With several days to search my feelings, I’ve arrived at a final decision. My internal conflict with Star Wars: The Last Jedi mirrors that of the internal struggle between light and darkness that main characters Rey and Kylo Ren face. I wanted to love this movie, but I ultimately didn’t. There were definitely moments that had me grinning from ear to ear like a crazy person, and moments that left me shaking my head. High highs and low lows make for an uneven viewing experience, and if this review seems all over the place it’s because the movie was too.
Writer and director Rian Johnson brought us the eighth episode of the Skywalker saga, and the hype was mega. Disney signed Johnson on for a trilogy of original Star Wars flicks before TLJ even hit theaters, and they are running a “For Your Consideration” campaign for basically every category. We got a flick that was fun and funny and entertaining, but left me feeling flat. If this had been the first movie in the new trilogy, maybe it would have worked better. As a sequel to 2015’s series resurrecting The Force Awakens, I was left wanting.
Maybe that’s a product of being the middle film in the trilogy. Maybe my gripes are all so nerdy that I’m being too harsh. There were decisions made that I wasn’t on board with, though maybe after seeing this movie again and seeing Episode IX in 2019, I’ll approve. It’s just too hard to tell. This movie ultimately feels like a setup for something big, which is problematic since that’s what The Force Awakens was as well.
The Force Awakens ushered us into the new era and left viewers with a lot of questions. The Last Jedi didn’t do a lot to help out. Characters you would expect to matter didn’t. Answers you wanted either never came or or were answered in a way that told you it’s no biggie. Since this movie exists as part of a 40-year multimedia super titan, it’s hard to judge it on its own. Judging it as part of the larger Star Wars universe, there’s good and bad.
Johnson did add some cool stuff to Star Wars lore. The power of the Force was built upon in a mostly nifty way. However, when one character uses the Force to survive in the vacuum of space, flying like Superman, that was a little (very) cheesy. But for the most part, Johnson really built upon that special sauce that defines Star Wars. Yet I still feel like something didn’t click. There was so much going on in 150 minutes that events often felt unfocused and rushed, with some key elements not getting enough time to develop.
One thing that stands out, though, is that The Last Jedi was hyped up as a departure from the usual Star Wars formula. Where 2015’s The Force Awakens is now seen as a copy of the original film that played it way too safe, this was supposed to be something that totally shakes up our perception of a Star Wars movie.
It was literally The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi combined, and anybody who says it wasn’t is lying to themselves. By not exploring things like how the First Order has limitless resources or what the governmental structure of the galaxy looks like following the Republic’s demise in the last movie, and by calling the Resistance “rebels” now, it made TLJ feel more like Empire since we’re just rehashing the same “limitless galactic force pursues fledging rebels across galaxy as they lose hope” story.
It’s stunning to see opinions on TFA sour as TLJ is showered with critical praise so far, when you could make the argument that the same “issues” exist in both movies. I like the similarities to the originals, but at the same time I’m frustrated because I feel like it was advertised as “something nobody’s ever seen before” when it is exactly what we’ve seen before. It was very much a return to the status quo, only surprising in that some stuff wasn’t saved for the third movie.
Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren were highlights. I don’t want to spoil their story beyond saying I loved it. Mark Hamill gave the best acting performance of his career in his return as Luke Skywalker. I was so happy to see him back. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver again hit it out of the park as Rey and Kylo Ren, and Driver may even deserve an Oscar nomination for his performance.
John Williams’ score was phenomenal as always, and the battle scenes were great. The space battles and Hoth-inspired showdown looked and felt like classic Star Wars and had me smiling. And an incredibly strong final act really went a long way to send me home pleased.
Sadly, new characters like Poe, Finn, Snoke, Captain Phasma and Rose all got done dirty. With pointless subplots or not enough screen time, pieces to the puzzle that once had so much potential sort of pass through the movie like meh. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Damon is charisma embodied, but I’m not a fan of how dumb he ends up looking throughout.
Finn and Rose are cool characters put into a subplot that is boring and pointless. It sucks up a significant portion of the film, constantly pulling us from the good stuff, with no ultimate impact on anything. Even Benicio Del Toro is not enough to fix it. This felt like more hamfisted political commentary from the prequels, complete with a silly chase scene. It was fucking boring and out of place. Good characters, bad story.
Domhnall Gleeson ruled as General Hux again, though. I love to hate this character, and I think Gleeson is completely perfect in the role. He owns it.
Also, this may have been funniest of all the Star Wars movies, though sometimes the humor didn’t work. Johnson’s dialogue sounded very modern, which made the humor more distracting than funny at times. But Chewbacca and the Porgs were amazing, and there were good laughs throughout. C-3PO continues to put a smile on my face and is the true undisputed hero of the franchise.
All in all, The Last Jedi fell short of greatness. It was enjoyable and entertaining, but it could have been more. It is complicated by the fact that I can’t adequately summarize my feelings until I see how everything wraps up…in two years.