STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI Review: 6 out of 10 (This Isn't the Film You're Looking For)
THE LAST JEDI is the latest chapter in the space opera Star Wars saga. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, this latest film stars a huge cast including Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, and Gwendoline Christie in returning roles, along with Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, and Benicio del Toro all joining the cast. Though many might immediately want to compare this movie to others in the saga (it is the tendency among its devotees) the larger question is whether or not the film works to continue the story in a fresh way without continuing down a path of nostalgia for the fans.
Well, no doubt the final product of this film will be divisive. On the one hand, THE LAST JEDI works to take the Skywalker saga in a new direction with both tone and structure. However, that direction at times feels forced and keeps the film from staying true to its genre roots. At the same time, there are plenty of callbacks to other films visually, in the narrative, and in characterization to offer fan service to the diehard fans. And yet, some of the characters behave and act (and have abilities) that are so far outside everything that the previous films have established that it would be easy to call some of this film heretical. Many have said this is the funniest film of the SW franchise, and although that is accurate, not all of the humor works and quite a bit of it is out of character. Maybe Disney brought over some of its Marvel crack writers to punch up the quips so Luke is more like Tony Stark. Some might say that the franchise is just trying to be more "fun" while others could say it is leaving its space opera roots. Personally, this reviewer would say it is beginning to feel a lot more like AVENGERS IN SPACE as Disney looks to employ more of its reliable templates.
There is a lot here to enjoy for fans of the Jedi, however. Hamill is great here as the aging Luke (when he isn't trying to be Don Rickles) and his performance shines throughout when the script gives him the opportunity. This film offers far more mythos into the Force and the Jedi history than nearly all the other films combined. Rey and Kylo have a great arc here that gives shades of gray to the power of the Force that binds them together. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are terrific and offer some of the same petulance that we have seen in previous younger Jedi. When the movie moves into some of the "big fight feel" moments there are some stunning action sequences and set pieces for your eyeballs to engorge themselves on. But the 2nd act has trapped other characters in meaningless stories with very little payoff that in the end means nothing. Most of it seems to serve no other purpose than setting certain characters up in a showdown with their rivals. At times the script feels as if it were saying, "OK, we want these *two* to face each other one on one...now... how can we write a story where they are in the same room at the same time? Wait, it will kill 45 minutes of screen time and result in unnecessary action and the deaths of many? Eh...but that one fight will be cool." Similar to this, the film has yet another story that feels like a placeholder and has a terrible miscasting in Laura Dern. Everyone acts stupidly, rashly, and incredibly unstrategically just to serve the plot. Anyone playing a tabletop game would act far more shrewdly than many of the characters.
In the end, THE LAST JEDI is a mixed bag that feels a lot is built around certain action setpieces and showdowns rather than an epic tale that most have come to expect. When it is good, it is great. When it falters, it falls on its lightsaber. A mild recommend.