A couple of hours ago my brother and I went to see Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. I had heard so many positive reviews, but just as many negatives. People seemed to either love the movie or hate it, nobody was on the fence. I knew that I needed to see it for myself and make my own judgments. Please be warned that this review will contain spoilers and you probably shouldn’t proceed without seeing the film first.
I have never personally been a huge fan of the Star Wars film franchise. I am much more of a Star Trek fan, which while both are in the Science-Fiction genre, though some may classify Star Wars as Fantasy, the two could not be more dissimilar. Obviously, Star Wars takes place in a time long ago in a galaxy far away and Star Trek takes place in our distant future in our own galaxy, but the real differences are the viewpoint of universal morality; magic and spiritualism versus science and technology. Star Wars deals with an oppressive government and the guerrilla resistance fighters playing out the cosmic battle between good and evil, whereas Star Trek deals with humans exploring space and meeting new people and more than occasionally having to solve a problem du jour. Both are in a certain sense “Space Westerns”, though possibly Trek fits this classification more accurately.
While I watched this movie I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the two franchises and found that consistently through the years that all of the Star Wars movies have stayed much more closely to the source material in almost every way possible. Firstly, the production design, sets, wardrobe, props, technology, makeup and hairstyles, and everything mise en scène in the Star Wars world is very consistent throughout the 40-year history. Star Trek has reinvented the whole look and feel every time they came out with a new movie or television series. For me, this is the biggest problem and disappointment with Star Trek and the greatest success of Star Wars. With Star Wars, each episode seems like it is in the same consistent universe though there are some minor changes where CGI has replaced practical puppets and effects, most noticeably to me in Yoda. The different Star Trek series and movies have mostly felt like reboots or reimaginings of the whole world. Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager did a really good job of keeping the look and feel consistent in the story and production design but the original cast movies departed uncomfortably from the show and each other, abandoning consistency for whatever reasons production companies need to screw with source material. I will digress on this topic by saying that I was impressed and satisfied with this latest addition to Star Wars when it comes to everything you see on the screen.
We watched the movie in IMAX 3D and for the first time, I was satisfied with a live-action 3D movie. Many animated films like Toy Story are a joy to watch in 3D and really come alive, while many live-action films like Avatar and the Lord of The Rings trilogy utterly failed at 3D for me. Maybe stereoscopic acquisition and presentation technologies have made some big strides, but this was a masterpiece in 3D. There were many scenes where the depth really looked like it was moving away from you and into the screen and the parallax effect was believable. I tested it by turning my head and moving my body from side to side and some of the fine details on the left and right edges of the screen were revealed and obscured based on my position. The effect was minimal but definitely added to the emersion.
There seemed to be a good 3D separation of layers that felt very natural where many 3D films feel like 2.5D, that is, each layer feels like a flat cut out 2-dimensional image layered in 3-dimensional space. This presentation really had a sense of depth between the actual features of the characters that I’ve never before seen. I would definitely recommend this viewing experience for the film. Instead of being a novel distraction it only added to the richness of the experience and only aided in the storytelling.
On the topic of the look of the film, the cinematography was excellent. Most of the Star Wars films have all been shot very well. The most amazing thing is the consistency of look. The general contrast ratio, shot and composition choices, and color design and grading have felt really exceptionally consistent to me throughout the whole franchise and I really appreciate that. The consistent look helps you immediately get into the story in a mostly continuous story such as this.
Several of my friends complained about the humor and some of the tone of this film compared to the rest of the franchise. I wholeheartedly disagree. There has always been an element of sarcasm and a little bit of silliness in all of the films since the very beginning. I found the comedy to be well placed and effective and it never took me out of the story or the emotion of the scene. There have been some missteps in the past in this franchise such as Jar-Jar Binks and Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. The stupid little porgs where on screen briefly enough to forgive. The few random cute kids seemingly thrust into the story background, though the end of the film hints at their true purpose.
There were few new characters, none of any real importance, introduced in this episode which was a nice change since they were more quickly able to get into the story without spending too much time developing a new important character. I felt that the performers from the last two films, Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, have really developed their performances and know the ins and outs of their characters.
One small criticism of this film was what I perceive to be the subtle sexualization of Rey. I felt like they showed more skin, though not much, compared to Episode VII. One could argue that her wardrobe fit the environment that she was in, but this didn’t seem consistent with what other characters were wearing in the same scenes. This may be part of the whole subplot of the unsaid mutual sexual tension between Kylo Ren and Rey. The relationship does make some sense to me because of the characters similar ages and the fact that they are both force sensitives with family issues. I think it’s pretty obvious that their relationship is a reference to the initial sexual tension between Leia and Luke.
There are many parallels hinted at even down to the fact that Kylo Ren is sometimes referred to simply as “Ren”. The alliteration seems obvious and the fact that it is used for both pairs hints that the true relationship between Rey and Ren is not that of romantic partners, but that they are actually siblings. Kylo Ren tells Rey that he has seen her family in a Force-vision and that they were nobodies. Simple drunken traders that sold her for some spare change. He convinces her that she “knows the truth” but I think he’s tricking her. I believe that the reveal will be that they are either siblings or cousins.
Then there is the subplot minor romance between Finn and Rose. She expresses her feelings for Finn in the heat of battle right before passing out, before kissing him. He looks confused and shocked for a moment but doesn’t overtly reciprocate. I have felt that the relationship between Finn and Rey has hinted at more than a close friendship, that underneath they share a mutual romantic attraction that will undoubtedly come out in the final chapter, Episode XI. The setup of Finn and Rose, notice the alliteration again between the R names, is to try to draw attention away from the Finn and Rey relationship so that the Ren and Rey pairing could seem more possible.
I really loved Leia in the film. There has always been a connection between her and Luke but this is really the first time that you get a sense of her hidden connection to and power with the force. Again there is some foreshadowing and comparison between Luke and Leia and Ren and Rey. Snoke takes credit for bridging the connection between Ren and Rey but this feels like another misdirection and deception. This goes back to my theory that Ren and Rey are siblings or cousins. Luke also hints that Rey has more of a background and ultimately a destiny when he questions her over and over again about who she is and what she is doing there at the Jedi temple island.
Going back to Leia, I felt that the subtext of her mourning Han was very well executed. She has really come into her power, as an already capable and famous leader of the resistance, and uses her grief at the loss of her Husband and admitting to herself that she has lost her son and will never get him back. Her resolve is made crystal clear and she stands equal to the challenge. Like a good princess or queen should be, she is a selfless protector of the people that look up to her and depend on her.
There may have been some plot holes, cannon inconsistency, or other minor issues with the story, but I was able to ignore most of them and don’t see a need for me to discuss them. I really enjoyed this movie more than I have enjoyed a movie in quite a long time. I highly recommend this movie if you have seen at least the last two films (Force Awakens and Rouge One).
I give this film a 5 out of 5 stars. It was excellent and a great film in its own right and a wonderful addition to the franchise.