3 out of 5
Directed by: Rian Johnson
I’d chalk up my complacency toward The Last Jedi as blockbuster exhaustion, but there are still big money movies – the Mission: Impossible flicks come to mind – that I thoroughly enjoy in the theater or at home. And even sticking to the same genre, while I wouldn’t rate them all as fantastic movies, I was more engrossed in the nu-Trek films than I was in Rian Johnson’s Star Wars debut. The Last Jedi wasn’t unenertaining – dosed with really well choreographed action and a solid cast – but it felt completely manufactured from top to bottom. It’s admittedly been too long since I’ve watched the original SW trilogy, but jumping back to Trek, I can at least say that with those films, despite predictable explosions and plot paths, that I believed I was getting an experience unique to the ST world. The Last Jedi never convinced me of it being its own thing; it felt like a shell of wink-wink humor and a John Williams score with the required editing queues from the series; just another action flick with sci-fi trappings that happened to have a Lucasfilm banner. That sounds insulting for what’s undeniably an incredibly competent movie that juggles many characters and settings across its 2+ hours without really dragging, but it is, perhaps, an inevitable response to expectations when offering up a new entry to a notable series, even from a never-really-been-into-Star-Wars viewer like m’self.
In The Last Jedi, we follow directly on The Force Awakens with the Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) captained rebels rebelling against the Vader-incumbent Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Snoke-led ‘First Order,’ with Forceling Rey (Daisy Ridley) trying to convince curmudgeon Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to rejoin the fray… Complications arise, chase sequences occur, cute animals make noises at a Wookie, and music stings are heard.
Johnson adds an appreciable sense of desperation to the rebels plight, consistently making things feel very, very dire: last minute reprieves are only slight breathers in the midst of failure, while our heroic leads still successfully cling to hope to keep momentum afloat. Oscar Isaac is delightful, and Hamill and Carrie Fisher’s Leia add intense gravitas to their bits; Ridley and Driver both fell a little flat for me, but it sort of works because they’re paired off as foes, so it’s flat meets flat with light sabers. While the movie is an effects fest, it’s not wasted on scale, as a lot of these big-money pics do, but rather in crafting in-context believable environments, and that’s another feather in the film’s cap. So again: taken out of a Star Wars context, the execution is solid. But again again: part of that solidity is how pre-packaged every aspect of this felt: every one-liner; every cute animal chirp. I didn’t have to follow the dialogue or even have the sound on to get the gist, and I don’t feel like anything was necessarily added to my film education by watching it. There is, perhaps, a deeper meditation on how this fits within the Disney model, as I could say the same about some of the recent Marvel films, but I don’t have the credentials to delve into that.
The criticisms regarding how the movie strays from Star Wars lore or characters will be dependent, of course, on how dedicated to those you are. Because this felt like such a light touch on the series, it didn’t bother me that everything felt so surface level, but of course, see above: my criticism is more toward that surface levelness in general.
The Last Jedi proves Rian Johnson hasn’t skipped a beat in terms of polish from his indie days to the big league. I don’t know if it qualifies as a good Star Wars movie, but it’s a quality sci-fi lite popcorn flick.