Let me say up front – I loved this movie. If you did too – great! If you didn’t, that’s cool too!
I’m not going to give you any intensive backstory on Star Wars, honestly you know what you need. The first one was actually episode IV, and was released in 1977, written by George Lucas. He completed his original trilogy with Episode V in 1980, and Episode VI in 1983. He then went back and added three prequels starting in 1999. Star Wars has an incredibly passionate fan base, of which I am a member (I have just shy of a dozen Star Wars-related tattoos). I have read a lot of the expanded universe novels – both the old ones that are no longer canon and the new ones that are. J.J. Abrams released Episode VII: The Force Awakens in 2015, and this one is by Rian Johnson. In between we got our first ‘stand-alone’ Star Wars story with Rogue One, which was essentially Episode 3.75 and was outstanding.
This movie picks up right where the previous edition left off. The Resistance, now in panic mode thanks to the First Order destroying most of the New Republic at the end of the previous movie, has been tracked to their base and is escaping right out from under the nose of the First Order, led by General Hux. Rey, having left the resistance at the end of the previous movie with the blessing of General Leia Organa, follows the map they found to Ahch-To, where Jedi Master Luke Skywalker is hiding, having gone into self-exile (what is it with fallen Jedi Masters and self-exile?).
From this point forward – I’m giving you a spoiler warning, because to really get into what I loved, and what I didn’t, I do have to discuss story points. So, Spoiler Alert! Seriously, see it first, then read this.
When Luke does take his father’s lightsaber from Rey, (which is the one he first got from Old Ben Kenobi, and lost in the lightsaber fight in Cloud City and Maz Kanata had in a trunk in her castle), he looks at it, and promptly tosses is carelessly over his shoulder and off a cliff. That gives you a quick sense of what this movie is all about, in the best possible way. He’s serious about sticking with his self-exile, and doesn’t want to help Rey. She has Chewbacca knock down his door, and informs him of Han’s death, but still he doesn’t want to help. After much persuasion, he finally agrees to give her three lessons.
Meanwhile, The Resistance realizes that the First Order can track them through lightspeed – and they are attacked after their next jump. Kylo Ren hops in his ship, and sensing Leia on the bridge of her cruiser, doesn’t blast it – but his wingman definitely does. This results in her getting blasted into space with the majority of the bridge crew. She uses the force to save herself, but remains unconscious, so Vice Admiral Holder takes command, and preps the Resistance to keep running as they burn fuel – which doesn’t sit well with hotshot fighter Poe Dameron. He listens to Finn and Rose Tico tell him about a plan to get on board Supreme Leader Snoke’s Dreadnaught to disable the tracking – the three of them touch base with Maz Kanata – she tells them they need a master codebreaker, and they can find one in a casino on Canto Bight, so Rose and Finn head there to find said codebreaker.
Luke gives Rey a couple of lessons, between which she is having weird telepathic communication sessions with Kylo Ren. He expresses some frustration to her, and she yells at him. He gives her one account of what happened when he destroyed the Jedi temple – while Luke gives her another version. Luke confesses he did think about killing him, but wasn’t going to, but Kylo is convinced he was about to be killed and acted to save himself. Rey finds a weird hole/cave on Luke’s island/former Jedi temple that she goes into to face herself, and doesn’t really find the answers she is looking for – while Luke encounters a former teacher of his own, reminding him that he should let the past go.
Rose and Finn do not find the codebreaker they are looking for, get captured, but then get free with the assistance of another mysterious codebreaker named DJ, and some kids who are tending to a stable full of fathiers – or space horses. They get back to the fleet – and break into the dreadnaught to shut down the tracking device. Holdo preps the evacuation transports to run from the large cruiser, which Poe has an issue with, to the point of mutiny. Rose and Finn are unsuccessful, Rey heads to face Kylo – leading to all of them on the Dreadnaught while the fleet makes a break for the nearby planet of Crait, which used to be a rebel outpost. Snoke reveals he was aware of all of this, and gets lippy with Rey, leading to an incredible action sequence where Kylo and Rey battle (not each other) in Snoke’s throne room while Finn and Rose have to fight their way out of the ship with the assistance of BB8. Meanwhile, Holdo goes down with the cruiser in an incredibly spectacular way, so that the resistance can make it to the planet.
This leads to the final battle scene you’ve seen in the trailers, with the larger walkers attacking the fortress while the rebels attempt to counterattack, just as Luke shows up to assist. The resistance makes an escape, with Rey, Finn, Poe, and Rose looking to lead them in the future as the First Order recognizes a new Supreme Leader in Kylo Ren.
I liked the Force Awakens well enough, I enjoyed all the new characters, but honestly felt like I expected everything that happened in that movie. This movie caught me completely unaware. I did not know what was going to happen next, or where the story was going to turn. And just when I thought I did – the story did something else. The new characters got far more to do here, and really came into their own. The legacy characters were elevated to a level they deserved. In particular, I loved the complete toss away of the two huge leftover questions from Force Awakens:
Who is Snoke? It doesn’t matter. He was set up to be the huge big bad in the previous movie, and here, he’s disposed of fairly quickly, and is used as a tool to establish Kylo Ren as the new big bad – and also, clarify that he is now completely irredeemable. The Force Awakens left some question as to whether he could be ‘saved’ or brought back to the light side – after this movie, nope.
Second question: Who are Rey’s parents? It doesn’t matter – they’re either someone or no one. Kylo says they are just junk dealers on Jakku who sold her for drinking money – and that could be true or he could be attempting to manipulate her. At first, I was a little disappointed with that, I did want her to be related to the legacy characters in some way – but, after “letting go of the past”, and realizing the Force can manifest in anyone, I really loved that turn. Rey doesn’t need a fancy bloodline as an excuse to be powerful – she simply is powerful in and of her own right – which is wonderful.
I loved seeing Leia use her force powers, but I wasn’t thrilled about her waking up floating in space and zooming herself back into the ship. I would have preferred her using a force bubble to protect the bridge as it was exploding – but hey, I’ll take it. I loved Luke’s character – his grumpy brokenness at the beginning, and his confident coolness at the end. His moment of saying goodbye to Leia, reminding her that those we lose are never far from us was incredibly touching. I loved the scene of him stepping out to face the entire first order by himself, and simply brushing off his shoulder after Kylo fires every single gun he has at him.
I enjoyed the scenes in the casino – but I wasn’t happy they dared to go to a casino in the Star Wars universe and Lando Calrissian was not there. You know he would own that place by now.
Yes, the story overall is a bit of a downer - hell, by the end, the resistance seems to be down to just enough folks to fill the Falcon, barely, but it does end with hope. Since Finn, Rose, and BB8’s side mission really ends up not working and having almost no bearing on the story, some have argued it was unnecessary, but I enjoyed it. I liked those two characters, and I liked them having an adventure together. I enjoyed the introduction of the stable kids, who come back in at the very end of the movie. I’m not thrilled that we seem to have seen the end of Captain Phasma? I sure hope she’s back in some way, but I can’t imagine how. I love the Porgs. I really loved all the creatures in this one, the fathiers, the crystal foxes (vulptex), but the Porgs are especially silly and wonderful.
I loved the overall message of moving forward, and that the force can and exist for anyone. The last scene of the movie is the stable kids telling the story to each other, and when one goes out to sweep, he force-pulls the broom to his hand, just before looking out to the skies with hope. Johnson did an incredible job of taking what was built before he came to the table – looking at it, and then making an exceptionally new story in the framework that was there – being unafraid to tear down that framework if necessary. It was ballsy, for sure. Visually, the movie is stunning, the space battles are astounding, and the planets are lovely – especially Crait at the end with its dusting of white salt on top of the brilliant red mineral underneath – resulting in blood-red trails anytime someone disturbs the surface. The costumes were exceptional – no, I don’t know why Holder is wearing an evening gown in battle – but man, what a gown! The look was great, the story, was great, but the cast blew me away.
- Mark Hamill was the heart and soul of the original trilogy. Where the others were uninvolved, and a little bit uninterested – Hamill was the one who knew the potential of Star Wars, and committed to doing what he could to pushing that potential as high as possible. Here, he gets to do things we never expect from Luke – including milk a crazy sea-cow type thing, and then drink it (a scene both hilarious and disturbing). He also gets to explain why he is so afraid of continuing the Jedi order, but then realize that it will go on without him, and so give Rey what he can. Hamill’s performance shifts from one end of the spectrum to another, with every moment feeling honest and believable. He’s exceptional, and is finally getting the recognition he has always deserved.
- Carrie Fisher’s portrayal of Leia is strong and confident – even in the face of incredible losses. I loved that she kept hope through the entire movie until just at the end – which only lasts for a moment, until Luke shows up to restore it. She’s as sassy as she has ever been, and the costuming was incredible. I will say that I felt nervous the entire movie – expecting her to be killed off at some point since Carrie Fisher is no longer with us, but I am grateful she makes it through – I like the idea of Leia at large in the galaxy, fighting injustice with an attitude.
- Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren, and has more to do in this movie than just be a whiny bitch. He was loosely defined in the previous film, but here – after eliminating everything tying him to the past, he can now truly become the evil and power he was meant to be. He was creepy and almost-convincing while communicating with Rey.
- Daisey Ridley plays Rey, and she is just getting better and better. She is determined to get what she needs from Luke, and when he won’t help her – she searches elsewhere. Her revelation at the end of the movie as the force-source of hope for the resistance going forward just makes me excited for what comes next.
- John Boyega plays Finn, and again has more to do this time. His character continues to evolve, building his hatred of the First Order and his determination to do what he can to fight against it. I really enjoyed his building relationship with Rose as well.
- Kelly Marie Tran plays Rose, and after the trauma of losing her sister in the opening battle of the movie, she sticks by Finn’s side to try to do what she can to assist the Resistance in its fight against the First Order. She helps him realize that not everything is black and white, and that there are shades of gray in war – with profiteers on both sides.
- Oscar Isaac plays Poe Dameron, and he’s a little more annoying in this movie – if he would just listen to orders, but no – he feels like he knows best and gets upset when those in charge won’t tell him every little piece of his plan. His heart’s in the right place, but sheesh – you don’t know everything dude.
- Andy Serkis plays Snoke, and no – you really get no answers on who he is, where he came from, or what his plans are – and really, that’s fine. He’s a storytelling device used to solidify the evil of Kylo Ren, and I like that.
- Domhnall Gleeson plays General Hux, and he’s just there to be the egotistical leader of the First Order. I don’t get tired of seeing him get belittled and beaten.
- Gwendoline Christie plays Captain Phasma, and she gets an awesome fight with Finn, but it’s not enough.
- Laura Dern plays Vice Admiral Holdo, and I appreciated how she was a bit mysterious at first – can we trust her, or not? By the end, she proved herself to be an incredibly capable military leader who was not taking crap from anyone. Also – she hyperdrives her ship through the dreadnaught in one of the coolest scenes ever. Just awesome.
- Benicio del Toro plays DJ, and seems mostly useless. Maybe he’ll return?
Overall, yes, you should see it – the action should please even non-fans. Yes, there’s a lot of noise from folks about how it’s “too different”, but those are the same folks who complained that the Force Awakens was “too similar”. Look – it’s a new Star Wars movie, and you can form your own opinion about it. I loved it, I loved the theme of letting go and focusing on moving forward – as well as the theme that you don’t have to be anyone special to do the right thing when it matters, and step into the heroic moment that presents itself.
10 out of 10 – took off a half point for no Lando, but gave it back for the porgs.
Bonus! The LAMBCast discussing Last Jedi !