WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE LAST JEDI. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE OR DO NOT WISH TO BE SPOILED, TURN AWAY NOW.
For The Alabama Take‘s initial, spoiler-filled review, go here.
I was seven-years-old when my parents took me to my first movie Return of the Jedi and even though that was over 34 years ago, I remember a lot about that night and the events leading up to it: not even realizing going to a theater was an option, I begged to be taken after seeing a commercial for Return of the Jedi; I recall having to ask my mom to read to me some of the lines of Jabba the Hut’s subtitled speeches; as going to the movies was a family affair (and a whole family could afford it then), I remember that my sister got sick during the movie and that my father took care of her in the back row of the theater. Most of all, I knew I was fully hooked on Star Wars and everything Star Wars related.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been wavering with The Last Jedi. I couldn’t tell if I liked it, loved it, hated it, or was just indifferent about the whole film. But, I think it’s time. I’m ready to get off onto one side of the fence with it.
What causes me to fall in that middle ground of somewhere between loving and hating it is that I felt that Rian Johnson, the writer and director, is at times being subversive — wonderfully and brilliantly so — and at other times being downright dismissive — in ways both insultingly and antagonistically — to a fanbase that perhaps deserves it but has also made the franchise more than a few bucks.
This is not to say that a writer and director should cater to the whims of an entire base of fans and lose sight of his or her vision — that was a minor issue I had with The Force Awakens. Doing so would be a version of fanfiction, a term I loathe as much as “YouTube star.” Going into this movie, I welcomed the challenge that I’d been hearing and reading Johnson brought to TLJ.
Johnson seemed contemptuous early: it was a compelling, if not unwelcome, sign of change when Luke took the most symbolic of all Star Wars emblems and tossed it over his shoulder. Often the film uses Luke as a stand-in for the director, claiming that he’s not doing things the old way.
The first sign of trouble, though, came with Luke’s day-to-day routine: did we really need to see him milk the half-cow-half-walrus, drink the liquid immediately, look at the camera (almost breaking the fourth wall completely), and saying, “Ahhh!”? That was less subversive than it was a blatant poke in the eye.
That wasn’t the only joke that landed flat and felt out of place. Having his main antagonist — Kylo Ren, it turns out, and not Snoke — appear shirtless only to have Rey make a snide remark didn’t seem as much as a Star Wars quip as it did a Saturday Night Live throwaway.
And as much as I liked the character of Rose (and the idea that the Star Wars universe is diverse and open), it didn’t feel necessary to introduce someone new for her overlong plot with Finn, even though I did like the animal-friendly motif in parts of it. In fact, that whole side story of going to the Monte Carlo analog seemed wasteful, even if it did establish Benicio Del Toro, always amazing to watch, as part of the franchise.
Upon first thought, I considered Yoda too harsh, but I now see him as picking up right where he left off as the curmudgeon he was in his last (chronological) appearance in Return of the Jedi. Burning the sacred Jedi texts are as disruptive, perhaps, as Luke tossing the lightsaber over his shoulder, but it works.
An even better move was having Snoke dying midway through the movie. I had troubles with getting zero backstory on him after The Force Awakens begged viewers to question who and what he was. It felt like a slight, but moving the focus solely to Kylo Ren as a central evil is a touch of magic. He’s a more haunted figure than any character seen in Star Wars and deserves the attention. Similar things can be said with Rey’s parents. Both she and viewers were pushed to ask all kinds of questions about them, but Johnson didn’t find that thread appealing. Overall, it’s for the better.
Hands down (sorry for the awful pun) the best moment, though, was the exciting throne room fight, one of the best, most thrilling moments in any Star Wars movie. (Vader’s scene in Rogue One challenges.) Seeing what’s become the clear protagonist of this trilogy and the newly focused, deeply troubled antagonist back to back and destroying the guards, was sheer joy for any fan of Star Wars and movies alone: the color schemes, the pacing, the angles, the juxtapositions of Rey and Ren. It’s a marvelous piece of filmmaking, proven even more so when you later realize that these two aren’t going to work together beyond this heart-pounding escape.
And the most dazzling thing about it all is that there is another whole movie to go. I feel like the next installment could color how I feel about this one, but for now, I’ve fully come off the fence and landed on the side of The Last Jedi being brave and risky, qualities one has to admire in a franchise as old as I am.