In 2015, The Force Awakens resurrected the Star Wars franchise and became the highest-grossing domestic film of all-time. Now, Writer-Director Rian Johnson brings audiences the eighth film in the Skywalker family saga, The Last Jedi. Does this film re-hash the past or forge a new path into the future for Star Wars?
The Last Jedi picks up almost immediately where The Force Awakens left off—a first for a Star Wars sequel—with new hero Rey (Daisy Ridley) holding out a lost lightsaber to Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Luke has exiled himself away from the rest of the galaxy after failing to keep Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) from falling to the Dark Side of the Force. Is Rey enough to bring him back to the fold? Meanwhile, General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher in her final film role) leads the Resistance as its fleet flees from the First Order led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Leia is trying to get Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to be less like Han Solo from Star Wars and more like Han Solo from Return of the Jedi, when the First Order executes an attack that leaves Leia sidelined, leaving command of the Resistance to Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). Apparently, the First Order can track the Resistance through lightspeed, which means there is nowhere the plucky rebels can run to without being followed and, eventually, destroyed. So, while Holdo plays Al Cowlings in the Resistance’s own “White Bronco Chase,” Poe goes against orders and dispatches Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to find a master codebreaker that can help them sneak onto the First Order’s ships and disable their new tech, allowing the Resistance to escape. Will they succeed? Will Rey convince Luke Skywalker to return to save the Resistance? Will Kylo Ren move on from patricide to matricide? Will Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) eat that adorable Porg?
Okay, there are some minor plot spoilers up there, but they’re necessary, because my biggest issue with this movie had to do with the storytelling involved here. I didn’t hate this movie, but I really wanted to love it. I admire all the chances Rian Johnson took. Some paid off better than others. I absolutely loved all the Jedi stuff with Rey, Luke, and Kylo Ren and there were a few twists that I thought were great—won’t spoil those. It’s good that the film takes risks. It keeps the audience from getting complacent. After all, the biggest complaint about The Force Awakens—as long as you’re not a bigot or a misogynist—was that it was too similar to the original Star Wars. However, while all the Rey/Kylo/Luke stuff is highly compelling, the Finn/Rose/Poe stuff smacked very much of, “Shit, I have to find something for these characters to do.” I can’t tell you how much I loathed the slow chase plotline. Yes, Empire Strikes Back features a chase across the galaxy, but at least that was interesting—things happened. This felt like a slow slog to nowhere. Finn and Rose head off to the casino Canto Bight where they see wealthy arms dealers straddling both sides of the conflict, but the whole subplot felt like a filler episode of a TV series. The whole reason Finn and Rose go off to find the codebreaker is because Holdo refuses to clue Poe in on the plan. Yes, it’s true that in the chain of command, Holdo doesn’t have to tell Poe anything, but he’s also one of Leia’s most trusted men. If you don’t want to tell him the plan, at least say you’ve got a plan. It could have saved lives and it also could have made for a more interesting story in its place. Ultimately, it felt like Johnson wanted to tell the Jedi stuff, but then had to find something for Finn and Poe to do and it didn’t work for me.
There are too many characters right now in this trilogy and while I liked Rose and Kelly Marie Tran’s performance, we didn’t need another new major character when we barely know the ones we got in The Force Awakens. I feel like Poe should have gone on the adventure with Finn. They are friends who have saved each other’s lives, but what do they really know about each other? Remember, this isn’t like Star Wars and Empire, where there was a three-year gap in the story. This movie happens right on the heels of The Force Awakens, so narratively, these characters are still getting to know each other. It would have been far more interesting to me to have Finn and Poe go off on this adventure to help the Resistance, but then explore their differences. Finn was raised to be a Stormtrooper and both Johnson and Abrams have failed to really make that interesting. Next to Kylo Ren, he should be the most fascinating character in the trilogy and they clearly have no idea what to do with him. So, him teaming up with Poe, who is a lifelong Resistance fighter, could have created some great tension.
So, when you have a plotline that really goes nowhere, it’s a drag on the film. At 152 minutes, this is the longest Star Wars film ever and it felt it. This film feels like it has, like, three endings to it at least. I also didn’t like how Johnson straight up ignores some of the things that were previously established in J.J. Abrams’ Force Awakens. This is a trilogy, yes? So that means the story should flow together reasonably well, but Episode VIII feels like another Episode VII—the start of something, not the middle part of a three-part story. At the same time, it also felt like an ending, so I’m not sure where they go for Episode IX. It kind of resets the board that The Force Awakens had already reset. It’s very odd. I read that one of Johnson’s stipulations for coming on board was that he basically got to do whatever he wanted, so you really have to question what the hell Lucasfilm is doing. If everyone is going to just do whatever, then don’t number the films, just make them all standalones featuring the same characters. I’m not saying the film is completely incoherent, but I watched The Force Awakens just the other day, and everything definitely doesn’t jibe.
Aside from those major gripes, the same minor ones plague this film as the last. Some of the humor is a little too goofy and felt out of place, especially the opening gag, which felt like a big, fat modern day colloquialism shoved into a Star Wars movie. Also, while I loved Hamill’s performance here, there were moments where Luke came across more like Mark Hamill than Luke Skywalker. I call it the Robert Downey Jr. effect, where you can’t tell if the actor is really acting anymore. Harrison Ford slipped into it a bit in The Force Awakens too.
I loved the cast for the most part—looking at you, Benicio Del Toro. As I said, Hamill is great, presenting a far different Luke than the one we left in Return of the Jedi. He tackles the role with relish and does an amazing job. Daisy Ridley is also fantastic as Rey. She really conveys the conflict that Rey is going through as she tries to find her way in the galaxy. Adam Driver is stellar as Kylo Ren. It’s great that we’re really getting a well-developed villain here. I like John Boyega and Oscar Isaac a whole lot, but in this film, their characters are just kind of there, running in place. Kelly Marie Tran is a nice addition to the cast, but again, I think her character was wholly unnecessary in this film. Maybe should have saved her for Episode IX, which will also be directed by J.J. Abrams. Del Toro’s character is just odd and I was disappointed in his Star Wars debut. I did like Laura Dern, even though her character seemingly doesn’t know how to say the words, “Yes, I have a plan.” And finally, Carrie Fisher does really well with the screen time she’s given, but she is also a part of the most ridiculous scene I think I’ve ever seen in a Star Wars film, so it dulls her impact a bit. However, she does share a deeply touching scene with Mark Hamill late in the film.
Overall, The Last Jedi isn’t great, but it’s not terrible either. Like most of the films in this series, it falls somewhere in the middle—I put it below Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, but ahead of Rogue One. The Jedi stuff is great, but the rest of the narrative is a mess. However, diehard fans of the original films may hate the Jedi storyline here. If you’re younger and grew up with the Prequels, you may love it. I’m kind of in the middle. Obviously, the story needs to change with Star Wars as time marches on and we lose the core original cast. Otherwise, it will become stagnant if we just get the same thing over and over. I’m interested to see where it goes—even though I have no idea where they go with Episode IX—but I have also come to the conclusion that I doubt I’ll ever love a new Star Wars film like I love the original three. Then again, it took them six tries to give me a Spider-Man film that I loved, so who knows?