We went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi this week. I see this is the third consecutive Star Wars film in which I led with wondering whether I have enough to say about it to be worth writing a review, so I think I won’t lead with that this time, and instead just jump to the spoilers (after the cut).
My basic problem with The Last Jedi is that it’s not a fun film. (Your mileage may vary, of course.) The Star Wars films are weak in a lot of ways, but their strength has always been that they’re fun, and TLJ is glum and depressing, even more so than Rogue One. I think there are two reasons for this:
First, most of the good films in the series have moments of epiphany, or put more simply, moments that make you cheer because a significant goal has been reached, or something really cool has happened. Star Wars and Return of the Jedi both have multiple of these (Jedi has a lot of problems after the Jabba sequence, but Lando’s whoop when the Millennium Falcon bursts out of the Death Star as it’s going up almost redeems them). The Force Awakens has several as well – J.J. Abrams clearly understood the importance of these moments.
Second, Empire, the film which was lacking many of those moments, skillfully lightened the tone through use of humor, humor borne of the characters, and especially Han Solo, who really carries much of the film.
But TLJ is weak in both of these areas. Almost everything the Resistance tries goes wrong, and their one moment of pure triumph comes when Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) sacrifices herself to cripple the dreadnaught – a sacrifice which is almost immediately undercut when the First Order starts blowing away the escape pods. The best moment of the film, when Finn (John Boyega) takes down Captain Phasma (Gwendolyn Christie), is light on emotional punch because Phasma is just a generic villain (also known as “Boba Fett syndrome”). Otherwise the film is full of pyrrhic victories: Destroying the first dreadnought, the mission to disable the First Order’s tracker, the attack on the battering ram, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) taking out Snoke’s guards, the escape from the salt planet.
And the humor was, well, uneven. Some of it was downright embarrassing, for example the gags when Finn wakes up from recovering from his injuries from the previous film. Some of it felt out of place. Little of it was memorable. I laughed sometimes, I cringed other times. A big problem here is that none of the new characters are as funny as Han Solo, or even as funny as Luke Skywalker, and so there’s almost no character-based humor.
Coming out of the theater I also would have said that the film didn’t have a lot to say (which, to be fair, would put it right along side most of its predecessors). Since then I’ve read several articles about it which makes me think that either it was talking past me, or that other people are reading things into it, regardless of whether it’s something it was intentionally saying. For example, “The Last Jedi is Subversive AF”, and “My Hero, Luke Skywalker”. So, to everyone who watched the film who got things like that out of it, clearly the film was more for you than for me.
For me, the cost of those meanings – other than fun – was to sacrifice a plot that made a lick of sense, or which provided a sense of closure. For example:
- How did the First Empire manage to track the ships in hyperspace? Why couldn’t they find the tracking device on the ship, since we know from earlier films that they can find and disable tracking devices (e.g., the tracker on the Millennium Falcon was clearly removed sometime after Star Wars).
- We never learn who Snoke is. (I did wonder if his guards were the other Jedi trainees whom Kylo took with him when he left Luke’s training.) And how did he get his claws into Kylo Ren?
- Why didn’t the Resistance use one of their other two ships to disable the dreadnought earlier?
- Finn and Rose’s (Kelly Marie Tran) mission to disable the tracker was a complete bust, which meant it was like half an hour the story which didn’t amount to much. Surely they could have found some way to develop their relationship which had some relevance to the larger story?
- What the heck were those stupid salt-skiers supposed to do against the First Order’s forces?
- Why did Luke die after abandoning his Force projection?
I also wasn’t convinced by Luke’s reasons for going into hiding. I think it needed a lot more development, especially of Luke’s life more broadly, to work. (I’m also pretty disappointed that Luke was killed off, since his better moments were the best character bits in the film, and I’d like to see more of Mark Hamill, and not just as a Force ghost.)
Overall I don’t think this film is going to have a lot of re-watch value, and I think it undid a lot of the good will that TFA rebuilt after the prequels. I’m not sure where the series goes from here – but hopefully somewhere more fun.