IT’S NOT THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, BUT…
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Review by Ray Schillaci
Perhaps the fanboys are being too hard on the latest Star Wars saga. Thirteen days into its release and it’s still playing to the sold out theater I was in, and receiving cheers and applause. As for me, I enjoyed this latest, even though it is not the greatest. That honor is still held by Lucas and Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. But, it is a vast improvement over The Force Awakens as it did not hand us over a stale rehash. Although, J.J. Abrams version seemed to return us to the Star Wars we grew up with and was better than Lucas’ own awful prequels, but The Force Awakens story line was so derivative it weighed down my enthusiasm.
Rian Johnson’s (Looper, The Brothers Bloom) Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi not only returns us to the beloved series we have fond memories of, the film also gives us a fresher look with more meat on the bones of some of its characters. It’s not without its flaws, but that’s no reason to damn the movie as a whole. Choppy at times, some battles going on too long, characters appear who have little to do in the scheme of things, and some humor that feels misplaced, belonging more in a Marvel movie, but perhaps that part is where Disney is to blame.
Writer/director Rian Johnson does an admirable job giving us back the nostalgic moments and infusing them with new ones that are very exciting. But, to think that we could get something that equals the innocence and eye-opening wonder of Empire is perhaps a lofty hope in this day and age. The closest thing to that is perhaps the Marvel franchise (that does not endear itself to everyone nor is its following as big).
We have two major storylines going on in this episode and several subplots: Rey training with Luke, The Resistance preparing for battle with The First Order, Poe’s recklessness and hotshot attitude vs. The Resistance leaders, Finn, BB-8, and mechanic Rose Tico look to break into a highly guarded craft to disable a tracking device, and once again Kylo Ren is doing battle within himself. Oh, and Ren has bulked up, displaying his pecs (perhaps to show how powerful he’s become since last time) in what will eventually be a funny meme.
As mentioned, there are misfired jokes, characters that have no business showing up if only to service the fanbase, and a Luke Skywalker that some may be disappointed in. But, as a whole, the film works. Writer/director Rian Johnson keeps the action sequences going in a swift pace. He infuses Rey and Ren with far more depth than before. One only wishes he did the same with Poe and Finn. They may have more screen time, but their characters are nearly cardboard cutouts. In fact, the newcomer appears to do much better, Kelly Marie Tran as mechanic Rose Tico. Her wide-eyed optimism is a refreshing change to much of the direness.
When it comes right down to it, The Last Jedi is a mixed bag with rousing moments of grandeur and some groaners that we cannot just put aside. Johnson’s Jedi was probably meant to anger the fanbase since he appeared to go out of his way to dispel the rumors that swirled around plots and characters. Which frankly caught me off guard, and made me appreciate it, all the more easily overlooking its flaws. If there is one thing I am thankful for, and the rest of you may be too, the latest toy line cutie, the Porgs, that could easily be mistaken for munchkin-like three-mile island birds is nowhere near annoying as the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi. They actually can be funny at times and have nowhere near the screen time.
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Release Date: November 15, 2017
Run Time: 152 Minutes
Distributor: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Pictures