Written and Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, Benicio Del Toro
Runtime: 152 min
Rian Johnson replaces J.J. Abrams as he is both the writer and the director of one of the most anticipated movies of the year: Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi.
The second film of the trilogy returns with our heroes of The Force Awakens, as Rey (Daisy Ridley) trains her newly-found powers with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) while the Resistance is preparing to fight the First Order.
Finally, I managed to watch one of my most anticipated movies of 2017! I am an authentic fanboy of the Star Wars saga and I loved its return two years ago when The Force Awakens was released. Everything looked better, sounded better and the story certainly didn't disappoint me. So, obviously, I was extremely looking forward to The Last Jedi.
Apparently, critics love Episode VIII but fans not so much. Me, well ... I don't LOVE it, but I do enjoy it very much. I do think it is a bit below the previous film's overall quality since it definitely has some issues the first one did not. I am also confident that I know why the fans are not loving this movie and I will explain that after a few paragraphs.
This time, I am going to start at the other side of the spectrum. I will begin my review with the film's problems because I do need to get them out of my mind, especially this one ... The subplot involving Finn (John Boyega), Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and DJ (Benicio Del Toro), some of the few new characters added to the franchise, completely ruins the movie's pacing and its narrative is such a tremendous deviation from the main story. It is, by far, the worst issue I have with the screenplay because it does not work as one single problem ... It creates a whole other set of them.
The first act's pacing is really fast since it starts with tons of action sequences. However, the second act decreases the rhythm and it is more story-driven, full of mystery-unlocking and character-development scenes. Finn and Rose's nonsense adventure just turns everything slower and even strange. It ends up needlessly extending the runtime (the film could have easily been 15min shorter) and worse ... Possibly creating a love triangle with Rey (I am not even going to discuss this).
Apart from this major issue(s), I have some minor problems. General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is a strong candidate to become the most annoying character in this new-generation trilogy. Gleeson is fine, he actually achieves a good over-the-top performance, but his character is just tumbling off the rails. Also, on a more technical aspect, the writing does not flow as well as it did on J.J. Abrams' screenplay. There are a lot more exposition scenes which also does not help the pacing at all.
I wrote earlier about the fans' reasons for them to be disappointed and well, the marketing for the movie did not lie: they do take a lot of chances with this one. Rian Johnson delivers a lot of twists and shocks throughout the whole runtime and it is impossible to assume that every single one of them is going to be mind-blowing and unanimously accepted. I do not want to give anything away from the plot, so I am just going to write that most of the choices and paths they choose for each character, I either simply accept them or I truly love them. As for the rest, I am, at most, underwhelmed (yet, I trust and understand the decisions they went with).
People need to learn how to deal with their own expectations. If you expect something utterly absurd and nonsensical to occur and then it does not, you can't blame the film for not following your crazy idea. So, please, don't start blabbing any movie is bad or disappointing because it didn't fulfill your ridiculously high expectations. Even if they are grounded and thoughtful, you have to embrace the production's approach to the character/story. If it makes sense, then it is as valid as any other theory. It might be underwhelming if you have high expectations, but it is still a serious take on whatever you are thinking.
This is why I think fans are not loving The Last Jedi. The production takes a lot of risks and some of them don't work with everyone, mostly due to fans' radical theories that don't have a place in the film. I think most people might change their initial opinion after a second viewing, myself included. Some things just need more time to process or even a whole rewatch. Since I do not have time to do it before the year's end, I am going with what I have.
Switching to the light side (hehe), I do enjoy this movie a lot. Every cast member that was great in Episode VII, transcends themselves in this one. Daisy Ridley is superb as Rey. She has such a massive range of expressions and I am sure her successful future as an actress is surely guaranteed. From the most emotional and somber moments to the most epic action scenes, she is awesome. Her character's mysterious backstory reaches a whole new extent and her interactions with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Luke Skywalker inflict chills all over my body.
Mark Hamill's comeback can't be any more amazing than it is. He delivers a fantastic, emotion-full and very compelling performance. It is even more unbelievable knowing that Hamill had strong personal arguments against the director's interpretation of what was better for Luke. If he is this astounding working against his own idea of who his character really is, then I must praise his exemplary working principles.
Luke and Rey spend a big chunk of the runtime training on an unknown island and I love every single second filmed on that piece of land. I have to admit that I am a bit frustrated because I think the film should have more time with these two, but due to the issues mentioned in the beginning of my review, the runtime can't be much more stretched. I love what they did with Luke, even if some fans are going to go insane with his journey.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren ... The undoubtful star of the whole show. Driver is becoming a menace to every actor working today because he is flawless. He has a powerful, dark, mysterious, compelling and commanding display as one of the most complex and multi-layered characters of the Star Wars saga. Ren's conflict inside his mind and heart is the most captivating feature of his story and his interactions with Rey are so jaw-dropping spectacular that I can't even describe them properly.
John Boyega is once again great as Finn, even though he is part of that horrible subplot. Boyega delivers a convincing performance and Finn shines through some awesome action set pieces. Kelly Marie Tran is actually good as Rose, it is just a pity that her character suffers from the narrative, even though her backstory is pretty touching. Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and the Porgs, the new cute animals implemented in the Star Wars universe, have all the funny scenes plus some action here and there.
Oscar Isaac is quite lucky because Poe Dameron unquestionably has the best subplot of the movie. Isaac offers a very passionate display as Poe goes through some significant character development. His impulsive instincts to attack the bad guys always have consequences and he is put in check by Leia (Carrie Fisher) during the whole time. It is a very interesting and twistful story that elevates the film's main plot.
Carrie Fisher is elegant and beautiful as Leia, a character that has a lot more screentime than what I expected. I always love seeing Fisher on the screen and she makes everything a bit more realistic to me. Andy Serkis is remarkable as Supreme Leader Snoke, but his character is yet another plot's detail that fans are not going to appreciate so much. I still feel underwhelmed by Snoke in this movie for several reasons, but after some thinking, I do understand his role in the film and his moments are indeed intimidating and dominant.
Rian Johnson work as the director is better than him as the writer. The visuals effects continue to be wonderful and the practical settings are beautiful, once again, there is a lot less CGI than you probably think. Excellent cinematography and the John Williams' score induces enormous levels of nostalgia and excitement. The action sequences are mind-blowing, the stunt work is phenomenal and there are tons of pure epic and awesome scenes.
The main plot includes a very dark and mysterious side to it that I thoroughly love. A lot of unexpected twists and turns make The Last Jedi more original than The Force Awakens, even if one or two plot points might be underwhelming, and it also has a very well balanced tone. Finally, a thrilling, breathtaking, action-heavy third act ends the film with magnificent glory and with many heartfelt moments.
All in all, Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi delivers something that I can be proud of experiencing. Terrific performances from the cast, but a flawlessly powerful display from Adam Driver as Kylo Ren steals the spotlight. Rian Johnson takes a lot of risks with the use of several plot twists and most of them are indeed mind-blowing, despite a few leaving me underwhelmed. The main story maintains its obscure mystery while packing some jaw-dropping, epic action sequences and excellent character-development scenes. A more exposition-heavy screenplay and some pacing issues bring the movie down, largely due to the unnecessary detour of the subplot involving Finn and Rose.