I saw Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi yesterday afternoon and I can tell you that it boasts some unpredictable action sequences, plus some of its most frustrating shortcomings and silly moments. They add up to a finished film that shouldn't be as long as it is in running time, and one that fails to resonate as soundly as the lean, focused and ultimately more emotionally moving Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In short, Rogue One ends up being the best entry out of these recent Star Wars outings.
The Last Jedi picks up right after where The Force Awakens left off, with the evil First Order hot on the trail of the remaining mobile formation of the Resistance. Johnson wastes no time into throwing us into a dazzling space battle between several X-wing Starfighters and TIE fighters. At the front of the Rebel star fleet again is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who is more than trigger happy and defiant of his leader Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) as he whizzes his comrades into battle. This first half hour of the film is the strongest because of this tense action spectacle and because it also gives us our first clear engagement with Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, doing spectacular motion capture work even though he's mostly sitting down). In a wonderfully written scene, Snoke basically pisses on the consistently dull villain that is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) for essentially being a pussy in all of Episode VII. It's devilish in its wording and you can almost hear Johnson pounding away on his Macbook keyboard as he wrote this scene, echoing what so many of us have been internally saying this whole time.
The rest of the narrative jumps back and forth between Rey (Daisy Ridley) trying to convince Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to train her in the Jedi ways on his secret island and the aerial conflict of the Resistance trying to flee from the First Order before running out of fuel on their main ship. There's also a really bad subplot involving Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) on a casino planet trying to find a master codebreaker, that doubles as a PSA against horse racing tracks. It's here where Benicio del Toro shows up as a crook named DJ, whose accent is a mix between Tom Waits and del Toro's Fred Fenster character from The Usual Suspects. We also get a momentary glimpse of Justin Theroux on this planet. Considering Theroux's appearance and Laura Dern playing Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, not to mention Snoke's spaceship lair covered in blood red walls, I mused on what a David Lynch Star Wars film might've looked like.
The Last Jedi is going to make a lot of money and everyone and their mom will have seen it in less than a week after I've published this review. There will be fanboys forever bitching on Twitter about spoilers and what not. I think Johnson is a terrific filmmaker and he took on a huge task by pulling off a middle entry that people will wrongly compare to The Empire Strikes Back (even though this film's second climax takes place on a snowy planet like Hoth, but one where the snow literally bleeds red). And Johnson can forever boast that he pulled off a key kickass lightsaber fight, though not with the parties you might expect. (I also liked Johnson giving Rogue One director Gareth Edwards an embedded cameo if you look closely towards the end.) Ultimately, the one striking aspect of The Last Jedi is that it marches to the beat of its own drum, for better and for worse.
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