by Andrew Link, Film Critic
Ten out of ten. Perfect movie. Go see it, allow your life to be changed, and transcend the mundane human life you’ve known until now.
That’s what my internal 8 year-old wants to say, but something strange happens when you leave the theater. You start to think about what you just saw. My knee-jerk reaction was something like a 9.2. During the 20 minute ride home, this dropped to an 8.0. By the time I’d eaten dinner, “The Last Jedi” was fighting for a 7.0.
It does so much so well, though!
It feels very “Star Wars-y” from the beginning. We pan away from the text crawl to join a space battle in progress, and it’s exciting and beautiful. Truthfully, everything is beautiful. With only one huge exception, each shot is almost overly purified. You could screen-capture any frame of the film at random and have a new desktop wallpaper.
The cinematography is as near to flawless as you could ask. John Williams’ music will make you feel emotions you thought died out of you in the late ‘90s. Rian Johnson’s directing pushed the acting crew to performances that seemed well beyond their abilities in “The Force Awakens” – for example, Daisy Ridley actually makes a face that isn’t just wide-eyes and mouth-breathing.
Buried beneath the cinematography, directing, acting, and score is this pesky little script, though. Rian Johnson did plenty right. Heroes in danger really convey a sense of being in peril, and taking away that sense of security in films is immensely difficult. The movie also makes some bold choices, going in directions “Star Wars” has not previously tread. It has complexity and explores deeper themes about everyday people in ways the typical hero tale generally does not.
There are moments of greatness for the characters. However, there are also confusing judgement calls which are completely unfulfilling. Johnson’s choices for Luke, played by Mark Hamill, were very publicly disapproved of by Hamill himself. It’s tough not to cringe at our very first scenes of Luke. He appears to be just some crusty old curmudgeon who’s thrown away everything about the Luke we used to know. The classic character does shine forth at certain points, but he feels foreign for much of the movie.
Daisy Ridley, as Rey, and John Boyega, as Finn, give vastly superior performances this time around — away from one another. The J.J. Abrams buddy-movie “The Force Awakens” became shipped the two as too much of a combined package. Separated, they have a chance to develop their own personalities to great benefit.
Unfortunately, Finn’s personality doesn’t matter because nothing he does matters. I could tell you the entire plot for his character and it wouldn’t be a spoiler. That’s how unimportant it is. Finn’s story has literally zero impact on the rest of the movie. Boyega’s vastly improved delivery is moot because his character had no effect on anything. At all. We needed more Captain Phasma action figures, so Boyega needed something to do.
This is particularly painful for Kelly Marie Tran, whose immortalization as Rose Tico tethered her to this boring, superfluous, half-hour long subplot with Finn. All for a ham-handed animal cruelty message? Or wait, was the message that human slavery is wrong? Or that war is bad? Thank goodness Johnson was around to save me from dog-fighting for slave children with Taliban warlords. I was about to make a terrible mistake.
On a positive note, Johnson gave Poe, played by Oscar Isaac, some much-needed screen time after his sparse presence in “The Force Awakens.” The downside to this is that Poe is our first introduction to that same J.J. Abrams-style of humor that just loves to crop up at awkward times. If the humor in “The Force Awakens” didn’t resonate with you, neither will the comedy in “The Last Jedi.”
There are enjoyable moments in the film. That’s the problem, though. There are enjoyable moments. But the film as a whole? Huge chunks of it are lackluster, at best. Characters like Phasma don’t experience better utilization. Their return is not their chance to shine. This is most egregious in the case of Snoke. In “A New Hope,” we only ever heard about the Emperor. We saw a hologram in “The Empire Strikes Back.” The Emperor’s lack of a physical presence until the end of the original trilogy made him an ominous, lurking force of evil. In many ways, the latest trilogy feels like the villain arc is happening several beats too early. Laying eyes on a withered old Snoke steepling his fingers like “The Simpsons’” Montgomery Burns is wholly disappointing.
We miss out on a lot of answers, too. What was Snoke doing the whole time Vader and the Emperor were running around? How did he manage to take control of things? Why is this untrained Rey instantly stronger than Luke was for most of the original trilogy – even after he trained with Yoda? Or as strong as Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, who’s apprenticing under Snoke?
Open questions aside, there are blatant plot holes. So, so many plot holes. Do all ships bigger than the Millennium Falcon just move at the same speed? Aren’t there any robots capable of autopiloting a ship at this stage of technology? Can’t an admiral just say one sentence to share her tactical plan with – hear me out here – the crew expected to carry it out? How did the engineering girl become a combat pilot just in time to change a character arc? When did the Force ever do…all the stuff it does in “The Last Jedi?”
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to genuinely explore how many plot-breakingly serious lapses of common sense there are without giving spoilers, and that’s the bulk of the information you need to understand why “The Last Jedi” doesn’t work in a lot of enormous ways.
Everything outside of the basic plot is truly as dazzling as Adam Driver’s hair, but what feels “Star Wars-y” in the beginning becomes a strange spin-off fan-fiction well before the second half. It would be traumatic to see the ideas vetoed as being worse than the story Johnson ultimately decided to go with.
All that said, as a Star Wars geek, I loved it. I’ll end up watching it hundreds of times. But, you know, there’s that whole necessity of actually criticizing something if you’re going to call yourself a critic. My inner 8 year-old hates me for it, too.