The Last Jedi is a different kind of Star Wars film. The last time I needed this much time to process a Star Wars movie was probably after Attack of the Clones. If you are cringing in anticipation of what I have to say next, rest assured the outcome was better this time.
As I do with most of my movie reviews, I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. This movie demands that I at least talk about some plot themes but I will do so in generalities and will refrain from getting detailed enough to ruin any big moments, twists or revelations. If you prefer to go into this movie completely fresh, I would recommend seeing it before reading on.
I recall my first viewing of The Force Awakens two years ago. The anticipation was sky high, but so was my anxiety. It was impossible to simply enjoy the movie without wondering if it would turn out as badly as the pequels. It didn’t, but in my relief, I ignored some of its shortcomings because it wasn’t as messy as its predecessors. After subsequent viewings, it became clear that The Force Awakens was “safe” movie. Sure, it was entertaining, but it relied too much on fan service and lacked a certain amount of creativity that even the prequels had. It was familiar and predictable, and those are the ingredients of a box office hit nowadays(Marvel anyone?). The Last Jedi is not these things. It is the anti-JJ Abrams movie. It largely shifts away from fan service and destroys all the fan theories that have been building over the last two years. It also made it clear that this new trilogy wasn’t fully fleshed out from the start. There was no master plan that laid out how things will transpire across all three movies. It appears that Rian Johnson looked at what Abrams did and cherry-picked what he liked and discarded what he didn’t. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different for Star Wars.
There was a fear that this movie would echo The Empire Strikes Back as closely as the Force Awakens echoed A New Hope. It did not. In fact, it feels more Return of The Jedi (with a hint of Battlestar Galactica) than The Empire Strikes Back. To be clear, this movie does not copy Return of the Jedi. It takes what you remember from episodes five and six and turns it upside down….and kinda laughs at you while it does so. This movie is oddly self-aware. It knows that you expect things to go a certain way and it teases you…until it decides to throw it all away. Luke says in the trailer, “This is not going to go the way you think”, and he was spot on. The Star Wars franchise has relied on Luke, Han, Leia, and Anakin to drive its stories over the last 40 years. One has to wonder if this universe has more to offer than the Skywalkers. Even this new trilogy has been anchored by that family saga. We now have a new cast of characters, perhaps we must do as Kylo Ren says in the trailer and “let the past die.”
The Last Jedi is a focused movie in a very focused setting. The majority of screen time takes place in the span of about a day. The main plot is equally focused save for one exception, Finn and Rose’s trip to Canto Bight. Their subplot seemed a bit out of place and unnecessary. This movie is the longest movie in the franchise and I wonder if they could have picked up the pace by cutting down some of this subplot. It is hard to know if that would have been worthwhile though because I suspect that this little excursion might come into play in the next movie. I can’t say for sure, but what I can say is that this was probably the weakest part of the film. The movie does have some other weak moments. There are some plot holes and plot points that could have been avoided had certain characters done some now obvious things, but this tends to happen in most movies of this kind. If what is happening on screen is good enough for you to suspend disbelief then it tends to work, as it did here. There were also some odd comedic moments but I understand why the levity was necessary.
I need to see this movie again. It is as dense and as complex a Star Wars movie has been since Attack of the Clones. Thankfully it handles it well. There are a lot of memorable moments in here and I can seriously say that several of them are on par with some of the best in any Star Wars movie. I can also say it is not a perfect film and the middle tends to drag a bit. I will learn from my mistake of jumping the gun with my rating of The Force Awakens and give this movie a provisional rating.
…Oh , and for crying out loud…if you are going to have a character as cool as Phasma, please give her something more to do…her character has been the biggest waste in the trilogy.