Spoiler-Free Thoughts On The Last Jedi

Finn and Captain Phasma battle

I went to the The Last Jedi with my family over the weekend, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. To me, this Star Wars has a slightly different feel than the other Star Wars movies, while still being Star Wars.

The same old

Ever since the first Star Wars, iconic imagery have been a core part of Star Wars. I’m thinking here about Luke staring into the binary sunset on Tatooine in the first movies, or the relentless march of the AT-AT walkers in The Empire Strikes Back. To me, such images are a core component of the Star Wars experience, as central as the characters or the score. This movie doesn’t let us down in that respect. That shouldn’t be a surprise—some of the images in the trailer were gorgeous—but it’s nevertheless worth noting.

The score is solid, while not breathtaking. I didn’t notice many new iconic melodies akin to The Imperial March, the Skywalker Theme, or The Duel of the Fates but many of the old melodies were reused. It also wouldn’t surprise me if, being absorbed in the action, I missed new musical themes. (And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.) In any case, the music certainly added to the movie, and didn’t distract.

The technology was mostly the same as the familiar old movies as well. BB-8, while not identical to R2-D2, is very similar, playing almost the same role. The First Order Tie Fighters are very similar to the Imperial Tie fighters, though in this movie the First Order technology simply seems far more menacing. I suspect that this is because computer-generated images have improved the ability to illustrate space combat, which benefits this movie greatly.

What’s different

Maybe it’s just that the old movies are so familiar, but I feel like The Last Jedi simply has more depth than previous movies. It starts with the characters. With the exception of Anakin/Vader, most of the characters from the previous movies don’t have much depth. Han shifting from being a selfish smuggler to a big-picture rebel is about the largest change that the characters in the old movies make, and that shift doesn’t come with a lot of soul-searching.

In contrast, the characters in this movie are far more well-developed. Each character has internal conflicts that are fleshed in realistic ways that alter the course of the movie. Kylo Ren is particularly noteworthy. While in the first movie, he was a bit too much “emo whiny kid”, he is much better developed in this movie, and is probably the most compelling character. Just as important, the chemistry between him and Rey is solid, adding to the movie.
Even beyond the characters, this movies feels like it has more levels. In the past, the Star Wars universe has been black and white—you’re either on the dark side or the light side. Of course, that dichotomy remains today, but this movie adds layers. In the real world, it is never as simple as dark/light, but rather different perspectives in shades of gray, and this movie steps in that direction. Thus, while the movie remains “beleaguered good guys fight the fascists”, the movie becomes much more than that, and that’s a welcome change.

My bottom line

To me, this movie is one of this best of the franchise. It’s hard to match Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, but The Last Jedi is only slightly below those, better than my fourth favorite movie, Revenge of the Sith. I think it will hold up over time, becoming one of the classics in the series, possibly heralding the beginning of new subtlety and depth in the Star Wars franchise.

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