I rewatched The Force Awakens on Netflix before going to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and so I went into the theatre pumped for some storm trooper firefights, some lightsabre clashes, some new alien creatures (both cute and gruesome) and some answers to the many questions left behind by the first movie. Some answers I got, but what I realized more was that Star Wars movies don’t really service well-written stories. They love to build up their universe with a new kind of planet, or a new aspect to The Force that we didn’t know about before, but in the end they throw a bunch of cool-looking ships and characters together, with some good vs evil themes and we enjoy the heck out of them. I know I do.
A big part of this movie focuses on Rey and how she set out to find the mysteriously missing Luke Skywalker (the first movie’s main plot point was trying to get a map that showed where Luke was hiding). From battles with baddie Kylo Ren in the first movie, it became obvious that she could also wield the Force, so it makes sense that Luke would also be able to train her to become a Jedi. Meanwhile, the new Empire, now known as the First Order, is hunting down the remaining Resistance forces. Princess (I mean General) Leia, and the other Resistence are pinning all their hopes on a last-minute save by Luke (though surely that’s not a very good strategy).
So after declaring that Star Wars movies don’t need storylines, what do I think makes them fun? Well, this movie’s got all of those elements too. There are lots of space battles — one of the first scenes has pilot Poe Dameron leading a risky bombing run to take out a large “dreadnought” ship, and I was on the edge of my seat wondering if the last ship would be able to release its payload in time to save them all. There are alien planets which seem oddly familiar and Earth-like — a casino planet where Finn and newbie Rose go on a mission to seek out a “master code breaker” amongst the galactic one-percenters. I was drawn into the whole atmosphere and even the mini-story of the poor rabbit-horse creatures (along with their child jockeys) being mistreated and forced to run races for the wealthy clientele. There are new creatures, like the part-hamster, part-chicken porgs, which give the kids a chuckle for comic relief; and the crystalline foxes on the red salt planet which I thought were just cool. Then there’s the in-the-moment drama, when the Resistance forces might be sitting ducks at the mercy of the evil First Order bombardment if they don’t come up with an escape plan (and I was once again held breathless at the silent moment when it all comes to a head). Finally, there’s the internal and external struggles experienced by Rey and Kylo Ren, as they’re pulled between both good and evil. I was thrilled when Rey and Kylo Ren together faced Supreme baddie Snoke and tables turned from moment to moment. So while I may not remember all these set pieces and plot pieces a year from now, together they make for a fun-filled Star Wars movie that checks off all the boxes. (4 out of 5)
Despite my having enjoyed the movie (and I didn’t even mention an awesome Luke-Skywalker-centred climax that I loved), I also wish that these sequels could have taken Star Wars in a new direction. Much has been said about how much these new-trilogy movies resemble the original trilogy. Parallels between the new characters and the old are blatantly obvious, and the conflict between the Resistance and the First Order is so much the same as the one between the Rebellion and the Empire that both sides even use the same fighter planes as their antecedents. There was strong backlash against The Last Jedi in the fandom (even to the point of wanting it to be removed from canon and remade) because it was felt that characters (especially Luke Skywalker) had been changed too much from what they had become over the years. The changes didn’t bother me (though I did agree that Luke seemed a bit weak and forlorn at first) but they should have made more changes not to known characters, but to storylines altogether (Can we leave the Skywalker-Solo family out of the picture now?). Anyway, creativity doesn’t always bring in the ticket sales. I recognize that at the end of the day, Disney still wants to sell toy lightsabres and porg dolls, so I won’t begrudge. I enjoyed the movie thoroughly for what it is, and I look forward to more.