Sound Off! Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, remember your ancestors and discuss Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which premiered in the United States on Friday, December 15, 2017.

Sound Off! is meant to be a reaction, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places: you may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching.

Now, join J.L. Gribble, Shara White, Merrin, Nancy O’Toole Meservier, and Betsy Whitt as they talk about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. [Note: Spoiler-free for the first section, but not after the giant red letters! You have been warned!]


J.L.: Star Wars is a few years older than I am, so it’s about time that it started growing up. With the installment of The Last Jedi, this saga is no longer about space opera spectacle with larger-than-life characters fighting larger-than-life foes. It has evolved into a tale of complex characters in complex situations, where there might still be good against evil, but right versus wrong is a little more complicated.

Poe Dameron’s character arc in this film is the perfect example of that. I was honestly shocked by how much of a straight-up dick he was to General Leia Organa in the first half of the movie, and my knowledge of how the military chain of command works was also mortally offended. But we have to remember that we didn’t get much character development of him in The Force Awakens, and all of his scenes in that film allowed him to be the cocky flyboy without any repercussions. I’m really excited to see how his character continues to develop in the final installment of the trilogy, especially now that (unfortunately) General Organa might not necessarily be around to reign him in.

The most jarring element of this film was that it took me until about halfway through the movie to figure out that the scenes with Rey and Luke and the scenes with the Rebellion were not set on the same timeline. This is really my only complaint about the writing. It was a long film, and I keep trying to think about what scenes could have been cut. But even the seemingly filler scenes contained important plot elements and messages that were integral to the procession of the story.

I hope that the two major space combat scenes in this movie go down in history as “how to do space combat scenes.” Neither were traditional ship versus ship scenarios, and one of them literally took my breath away. I’m anxious to see this movie a second (and possibly third) time in theaters just to experience that moment again.

And finally, homage must be paid to our General. I’m devastated that we will not get to see “her” story in Episode 9, because Leia had so many incredible moments in this film. Not only did we get to see her lead as a general, but also as a simple Rebel fighter. And on top of everything else, we are reminded that she might not be a Jedi like her brother — but Luke did not inherit all of the power from their father’s side.

And the space jewelry is pretty awesome, too.


–SPOILERS BELOW–

Shara: I’m still in a state of shock. Of good shock, mind you, but it’s still shock. I think one of the things I’ve learned about watching movies from my very first fandom is that the first viewing is all about absorption. I just have to take it all in and process it, and then on my second (or third or fourth) viewing, I’ll have more coherent, possibly more critical, things to say.

But for now, one of the biggest takeaways from The Last Jedi was simply that the Force (and by extension, the Star Wars franchise itself) is bigger than any one person. Bigger than any legend or familiar face. Over and over, the movie told us that the Force belongs to everyone. You don’t have to be a Solo or a Skywalker in order to matter in this universe. And then the movie proves it by revealing Rey’s parentage, by showing us the little boy at the end, by giving new characters heroic moments and reminding our favorites from The Force Awakens they’ve got so much more to learn. I always felt like The Force Awakens was about passing along the torch (Rey inheriting the Falcon), but The Last Jedi doubled down on that. Luke says it best in his showdown with with Kylo Ren: he’s not the last Jedi, the war is just beginning, and the Resistance is just getting started. It was a powerful moment, and it was capped by one of the most badass things I’ve ever seen Luke Skywalker do.

Critically speaking, I will say the run time was way too long, as there were several moments I thought the movie was wrapping up. Except no, no it wasn’t, which makes me wonder if our Hollywood writers need a crash course in the three-act story structure, because sheesh. But there were some wonderful moments, some surprising moments, and I wonder how all of those are going to influence the final act of the trilogy.

A final word on the arc of General Leia: weirdly, I wasn’t emotional watching her scenes. I had a moment of brief anger when I thought the movie had been rewritten to handle Carrie Fisher’s passing, but then Leia did something so amazing I’m still processing it. The most emotional moment, for me, was watching Leia’s scene with Luke. It was beautiful, and I think that’s going to be the one that gets me upon rewatch. I am going to forever wonder how Leia’s story line would’ve turned out in Episode IX, and maybe one day we’ll know.

But for now, I’m going to relish the film we did get: the strong emotional center, the arcs of our heroes, the introduction of great new characters (Rose!), the adorable Porgs and crystal foxes, and as always, BB-8. I mean, really, is there anything that little droid can’t do?


Merrin: I saw the movie two times this weekend, and my initial weekend thoughts are: I am underwhelmed. And honestly? That makes me sad.

And I can’t decide whether this is because it’s the middle movie and I don’t know the end, the way I did when I saw The Two Towers. If I’d seen Episode V in theaters, would my reaction have been similar? I don’t know, but maybe. So I’m having trouble separating out “BUT HOW DOES IT END?” with “this particular installment just isn’t my favorite.”

There are legitimately things I didn’t like. Laura Dern’s new character, Admiral Holdo, stands at a window and says “Godspeed, rebels” to these shuttles as they fly off, but this is a galaxy long ago and far far away, so where did this concept of God come from? Why the anachronism nine movies into this universe?

We finally see another Force ghost, this time Yoda, visiting Luke on the island, and my biggest question there is, why isn’t a Force ghost Anakin visiting Ben Solo/Kylo Ren to say “Hey, stop praying to my helmet you big creep, this isn’t what I wanted for your life?” And explaining Kylo Ren’s evilness away by saying, “He has too much of his grandfather in him,” like y’all. Darth Vader became Darth Vader because Anakin Skywalker was a slave child whose mother was tortured and killed in slavery. His darkness grew out of his shitty childhood. Unless you can show me that Leia Organa wasn’t even a relatively decent parent to her broody child, then I can’t accept that Kylo Ren is somehow more evil than Darth Vader.

Kylo Ren isn’t a compelling villain, in my opinion, and I’m over his petulant tantrums. They’re probably going to try to redeem him somehow in the third movie, and I’m going to sit there in the theater and whisper, “Yes, but some people just don’t deserve it,” loud enough to annoy all of the people around me.

And the BLOAT. This movie was way too long. All of those scenes of Luke and Rey on the island where the same thing kept happening over and over and over again. Cutting away from Kylo and Rey pulling at Luke’s lightsaber to the escape shuttles being blown up again and again and again. Which also leads me to the death toll. This rebellion had 400 people at the start of it. It now has about 20. And from the end of the movie, my hope is apparently supposed to be in slave children who can move brooms with their minds. Yes, so full of hope. I am appeased, this rebellion will definitely survive.

I’ve run out of room to say positive things, but there were things I liked. Rose’s character is a stand out. Poe’s storyline with Holdo. Rey and Finn hugging again at the end. Luke and Leia’s farewell had me bawling. I just wish there had been more in this category and less in the other.


Nancy: Okay, Hollywood. I’m beginning to think that you’re trying to pull one over on me. Because this is the third time in a row that I’ve gone to a movie, have come home to write my damned Sound Off, and have found my mind circling around the same exact thought.

“Wow, this movie bites off more than it can chew, but you know what? I still liked it!”

This annoying pattern is what almost derailed Justice League, marred the otherwise enjoyable Thor: Ragnarok, and brings Star Wars: The Last Jedi down a few pegs from The Force Awakens. Granted, I loved the shit out of The Force Awakens, so down a few pegs from that is still plenty good.

Yes, this is a movie with flaws. There are some characters that are not just underused, but all together unnecessary (I’m looking at you, Benicio Del Toro). There are big emotional moments that don’t seem properly set up. And some of the twists feel like they’re just there to throw another curve ball at you.

But you know what? I still had a blast with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. From Poe’s initial takedown of a Star Destroyer to the final battle between Luke and Kylo Ren, this movie is filled with memorable set pieces. The humor had me constantly smiling, and as much as I just complained about unnecessary twists, I felt like I rarely knew what was going to happen next, which added a real layer of excitement to my viewing experience.

But what ends up sticking with me most is the characters and their relationships. Some of these relationships are brand new (Luke and Rey), others come with baggage (Kylo Ren and Rey, as well as Luke and Kylo Ren), while others are built on decades of real friendship between the actors (the moment where Luke and Leia finally reunite was genuinely moving to me). I love that The Last Jedi got to revisit the character of Luke Skywalker in the same way that The Force Awakens gave us one last adventure with Han Solo. At the same time, I can’t help but be sad, as I suspect that the third entry in this saga was meant to be Leia-centric had it not been for Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing.

The Last Jedi is turning out to be a very divisive entry into the Star Wars franchise. And while I can understand where some people’s frustration comes from, I still came out of the theater feeling like I had just watched another satisfying Star Wars movie. Bring on Episode IX.


Betsy: Where do I start? I wasn’t particularly worried that Star Wars: The Last Jedi would disappoint me on any grand scale. I’m a fan of the movies, certainly, but I don’t follow the Star Wars universe beyond that, so I wasn’t concerned that they might ruin my favorite obscure bit of canon or some such thing. I’m not surprised that I thoroughly enjoyed the film — but I am surprised at a few of the reasons I loved it.

First off, let’s give a nice, slow clap for the women in this film. Setting aside that some of Rey’s arc felt slow — the filmmakers were dealing with a big pacing challenge and handled it as well as they could, I think — the introduction of two new agency-filled women in Rose and Vice-Admiral Holdo was gratifying. And Leia’s sections all felt just right from Carrie Fisher, even if the producers were a touch heavy-handed with the nostalgic tributes.

But really, who saw this plot coming? My first surprise in terms of enjoyment was that Hollywood actually managed to keep me guessing about where things were headed. Basically, nothing is as it seems, nothing turns in the most likely direction, and it was a delight to feel like a kid at the movies, not knowing what to expect next. I’m trying really hard to avoid spoilers, so I’ll just say the throne room scene between Snoke, Rey, and Kylo Ren was fantastic in this regard, as well as the battle between Kylo Ren and Skywalker.

My second surprise was the movie’s sense of humor. The Force Awakens was arguably funnier than any of its predecessors, but The Last Jedi has pressed it further. I think what makes the humor here mostly feel successful rather than silly and forced (Jar-Jar Binks, anyone?) is it’s self-awareness with a touch of irreverence. They don’t take it as far as Guardians of the Galaxy, but perhaps Disney-Marvel’s success with humorous space movies has served as a tutorial for Disney-Lucasfilm to get a better balance of drama and lightheartedness in a very long movie.

The third unexpected positive was the indigenous life forms on the various planets. I’m not talking about the porgs that befriend Chewy and overtake the Millennium Falcon. I’m talking about things like those gorgeous crystal foxes on Crait, the racing fathiers on Canto Bight, or the leviathan sliding through the ocean behind Rey as she follows Skywalker around the island of Ahch-To. Basically, as special effects technology has improved, the flora and fauna of the various Star Wars planets have blossomed, and it’s a lovely thing to see that advance yet again.

As for the negative? Well, once or twice the humor did feel a bit over done, and I’ve already mentioned the pacing issue created by jumping between the Rey/Skywalker and Resistance storylines. Also, I’m still unclear about how the First Order came about, and who on earth Snoke is/was, or how he came to power. Those things may be established in other Star Wars material, but it needs at least a mention in the films for things to feel solid. And I know it’s turned into a plot opportunity, but I find it extremely hard to believe, in a world where autonomous droids are commonplace, that a heavy cruiser like the Raddus didn’t have some kind of cruise control.

So, are there problems? Of course, and I only hit on a few here. Did they ruin my enjoyment of the film or the franchise? Nope. Not even one tiny bit.

5 Comments

  • Ron Edison December 19, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    My reaction mirrors Hanna’s, especially Poe’s blatant insubordination. Somebody should push him out of an airlock (with Jar Jar). And the Imperial characters were far too heavy handed and overacted. All that stentorian rage. I look for SW to be a break from the current political reality not as a reminder of it. I found the sets generally dark and dismal. Unimaginative. About the only positive thing I can say about the prequels is that I liked the lush vistas and colorful glimpses of alien cultures. I’d hoped for more development of Rey (Did she change her outfit even ONCE in this film?) and for a furthering of the overall storyline, but for all its interminable length, I felt like we were stuck in neutral—even grinding a bit in reverse. I did like seeing more of Finn and Laura Dern was a nice surprise. I could’ve done without the Yoda refresher and in the face of the overdone villainy, I found the humor awkward and misplaced. For the most part I liked the space combat scenes and FX, but that final battle scene with the Rebels rusty go-cart vehicles lined up like Napoleonic grenadiers against an array of sophisticated Imperial high tech weaponry pushed the limits of my disbelief.

    Reply
  • Barbara A. Barnett December 19, 2017 at 10:57 pm

    Given all the polarized reactions I was hearing about before I had a chance to see it last night, I was expecting to either love or hate this movie. But instead of an extreme reaction, I simply liked it in a pleasant but unextreme way. It wasn’t perfect and sometimes felt like it was trying to do too many things in too little time, but I admire its ambition and its refusal to retread the same old formula. Most importantly, I had fun. Rose was a great addition (though her kissing Finn felt off to me). I love crotchety old Luke. Also, I’m totally on Team Porg.

    And there must have been some dust or something floating around the theater, because my eyes kept tearing up and making Carrie Fisher’s scenes kind of blurry. Not sure what that was about.

    Reply
  • Erica Hildebrand December 21, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    EVERYTHING LUKE SAID AND DID, I SUPPORT. And his reunion with Leia made my heart grow three sizes that day.

    Also, I love the lizard nuns of the Jedi temple.

    Reply
    • Shara White December 21, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      God, that scene with Luke and Leia was wonderful!

      Lizard nuns!!!!!!

      Reply
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