By Mason Edwards and Finn Gallagher
Two years ago, Disney released “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” The much-anticipated film was both a sequel and a reboot of America’s most beloved, sci-fi franchise. Its initial release was met with generally positive reviews and enthusiasm from moviegoers, but eventually, its charm began to wither.
People begin airing doubts about the story’s rehashing of the plot from “Episode IV – A New Hope.” Episode VIII’s announcement brought with it high hopes for a sequel which would serve as both a course correction and a fresh narrative for the Star Wars saga. Sadly, “Episode VIII – The Last Jedi” (TLJ), although a critical success, only made real the various worries and fears of the more dedicated fans everywhere.
Many proponents of the new ‘Sequel Trilogy’ may defend it by saying, “I like it because it’s Star Wars,” which feels like a cheap justification for their enjoying TLJ. It is the equivalent of saying, “I really like scabby, frozen pizza that is unevenly heated in the microwave because it’s pizza.” In 1977, George Lucas’s goal was to craft an epic adventure story, in a futuristic setting, with cutting-edge special effects.
The original trilogy was so wildly successful and well-received because it was such a unique and groundbreaking sci-fi experience. Ever since then, it has profoundly impacted popular culture and stood as a pillar of the science fiction movie genre. TLJ did not take the right sort of inspiration that would pay homage to its predecessors, and instead became a rehash much like “The Force Awakens,” which failed to innovate in terms of plot and character development.
Episode VIII pushes no boundaries nor explores any interesting themes or ideas of worth. The plot plays out as if the movie’s writer and director, Rian Johnson, sat down and asked himself, “How can I write the most conventional movie possible that will appeal to the largest audience?” First and foremost, the overarching plot itself, instead of taking J.J. Abrams’s vision and giving it a new twist, is recycled from the previous films.
The film echoes previous plots: a crippled rebellion is forced to evacuate its stronghold in order to fight another day, while its secret weapon, the Jedi Luke Skywalker (TLJ’s Rey), must venture to find a Jedi master to instruct them in the ways of the force. Secondly, many of the movie’s set pieces and scenes seem to be borrowed from previous films in the Star Wars canon, including the Canto Bight casino (Mos Eisley Cantina in Ep. IV), the imperial walker invasion on Crait (Hoth in Ep. V.), the introduction of the very marketable Porg creatures (Ewoks from Episode VI).
TLJ does have some redeeming features. It continues the franchise tradition of spectacular special effects, showcased in epic lightsaber duels, blaster fights, and space combat. These are made all the more vivid and awe-inspiring with the use of modern-day CGI. Additionally, its use of practical effects, both timeless and charming on-screen, is in no short supply here.
As for the on-screen performances, Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, remains the new trilogy’s most interesting and dynamic character, and Driver’s performance is easily the strongest in the movie. It’s not without some fun moments, but there’s not much else.
Perhaps the blame for the film’s mediocrity can be placed upon Disney, the media giant which is in charge of providing the funds for its movies and consequently pulling the strings behind the scenes, which means they need to make a return on investment. Unsurprisingly, the newest trilogy seems to be a part of a larger move by Disney to make as much money as possible, which has brought with it a horde of branded merchandise, such as apps, clothing, and even the resurrected Star Wars Battlefront video game series. But as we all know, films motivated by huge profits rarely deliver.
So if you’re not a die-hard star wars fan and haven’t seen every movie, you will probably like it, as many people have. But if you are among the many fans of Star Wars who have a sentimental connection to the movies, shows, and universe, it will probably not meet expectations.