Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

As is tradition, I was once again apparently one of the last few people on Earth to see the new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, the second movie in the new trilogy. I originally attempted to remain mostly spoiler-free, but I gradually became aware of some of the controversies regarding the film and some of the big moments. Despite this, I tried to go in with expectations in check and with an open mind to see how the film would actually play out.

So it’s not an awful movie. As a big space action blockbuster, it’s a lot of fun. The light saber battle with the Praetorian Guard is amazing, and the space dogfights are really cool. Mark Hammill, despite what you might think of how his character is handled, does a great job here at conveying a range of emotion that we’ve not really seen in Luke before.

However, trying to engage this movie on anything than a superficial level is an exercise in frustration. Most of what happens in The Last Jedi is needless and pointless as it pertains to anything involving the main characters or the larger galactic struggle. A slow motion chase between a massive First Order warship and the last of the Resistance would have worked as a segment of a larger and more expansive plot, but as the main framing device of the film it robs The Last Jedi of any sense of scope. Laura Dern’s Holdo character is a focal point of much frustration, as a simple bit of communication – which could maddeningly have been given on multiple occasions - regarding her plan to escape in transports would have convinced Poe not to mutiny and not to send Finn on a wild goose chase on a casino planet that has been widely and correctly criticized as a massive waste of time with zero payoff. Of course without that misunderstanding nothing in this film would have taken place, so it’s a fail in my book that writer and director Rian Johnson couldn’t come up with anything more compelling to propel the events of the movie.

Kylo Ren, after two movies, still makes absolutely no sense as a character. He killed his father, but tells Rey he didn’t hate him, and he apparently is unable to kill his mother. These contradictions in themselves wouldn’t be deal-breaking, but there is still no reason alluded to his turning to the Dark Side other than Luke mentioning that he sensed a growing darkness and that Snoke had already turned him. That’s not mysterious or trusting the viewer to pick up on anything – it’s lazy screenwriting and leaves the main villain as a cardboard cutout with no depth whatsoever. It makes Snoke’s demise even more mystifying, as the Big Bad of the new trilogy is now just a parents-hating millennial who has been fairly easily bested both here and in The Force Awakens. It takes away any sense of danger for the greater conflict and for what’s to come in the third film, especially coupled with the fact that Kylo’s sidekick is a mewling Hux who would, rather than the brilliant general of a galaxy-spanning totalitarian regime, be more suited to be an assistant Starbuck’s manager that’s disliked by all of his baristas. It’s a shame because as a screen presence Adam Driver is quite effective, and his dialogues with Rey are quite convincing – even if the lines were pretty much the same as we’ve already seen between Luke and Vader.

Worse than any plot holes or mythology errors is the utter lack of any emotional heart between these characters. In the first film we saw the beginning of a friendship between Rey and Finn, and between Finn and Poe – all three of those characters spend most of the film away from each other with next to zero meaningful interaction. Indeed, Finn is relegated entirely to misguided comic relief before a bizarre attempt at self-sacrifice in between an entirely forgettable subplot and a ridiculous forced “romance” with a useless character. Rey and Luke have a few good moments, but as with Kylo, most of this is material we’ve seen before between Yoda and Luke.

The message of The Last Jedi seems to be that this is a different Star Wars film, that we need to let go of the past, kill it if need be. That would have been an amazing way to start off the new trilogy (instead of a rehash of A New Hope), but it’s a piss poor way to construct the bridge of a trilogy where the goal is to build upon a story in motion, not tear everything back down and leave your audience frustrated. Most of what was set up as mysteries or as potential sources of conflict in The Force Awakens is either ignored or tossed to the side like Luke’s lightsaber. It leaves the impression that despite this being a multi-billion dollar franchise trying to build on 40 years of history to millions of fans around the world, there’s no overarching vision to any of this and it’s being made up as they go along. George Lucas deserves criticism as a filmmaker, especially for the prequel trilogy, but even in those prequels there was a sense that he was building to something and that everything was part of a larger story. The Last Jedi is so disconnected and almost nihilistic in regards to the bigger story it’s allegedly a part of that it’s hard to take anything in this movie seriously. Indeed, it seems like annualizing Star Wars might have been a mistake because a lot of the storytelling seems thrown together simply to get a main sequence Star Wars movie onscreen within two years.

Ultimately, it’s not the presence of ridiculous moments (Luke drinking alien tit milk, Leia doing a Wonder Woman in vacuum, freeing the space horses) or the spoiling of some fan theory headcanon (I had none going in to this) that make this a bad movie for me – it’s a lackluster and nonsensical plot and zero character warmth that utterly destroy this for me. I don’t begrudge anyone liking this, as it’s entertaining for sure, but I hope all the people losing their minds over this film eventually come to their senses after getting caught up in the opening hysteria in a theater full of fellow fans, because no matter how much meaning one desperately tries to ascribe to The Last Jedi, this simply isn’t that good of a film. I was pleasantly surprised after TFA and looking forward to the next installment; now I’m kind of over where this seems to be heading.

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