and war that is up to JJ to follow them.

    • I’m torn about this. I love how it feeds into the theme of learning from one’s failures and igniting a spark of hope in people. However, this trilogy is a three-act story, and to spend so much time with a plot that doesn’t go anywhere seems a bit counterproductive. It basically means Episode IX is going to have to do a LOT to wrap everything up in a satisfactory manner. I think the Canto Bight plot would have worked better if this had been a TV show, where plot threads that contribute to the overall themes of a story but not necessarily to the larger plot have more time to breathe.

      • I agree with you that it would work better in a TV show and when I wrote my comment in my mind I had The X-Files and how many of Mulder and Scully’s quests led to nowhere but gave them hope to continue or helped other people on the way. I saw the movie once but when it ended I didn’t feel that this storyline was pointless and I was surprised that so many people hated it but I can understand why. I don’t know where Episode IX plans to go the story, I just hope that they will not ignore the last scene because that would be a good chance to do something new and not a rehash of The Return of The Jedi with Rey facing Kylo Ren (of cource we’ll get that but hopefully not just that). Maybe Rey will have more Jedi on her side, maybe Episode IX starts many years after The Last Jedi and Rey have found more force sensitive children and we’ll see a new Jedi order…Idk, If anything The Last Jedi left the possibilities open and who knows, maybe the new trilogy by Rian Johnson takes place in the future and it deals with some of these matters. I have the feeling that he’s not that interesting to set it in the old Republic or the old Jedi order so who knows?

    • That’s a very fair and valid point.

  7. Your thoughts and puns made me a follower. Anyway, I also did a review, that is much more harsh and direct than yours. I’d also recommend checking out Angry Joe’s take on it with his Top 10 list.


  8. As always, an excellent, insightful review, Darren. I saw the movie a few days ago. Here’s a link to my own write-up…


  9. it’s funny how critics appear to route for Kylo Ren’s message of breaking away with the past when the villain’s ideals are traditionally the antithesis of the story’s message, contrast this with Rey, who is carrying on the tradition of the jedi and allied with protagonists whose goal is to restore what was lost, not just accept the new power in the charge. I know you’ve basically addressed this, but you seem to think that breaking with the past was the film’s true theme only it was hampered by nostalgia, and I don’t agree with that. Also why are you so convinced that the new republic was an exact replica of the old one(for one thing, we know that it wasn’t the exact same, e.g, having the seat of the senate change every now and then)? After all, the West German (and later German) government wasn’t a repetition of the Weimar republic. And I don’t recall Luke criticising the concept of the republic. Then again, the theme of change isn’t necessarily a bad idea (although that doesn’t necessarily mean a clear break with the past). After all, depicting an ever changing galaxy was something the EU did well, except that’s not what’s happened here. This isn’t like replacing the new republic with the galactic alliance (which would have meant a more meaningful debate between progressives and conservates), this is essentially going back thirty years, undoing everything our heroes struggled to achieve, even killing them off, and anyone who complains being told ‘this is the new status quo. accept it.’ But that’s also probably nostalgia’s fault as well, except the mood to move forward as well as looking back has made something worse.

    • I made this same point recently on a podcast with Mythgard Academy. It seems like a lot of reviewers just have it out for “fanboys” and “nostalgia” for some reason and are trying to read that into the movie. That’s not what the movie says. We’re not supposed to take the emo villain at his word. Rather, the movie is about accepting the past, but also moving on with life. I suspect people are so anti-nostalgia because they associate nostalgia with Trump, but that’s a pretty simplistic reading of both the film and politics.

  10. I like this review of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. A big thumbs up for the content, the style of writing and the images you put in your content.

  11. Also you do realise that you’ve basically criticised what the rebels were fighting for in the original trilogy, right? It’s no wonder why fans have found this film controversial, and it’s not to do with nostalgia.

    • It absolutely is to do with nostalgia. And the fact that you treat “your criticism of this film is a criticism of the original trilogy” as a decisive retort suggests that it is nostalgia, rather than engaging with the idea on its own merits. If the rebels in the original trilogy were fighting to restore the Republic as it was, then yes, it deserves criticism. As I remember, the idea of resurrecting the is broached a few times, but it’s much more generic than the attitude here – it’s more “let’s restore peace and order and democracy” rather than “let’s reinstitute this exact political entity that led to this situation.”

      It should also be noted that the original trilogy was written and released before the prequels, so even if the rebels were trying to resurrect the Republic, the audience had no idea how corrupt and awful and inadequate that it was.

      • And I’ll say it again, WHY are you so convinced that the new republic was an exact replica of the old republic without learning from any of the mistakes?

      • Because that’s literally everything we see of the New Republic in the new films.

        The world in The Force Awakens is styled to look like the prequels, and the name “Republic” obviously reinforces the comparison. That is how this sort of storytelling works. You use familiar phrases and iconography to evoke similarities and then articulate specific differences. The films haven’t outlined any specific differences.

      • Not true. We know at least one difference, i.e., that the planet where the senate is situated changes regularly, hence why the planet destroyed by the starkiller base was hosnian prime, not Coruscant. Yes that’s information that’s explored in reference material, but I can’t imagine the film going into too much detail about the workings of the New Republic.

      • Yep, so all of which is happening off-screen. I’m not arguing about canon or continuity, I’m arguing about symbolism and imagery.

        On-screen, it’s exactly the kind of planet seen in the prequels and described in precisely the same terms.

      • Yes, arguably the planet does resemble coruscant. so much so that I thought they DID blow up coruscant (and glad they didn’t). However, just because they talked about the republic and senate (and that it looks like coruscant), does that mean the implication is that it’s EXACTLY like the galactic republic we saw in the prequels?

      • But the point is that while all of these similarities exist, there is literally nothing in the films to distinguish it from the Republic in the prequels.

      • I don’t think it would have been good story telling for a film to go through all the changes the new republic had compared to the old republic just to assure people that it was different as opposed to trusting them to come to that conclusion by themselves (although the fact that the government was based on a planet other than coruscant may have been a hint that it wasn’t an exact replica of what came before).

        Tbh the film struck me as being oblivious to the prequels. Aside from that line about clones and another about the sith it felt like a sequel to the original trilogy in style in the sense that it ignored anything that the prequels did, like the fact that for aliens it relied heavily more on animatronics like in the classic trilogy rather than cgi in the special editions or the prequels, or the fact that the lightsaber fighting style derived more from the original trilogy rather than the style in the prequels.

      • I mean, it wouldn’t have required a lot of dialogue to communicate this. Instead of calling it “the Republic”, call it something like “the Federation” or “the Alliance.” Indeed, “the Alliance” might be a good name, cementing it as a the spiritual successor of “the Rebel Alliance.” Instead of having a planet that looks like Coruscant, use a plane that looks wildly different. Small things that reinforce the difference as opposed to reinforcing the similarities.

      • Why? Why feel the need to change the name? After all, the rebellion was founded by people who believed in the republic’s ideals. Just because it got corrupt in it’s later years doesn’t mean it should have been done away with, why are keeping it the same way or doing away with it the only viable options, what’s wrong with reforming?

      • They don’t need to change the name. But when ALL that you have on screen is (a.) a culture that has the exact same name and (b.) the only planet that has the exact same production design, it’s a bit of a stretch to argue that there’s any meaningful difference or that the audience is supposed to interpret from what is shown (and spoken) on screen that there is a meaningful difference.

        It’s equivalent to arguing that Gaston from Beauty and the Beast might have had a petting zoo populated with adorable animals that he loved. We don’t see it. We aren’t told about it. But it’s entirely possible that there’s a side of his personality that contradicts what we see onscreen. We certainly don’t see anything that explicitly contradicts it. However, it would also be completely unreasonable to argue on a reading of Beauty and the Beast that insisted Gaston wasn’t a cold-blooded hunter and creep.

        If you watch a film, and you hear hoofbeats and see a horse, I’d have a hard time arguing that the film is showing me a zebra that just happens to look like a horse.

  12. I really liked how when watching the Last Jedi the plot went in these twists and turns subverting expectations. It was genuinely exciting to watch this movie having no idea where it was gonna go, which was part of the reason I loved it.

    The irony of Ben’s attempts to break away from the past is that he’s really replicating the mistakes that plagued Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith; his offer to Rey is fairly similar to Anakin’s offer to Padmé to join him and rule the galaxy together. He fails because he only *thinks* he’s breaking away from the past, which is something the heroes actually do.

    I’d probably put this in my personal third favorite Star Wars film.

    • Interesting. I think it comes across in the review, but on repeat viewings I have found that I admire The Last Jedi a great deal more than I like it. (I like it grand, to be clear. But I am amazed that it got made.)

  13. I just found the movie boring. And when they go to the finale it felt 30 min longer than it should have. The characters were under utilized. New characters treated poorly. Star wars at its core is a series about mythos and giant space spectacles, and TLJ tried to go against that. Call it brave and risky and what not, this was not the movie series to be rebellious in.

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