At long last, Luke Skywalker speaks!
As much as I liked STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015), I was left disappointed by the fact that after characters spent the entire film searching for the elusive Luke Skywalker, he shows up for a mere half-second in the final reel and doesn’t utter a word.
Hey, it’s Luke Skywalker! Cue end credits.
So, for me, the thing I was most looking forward to about STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017), the latest chapter in the STAR WARS saga, was seeing Luke Skywalker back in action. And since he finally gets to speak some dialogue and then some, his presence here was easily my favorite part of the movie.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI picks up immediately where its predecessor, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) left off. And so we find the Resistance fighters led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) battling the evil First Order led by Leia’s and the now deceased Han Solo’s son Ben, who goes by the bad-guy moniker Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Yup, you might say the current STAR WARS battles are more of a domestic dispute!
Actually, the villain who is calling the shots is the supremely evil Snoke (Andy Serkis), as Kylo Ren works for him, but any acute viewer can spot the writing on the wall a mile away, that the real villain in this new trilogy is no doubt the conflicted Kylo Ren.
Things are not looking good for our merry band of Resistance fighters. They are outgunned and outmanned by the superior First Order forces, even with the presence of young new heroes Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).
And so it’s up to young Rey (Daisy Ridley) to convince the Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to come out of retirement and help their cause, which is no easy task since Luke is a cranky old man now, disillusioned with the world, and he wants no part in any more of its conflicts.
It takes old friend R2D2 to point out that years earlier it was another old Jedi who was asked to help the cause, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Kenobi said yes. And when Luke still hesitates, the spirit of Yoda arrives to set him straight.
In spite of the box office records that STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is currently setting, the film really is a mixed bag.
For me, the best part of this film was seeing Luke Skywalker back in action on the big screen. His scenes are clearly the best in the movie.
Just as interesting are the scenes with newcomer Rey (Daisy Ridley). Her scenes with Luke resonate. As she tries to convince Luke to join the Resistance, she’s also trying to learn more about who she is, and just why it is that the Force is so strong with her.
And as much as I enjoyed Luke in this movie, and most of this is due in large part ot Mark Hamill’s performance, the two most interesting characters in the film are Rey and villain Kylo Ren. As Rey searches for answers to her identity, she becomes increasingly connected to Kylo Ren, as their strength with the Force allows them to communicate with each over vast distances, and each wants to convert the other. Rey wants to turn Kylo Ren from the Dark Side, while Kylo Ren wants Rey to join him in his ambitious plot to pretty much take over the galaxy.
And Kylo Ren is also connected to Luke Skywalker, since Luke had tried to train his nephew years earlier, but failed when Ren turned to the Dark Side.
Kylo Ren is a very interesting character, with some pretty neat conflicts. He sees himself as the next Darth Vader, but he continually falls short, and part of this is he’s the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia, and their connection is also strong with him. Yet, to shut them down, he murdered his own father in the last movie, and this time around he promises the same fate to his uncle, Luke Skywalker.
All these parts of the movie work and work well, and the good news is these three characters do make up the bigger portion of this movie. However, the other stories, the ones involving the Resistance led by Leia, and featuring subplots with Finn and Poe Dameron, pretty much fall flat. They suffer largely from a “been there, done that” situation. We’ve been down this road before in previous STAR WARS films.
The First Order’s pursuit of the small Resistance fleet which takes up the entire movie is rather boring, and the smaller plot where Finn and Poe try to incapacitate the Rebel ship chasing them is rather redundant and could have appeared in any STAR WARS movie.
I found myself only interested in the story which featured the triangle of Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke Skywalker.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, known for his science fiction thriller LOOPER (2012) starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a film I liked a lot, STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI looks as amazing as you would expect. The special effects are all top-notch, and it does contain some decent scenes. When Luke and Kylo Ren finally face each other, the moment is up there with some of the most dramatic and memorable scenes in the series.
But running at 152 minutes, making it the longest STAR WARS movie, it does tend to be a bit overlong and does struggle somewhat with the pacing. Let’s put it this way. It felt like 152 minutes.
It was great seeing Mark Hamill back on the big screen as Luke Skywalker. Hamill is a very good actor who has been missed in the movies over the years, as his career took a different path which saw him do more voice-over roles in animated features. For those of us who grew up watching young Luke Skywalker take on the Death Star and eventually become a Jedi to confront his own father Darth Vader, it’s a special experience to watch him here as an older man once again drawn into another conflict, but this time as the older, wiser force. If there’s any downside here, it’s that the film doesn’t include enough Luke Skywalker.
That being said, both Daisy Ridley as Rey and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren are strong enough performers that they appear more than up to the task to take on the next movie on their own. I like Daisy Ridley a lot, and I enjoyed her here every bit as much as I enjoyed Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.
I was lukewarm to Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in the previous movie, but he really has grown into the role, and he’s much more of a formidable presence here. Even better, his inner conflict does not appear forced, and so he’s that rare villain who isn’t just flat-out dark and evil. It’s a neat performance. He also gets rid of his silly mask in this movie, and that’s definitely a plus.
The rest of the actors are all okay. Of course, Carrie Fisher passed away shortly after filming her scenes for this one. She’s fine here as Leia, but honestly, the character doesn’t fare as well as Luke Skywalker does in this movie or as Han Solo did in the last. She’s simply not as interesting a character, nor does she have a whole lot to do in either film. Still, it was sad to watch her in this film, knowing that in real life, she’s gone, and the character will not appear again.
Both John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron are fine in their roles, but they’re stuck in storylines that aren’t so interesting.
Andy Serkis is on hand doing what does best, performing as a CGI/motion capture character, this time playing the villain Snoke, and when he’s on-screen he’s sufficiently menacing, but he’s not onscreen all that much. I enjoyed Kelly Marie Tran as newcomer Rose Tico, who helps Finn here, and it was also fun to see Domhnall Gleeson return as General Hux, who constantly operates in the shadow of the bigger evil villains.
And the amazing John Williams returns once again to score yet another STAR WARS movie, and once more, the music is excellent.
The screenplay by director Johnson is okay. Again, the Luke/Rey/Kylo Ren arc is the best part, while the rest seems like a rehash of previous STAR WARS movies.
Also, in general, the whole conflict in these “star wars” just isn’t all that interesting. In fact, it’s pretty darn boring because the writing in these films has never been good enough to spark interest in its larger universe. The best stories have been the small ones, the conflict between Luke and Darth Vader, Vader’s conflict between the Dark Side and the good, and here the conflicts with Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke.
Whenever the stories revert to the larger conflict at hand, which is what a lot of the second trilogy did and is largely why those three films were so lifeless, the tales fall flat. I don’t really care about the Rebellion, or the Resistance, or the politics of these worlds because, again, the writing has never been good enough to make me care.
So, every time characters and events in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI dealt with the ongoing conflict between the First Order and the Resistance, I yawned, but when it focused on the very specific conflicts between Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke Skywalker, I was all in.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI will not be the last STAR WARS movie, but with Rey and Kylo Ren poised as the future of the STAR WARS universe, it may be the last one to look so keenly on its past.
Books by Michael Arruda:
TIME FRAME, science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.
FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.