I mean, it’s not the worst Star Wars film ever made nor is it the best. It’s better than Rogue One was, at least, though I didn’t much care for Rogue One, to be honest. It’s on the same level as The Force Awakens was, for me. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the eighth entry in the main series of Star Wars films. Picking up from where The Force Awakens left off, Star Wars: The Last Jedi follows the fledgling Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), as they continue to wage war against the evil First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his apprentice, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks help from Jedi Master (and hermit) Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) while First Order defector Finn (John Boyega) and low-level Resistance fighter Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) embark on a secret mission to aid the Resistance. (Mild spoilers follow)
It’s not that The Last Jedi is a bad movie. It’s not even a bad Star Wars movie. It’s just supremely flawed. Like The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi is enjoyable as hell but has a lot of problems. Thankfully, it doesn’t make the same mistakes that The Force Awakens did. There is a boatload of good elements in this movie. Honestly, there’s more good than bad in the film. It’s just the bad things are somewhat major things and it’s hard to overlook them. It’s a very enjoyable film, for sure. But the moment you start really thinking about it, it all starts to fall apart. It’s the epitome of a good, escapist, popcorn flick. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not really what I want from a Star Wars film. Unfortunately, that seems to be the direction that Disney and Lucasfilm seem to want Star Wars to head.
I have two major problems with The Last Jedi. The first, and most important, is the characters. Firstly, there are a lot of characters in the film. Rey, Finn, Poe (Oscar Isaac), Leia, Luke, Snoke, Kylo, Rose, Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), DJ (Benicio del Toro), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). That’s a total of 12 important characters (and that’s not even counting C-3PO, BB-8, R2-D2, and Chewie). Sure, the characters range in importance, but all of them are followed and are important to the plot. In terms of main characters, there’s around 6 of them (Rey, Finn, Rose, Kylo, Luke, and Snoke), give or take a few. That’s just too many characters to focus on all at one time. As a result of the sheer number of characters the film wants to focus on, NONE of them get any kind of real character development, except maybe Luke. In fact, several characters actually had character development undone (Poe is a much bigger jerk in this film than he was last time, Rey seems to have lost half of her IQ from the last film, etc) and it’s extremely frustrating. Then, several new characters are introduced, but there’s no time left in the film to actually develop them into anything meaningful.
That’s the exact problem I had with Rogue One. That film introduces a bunch of new characters and then proceeds to kill them all off before it’s developed them in any meaningful way. As a result, at no point during that film do they give the audience a reason to care about the characters. The film only comes close to succeeding because the actors give the best performance they can given the complete lack of material they were given to work with. It’s the exact same thing in The Last Jedi. There are far too many characters and the film spends no time developing them in any meaningful way. As a result, the characters don’t really grow or change at all over the course of the film. Emotionally, they’re all pretty much in exactly the same place at the end of the film as they were in the beginning. While you’re watching the film, you overlook this because the actors give strong performances, but the moment you start thinking about it at all, you realize how flawed it was and how little you remember about the characters.
My other major problem with The Last Jedi is its plot. I don’t care about the tweaks to canon or anything like that. I don’t mind most of the character deaths (though one particular death is really annoying, but that’s more because the film did nothing to develop the character or answer any of the questions audiences had about the character from the previous film, and so the character’s death felt meaningless). My problem is with the plot itself and the execution of it. This is a film where a lot happens but also nothing happens. At the end of the film, the status quo is mostly reset. Nothing of any real consequence actually happens. It feels like this film doesn’t actually need to exist, like you could just skip watching this one and just watch Episode 9 in two years and be mostly okay (ignoring the fact that The Force Awakens ended on a cliffhanger and that some characters died in The Last Jedi and, subsequently, wouldn’t be in Episode 9.)
It’s also another example of a film that really feels like two films. In particular, there’s a subplot involving Rose and Finn that really feels out of place in the movie. The Last Jedi does this thing where it cuts between several plots that are happening all at once. There’s the Luke-Rey-Kylo Ren plotline, the Resistance trying to outrun the First Order plotline, and the Rose and Finn go to Canto Bight plotline. I have no problems with films juggling multiple plotlines. The problem is that The Last Jedi is juggling one plot too many. Every time you start to really get into one of the plots, the film immediately cuts to a different one which just takes you right out of the story and the process repeats itself as it cuts between them. I say that the Rose and Finn plotline feels out of place because it essentially ends up bearing no importance to the film as a whole. It’s a detour that just takes up screen time and takes it away from other plotlines and characters. For a film that’s the longest Star Wars film, it’s amazing that it doesn’t feel long enough to cover everything. For example: there’s a bit right before the climax of the film where all the action jumps to Cait (that planet with the salt and red soil) and it feels like a chunk of film is just missing as characters are suddenly reunited and people are just spontaneously in places they weren’t in the previous scene and it’s really jarring. In a way, the whole movie is like that, though never quite as extreme as that example. There’s just so much skipping around in the story that it’s hard to fully get invested in it.
Again, none of this is to say that The Last Jedi is a bad film. It’s no worse than any other blockbuster popcorn flick. It’s very competently directed, well acted, well filmed, well scored, and supremely enjoyable. You will easily get swept up in the action of the film. It’s just not a movie that holds up once you give it any kind of scrutiny. I appreciate that The Last Jedi isn’t just a rehash of previous Star Wars films. I like that it tried to do new things, and it did them boldly. I even like a lot of the new things it tried to do. In particular, I adore the message the film was trying to get across in relation to the nature of the Force. (Small spoiler: a huge theme of the film is that anyone can be strong in the Force. Gone are the days where only a member of the Skywalker bloodline is a strong Force user. This film wants to remind you that anybody can be super strong, and it succeeds. I adore that it went the route it did in relation to the Force. It went a long way towards making the Force feel mystical again.) Like I’ve said, there are so many good elements of this film and I will always admire the ambition of the film. I just wish its ambitions ended up equalling a more cohesive whole. There’s a lot to like about the film and a few major things that keep me from loving it. Do I recommend it? Sure. It’s Star Wars, after all. And you’ll enjoy it while you’re watching it. Just don’t think too much about it afterward.
(3.5 out of 5 wands)