Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

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Star Wars is the undisputed king of science fiction when it comes to popularity. Every new film with the Star Wars name gets people talking. After a 10 year break (unless we count the animated Clone Wars film), the series was brought back with Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The film brought back classic characters such as Princess Leia and Han Solo, while introducing new characters for a new trilogy. It ended with Rey, our new protagonist, finding an older Luke Skywalker. The Last Jedi continues this important plot point and once again has the First Order looking to wipe out the Rebellion. Rian Johnson directs, taking over from J.J. Abrams of The Force Awakens.

The Force Awakens was a fun film. But it was easy to notice its major flaw: it felt like a retread of A New Hope. The Last Jedi avoids this but is hit with some problems of its own. The Phantom Menace is the definition of a boring Star Wars film, and to say The Last Jedi is in league with that film would do Episode VIII a disservice. But it does approach the mediocrity of those early prequel movies than the stronger later films. I can’t call it a bad film, but it’s definitely not one of the stronger Star Wars movies.

In typical blockbuster format, The Last Jedi opens up with a big action sequence. The Rebellion is attempting to evade a First Order Dreadnought. Poe Dameron manages to stall just enough, but then precedes to go against Princess Leia’s orders in hopes of destroying the Dreadnought. It’s an effective enough sequence with one piece of clever humor from Poe playing around with General Hux. Poe didn’t leave much of an impression in The Force Awakens due to not appearing too much. The Last Jedi fixes that by having him be a major character throughout the film. Oscar Isaac gives Poe a notable charisma and dedication. The viewer gets a sense that Poe genuinely cares about destroying the First Order; he’s not just a hotshot pilot because the story requires that stereotype. One good example is him calling Amilyn Holdo a traitor for seemingly giving up the battle.

Soon we cut to arguably the most important aspect of the film: Rey’s meeting with Luke Skywalker. Their dialogue is interesting, but it takes much too long for Luke to say why he gave up on the Jedi. It does sour Luke’s legacy, to the point where the longtime fan would be disgusted. However, thanks to some advice from an iconic character (one of the film’s best scenes) Luke makes a triumphant return in the climax. This is perhaps Luke’s greatest sequence since his battle with Vader in the climax of Return of the Jedi. Does it save Luke’s portrayal though? It’s a great scene, but it does not help elevate the overall score of the film. There’s still that feeling that a lot of things could have been avoided if Luke had come on the scene earlier.

It should be noted that Rey is an excellent character. Even when seeing the Rebellion ships shot down one by one, she holds onto hope. She was fine in The Force Awakens, if not generic – here she has become a compelling and inspiring character. Her scenes with Kylo Ren were the best. Speaking of Kylo, he goes through some intriguing development throughout the story. In some ways, he is still that character trying to be as great as Darth Vader – but there’s more layers to him, as we see in the intense scene with Supreme Leader Snoke and Rey. Kylo emerges a new character in a new position at the end of The Last Jedi. I for one am excited to see what he does in Episode IX.

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Yes, there are quite a few notable character moments throughout the film. The story’s big problem however, is that there’s this immensely long stretch without any major action scenes. Yes yes, I know that exposition is important – mindless action throughout does not make for a good movie. But, the exposition is just boring. There’s this subplot with Finn and Rose going off to do something that could prove useful to the Rebellion. Due to circumstances, this subplot becomes almost pointless. The sequence with them running into an intergalactic bar and eventually freeing some horse-like creatures just felt like a detour from the main story. Rose is one of the new characters, but I didn’t feel emotionally invested. (Let’s not get started on the rushed romance.) Another new character Finn and Rose run into is DJ. This guy disappears later on, leaving me to ask what was really the point of the character other than taking time away from actual interesting things?

The only engaging new character is Amilyn Holo, taking over leadership duties after Leia is injured. Amilyn commands the screen, and her decision near the climax is one of the most powerful scenes in the Star Wars franchise. Going back to older characters, Snoke takes on a bigger role than in The Force Awakens. He was incredibly generic in Episode VII, serving as little more than a second rate Papaltine. That changes here, as he demonstrates the evil that runs the First Order. His early scene with Kylo Ren was great, and of course his dialogue with Rey was fantastic. Finn was thankfully a little less comedic than in The Force Awakes. His early scene with wanting to give up was sketchy, but he ended up being a fun character. Captain Phasma returns for a fun battle with Finn. But that’s it. Remaining fans of Phasma will be disappointed with how incredibly small her role is.

Finally, the soundtrack is solid. It’s typical of Star Wars – you’ll recognize the familiar beats. It’s at times too similar to the previous films’ soundtracks though, thus severely lacking in originality.

Overall, The Last Jedi isn’t a bad movie. But it’s not a great movie. There are great moments for sure, such as the climax. The final act of the film is fantastic. Rey and Kylo have an interesting dynamic, and Snoke commands the screen with his genuinely evil persona. It’s the slow-moving pace that hurts the story. Luke is hard to watch until he redeems himself in the climax. (By then though, it could be too late for some viewers.) Finn’s subplot feels like an unnecessary detour. Most of the new characters don’t add much. (So, what was the purpose of the Porgs other than to look cuddly? Wait…was that their only purpose?!) There’s also a surprising lack of action. Still, there are things to appreciate. The theme of hope against tyrannical forces reigns. The lightsaber battles, when they finally appear, are excellent. A lot of the characters are enjoyable to watch. Episode VIII isn’t close to being the best Star Wars film, but at least it nicely sets up Episode IX.

6.5/10

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

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Star Wars is enjoying a revitalization this decade. Last year Episode VII, the continuation from Return of the Jedi, released and ended up being one of the highest grossing films of all time. This year saw the release of another installment in the series. This time however instead of the next chapter, we have a prequel detailing some of the major events leading up to A New Hope. The idea of a standalone-ish film important to the overall saga is an excellent concept; and it’s something Rogue One succeeds at marvelously. Gareth Edwards of Godzilla fame directs a film that puts the Wars in Star Wars.

Rogue One tells a familiar tale at the surface. It follows a group of rebels in a mission to halt the progress of the Empire. Perhaps the biggest contributions to the franchise here are how the Death Star came into existence and how the Alliance acquired the plans of the weapon’s weakness. As a longtime Star Wars viewer, it’s great to see how this connects to A New Hope, a film almost 40 years old. There are other things to look out for, along with other references to the franchise such as The Clone Wars. Of course, the film doesn’t sell itself as one only focused on being one big reference; it’s an excellent showcase of quality written characters and some of the best action sequences of the series.

The opening act shows the main character, Jyn, as a young girl and how she got separated from her parents. It’s a well done sequence as it establishes her hate for the Empire, Krennic’s menacing persona, and how Jyn’s father got taken into the Empire to build the Death Star. The jump to modern day is interesting as we see Jyn a battle-hardened character. Felicity Jones does an excellent job portraying that throughout the film, especially in the first and middle act. Rey from The Force Awakens was a fun character, but Jyn is more interesting thanks to her more down-to-earth, realistic persona. Her journey from hardened prisoner to inspiration for the rebel cause was engaging. This nicely complements the rather grim atmosphere the story has.

Perhaps the most notable character is K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial Droid for the Rebel cause. One of the reasons why A New Hope is fondly remembered is for its introduction of C-3PO, who was constantly bringing humor. K-2SO plays a similar role in Rogue One, and it’s fantastic. (Also, unlike C-3PO he can actually fight.) K-2SO’s scene in the climax is one of the most powerfully written in the entire series. Most of the other characters are good. One of the few that wasn’t particularly notable was Rook. It’s easy to see what the writing was going for in his personality, but it didn’t work most of the time in making him likable and there was a severe lack of backstory. Saw Gerrera wasn’t memorable either and may have actually been the weakest character. The viewer doesn’t feel any sense of emotional attachment so when he stops appearing it’s more of an empty scene.

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Even though the original trilogy took place in a galaxy controlled by the Empire, Rogue One is the first one where the viewer really gets a sense of what it’s like to live under this occupation. There’s a down to earth tone which lacks in the other films. This is also helped by the careful usage of humor. The Force Awakens most of the time had an upbeat tone with plenty of comedic scenes, sometimes forced. Rogue One is a lot smarter in this department. Its “funny” scenes are spaced out and when they appear they are genuinely good. Action films can learn a thing or two from the style of Rogue One.

As stated earlier, the film features some of the greatest action scenes in the franchise. The first major fight sequence on Jedha when Andor and Jyn arrive comes to mind. Not only is it choreographed well and there’s a great amount of tension, but the viewer also gets a sense of a brutal war backdrop. The climax is a big highlight; the Rebellion plan is fun to watch unfold, which leads to some -once again- great action sequences and emotional scenes. The tagline for the film is “A rebellion built on hope.” The final act of the story is unexpectedly somber, but with a glimmer of light in the end since it leads straight into A New Hope. It’s one of the most effective and well done climaxes in recent history.

On some last notes, the soundtrack features a few classic Star Wars themes. They are used effectively. (The opening crawl was unfortunately missed.) The other themes are very similar and while not as iconic as John Williams’ work, Michael Giacchino does a solid job complementing the legendary music. Darth Vader was one of the most highly anticipated aspects of the film. (He hasn’t been seen in film since 2005’s Revenge of the Sith.) He could have used maybe one more scene, but what is there is spectacular. It’s as if you can watch this film and then jump into A New Hope and not see any difference with the villain. If this is truly Vader’s last appearance in a film, he went out showcasing that he still is one of (if not the) greatest villain in cinema.

Overall, Rogue One might be the most well made Star Wars film to date. It goes darker than previous entries while containing pockets of genuinely humorous moments. Jyn’s character journey is engaging, and the theme of hope shines throughout. As iconic as the original trilogy was, there was sometimes a lack of tension because of cheesy writing. The serious tone in the latest installment coupled with the most intense Stormtrooper action scenes in the franchise gives the film a consistent atmosphere that The Force Awakens -or just about any film in the series- doesn’t have in comparison. Rogue One is a great film of diverse, likable characters and an excellent prequel to A New Hope.

9/10