“This is not going to go the way you think!” Luke Skywalker yells this in agony to young Jedi, Rey, in the beginning of The Last Jedi. In a way, this is Rian Johnson’s statement to the audience just how this film is gonna go down. A fair warning of what is to come, and a statement that this is gonna be unlike any other Star Wars film we’ve ever seen. The bold and daring directions that Johnson goes to are truly remarkable, not because of how they were executed, but more of how he was able to get away with them in a franchise that is as popular and delicate as the Star Wars franchise. There are hardly any film franchises with more passionate fans than the Star Wars fans. In between each movie, fans speculate on how the film is gonna go. They watch the trailers and analyze every particularly moments in the trailers and make judgements and predictions on how they feel and how they expect it will turn out. As someone who is a casual Star Wars fan, and not a die-hard Star Wars fan, I respect the passion they have for the movies and characters, but I believe it is an unhealthy way to go into a movie. As I have learned over the many years watching films in theaters, the best experiences are the ones where I go in to a movie completely blind. I am completely open to whatever the director throws at me, and do not pass judgement on what has been given to me. These fans, I feel like, are missing the entire point of going to the movies in the first place. Movies like Star Wars, are escapist entertainment, first and foremost. When people constantly judge every particular scene, and make assumptions immediately that when they don’t like how a particular scene was handled then they immediately hate the movie. People need to learn to let the film sit with them and process everything that was thrown at them. Yes, you can express how a film makes you feel whether it disappointed you, or left you underwhelmed, but also praise what was great about it as well. Put yourself in the shoes of the director, and understand why he made these particular decisions.
At the end of the day, if a movie has an emotional impact on me, that’s great. If a movie sticks with me for a long period of time, that’s even better. What I don’t want is to see a movie that is very familiar. Something I have already experienced in my life before. I also don’t want a movie that feels very bland and doesn’t have a lot of meaning to it. Those are the worst movies to me. The ones where after about an hour I don’t even think about ever again. Because I want to have a memorable experience that I will remember for a long time. And especially in something like this new Star Wars trilogy, a film that keeps me invested in the storylines and characters. This is what I believe Rian Johnson exactly pulled off with The Last Jedi. Is it perfect? No. The story structure is a little muddled. Some of the humor doesn’t land. Some of the arches with characters like Finn for example aren’t as great, as in The Force Awakens. But what The Last Jedi pulled off more than outweighs the minor flaws with the film, and is a major reason why I can overlook the nitpicks. Overall, it kept me invested the entire runtime, it went directions I did not expect it to go, and it left me wanting more and excited to see the final film in the trilogy. And it is because of that, why I think it is the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back.
I think Rian Johnson’s biggest strengths are as a visual storyteller, more than a screenwriter. With him having command of writing the entire story and putting it all together visually (a massive task, that not enough people are praising him for) I can see where the movie might have taken certain routes that it didn’t need to. However, I can’t help but praise just how well the movie looked, and how expansive the movie treated the universe with new imaginative planets and creatures. This just might be the best looking Star Wars film to date. Whether it holds up visually as well as Empire remains to be seen, but if I were to compare all the Star Wars films right now by how they look, Than The Last Jedi takes the cake. And I don’t mean by the special effects necessarily, but more about the cinematography and framing. Rian Johnson is a well-educated auteur-type filmmaker who implores this type of filmmaking to a big-blockbuster franchise like this. And what he and his cinematographer, Steve Yedlin, pull off is truly remarkable. There are scenes and shots that are visually stunning and have stuck with me for days, and even weeks. I immediately think about the scenes at the remote island Ahch-To with Rey and Luke . It feels so real, because it actually is. Instead of using green screen to film those scenes, they actually shot on location in Ireland. This is the type of filmmaking that made the original films so great, and better than the prequels in my opinion. The locations and set pieces in The Last Jedi feel real and lived in. The shot of Luke and R2 looking beyond to see their Jedi temple burn into flames, is not only visually stunning, but also has a lot of depth to it that makes it very powerful as well. As we learn this is the huge turning point in the story of these characters, and why Luke decided to go off on his own, and why Kylo decided to turn to the dark side. There are so many shots like this that make The Last Jedi stand out from all the rest. And of course I would be remise to not talk about the final battle sequence between The Resistance and The First Order. The biggest thing I have taken away with those scenes is not how it was depicted to us on a writing basis, but more visually. The use of the color red was a brilliant touch by Johnson, and made the scenes so much more visually stimulating. Something only film can pull off.
To those that say this film did not service the fans enough, I implore you to look harder. Even though Rian Johnson chooses to go against people’s expectations like him revealing how Rey’s parents are not important, or how Snoke ended up dying without a backstory given, he still provides great moments for fans as well. Examples include, having the sequence between Rey, Kylo, and Snoke directly reference the final (and best) sequence in Return of the Jedi. Or in the way Luke Skywalker dies, sitting upright looking at the two suns, with John Williams’ Binary Sunset music playing. These are moments that Johnson rewards us for watching all the previous films. I think overtime, people will come to appreciate this film. Just remember, back in 1980, when The Empire Strikes Back was released, people hated it as well, but overtime people have come to love it for the bold decisions it has made, and the way it looks visually. I think The Last Jedi will be similar. And just remember that there is still one more film to tell, this is not the end all say all of the trilogy and these characters. So once the whole trilogy is wrapped, than people really should finally make their decisions on how they feel about The Last Jedi. At the end of the day, this is a film that is entertaining, funny, heartwarming, and a thrill and that’s what it should be. Not a beat for beat, perfect film that meets everyone’s expectations, because frankly, that is impossible and unrealistic.
Best scene: The best scene, and one that will go down as one of the best in the franchise, is the whole sequence with Rey, Kylo, and Snoke. There are so many great things about this. First of all, the look of it. As I mentioned before Rian Johnson’s biggest strength is what he adds to films visually, and the whole bright red backdrop is stunning. Also all the previous scenes with Kylo and Rey communicating to each other with the force and examining their differences and similarities, all came together beautifully here. It of course leads to the biggest WTF moment of possibly the entire film with the death of Snoke. A moment that I certainly did not see coming, which is why I loved it. It ended with incredible stunt choreography lightsaber fight scenes. For all to those that complained there was not a proper lightsaber duel, this is technically one that we have never seen, because it is two people who are fighting with lightsabers on different sides of the force, but fighting on the same side in this one moment. An incredibly powerful and fist pumping moment. The fact that two people who have been in conflict with each other can find a way to team up is incredibly inspiring, especially in the culture we live in today. When Kylo asks Rey to join him, I totally believed it. Adam Driver nails that scene, and I actually feel empathy for him. He wants to rid of the past, but doesn’t realize he has sunken in too big of a hole to get out of it. It is incredibly powerful and one of my favorite movie moments of the year. So many action sequences in blockbusters are all about style, but no substance. They are flashy, but offer no depth with the characters. The Last Jedi does the opposite here and has action sequences, just like this one, with character depth and great complex performances. And I think that is the beauty of the franchise, and this film in particular, and why it’s one of the best Star Wars films and blockbusters in quite some time.