RECAP: Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017): Rian Johnson

If it’s December it must be Star Wars season. When we last left our heroes, they were fleeing the First Order, having blown up an entire planet, because if they didn’t the First Order would blow up planets. Rey fled to find Luke Skywalker and her lineage. Leia’s doing leadership. Poe is being a pissy jerk.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Rey trains with the last Jedi, while her friends, all that remains of the Resistance, flee the First Order and its Supreme Leader. 

Hero (3/10)

When we last saw Rey (Daisy Ridley), she stood on a tiny island in a large ocean on an unfindable planet handing an old lightsaber to the galaxy’s most famous recluse, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The Last Jedi rehashes that scene. Luke takes the lightsaber and, without a word, throws it over the cliff behind him.

Big laugh moment. I’m still laughing at that one. Luke’s toss was the first of many times The Last Jedi snubbed its nose at the original trilogy. And yet, despite such scenes, the movie can’t shake the old trilogy.

He’s about to throw the lightsaber away. He could have sold it on eBay!

Case in point: Rey. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A budding young Jedi flies to a distant planet to train with an older, legendary Jedi and try to convince him to help her cause. Rey arrives on Ahch-To (that’s just a sneeze, right?) to beg Luke’s help. Luke isn’t swayed, until he discovers Rey’s tremendous Force powers. He agrees to train her, but only to prove to her why the Jedi religion must end.

Rey trains. She’s good. Too good. Luke’s scared, much like how Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) scared him several years ago. Rey has good sparring skills and a solid command of the force without being taught much of either. Her key scene occurs during Luke’s first lesson. He orders her to breathe, just breathe, and feel the energy of the Force. Jedi are master yogis. The Force is not just about moving rocks, he says.

Rey does as ordered. She sees and feels the balance of existence: peace and violence, life and death, death giving to new life. Suddenly, Rey is exploding rocks and, dunked in water, returning to her place beside Luke soaked. That’s when Luke gets really scared.

Rey learns of a deep hole under the Jedi temple island, where a dark force of great power attracts her. Rey later descends that hole, hoping to learn the identity of her parents. She finds a room of infinite mirrors and an answer to her question: she is her own set of parents. Yeah, I’m confused too. Wait till Episode IX.

The Dark Side holds sway over Rey, though she might not know it. She spends parts of the second act conversing with Kylo Ren across star systems. The two tease each other, eager to turn the other to their side. “You’re not alone,” Kylo says to Rey. “Neither are you,” she responds.

Rey seems like the type to talk to her lightsaber.

Rey doesn’t gain Luke’s aid in helping her friends, so she bails to meet Kylo instead. Rey travels to Commander Snoke’s Doritos-shaped command ship to meet her brother from another mother, so to speak. Immediately Rey is arrested and joins Kylo in Snoke’s chamber. There’s a big fight that she and Kylo win. The movie’s strongest scene occurs next.

Rey and Kylo have discussed letting the past die and seizing one’s destiny and all that. Kylo tells Rey that he and she are not so different. These two nearly join. I almost believed Kylo’s intentions were not purely evil. Then they duel over Luke’s old lightsaber and force-blast each other away.

Rey uses an escape pod to flee the ship and reunite with Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon and play a small role in the final battle. Rey shows up at the very end to move a bunch of rocks around to help her friends escape. That’s right, after all she’s learned about the Force, the movie ends with her just moving rocks.

Too bad for Daisy Ridley that her character trains on the sidelines for most of The Last Jedi. She’s a fine actor and shows it during her fight with/against Kylo. Still, this is her story, and I expect more in Episode IX.

Villain (4/10)

Supreme Commander Snoke (Andy Serkis) might be the, uh, supreme commander, but his golden boy Kylo Ren continues his role as chief villain.

Kylo begins The Last Jedi in audience with Snoke, who laughs at the boy. (Everyone is a child to Snoke.) He questions why Kylo wears a mask, and tells him to take off that “ridiculous thing.” Snoke tells Kylo that he’ll never be another Darth Vader. (Sure hope not. The series starves for new villains.)

After the meeting Kylo takes his helmet and smashes it into the wall of the executive elevator. Kylo’s real pissed, and he’s gonna take it out on some rebel scum.

As the last dregs of the Resistance flee the First Order ships, Kylo joins in the TIE assault, flying into the main rebel ship’s hangar and blowing up all their X-wings and other letter-wing-shaped craft. Big explosion.

Now about the backstory. Courtesy of Luke and Kylo, we learn about their relationship. Young Kylo trained with his uncle Luke, until the uncle saw too much evil in him and sought to kill him. One night Kylo woke up to find Luke’s lightsaber drawn against him. Well, he didn’t like seeing that, and in retaliation he fought Luke, burned the buildings, killed some students, and stole the rest, (likely) forming the Knights of Ren from which Kylo takes his last name.

Hey girl, than this be my meme?

The full details of the backstory don’t arrive until the third time we hear snippets of the story, so perhaps we never get all the details. Seems like that night long ago was a formative moment for Kylo and for Luke. Anyway, Kylo goes to the Dark Side, but he maybe not fully committed? In the early attack on the Resistance ship, Kylo can’t bring himself to shoot at his mother, Leia. That’s why Snoke chides him and why Rey thinks she can turn him.

Kylo understands his predicament. He knows he’s turnable. That’s why he subscribes to one ethos: let the past die. “Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.” That’s why he kills Snoke and his guards, not because he’s joining Rey but because he’s taking power.

Kylo follows the last of the Resistance to the salt planet Crait. He will snuff out the rebels forever. Then he spots his uncle Luke walking alone to face him. All the anger inside him gushes out. He will kill his mother and his uncle on the same day. Kylo kills Luke, in a manner of speaking, but Leia escapes him.

Adam Driver brings smoldering intensity to Kylo. I find his line delivery equally frightening and funny, with my mood affecting how I interpret each word. Take a Kylo line and put the word “Mom” on the end of it. Sums up his character perfectly. Kylo is a perfect example of a privileged child who isn’t satisfied with having most of the world. He needs it all.

Kylo is full Dark Side now. Forget trying to change him. In removing the mask, he’s embraced his hair as villainous, his scars are for the world to see. His channel with Rey remains…open.

Action/Effects (5/10)

Here’s an action sequence to open The Last Jedi. On some snotwater planet, the last vestiges of the Resistance and their pink hats load escape ships to continue the Resistance in state capitals across this great country.

Sorry, mixing my metaphors. Star Wars is apolitical.

The First Order suddenly appears above said planet with a dozen star destroyers and a dreaded dreadnought. This ship is new to the films. Sporting two enormous cannons, it can’t blow up a whole planet like Starkiller Base, but it’ll blow a chunk in one.

Ready to oppose these ships is a single X-wing fighter flown by the incomparable Poe (Oscar Isaac) and the droid BB-8. Poe gets on the horn with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), demanding to speak with him. Hux agrees, if only to see what a single fighter would demand from 10,000 opponents.

Turns out he was stalling long enough to charge a turbo boost that would make Dom Toretto proud. With speed, Poe attacks the cannon towers atop the dreadnought, bobbing and weaving between them and shooting each one as he approaches the bridge. Scrambled TIEs can’t touch him.

In flies a squad of rebel bombers. Stacked in their cargo bays are rows of spherical bombs. The pilots activate these bombs remotely. Just as soon as they do that, the TIEs start blasting them. Since the ships are now flying bombs, they explode. All of them. Except one.

Bombers getting ready

Enter Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). She’s firing a defensive laser cannon beneath one bomber, waiting for the bombs to fall. When they don’t she leaves her pod and shimmies up a ladder to find the pilot dead. She tries to grab the remote detonator, with a single, flashing red button, but further attacks on the ship knock her down 40 feet.

An interminable sequence follows. Stop time and wait for Rose to kick the ladder to nudge free the remote, letting it drop. In slow motion the device falls past Rose. But yeah, she catches it, touches the flashing red button, and sends the bombs onto the dreadnought.

Woo hoo! They killed the ship. Good movie. Fly back to base.

Oh, right, the base is gone. All that remains of the Resistance are the few capital ships flying away. They jump to light speed, and all is well.

Nominated for an Oscar for best visual effects, The Last Jedi wisely employs the best CGI-actor in the world: Andy Serkis. Good call.

Sidekicks (2/8)

Here’s where to find the meat of the Star Wars franchise. Han, Leia, Yoda, Obi-Wan, Chewy, R2-D2, Lando–these folks made Star Wars into a legendary set of films. I’m not sure if the new batch is on that level, but let’s wait until the final installment.

Finn and Rose: Finn (John Boyega) wakes up from his coma following the Force Awakens battle with Kylo Ren. You were wondering how he could survive such a battle, and the answers flow through The Last Jedi. More later.

Finn stumbles into a subplot with Rose. They meet as Finn tries to flee the Resistance ship to find Rey. Rose, a Finn fangirl, cries when she realizes he’s escaping, and she shocks him into submission.

The two make up soon, as they realize that the First Order can track ships traveling at light speed. They hatch a plot to disable the tracking mechanism by finding a codebreaker at a casino called Canto Bight. They tell Poe their plan and enlist BB-8’s help and are soon at the casino.

This entire scheme at Canto Bight turned out to be a waste of time. Rose hates the place immediately, because she came from a desolate background and understands that the rich people enjoying themselves live off the backs of underpaid, possibly slave labor. She wants “to put my fist through this beautiful city.”

They find a codebreaker and are forced to flee the planet under duress. They break into Snoke’s ship only to be captured and nearly executed. Finn has a brief fight with Captain Phasma in which he (nearly) kills her (again).

Later, on the salt planet Crait, Finn and Rose pilot land speeders toward the First Order’s ramming cannon, a cannon designed specifically to burst a hole in something. No other cannons are designed to do this, only ramming cannons.

Finn nearly gives his life as a suicide pilot. Rose won’t have it. She rams his speeder at the last second and offers the line of the film. “We’re going to win this war,” she says, “not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.” Then she gives Finn a chaste kiss before passing out.

Rose, a new character!

Poe: Poe sucks. Hotshot pilot he is, capable commander he is not. Nobody can touch Poe when he flies a craft, no matter the craft, but when he’s grounded he gets real annoying real fast.

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) demotes Poe for his renegade attack plan that devolves into a quagmire of death. When Leia nearly dies after Kylo attacks her ship, Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) becomes acting Resistance leader.

BB-8 sticks with Poe despite the latter being a nincompoop.

Poe tries throwing his weight around. He demands to know what Holdo’s plans are, and when she refuses to tell him because he’s only a pilot, Poe pitches a fit. Later, he orchestrates a mutiny after Holdo reveals her plan, only for Poe to get literally stunned when Leia comes back.

Holdo and Leia put an unconscious Poe on a transport and muse that they both like him. In the First Order Poe would be dead from torture. That’s why Leia is the spark of hope the galaxy needs.

But yeah, Poe sucks. He demands to know Holdo’s plans, but decides to not tell her his involvement in breaking onto Snoke’s ship to disable the light speed tracker. What a hypocrite.

Leia and Holdo: These two are the boss queens of a fading movement. Leia uses the Force to save herself from the vacuum of space and fly into an exploded ship. No single more unbelievable Force action has occurred in the Star Wars films.

Holdo supplies the best moment in the movie.

Holdo proves a capable commander, despite Poe’s attempted character assassination. She had a plan (perhaps it was also Leia’s plan), and executed it with aplomb. She deserves a medal. I wish Poe had died instead of her.

Princess Leia does a killer Force fly. Where’s that been the last 40 years?

The Resistance ship’s light speed attack on the First Order ships was the best image of the film. Holdo zaps her ship into Snoke’s ship and the trailing star destroyers in a beautiful, silent scene, leaving a trail of light that looks like a black matte painting and not a CGI movie marvel.

Luke: The last Jedi of The Last Jedi, Luke is cantakerous as hell. He’s gone full Yoda: retreating to a barely-known planet to live in squalor and drink fresh, green milk from local sea cows. Dude’s sick.

Luke reluctantly trains Rey, because he wants to show her why the Jedi must end. Much later, Luke faces Kylo and tells him that, in fact, he’s not the last Jedi. Make up your mind, movie.

This galaxy’s Martin Luther, Luke wants to open up the hokey religion to the masses. No more hoarding of powers. He ends the Jedi line in that one sense. He nearly burns the Jedi tree and sacred texts, then chickens out, only for Yoda’s Force ghost to do it. He tells Kylo that the Jedi are coming back, and this time they will be everyone.

I liked Hamill in this movie because he’s cranky and sassy.

Henchmen (2/8)

Snoke: Played by Andy Serkis doing his motion capture thing, Supreme Leader Snoke sits on a throne in a room surrounded by red walls. It’s an imposing location for an imposing figure. Here’s a guy who’s face is caving in, as if using the Force affects him like crystal meth.

Commander Snoke

Snoke is the galaxy’s most confident user of the Force. He attacks General Hux through a hologram. He connects the minds of Rey and Kylo across the galaxy, all to manipulate Rey into coming to see him. Snoke reads her mind to discover Luke’s location. He can see into Kylo’s mind as well, but not enough to interpret Kylo’s intentions to murder him.

Hux: I can’t tell if Domhnall Gleeson meant to play General Hux campy, but he did. Empire/First Order battle commanders have always amused, but Hux takes the cake.

Yeah, see? We’re going to get those rebel scum, see?

Phasma: Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) was, for some reason, in this movie. She orders Finn and Rose executed, and nearly carries it out, until Holdo’s light speed decimation of the ship kills nearly all the stormtroopers and wrecks the ship.

Finn and Phasma do a little fight, long enough for Finn to break a hole in her helmet and for her to call him scum. “Rebel scum,” Finn answers, knocking her into a ball of fire. I’m sure she’s not dead.

Phasma was on screen long enough to exhibit her cool armor, which is impregnable to a blaster bolt. Uh, why aren’t all stormtroopers wearing this? And why did Finn’s weapon knock a hole in her face mask?

DJBenecio Del Toro stops by the set to play a hacker who sells out his friends after capture on Snoke’s ship. Boo hiss. I need Del Toro’s agent, because he now has characters in Star Wars and Marvel.

Stunts (4/6)

The Last Jedi’s big stunt sequence occurs in Snoke’s red sound stage, er, red room. And there’s about to be some murders in that red room. Ha HA!

Snoke toys with Rey, admiring her “spunk” and tenacity while trying to woo her to the Dark Side. Is a deformed Dark Side master trying to convert the next young Jedi? He is. At least he’s not wearing a hood this time.

Snoke floats Rey around his chamber. He shows her images of First Order ships blasting rebel transports into oblivion. Remember, this is The Last Jedi, not Return of the Jedi. Rey’s upset by these sights, but she came to Snoke with a job to do.

Boss boss chamber

Snoke forces Rey into a kneel. Floating inches above the spotless floor, Rey rotates to face Kylo Ren, who smolders inside. Rey knows it. Snoke doesn’t. He’s quite certain he knows exactly what Kylo is doing, exactly how he will act, and he taunts Rey with that knowledge.

What Snoke doesn’t notice is the lightsaber beside him slowly turning to point at the Supreme Leader. Rey doesn’t notice either; she watches Kylo’s orange lightsaber pointed at her heart. In mid-chuckle, Snoke takes a blast from the blue lightsaber through his gut. He never saw it coming.

Snoke might be sawed in two, but his red-clad ninja guards are not. These guards look like they jumped off of a Jodorowsky sketch pad.

Rey and Kylo stand back to back, center frame as the guards attack. Kylo leans forward and Rey leans onto his back to fight, making a nontraditional Beast with Two Backs.

These guards don’t appear to have Force powers, so the narrowly slit masks they wear can’t help their fighting skills. No matter, because they have nifty laser weapons. One guard faces Rey with dual laser-edged blades. Two others have staffs that relax to whips, their parts resembling a Jacob’s Ladder. One whips Rey’s lightsaber blade and wratchets her closer, bringing the camera with her. Rey kills the guard anyway.

Kylo shows no mercy to his colleagues. These people might have graduated Bad Jedi Academy with him. Screw the alma mater. He stabs and thrusts with glee.

Rey is caught behind the laser blade of a baddy. Her only recourse is to drop her lightsaber, captured in slow motion from the ground, and she swings the weapon into both of her adversary’s legs. Ya dead.

Finn battling Phasma for little to no reason.

Kylo attacks three guards at once, and kicks one into the dais beneath Snoke’s throne, which turns out to be a meat grinder that chops and regurgitates the guard’s body in the grossest image the Star Wars franchise has yet produced.

This fight ends when Kylo is held by the last guard. Rey Force throws her lightsaber at Kylo, who catches it and flicks the weapon on and off, delivering a deadly blow through the guard’s face. Kylo’s face blocks our view of the bad guy’s getting a hole cauterized in his or her skull.

Maybe it was my mood, but these stunts were, uh, stunted. the strikes and blows didn’t flow, as if the combatants couldn’t imagine the laser weapons their characters dueled with. The single best stunt occurred when Kylo shot up the Resistance cruiser’s fighter bay, an explosion blowing Poe 20 yards backward.

Climax (4/6)

Raise your hand if you knew Luke was pulling some Jedi shit on the salt planet. You did? Good for you. Me too.

When Luke walked out of the mine, I expected him to die. It’s called The Last Jedi duh. He’s the last one. Kylo Ren orders all guns to fire on “that man,” a surprisingly respectful nomination of his uncle/sworn enemy. The bad guys listen, turning Luke’s spot into salty dust.

The smoke clears, and Luke steps forward unscathed, brushing fake dust off his shoulder. Luke is a Jay-Z fan. Legit!

Well, Kylo’s pretty upset about this. He nearly killed his frenemy Hux with a Force push. He goes to the ground to fight Luke. The pair do a stand off with their lightsabers drawn. This fight’s gonna be EPIC.

But it’s not. The camera does a good job framing the unexpected: a tight shot on Kylo gripping his sword, a slow mo of Luke ducking Kylo’s saber slice, the moment when Kylo runs through Luke and slides through salt to stop. These are different angles than previous lightsaber battles. They have to try somethnig new after eight movies, right?

Well guess what. Turns out Luke was Force-projecting a younger, Kylo-remembered version of himself. Kylo strikes him, but it does nothing. Bummer. Lots of rage screaming follows. Meanwhile, Rey moves a ton of rocks to help the Resistance survive. Together in the Millennium Falcon, the once and future heroes take stock. They will rebuild, and the galaxy will never the same.

Jokes (2/4)

Look out, The Last Jedi was funny. Hamill channels his inner Frank Oz to play Luke as Yoda, saucy and disinterested. Throwing his lightsaber away was an inspired joke.

Kylo Ren continues to be equal parts funny and scary. The loss of his helmet is sad, because that voice modulation made him scarier. His hair…yeesh. He’s got a fine six pack, as Rey notes when she speaks to him through the Force. Kylo stands shirtless, and Rey asks him if can throw on a towel.

Benecio is in this and it’s not a joke.

You’re standard droid humor is present, this time with three important droids. A short guy feeds coins into BB-8. R2-D2 plays Leia’s original hologram message to Luke to convince him to join the Resistance. C-3PO, never change dude.

Speaking of BB-8, that little droid is a genius. It can program an AT-ST walker without being asked. It shoots those deposited coins at Canto Bight prison guards. It probably would have hacked into the light speed tracker room if someone had asked.

Setting (4/4)

The Last Jedi‘s stellar salt planet will last as the film’s enduring image. Did they essentially lift the Hoth battle and plop it onto a desert world? They did. Four-legged tanks attacking modest land speeders not equipped for battle, check. Blinding white landscape, check. Trenches guarding the only entrance to the rebel stronghold, check.

Badass imagery

Turning the white salt red looked great. I enjoyed watching the land speeders trail red across the ground, although after the fight it was a bloody mess.

Snoke’s chamber was menacing and stylish. Luke’s digs were spotless, green, and beautiful. Living the life of an ascetic monk on a desolate Irish island is the way to end one’s days.

Commentary (1/2)

Luke’s view of the Force was The Last Jedi‘s most interesting message. The Jedi Order has, for a “thousand generations” as Luke tells it, hoarded its power. It identified gifted children from a young age and sequestered them in the Jedi temple on Coruscant.

The Skywalker family changed that, and Luke’s trying to change it again. He believes that anyone, everyone can use the Force. The movie agrees. When Rey descends into the dark hole on Luke’s island, she demands to learn who her parents are. Her answer? She’s her parents. In other words, Rey is self-made, and that’s all that matters.

Forget bloodlines. The Force is about to blast itself into every person in the galaxy. The film’s final image proves this. Remember those children suffering on Canto Bight? Here’s a boy, sweeping the stables, using the Force to fetch a broom.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

The Last Jedi continues its trend of diversifying its universe. White guys mostly comprise the First Order leadership, while the upstart rebels are the rainbow coalition. Actors with last names like Tran, Isaac, and (Lupita) Nyong’o (in one scene playing Maz) pepper the cast. Back in the day, Billy Dee Williams being cast as a black character (whose face we saw) was a big deal. Now we have John Boyega and I feel like much of the world is doing some shoulder shrugging about that role. Seems like a step in the right direction.

Others

  • Well, we have these now:

    PORGS

Summary (31/68): 46%

The Empire Strikes BackThe Return of the JediThe Last Jedi. That’s Disney’s formula, but Rian Johnson strives to break free. He must have felt conflicted making this movie. Execs likely barked orders and story points to him while he’s trying to make a new Star Wars movie, not a rehashed Star Wars movie. His touches are obvious. Luke’s throwing the lightsaber meant more than a throwaway (no pun intended) joke. Kylo destroys his Vader-like helmet.

Here’s hoping Episode IX will be the newest Star Wars movie since the first one. The boy at the end uses the Force to catch a broom. He sports Rose’s Resistance ring. Perhaps the galaxy will rise up and make countless new Force (not Jedi) masters.