Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Spoiler-Free Review)

I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens. It was a fun and exciting revitalization of the Star Wars franchise that brought interesting new characters along with some solid nostalgia. But J.J. Abrams’ Episode VII did have one predominant flaw in that it was far too much like the original Star Wars film. But fear not die-hard and casual Star Wars fans, new director Rian Johnson (Looper, The Brothers Bloom) brings a follow up that is unique and full of some of the series’ biggest narrative risks.

Star_Wars_The_Last_JediEpisode VIII: The Last Jedi picks up right where its predecessor left off. The resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), hotheaded pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and enemy defector Finn (John Boyega) continues in its struggle to overthrow the oppressive First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and Leia’s own son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Meanwhile, newly force sensitive Rey (Daisy Ridley) encounters Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote planet in hopes that she can be trained as a Jedi knight and convince Skywalker to end his self appointed exile and aid the resistance.

As mentioned earlier, The Last Jedi succeeds in taking chances with the directions of its characters and presenting a narrative that is nothing like any Star Wars film before. The intense and emotional action keeps things constantly entertaining and provides several jaw dropping sequences sure to make fans of the genre giddy. The climax, which features gorgeous imagery and a few notable duels, is an absolute marvel. The movie also manages to answer most of the questions raised by The Force Awakens, making the non action heavy sequences feel just as suspenseful.

But alas, The Last Jedi isn’t without its flaws. Star Wars is already bursting with characters and yet the filmmakers felt the need to add several more. Many of the new characters, like Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico are superfluous, albeit interesting, additions, but others like Benicio Del Toro’s eccentric hacker, ‘DJ’, feel  almost completely unnecessary. The host of new faces often makes characters like Boyega’s Finn feel less important to the overarching plot. The movie also drags on a bit too long, clocking in at a very noticeable two and a half hours with a few scenes, particularly in the middle, feeling like they could’ve been drastically shortened or completely left out.

The special effects also feel like a bit of a downgrade with many of the practical effects gone with J.J. Abrams and replaced with heavy CGI. Not to say that the film doesn’t still have some grand sets and wonderful costumes, but many sequences reminded me of the clunky, intangible visuals of the prequels. Much of the humor in the film is also marginally successful with many gimmicks and quips feeling a bit out of place for a Star Wars movie.

But despite its nitpicks, The Last Jedi is one of the best Star Wars films to date, because there are simply too many things to love about it. The revealed secrets and character development of Rey and Kylo Ren are intensely captivating. The chemistry between Leia and Poe Dameron feels as genuine as a mother and son. And if The Force Awakens belonged to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, The Last Jedi absolutely belongs to Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker making his brief appearance in the previous installment worth the wait. The iconic jedi’s bold arc is the bedrock of the film, and Hamill’s sensational performance lays the groundwork for this undeniably unforgettable sci-fi adventure.

FINAL GRADE: B

 

 

 

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Full Review)

Even if you like the Star Wars prequel trilogy, it’s hard to ignore why many don’t. The characters were never as charismatic or likeable as the ones from the original films and the overkill on CGI made the universe feel less tangible. But never fear prequel haters, now Disney is in charge of Lucasfilm and their here to right the wrongs in the form of spinoff films like Rogue One.

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterRogue One focuses on the events leading up to the very first Star Wars film (Episode IV: A New Hope). The Evil Empire has just finished their planet destroying super weapon known as The Death Star with the forced aid of a brilliant engineer named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Little do they know, Galen has created a weakness in the Death Star and has sent message to his long lost daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), on how to access it. Now, the rebellion’s only hope lies in Jyn and a motley crew of rebels to steal the schematics before an Imperial General (Ben Mendelsohn) can track them down.

Rogue One does in two hours what the prequels failed to do in three movies. It perfectly molds an intricate yet acutely focused plot seamlessly into the overall Star Wars mythos while also delivering characters that are memorable and endearing. The evenly paced story is perhaps the most well written since The Empire Strikes Back. From a blind warrior fateful to the force (Donnie Yen) to a rebel assassin (Diego Luna), to an Imperial deserter looking for redemption (Riz Ahmed), each character is well rounded and poignant. Alan Tudyk’s performance as K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid, brings excellent comedic timing and a dry wit that rivals only R2-D2 in loveable Star Wars lore.

There is plenty of fan service to go around too. The film is packed with several cameos and easter eggs as well as a brief but memorable scene that exemplifies why Darth Vader is such an imposing character. But most importantly, despite piggy backing on the original Star Wars several times, it manages to feels like its own film. If the primary films are considered a space opera, then Rogue One puts the ‘War’ in Star Wars. The thrilling final act feels like Saving Private Ryan in a galaxy far far away.

I enjoyed The Force Awakens, but even I had to admit that it’s story arc felt too much like a retread. But Rogue One delivers  something original and gripping while still feeling like a missing piece of a larger whole. With a fantastic cast of characters, gorgeous scenery, and riveting action sequences in droves, Rogue One succeeds in being the prequel Star Wars film diehard fans have been waiting for as well as an entertaining ride for anyone who enjoys a good war epic.

FINAL GRADE: A

Ranking The STAR WARS Films

Disney is in full Star Wars mode for the next five years or so. So it seems like a good time to officially rank all of the films in the saga as I see fit just before the release of Rogue One. So, here it is… the definitive (and by definitive, I mean completely my opinion) rank of the Star Wars films.

 

7. EPISODE II: ATTACK OF THE CLONESstar_wars_-_episode_ii_attack_of_the_clones_movie_poster

Make no mistake, this is the worst Star Wars film. Even the moments that should’ve been great (An army of Jedi in battle) are bogged down by mediocre cinematography. But what really makes Episode II the worst and almost an unwatchable film after its first viewing, is the cringeworthy romance narrative between Padme (Natlaie Portman) and Anakin (Bad acting Hayden Christenson). Throw in George Lucas’ over indulgence with CGI and Attack of the Clones (Which is also a lousy title) is easily the low note of the franchise. GRADE: D+

 

6. EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE

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This movie had loads of potential. Darth Maul (Ray Park) is a bad ass with a double bladed lightsaber. Liam Neeson gets to play a Jedi. John Williams’ epic score. And Pod racing. But the movie is hampered by an overly convoluted plot about trade negotiations. Darth Maul is underutilized and Jake Lloyd is a bad child actor as young Anakin Skywalker.  Oh, and there’s this guy. The worst character maybe in any sci-fi franchise. GRADE: C-

5. RETURN OF THE JEDI
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I have a love hate relationship with this movie. On one hand, I love the climactic battle between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Darth Vader.  I also love every scene with Yoda (Frank Oz). But the Ewoks are awful. Tiny teddy bears defeating an army with sticks and rocks? C’mon. I’m also not a fan of the overly drawn out opening that sees Luke and the gang rescuing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from Jaba the Hutt. It’s a part that also gives Boba Fett (a potentially awesome character that never really does anything) an anti-climactic end. The final Death Star sequence is also too much of a retread of the original ending. GRADE: B-

4. EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH
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This movie is a massive step above the other prequels but it still has some major flaws. Most of the issues I have are with Hayden Christensen’s acting. And although the film has a wonderfully dark tone, the transition from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader happens way too suddenly. One minute he’s snitching on the evil Emperor Palpatine, the next minute he’s killing kids? Anywho… the movie did have great action sequences like the opening space battle and the final fight scene between Anakin and Obi Wan (Ewen McGregor). And Ian McDiarmid’s performance as the Emperor goes down as one of the best portrayal’s in the franchise. GRADE: B

3. THE FORCE AWAKENS

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Yes, I know. There are too many things in this movie, such as the climax where they basically have to blow up another Death Star, that are retreads from the original. But I absolutely love the characters. All of the newcomers have wonderful chemistry and the villain, Kylo Ren, is given much more weight and emotion to his character than any other villain in the Star Wars saga not named Darth Vader. Combine that with some fun nostalgic moments and J.J. Abrams adding his excellent filmmaking expertise, and The Force Awakens is arguably the most fun Star Wars film since the original. GRADE: A-

2. STAR WARS (EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE)

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The original certainly gets extra credit for being the original and by all means, the first Star Wars is groundbreaking.  Although many of the effects are dated, it is a bit dull for much of the first half hour (Mainly because I hate C-3PO), and the lone lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan Kinobi and Darth Vader is also terrible in comparison to the other films, the plot is great and there are many iconic scenes such as any involving Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon. More importantly, the original film laid the foundation for an incredibly vast and interesting cinematic universe. GRADE: A-

1. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

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Not only is this the best Star Wars film by a mile, it’s one of the best sci-fi films ever created. There is absolutely nothing to dislike about it. From the scope of Hoth and Cloud City to the drama of Luke Skywalker fighting Darth Vader for the first time, this movie is what Star Wars is meant to be; exciting and emotional. It’s paced beautifully and has a fantastic ending despite the fact that it actually ends on a somber note. It also introduces Yoda, so that’s always a plus. GRADE: A+

 

So there you have it. Hopefully Rogue One and next winter’s Episode VIII will find themselves on the high end of this list.  Feel free to comment below with your thoughts and (polite) criticisms blasting me for my blasphemous misplacement of Return of the Jedi. Until then… may the force be with you and Happy Holidays!