Never have I ever been more conflicted by a Star Wars film. I actually saw The Last Jedi a couple days ago, but I couldn’t review it once I watched it. I legitimately did not know what to make of it. I knew what I liked and what I didn’t, but I couldn’t grasp my feelings on the overall film. I guess I have to give Rian Johnson credit for that. He has successfully made a challenging and mature Star Wars film. But does that mean that it’s also good?
The plot is a tough one to talk about. Partly because of my fear of spoiling it and partly because there is just so much happening. It’s as complicated as The Phantom Menace. Except being, well, competently made. The basics are that the First Order is hunting what remains of the Resistance. Po is trying to save the resistance from slaughter, wanting to take down Snoke’s colossal battle cruiser. But they need a hacker, so Finn and new hero Rose venture to a casino planet to find one. Meanwhile Rey is attempting to convince Luke Skywalker to train her. But the more she learns about the Force, the more she feels the pull towards the darkness. And towards Kylo Ren, who has motives of his own.
So, we have four major stories going at the same time. And there lies one of the films problems. Now, for the most part, the film does balance all four very well. No tones clash. They’re all told in equal amounts. But two of these stories are really good – Kylo Ren and Rey’s stories – Po’s is just okay, whereas Finn’s is bad. Really bad! And because they are so evenly spread, it means that I can be following Kylo Ren and getting really into it, then come to a stop because it’s time to look on as Finn does whatever he’s doing. It’s a shame, because I think that John Boyega is a good, charismatic actor. He just has a section that is poorly paced, poorly written, looks alien to the franchise – I hated the looks of this casino world – is a little too heavy handed in its preaching’s and partners him up with the most irritating Star Wars character since Jar Jar.
But what short comings the story has is not shared in the directing. This is a great looking film. It’s a bit too grey in moments, but with the darker tone that feels appropriate. The action scenes are pretty spectacular – well, for the most part – with this being possibly the most violent of the films so far. I also think that Johnson’s keen eye for visual flare is matched by his ability to work with his actors. There are some challenging scenes in this film, some of them the most challenging of the series, and yet this remains one of Star Wars’ best acted films. Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Laura Dern all bring their best to their roles. Even the most unreadable lines are spoken naturally. While Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher give the best live action performances of their careers.
I guess you could say that Johnson did well directing, and the films shortcomings should be blamed on the script writer. But, unfortunately for Johnson, that’s also him. It’s not all bad. I love what they do with Kylo Ren in this film, making him easily the best villain the series has had outside of Darth Vader. There are great moments with Luke that stand out. There were even moments that I didn’t see coming in the film. Nothing mind-blowing, there was no amazing twist on the level of ‘I am your father!’, but I was still surprised. But for every good creative choice made, there were at least three or four that baffled me.
This does not feel like a second instalment to a trilogy. It feels like a finale. There is a lot that gets wrapped up and answered here, and most of it feels rushed or unfulfilling. There’s a major character death that took me by surprise, but not in a good way. More in a ‘well, what are you going to do for the next one?’ way. I can’t go on without mentioning a scene involving Leia somewhere in the middle – if you’ve seen the film, you know what moment I’m talking about. It’s the stupidest thing I have seen all year. And I’ve seen Transformers: The Last Knight! It’s absolutely ludicrous, I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I read up on Johnson’s explanation for the scene – his reasoning only made it stupider to me.
The film has moments of this scattered throughout. Characters breaking who they were before to benefit this films plot. Not in a daring way either. I hear people praising this film for taking risks, but it really doesn’t. It surprises you at times, but that’s not the same thing. There are moments, particularly one towards the end, when I though the big risks were about to be taken – only for the film to pull back and play it safe once again. It’s not even that new a film. It has its unique moments, particularly a pretty trippy mirror scene, but it’s mostly just a mash up of The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi.
Part of me is glad that we now have a blockbuster film that is so divisive among so many people. It’s refreshing. I think the last film to do that was The Dark Knight Rises. I want more of this style of film making, albeit riskier. But, like The Dark Knight Rises, it’s a pain when I find that I am among those who don’t particularly like it. I will never call Star Wars – The Last Jedi a bad film, it isn’t. It’s too well crafted, acted and spectacular in scale to be a bad film. But some of these choice infuriated me. Not long after the controversial Leia moment previously mentioned, I just stopped caring. I feel that you really have to like these new characters to get the most out of this film, and I really don’t. I love Kylo Ren and I think Rey is alright, but Finn and Po are blank slates to me.
The Last Jedi is a visually stunning, artful and occasionally fun film. It’s just not for me. Its flaws are too glaring for me to ignore – from creative choices to plot holes. I have no idea what’s going to happen next – JJ Abrams has his work cut out for him now. Everyone I meet who has seen it all say the same thing. ‘I don’t know what to make of it’ is the first reaction. It’s a second watch or just the passage of time that determines if they loved it or hated it. This being very much a love it or hate it film. For those who saw my earlier ranking of the Star Wars series so far, you can place The Last Jedi above Revenge of the Sith, but below Return of the Jedi. Go and see it, I am interested to see what everyone will think of it. Let’s see how strong the Force is with this one.
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