The following thoughts are filled with spoilers and not necessarily in any order. This isn’t a review per-se but more of a brain dump.
I hadn’t seen any trailers or read really anything about it before going in, so I was going in completely blank slate, which I found to be really enjoyable.
Overall I really liked the movie. For the first time in a long time, this felt like an original Star Wars movie. I worried that it was going to be a refresh of Empire, but thankfully it wasn’t (there may have been some shared traits, but it didn’t feel like a retelling, the way The Force Awakens felt like a re-telling of A New Hope). It was different, and at times a little weird, but I’m thrilled that they told a new Star Wars tale, even if it didn’t work 100% of the time. Risks are good.
The movie was absolutely beautiful. Rian Johnson really did a stand out job on the direction of this movie. Every shot felt well composed, like it could have been a photograph.
The score was great, but on my first viewing, it didn’t seem like it introduced any new musical themes, compared to The Force Awakens (which had Rey’s theme, Kylo’s theme, etc). I did hear the Imperial March though, which was not in The Force Awakens to my knowledge. The music was still moving though, even when it was bringing back familiar scores.
I absolutely loved every moment of Luke and Rey. Luke’s character showed a lot of maturity, like he’d been contemplating the Jedi religion and had fallen out of love with it. He questions it and implores Rey to not fall victim to it. He knows how powerful the Jedi can be and he worries that it’s become too strong of a legend, and that legends mislead people.
Which brings me to the first of two major themes I noticed in this movie: burning down the past. Luke wants to burn down the Jedi order (and with the help of Yoda, literally succeeds at doing so). Kylo wants to burn down the first order and get rid of everything that came before him. Anakin’s lightsaber is discarded off a cliff by Luke and then later ripped apart by Kylo and Rey. There’s this moment where Rose (a fantastic addition!) has one half of a pendant she shared with her recently killed sister (her sister had the other half), and DJ, the thief character wants her pendant as collateral for something, and almost without hesitation she gives him the pendant. She loves her sister and what the pendant symbolizes, but she literally does not want to cling to the past. The Last Jedi is trying to say, the past isn’t sacred, and if anything, it’s holding you back.
I read this theme as kind of a fuck-you to The Force Awakens. Where The Force Awakens was a reboot relishing in its past, The Last Jedi burns it down. In fact, some of the movie almost felt like a fuck-you to JJ Abrams, especially with how Phasma was killed off (Phasma was a character JJ created in reference to….something I can’t quite remember!). She was barely in the movie and killed off quite soon after she appeared.
(Also, thankfully this movie has way way less fan service. Sure, there are lots of things that are from the earlier movies, but only in ways that make sense for the story. There aren’t really any easter egg moments of like “OH! I remember that thing!!“)
Let me get back to Luke and Rey for a bit. For starters, every scene on the island (whose name I’m forgetting) was absolutely stunning. The colour, the scenery, the atmosphere. Sunshine and rain and darkness — talk about balance! It felt almost like a dream. There’s a part where Rey is following Luke, but sees something off in the distance. She heads towards this mystical place — this place is literally in a mist — until she enters the original Jedi temple. Like I said, it feels almost like a dream.
The island felt at the same time deserted and lived in, like a faded memory. The creatures all feel at place on this planet. Although, I will say the part where Luke milks the big creature on the side of the hill was a bit much.
I wish I had got to see a little bit more of their chemistry together. I wanted them to really dig in to what was bothering Luke, and what Rey was hoping to find. I could tell Rey didn’t want to give up and be pushed away, but I wanted to see her dig her feet in more.
I loved the new character, Rose! She was sweet and charming and had great chemistry with Finn. I’m glad that she saved him and then she kissed him too. The Force Awakens felt a little devoid of passion at times, so it was nice to see them show some real affection in this one.
I felt like they made Finn a bit less interesting in this movie, and they didn’t give him enough to work with. His chemistry with Rose was good, but beyond that he’s kind of isolated throughout the story. I wish I had seen him interacting with the rest of the characters more.
On that note, pretty much all of the characters were split up in this movie and they way they did it bugged me a little bit. Now, The Empire Strikes Back had Luke + R2D2 split off from Leia, Chewie, and Han, but it worked there because it drove the tension of the movie. Yes they were on two different tracks, but they were pulling each other together by the end of the movie. I didn’t necessarily feel that in The Last Jedi, they just kinda felt split up and when they got back together it didn’t feel as big of a deal. I think the chemistry of the main characters is one part that really shined in The Force Awakens, and we got less of that here.
One neat thing I did enjoy about this movie was that it felt very intimate. For almost the whole movie, most of the plot is happening very close together, with the First Order hot on the tail of the Resistance for the whole movie. Most Star Wars movies feel spread out across the galaxy. A planet here, a planet there. And sure, they do zip from planet to planet at some points during this movie, but the First Order on the tail of the Resistance in space acts as a central hub, a closeness that you just don’t get in the other movies, and that felt really cool.
The moment when Holdo (Laura Dern’s character) jumps her ship to lightspeed aimed at the First Order cruisers was nothing short of astonishing. It was one of the most visually powerful scenes I’ve seen in ages. The audience I was sitting in gasped (and at a second viewing of the movie, a woman in the row behind me whispered “oh my god!” when it happened). Johnson’s directing here really let the audience feel the visual and emotional impact of what just happened, which was so much more powerful than your typical “we just blew up the big bad weapon / monster” explosion you see in most movies today. The destruction of Starkiller Base has nothing on this moment.
(Side note: it’s the geography of the planets in The Force Awakens always felt a little off to me, especially when Starkiller Base destroys the Republic capitol planet. It’s weird because the Resistance base can see the explosion in the sky… so that means that their base planet is really close to the Capitol? which also seems really close to SKB? I could never quite get that straight in my mind.)
Back to chemistry for a minute, the chemistry between Rey and Kylo was super interesting and fun. I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen and that was exciting. At first it kind of seemed like, oh no Kylo can read Rey’s mind and he’s going to track her down. But it wasn’t like that. It was a bond they shared and they really did reach out for each other (literally and figuratively). This not only continues to make Kylo an interesting and conflicted character, but it makes Rey a conflicted character too.
During the showdown with Snoke (which, Kylo killing him was always a huge surprise for me!), Rey and Kylo fighting together, I got the feeling like, holy shit maybe it’s going to be the two of them on the run from both sides for the rest of the trilogy. Who knows!
And that’s what was so exciting about this movie, is that I was surprised over and over again by it. The movie makes you care about the characters and then makes them act in interesting ways. You can’t quite tell what’s going to happen next but you sure as hell want to know.
Further random things:
The ending: first, after the First Order had blasted down the base doors and Luke walks out to face him, there was this moment where the music was rising, Luke was facing them at sunset, and it just really felt like “Wow, they could just head straight to credits right here and now and leave it as a major cliffhanger.” I had a few seconds of feeling that, but the movie continued.
I didn’t really end up liking the ending shot (the one with the kid who uses the Force to pull the broom to himself, then looks off to the stars). It felt a bit corny to me. But it does help reinforce Luke’s message that the Force is everywhere in the universe, it’s a part of all things and doesn’t belong to anybody. Even this child can have it.
The second major theme I noticed was that of having hope. Hope that things will get better, hope that you can rely on people to help you when you’re in need, hope that things will work out. Maybe it’s just me, but this coupled with the “resistance” felt really timely for present-day Earth where the rise of Trumpism in the United States feels like a hopeless situation.
And who knows. Maybe Trump fans will read this movie’s theme of “burn down the past” more as a nod to the “drain the swamp” ethos. It’s easy for everybody to see themselves represented in the heroes, no matter what their beliefs. Whether or not the themes of this movie were directed at me, I still appreciated them.
Anyway, I loved the movie. There were a few bumps here and there but overall it was interesting and fresh and risky. I can’t wait to see what happens next.