Star Wars delivers a bloated but entertaining middle act.
Let's be honest - Force Awakens was an impossible act to follow, blowing away (most) critics and audiences. Last Jedi didn't really live up to the expectations set by the first one, but it was still a solid outing. I enjoyed it.
A lot of the criticism surrounding Force Awakens centered around how it hit nearly every story beat from A New Hope verbatim. I personally loved the way they mirrored the original story with Rey, but I can understand complaints about it being derivative.
Last Jedi thankfully wasn't a re-tread of Empire Strikes Back. It did hit a few of the same themes: a rebellion on the ropes, a Jedi being trained, and the villain trying to turn the hero to the dark side - but it did each of them in a fresh way with twists I didn't see coming.
My main quibble with the film was its length and pacing. It really was more like three movies in one. Each on their own was okay, but the seams between them showed like a bad jigsaw puzzle.
I absolutely loved Rey's part of the story. From the moment Luke tossed the lightsaber over his shoulder (hah!) to her Hero Moment at the end moving the rocks, it was great character arc from start to finish.
Even when she was making dumb decisions, like Force-skyping with Kylo or walking into Snoke's clutches, her motives were clear. She had agency over her own fate.
I've read some people complaining that Rey works so hard to save Kylo - the overgrown toddler who destroyed the jedi training center and killed his own father. But I think it's important to remember that this is a girl who grew up on the legends of Luke Skywalker. He saved the galaxy by turning the seeemingly-irredeemable Darth Vader back to the light and overthrowing the Emperor together. Can you really blame her for imagining herself doing the same? Turning Kylo, overthrowing Snoke and saving the rebellion? It's an alluring idea.
And for just a moment, it almost works. The scene where she and Kylo joined forces against the Praetorian guards was the most awesome Star Wars fight scene since Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon took on Darth Maul. Worth the price of admission right there. I'll be disappointed if they try to turn this into a romance story in the third movie, but I love Rey and Kylo as reluctant rivals.
The film was dedicated to the late Carrie Fisher (*sniff*), and seeing the Princess/General in her final outing on screen was bittersweet.
I'll admit, I was worried during the first scene. "Oh, great, here we go again. Hotshot male hero ignores a woman's orders and ends up saving the day." I was pleasantly surprised (and relieved!) to be completely wrong about where they were taking that. Not once, but twice!
Yes, many problems could have been avoided if Holdo had let Poe in on the big plan. But they also could have been avoided if Poe had acted like a halfway-decent soldier and just followed orders. Admirals shouldn't have to explain grand strategy to every entitled X-Wing captain that comes by demanding answers.
It was great to see the contrast between Leia and Holdo's leadership styles. Laura Dern commented to Vanity Fair: "[The director is] saying something that’s been a true challenge in feminism. Are we going to lead and be who we are as women in our femininity? Or are we going to dress up in a boy’s clothes to do the boy’s job? I think we’re waking up to what we want feminism to look like."
So it was a great character story, but it hung on the skeleton of a lame plotline that defied the laws of physics and common sense. They tried to manufacture drama, but instead made a chase scene feel like the Austin Powers Steamroller Farce.
Oh, and Leia got to use the Force finally, which was... cool, I guess? I'm glad they gave her that moment - I just wish it had been done differently. Even the director acknowledges that it was a bit of a stretch and wouldn't sit well with everyone. For me it felt as jarringly out of place as an Ewok on Tatooine.
I'm not going to say much about the Finn/Rose plotline. I really like these two characters, and they deserved better than this storyline.
I get that their story had some important side-effects. Were it not for Finn and Rose, the First Order wouldn't have learned about the rebel escape ruse, and we wouldn't have gotten the final showdown on Crait. That scene lit the spark that reignited the rebellion. They also inspired resistance on Canto Bight, which could have payoffs down the road. So I don't think it was the complete waste of time that some reviewers felt it was. I do think it's a shame that the movie had two of its main POC characters bumble their way through a lame plot.
A Feminist Galaxy Far Far Away
I'll just say that whoever is behind this Star Wars feminist makeover is my hero(ine). In Force Awakens, we got the female version of the Hero's Journey, which was awesome. Last Jedi doubles down with three principal female characters, all driving their own story arcs.
There's also a veritable feast of supporting women: Rose's sister, the hotshot A-wing pilot, Admiral Holdo, another older female commander whose name I didn't catch, the criminally-underutilized Captain Phasma, and Billie Lourd reprising/expanding her role as Lt. Connix. It's no wonder that the Guardian dubs Last Jedi "the most triumphantly feminist Star Wars movie yet".
What I love most about this isn't just the representation (though that's great too), but the fact that it opens up so many story possibilities. When you have more than one female character, you don't feel the need to pigeonhole them into the "kick-butt strong female character" box. You can have the elder stateswoman, the sensitive tech and, yes, the kick-butt warrior - all showing different facets of the human experience. It really is wonderful.
- Princess Power: Five stars wasn't enough, so here are three sets of 5 stars each for Rey, Leia and Rose.
- Bechdel Test: Pass. Leia and Holdo only have one scene together, but it was a great display of a female friendship.
Learn about my Ratings System.