When we saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi on December 28 of this year, that day was notable for three reasons – my brother’s birthday, my wedding anniversary, and 40 years to the day I went to see the first movie in the franchise. 40 years – that’s almost half a century. Amazing. This was back in the day when the UK would get a movie literally months after it’s initial US release. Over the Christmas period, and a little after, it was almost a competition to see how many times you could see it more than your friends. I don’t recall if I beat anyone, but I went to see that movie 13 times in maybe a three week period, staying in the cinema to watch it two or three times in a row. That won’t be happening with the latest in the franchise.
Back in 2015, I was not a fan of Star Wars. Despite how many times I saw the first one, I only remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back twice theatrically, and Return of the Jedi only one time. To date, I have only ever seen episodes 1, 2, 3, and 6 once, and that’s it. I ended up liking JJ ABrams’ The Force Awakens a great deal, and it made me feel like a fan – I listened to John Williams’s score many, many times, I liked the new characters a lot. I felt drawn in, so that by the cliffhanger, I was hooked. I wanted the next one to hurry up and get here … but I quickly became uneasy at hearing the name Rian Johnson. I consider Looper to be a decent movie, but the shitty, convenient way he wrote the effects of time travel bugged the hell out of me. I was never convinced by his writing ability.
This is, unfortunately, cemented in my mind upon seeing The Last Jedi. Like my wife mentioned after the movie was done, I had a sense that I wasn’t feeling it very early on. It has a weird vibe to it – not weird in a cool, creepy way, though. There’s a lot of humour throughout that mostly falls flat. It’s situational humour, rather than character-driven, and that always feels forced to me. Essentially, the story is this: following on from the events of The Force Awakens, Rey travels to Luke Skywalker’s secret location to recruit him in the battle against The First Order, and to find out more about herself. Plotwise, we also hope to find out the story behind the mysterious flashback scenes in the preceding movie featuring Luke and R2. There’s also the mystery surrounding Snoke, and Rey’s parentage. Other than that, I didn’t feel that there was anything else I needed to get out of the movie going in, other than a fun time in the cinema. What I got was a movie that’s a real dog.
It’s somehow important to me that I repeat my disclaimer of me not being a fan of the franchise, per se. I haven’t ready any reviews of the movie, but seen enough internet chatter to know it has gotten mixed reviews, and they seem to have split the fan base. I try to approach movies as unbiased as I can. Does the script work, how’s the acting, did the director do his job, that kind of thing. In The Last Jedi, I didn’t feel that any of these aspects were on point. The screenplay is mostly awful, with some egregious examples of unnecessary repetition – Rey needs to tell Luke about three times why she’s come all this way to see him, the First Order might have the best weaponry, but it literally takes them forever to get it ready to arm; the Resistance have one tactic: point their ships at the First Order’s weapons and fly at them. You’d think the bad guys would be smart enough to understand that the good guys only have 2 dimensional thinking. Though having said that, their highest ranking officer under Supreme Leader Snoke is General Hux, played with an absurd level of mouth-frothing camp by otherwise good actor Domhnall Gleeson. It’s hard to see exactly how The First Order became so strong when it’s buffoons like this who lead them. Don’t even get me started on Snoke – I bet there are a lot of fans who are ticked off by his storyline and it’s resolution in this movie.
There’s very little of interest built up in the way Kylo Ren and Rey relate to each other – which amounts to both actors talking to each other in different scenes, simultaneously across the galaxy. I can buy it in a couple of scenes, but in a two and a half hour movie, the conceit quickly wears out. But that’s not the only thing that takes its time to unfold; Both Finn and Poe, who were so good in the previous movie, are separated for most of the running time- Poe’s storyline turns him into a pedestrian character that is mostly underwritten, but Finn’s is terrible, and just thinking of this gets my blood boiling. You ever watch that episode of Seinfeld that ends with George Costanza being “chased” down the street in a motorized wheelchair? At least 45 minutes is devoted to this in The Last Jedi, no kidding.
The First Order’s biggest ships only have two speeds: standard and hyperdrive. The movie doesn’t even bother to distract us with a visual Mutara Nebula-like plot device – it cuts away from the fact that literally nothing is happening to an absolutely awful side quest for Finn and a totally worthless new character named Rose Tico, whereby they simply leave the chase (there’s no attempt made to follow them by the First Order) and head to a cosmic casino in order to find a “master hacker” who they hope will return with them to hack into the First Order’s ships in order to … you know what, fuck it. This entire scene is ludicrously awful from start to finish. They don’t get the hacker they came after, but conveniently enough they get tossed into a jail cell with Benicio Del Toro’s character who is not only just as good, but he could have left his cell whenever he felt like it, but didn’t. Garbage writing. And when everyone gets back safe and sound, there’s a fake conflict created by Johnson to give Poe something to do, setting up a mini coup against Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo over her seemingly ineffectual plan. Why is it fake drama? It’s fake because her actual plan is something everyone ends up agreeing with, so why not tell it all up front from the get go?
I read Mark Hamill made some negative comments (though he’s since dialled them back) about how Luke is handled, and I think he was on the money. Skywalker is an integral part of this franchise, and there’s no compelling, authentic reason why what he did in the recent past would cause him to be so riddled with guilt and shame that he would retreat to an unknown corner of the universe to forget about the misery and suffering under the new empire. Wasn’t the whole point of his training with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back to uncover the true strength within him? The Luke Skywalker of The Last Jedi is simply an unlikeable, self-pitying, curmudgeonly plot device that Rey must encounter as she levels up, but ultimately her time on the planet is mostly wasted plot points. The scene where he faces down Rey as he gulps down what is either the milk or semen of an alien lifeform (the latter would be edgy as hell) is a real low for that character.
I could go on and on about this movie’s weaknesses because like an iceberg, they go way, way deeper than this review will. But I will mention one more: Captain Phasma. While I don’t care anything for this much-derided (it’s well deserved) character, I’m astounded that they spent money hiring Gwendolyn Christie (Game of Thrones‘ Brienne of Tarth), put her in a cool looking stormtrooper outfit, but never give her anything of note to do or reveal her face. Phasma is a role that can be played by literally anyone, but I’m sure Christie wasn’t making minimum wage.
As far as this movie relates to the previous 7 in terms of quality and enjoyment, I place it with the misbegotten Episodes 1-3. The Force Awakens turned me into a Star Wars fan briefly, but The Last Jedi made me remember why I wasn’t one to begin with.
© Andrew Hope, 2017