I had to sleep on this one a couple days before deciding to write about it because I know Star Wars is hallowed ground to some. I’ve never been one of those people, but if you are, then this isn’t going to be a safe space for you.
I really wanted to like this movie. Even excited in fact, which is rare. But if I’m being perfectly honest, The Last Jedi wasn’t good…with the exception of few cool moments. It was decidedly worse than The Force Awakens which had already cheapened the franchise some but at least managed to maintain enough of what people loved from the originals to be a welcome addition to the family. Obviously I will be of the minority opinion here, but that doesn’t make me wrong.
On the surface, the title of the film clearly seems like a farewell to Luke Skywalker, but it’s more of an execution of the lineage from previous films. Remember the main story arc about the Skywalker bloodline, which has survived for 40 years, that was beloved across generations, which seven films were dedicated to telling? Yeah…that’s over. For long time and, in many cases, lifelong fans, who have been following a linear, congruent story here…this was very much a force-slap in the face.
The knee jerk reaction from defenders of this new film has been to attack criticisms on the grounds of “you don’t like it because it’s new”. In my eyes, that’s an overly simplistic and defensive cop-out that paints any legitimate criticism as just blatant negativity. Sure it’s new, but that’s not the problem. Rogue One had a diverse cast filled with brand new characters and I didn’t have any problem with it. I enjoyed that film just fine, although I didn’t anoint it the greatest film in the franchise like many others immediately did. My beef with The Last Jedi is simply about quality. There are fundamental problems with the script and the characters. For example: the reason I didn’t care about Rose had nothing to do with her ethnicity or gender and everything to do with lack of character development and design. As the audience, we’re supposed to relate to her after she loses her sister, but that sibling bond wasn’t well established enough to make the loss something substantial. Add to that, her dialogue really didn’t do the character any favors and came across like a bad improv routine during her serendipitous introduction to Finn. Kelly Marie Tran wasn’t particularly good in the role either, sorry, and seemingly only existed to fill a couple of plot mechanisms and give Finn something to do aside from the main story.
Speaking of FN-2187, I was eager to see if John Boyega could temper his exuberance from his first portrayal and give a more grounded performance after his role in Detroit earlier this year. Last we saw, he had been sliced up the back by Kylo Ren and put into some kind of medical coma in order to heal. But, when we are reintroduced to character here, the first thing he wants to do is run away again. Why reintroduce him to the audience as a coward after his journey in The Force Awakens already culminated with bravery and honor? MAJOR CONTINUITY FLAW. Either way, Finn is the odd man out in this movie’s love triangle and relegated to more of a tertiary role. You would think that he’d play a pretty significant part given his prominence in the predecessor, but it’s actually Poe (Oscar Isaac) who takes a leadership position within the military structure while Finn is basically on the B team. A bizarre choice to say the least considering the trajectory of those two characters at the end of the previous movie.
I suppose all good things must come to an end. Star Wars is very, very clearly a Disney product now. There is no going back. This movie is unabashedly about the burgeoning romance between Kylo and Rey, complete with noticeable additions to Daisy Ridley’s makeup and Adam Driver’s awkwardly placed, shirtless bathroom scene. There is a strong, not so subtle, sexual current running through this film. You’ve got be oblivious not to notice. It’s painfully obvious that Kylo and Rey are into each other, and for what it’s worth, they are one of the film’s stronger elements. Significant chunks of time were dedicated to making Kylo a sympathetic character via this new depiction of the force as some kind of Jedi face-time where the lead pair could have intimate conversations across vast distances, but unfortunately the whole thing came across as adolescent….high school kids talking on the phone in defiance of their parents. Kylo is an interesting character, not rigidly good or evil, and Adam Driver plays him well. Similarly, Daisy Ridley is in flux, which gives both characters more layers, but makes the whole good and evil thing much less significant. Ultimately Rey isn’t such a good judge of character if she’s falling for this “bad boy” who, oh yeah, just happened to murder his own father. Nice choice. The pair definitely have chemistry, but it was one of the few things that was believable.
I will concede, it was great to finally see and hear from Luke Skywalker again, but this is a vastly different character than we were left with at the end of Return of the Jedi. Now, a defeated and hopeless master Jedi who’s really kind of a dick. His relationship with Rey is a paternal one, but that story angle fell apart when as she ignored everything he taught her in order chase Kylo across the galaxy…teenagers. I guess even a master Jedi as wise and strong in the force as Luke couldn’t stop young love. Thankfully we get to witness his crescendo, as he does go out in rather spectacular fashion that should allow Mark Hamill to surface again down the road.
This film also served as somewhat of a fitting homage to the late Carrie Fisher. Watching her reunion with Mark Hamill on screen will tug at the heartstrings, but as the leader of the resistance there just isn’t much there. Leia’s force-powered space flight was terrible…flatly embarrassing and cheesy. It’s one thing to have her survive being blown into the vacuum of space in that instance, but to shoot it the way they did and leave it in the film, was a huge mistake. I find it hard to believe writer/director Rian Johnson and film editor Bob Ducsay watched that in the editing room and thought it would play well. Unfortunately its one of the many moments where I found myself laughing at things that weren’t designed to be humorous.
Overall, there’s a noticeable tonal shift from a more serious, mature story to something unquestionably aimed at children. Unfortunately, as a result, the plot is very predictable and the script is nowhere near strong enough to carry this film. I held out hope as long as I could, but each potential turn that might have actually been something meaningful, fizzled and wound up as a punchline or a let down. Quite frankly, the mood of film was much more humorous than it should have been considering the nature of what’s actually happening on screen. People seemed to have enjoyed the comedy aspect, but it just doesn’t fit the narrative. While the First Order could potentially wipe the rebellion from the galaxy at any moment members of the rebellion are cracking wise like the threat isn’t a big deal. Why should the audience fear the First Order when the characters on the screen clearly don’t. I have no idea what Johnson was aiming for here, but there were two chances early in the film for a truly defeating moment to catalyze the subsequent events of the film which would have set a very hard tone right away. Instead, he took the easy road…every time.
The whole thing just kicked got off on the wrong foot. I like Dom Gleeson. He was very good in Ex Machina and The Revenant, but here he is a whiny, over-acted, poorly written, hollow (and quite frankly annoying) General Hux. The entire opening sequence serves to illustrate how laughable the character is by interjecting poorly integrated schtick. Something that belonged more on the set of SNL than it did in the middle of an intergalactic war. It could have worked better as a plot mechanism had they actually used that pitiful appearance to set up a heartbreaking, tragic defeat but things turn out mostly fine for the rebels and that really paints Hux as more of a cartoon character than any kind of legitimate threat. A kind of Starscream to Kylo Ren’s Megatron. The whole charade massively detracted from the seriousness of the film from the very beginning, resulting in a diluted experience from that point on.
On the other end of the villainous spectrum we get the full reveal of Supreme Leader Snoke(Andy Serkis), which was initially great but ended in crushing disappointment. He is more interesting than any of the other new faces and should have a prominent place in this film and in this franchise…but that just isn’t the case. Right as we are getting introduced to the Sith mastermind, and getting to learn just exactly how powerful he is, not only did the filmmakers cut his balls of as the villain, they cut him in half sitting in his own damn throne. On the one hand he’s powerful to manipulate Rey and Kylo without their knowledge, sense the awakening in the force, easily over power Kylo and Rey’s force skill, but doesn’t have the awareness or foresight to notice the lightsaber right next him is moving? Embarrassing. Admittedly, it was a cool death scene, but it just hadn’t been earned at that point. It’s a moment that will draw cheers from the peanut gallery, but effectively undermines an otherwise menacing villain that had been established during TFA and removes the new trilogy’s primary antagonist. Another in a long line of missteps.
This film was a pinnacle moment for women however, prominently featuring roles, not just as extras but in positions of power. There’s the aforementioned Rose, of course the incumbent Leia Organa, Gwendolin Christie’s First Order Captian Phasma and Vice Admiral Holdo, played by Laura Dern. I’m happy to see these women getting prominent roles and bringing diversity to the galaxy, I just wish they had better roles written for them. Admiral Holdo’s awkward introduction as the interim rebel leader was easily one of the dumbest parts of the movie. Not only does she give a terrible motivational speech to a room full of soldiers in the midst of a war, but she waltzes on camera and does it wearing a dress better suited for the red carpet than the war room. It just didn’t fit contextually and was another clear example of a miscalculation…again, laughable. I like Dern a lot, but this was one of many poorly executed characters, but at least Holdo finds redemption in a fashion befitting her reputation before the end credits roll. And that scene is pretty damn glorious.
The production design was exceptional, but that is to be expected with a film of this magnitude. Director of Photography Steve Yedlin utilized everything at his disposal very well. In particular, Snoke’s throne room really evoked and manifested a sense of dark side power unlike like the shadowy portrayal of Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious in the past. The final military conflict in the salt flats was notably picturesque with exquisite reds against the white terrain and cold, dark metal of the AT-ATs. However, it was Holdo’s lightspeed kamikaze attack that really stands out. It was a stunning use of a very familiar element in the franchise to a new and devastating effect, culminating in a glorious explosion that somehow didn’t seem to actually kill anyone. While the visual effects were on par with the best you’re going to see, on the other hand there were some peculiar decisions when it came to set and creature design if you were paying attention. The wooden-vagina shaped Jedi library and gaping, dark-side butthole cave on Luke’s private little Island of Ahch-To were hard to miss, not to mention the two buxom booby-creatures, one of which Luke strolls right up to and casually drinks breast milk from with the utmost nonchalance of a character from Chappelle Show. These were odd choices to say the least, but historically in line with many of the films in the catalogue at the enchanted kingdom.
You are going to feel every second of this two hours and 32 minutes and then some…it’s not a good sign when the movie feels long. There’s plenty of moments where you’ll find yourself wanting them to get to the point already, but once they finally do it’s a disappointment…and that’s a much worse sign. During the showing I attended, one family actually got up and walked out at about the halfway point. I felt like following suit on several occasions but decided to stick it out, in hopes that it would get better. It did and it didn’t. Perhaps it isn’t quite as bad as my initial reaction would suggest, but this movie had the potential to be great and fell flat on its face in the shadow of that greatness.
Recommendation: If you read this, then you’ve probably already seen this movie anyway. If you haven’t, it can still be enjoyable with muted expectations and maybe mine were too high. I’ve reviewed about 80 movies this year and seen about another dozen which I haven’t really felt the need to discuss, and The Last Jedi is certainly nowhere near the best films I’ve seen this year.