The entertaining but empty STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI fails to inspire confidence in Disney’s long term plans.
By Matt Cummings
Everyone still remembers where they were when the first trailer for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS arrived, as we all shed a collective tear of triumph for the return of the beloved franchise after the disappointing prequel series. Our adulation continued into a stellar box office run ($936,662,225 domestic/$2,068,178,225 worldwide), as crowds made the film the highest-grossing feature, tipping JURASSIC WORLD over like a field cow. But the road since hasn’t exactly been paved in silk: directorial firings and extended reshoots for HAN SOLO and ROGUE ONE respectively have curbed fan anticipation in recent years. Sadly, STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI does little to convince us that Disney’s vision for this universe is still on solid footing, sporting an overly-long run time, unnecessary plot lines, and an ending that’s sure to leave fans scratching their jedi heads, hopefully without their lightsabers ignited.
Taking place hours after THE FORCE AWAKENS, our heroes are forced from their celebrations into deep space, as The First Order arrives with a massive Dreadnaught starship, which annihilates the Rebel base before turning its attention to Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and her remaining band of heroes. While the recently-demoted Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and revived Finn (John Boyega) hatch a plan to destroy the Dreadnaught’s sensors (which can detect ships while in hyperspace), Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to convince the hermit Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to re-establish the Jedi order. But Luke isn’t having any of it, convinced that his efforts to stop Ben Solo (Adam Driver) caused the destruction of Luke’s training camp in the first place. With questions about her parents hanging in the air and the fate of the Rebellion on her shoulders, Rey soon realizes her connection to The Force is perhaps the one thing that will bring Luke back, but might also lead to her own death at the hands of the maniacal Snoke (Andy Serkis).
Written and Directed by Rian Johnson – the first to do both since Lucas himself produced the prequels – THE LAST JEDI is both a departure from standard STAR WARS storytelling and seeks to retell several elements of the franchise’s best moments, none of which are carried out quite as well. The final battle with bigger versions of AT-AT’s is just another moment on the road to an overly-long runtime, while Rey’s meeting with Snoke is interesting much later in the sequence for its great lightsaber battle than the interaction of the characters themselves. In fact, this problem plagues JEDI throughout, from lack of expansion into Finn and Poe’s characters to the definitive word on Snoke’s origin story. Instead, we get product placements for aliens and new worlds like Canto Bight, a casino world that takes up 15 minutes of what could have been a shorter and more effective Act 2. There, Finn and Engineer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) hook up with a code breaker (a pretty good Benicio del Toro), but the sequence really drags down Act 2 and eventually exposes the overall problem with.the film: universe building over character development.
Those moments are best carried out by Ridley and Hamill, who enjoy immediate chemistry. They are on opposite sides of the spectrum here but spend much time hemming and hawing over each other’s interpretations of The Force. That provides the film’s only real insight into our characters, as Disney seems more than ready to put the Skywalker story aside in favor of bigger battles and bigger ships to do it. Fisher, who passed away in early 2017, doesn’t get a moment per say to bid adieu, although an early space battle sure gave her the chance for it. Trust me when you see it, the logic behind Johnson’s decision is baffling.
Among the disappointments, there are many things to like here: the lightsaber battles are intense and well-conceived, the universe building by Johnson and Disney suggest other storylines for Del Rey’s book series, and the comedic interaction is among the series’ best. But it’s an ultimately empty experience. Johnson’s decision to keep audiences in the dark about Snoke, as well as the way they reveal Rey’s parentage defy logic. We get nothing about the rise of The First Order, and the ending is just plain hard to work out. Suffice it say something major happens, and it’s unclear why it has to happen in the first place. We get a fairly nice cameo from a memorable STAR WARS character, but it’s not enough in a film that seeks to portray the Jedi as part of the reason why the Emperor and Darth Vader emerged in the first place. To Disney, the time for Skywalker is much like that of the Jedi: thanks for the memories but it’s time to go. For a film with a runtime of 2 hours and 35 minutes, it feels like a smarter 2:15 cut would have been more appropriate. Composer John Williams seems to literally re-use elements of his iconic older scores while editing in new melodies. He rehashes a lot from THE FORCE AWAKENS, which is where Williams began the above-mentioned practice in the first place.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s not an easy thing to admit when a STAR WARS movie misses the mark, but THE LAST JEDI does just that. Sure it will make a zillion dollars worldwide, but it’s clearly the weakest of the new trilogy (I’d place ROGUE ONE above FORCE AWAKENS and JEDI above any of the prequels). It’s way too long, sacrifices character development for product placement, and sends a confusing message as to what’s happening at Lucasfilm. I think audiences will eventually have the same reaction, but it won’t be an easy process for any of us to undertake. News of reshoots and director firings for their other films have exposed a real problem for Producer and creative head Kathleen Kennedy, who will have to navigate these waters far better than she has. Critics are loving JEDI, but I wonder if they saw the same cut I did. That sort of disconnect is sure to leave audiences wondering the same thing as we finish one chapter in this beloved series and enter an unsure environment with the next.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. and has runtime of 152 minutes.