Rating: 3/4 (Note: Spoilers Ahead)
“It’s not as fresh and funny and surprising and witty, but it is nice and inoffensive and, in a way that no one associated with it need be ashamed of, it’s also silly. Attending to it is a lot like reading the middle of a comic book. It is amusing in fitful patches but you’re likely to find more beauty, suspense, discipline, craft and art when watching a New York harbor pilot bring the Queen Elizabeth 2 into her Hudson River berth”
“It’s a big, expensive, time-consuming, essentially mechanical operation.”
“It doesn’t help, either, when the film makers go out of their way to protect the good guys from lethal laser beams and sophisticated weapons that could easily have done in an army.”
“[It] has no plot structure, no character studies let alone character development, no emotional or philosophical point to make.”
Before the 94% Rotten Tomatoes score, before the 81 Metacritic rating, the above quotes are what was initially said about The Empire Strikes Back. Empire was not fully embraced or understood until The Return of the Jedi was released, which effectively fixed most of the plot holes, editing mistakes, made the character inertia into grand character turning points, and put to rest nagging questions. The success of The Last Jedi, like its father before it, will most likely rest on the conclusion of the trilogy.
As a film, in its own right, Last Jedi is often weighed down trying to serve too many masters, sometimes not fully developing characters, pushing the boundaries of the force, and has a few too many forced jokes, yet manages to subvert the genre and add greater color to what’s mostly been a paint by numbers universe.
The film is “balanced” through three separate plot lines: Rey/Kylo/Luke, Finn/Rose, and Poe. If I had to rank the effectiveness of each, I would say that the Rey/Kylo/Luke portion was the most. Rey (Daisy Ridley) arriving to Luke’s (Mark Hamill) island, waiting to be trained, and encountering a moody and broken “legend” reminds us that characters aren’t static. Effectively, Last Jedi is set around 25-30 years after the conclusion of Return. Bad shit happening to Luke, and Luke not wanting to talk about it, is one of the many examples of director Rian Johnson thrusting these characters beyond their pure archetypes (Luke being the equivalence of hope).
Kylo (Adam Driver) is also further developed from a sycophantic shrine building “why the hell do you have that mask” villain. For the most part, Kylo offers the most character development in the franchise’s history. Mind you, this is the same franchise whose original idea of character development was taking a scruffy nerf herder and making him into a heroic scruffy nerf herder?
Still, Kylo’s “will he turn/won’t he turn” subplot is the major drama of the film and probably inhabits the best portions. This is in sharp contrast to the Rose/Finn combo. Finn (John Boyega), as a character, was definitely the most interesting of this new crop in Force Awakens. Here, it mostly feels like, between riding inter-galactic horses, trashing high stakes poker games, and having little chemistry with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), the writers are buying time and laying light groundwork. Additionally, Rose’s character needs more fleshing out, and the success of the Finn/Rose storyline is really contingent on the events of the final film.
Lastly, we get to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Leaving the theater, I thought Poe was the worst handled of any of the characters. In a way, he is more reflective of Solo’s role in Return, where it feels like Lucas had run his course with the character. Scenes between him and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), a Leia stand in (Carrie Fisher) who was given no backstory, are some of the more awkward portions of the film. Too much of this section is trying to teach Poe a lesson, while sacrificing exposition. The disappointing part is that I think this is the one portion of the film that can’t be improved by a wait-and-see approach.
Nevertheless, this Star Wars may be the most gif worthy, especially the Yoda-I’m-trippin-balls scene. The rest of Last Jedi is filled with callbacks and gimmicky, sometimes, forced jokes (especially the Porgs).
However, my favorite portion of the film has to be DJ (Benicio Del Toro). The slivering stuttering code breaker who provides what the previous incarnations lacked, ambivalent villainy. He’s one more step toward evil than either Solo or Lando, who at least had semblances of consciousness, and in the end, were only looking to protect themselves. DJ is an example of Last Jedi pushing the paint by numbers colorization of the universe.
As I said, I’m a full believer that the success of The Last Jedi will be dependent upon the final installment. Yes, the film is probably 10-15 minutes too long. Yes, Snoke (Andy Serkis) was not given near enough explanation and Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) was wasted. Yes, the hyper jump scene was amazing. Blasphemy, it was very Star Trek-esk. However, this film could easily become the best film of the trilogy or the worst. There is still plenty of time before anyone makes grand judgments or pits themselves into a corner. As the above quotes should prove, there’s always time to turn.
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Photo Credit: Slashfilm