Saturday, December 16, 2017

Movie Review: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Although I am somewhat of a Austenesque bookworm, I'm a huge fan of the Star Wars universe as well. When The Last Jedi came out this weekend, my husband, two sons and I went together as a "four family", for the first time in years. We enjoy The Force Awakens very much, and had high hopes for this new chapter in the saga. This afternoon my husband and younger son re-watched Episode VII in our den. I watched the last 30 minutes or so of it, with my cats, on my iPhone screen. Later we drove over to Greensboro's Movie Tavern with much excitement, ready to take in the next chapter in this decades-long tale. I offer my critique of the film below, which I believe to be spoiler-free, if you have seen the preview trailers. If you'd like to see a trailer, I have it posted it near the end of this page for your convenience.

I enjoyed The Last Jedi very much, probably more than Episode VII, due in great measure to the quality of work offered by the entire cast and crew of this particular film. The overall production remains strong, if not stronger than in The Force Awakens. Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher are given much more screen time than in the previous movie, which was a welcome element. The writing and acting remain superior to Episodes I-III, which in my opinion should be wiped off the face of the earth. While highly choreographed, the lightsaber duels were well done, although they were not as dynamic as the Ben Kenobi/Darth Maul fight in The Phantom Menace (one of the few things that were worth keeping from that travesty).

Although the writing quality remains high, the film does go on for quite a while. Our previews began at 3:15pm, which included Alita, Jurassic World 2, Rampage, Early Man, A Wrinkle in Time and Avengers: Infinity War. Then our movie ran until 5:55pm. Including the end credits (no, there was no "extra scene", a la Avengers), IMDb lists it at 2 hours, 32 minutes. And while I don't tire of Star Wars material, it did feel long sometimes. As I've read in other critiques of the film, it felt as if the storytellers were trying to do just a little too much with the narrative. Unlike Luke's time on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, Rey's time with Luke on Ahch-To somehow felt rushed. There was just so much story to tell in less than three hours.
Watching bits of Episode VII with two of my cats

These drawbacks, however, are minor. The story was very enjoyable, and I was frequently on the edge of my seat. As always, the dogfight scenes are thrilling, very reminiscent of the old movies, but revolutionary as well. The dramatic contrast of the underlying crimson red clay on the pristine, white salt flats of Crait heightened the drama of the battle for the rebel base. Poe Dameron's piloting skills had me cheering with delight. New character Rose Tico was such a pleasure, and a welcome addition to the Star Wars family. Without giving anything away, there is a scene where Luke kisses someone on the forehead that brought tears to my eyes. It was so touching. There were abundant moments of humor injected into the dialogue, and while I sometimes felt that this element was brought out a little too much, it never reached the level of stupidity found in A Phantom Menace, as with the infamous Jar Jar Binks. And yes, as has been reported in the media, the puffin-like porgs of Ahch-To are simply adorable, unlike the much-maligned Ewoks of Return of the Jedi. There's also another creature I liked very much, "fathiers" which have memorable screen time while the story is set in the city of Canto Bight.

As with previous Star Wars episodes, there's the usual tension between good and evil, light and dark. The Jedi order begins to make a bit of a transition with Episode VIII, and I'm interested to see where it's headed. There were some force-related happenings that took me by surprise, with one in particular taking me completely off guard. It was a trick I did not see coming in the least. Suffice it to say, the force is capable of things we haven't seen thus far, and may take on a different shape in the future.
My sons with a stormtrooper at the theater

On a side note: As a French horn player who has had the opportunity to play a bit of John Williams' work over the years, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie's score. There are ten-- count them-- TEN horn players in this orchestra, and they are phenomenal. Williams again has interwoven themes from films gone by, and incorporated new elements as well. He has always been the perfect choice for this series, and is an international treasure.

For families who are considering this movie for their children: The Last Jedi does earn its PG-13 rating, but just barely. There is one kiss that could possibly be considered romantic, and while there is a decent amount of fighting, there isn't an overabundance of blood and gore on the screen. It's very much like what we've seen in previous Star Wars films. A significant character is cut in half by a lightsaber, but we do not see blood or entrails coming forth. Language isn't a massive factor-- no f-bombs are dropped, but there is a bit more colorful language than was heard in the original trilogy. I was okay with having my 12 year-old son present. It would be my guess that the main factor influencing the PG-13 rating would be the sheer intensity of some of the scenes. Small children might be disturbed by some of the peril and dramatic issues involved.

As a student who is working on a master's degree in Christian apologetics, I sometimes wonder what influence the Star Wars saga has on our culture, in a religious sense. I'm able to suspend belief and take these movies as simple fairy tales, and I hope that's true for others that enjoy this series. As is mentioned in the thorough movie review on, the issue of the Force-as-religion does take somewhat of a center stage in this film. I've had many discussions with my boys on this matter, encouraging them to think intelligently about what we believe as Christians, and to not take religious philosophies too much to heart when they're enjoying Star Wars. The same has been true as I've trusted them to separate truth from fiction with the world of Harry Potter. That being said, I especially liked one quote that was stated in The Last Jedi: "To say when the Jedi dies, the Light dies is vanity." The ways of the force are not seen as having a corner on truth and light. Luke Skywalker feels (and this is no spoiler, if you have seen the trailers) that it is time for the Jedi to die. They are not indispensable for good to survive in the galaxy. On this I can wholeheartedly agree.

If you have been pondering whether or not to go see The Last Jedi while it is in theaters, I would encourage you to attend. In fact, I wish I could have had the budget to see it on the IMAX screen. The Last Jedi is a delight for the eyes and years, more than worthy of a huge screen and robust sound system.  This film was thoroughly entertaining, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again, when it inevitably ends up in my Blu-ray player at home. Director Rian Johnson and his team have done a fabulous job at the helm of this latest vehicle of the Star Wars saga, and I feel that it has more than deserved its huge 200+ million-dollar opening weekend. The force is strong with this one, and I look forward with great expectation to see what Episode IX director J.J. Abrams has in store for us in 2019.

Episode VII Trailer

Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Streaming Blu-ray (On Sale 2018) Streaming


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