Written and Directed by Rian Johnson | 152 min
By now we’re all amongst the initiates, if not the disciples, of Star Wars. And while these movies were the base mythology of my childhood, I can’t overlook how these fan-fiction sequels absent George Lucas bend over backward to echo the early trilogy—with frequent and direct callbacks—while introducing new characters in vaguely new situations. But too much newness would be upsetting to most fans, right? The Last Jedi brings a hefty dose of humour and a few genuine surprises, but it’s also stultifyingly repetitive, more of the same blue milk.
It’s also a breathless, ass-over-ankles space action picture that barely finds time for characters to manifest. What happened to the simple charm of people hanging out in a hive of scum and villainy while they get to know each other? And yet, despite this constant narrative rush the movie can’t help but feel, with its two-and-a-half-hour running time, like a slog.
To avoid spoilers, I won’t say much beyond the character basics: Rey (Daisy Ridley) is on some Force-forsaken rocky outcrop having found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who, it turns out, is a lot more recalcitrant and curmudgeonly than we might have expected. The First Order remains a massive, fascistic pustule on the cosmos, led by Hux (Domnhall Gleeson, a lot more comedic this time than in The Force Awakens) and none-more-intense Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver), with Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) in the background. The First Order is hot on the trail of the rag-tag rebellion, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher, in her final appearance), with hotheaded pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), and newcomers Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) offering support. Other Star Wars stalwarts such as Chewbacca, R2D2, and C3P0 cede the stage to the new characters and creatures, offering little more than a haunting. Their appearances are cameos, so slight it makes you wonder why they even bothered. (This push and pull between fresh and fusty, with neither entirely satisfying, explains why the self-contained Rogue One is the cleverest and best of the new batch of movies so far.)
It’s a strange thing to shunt aside beloved characters when so much else feels like a less-interesting replay. For a second it looks like a roguish Benicio Del Toro might save the day with a compelling new Han Solo-esque character, but he shows up long enough to offer a strangely percussive stutter, and then vanishes.
The first act just drags. Forty-five minutes in and I was wondering—aside from some delightful new alien creatures—what, if anything, interesting we were going to get. I haven’t been bored in a Star Wars movie since the prequels, so this isn’t a good sign. But things improve with a psychic connection between Rey and Kylo Ren across space. Their shared weirdness forms the most potent and interesting relationship in the film. The themes of the series manifest most strongly here, the division of good and evil and the attraction between them, along with the actual or implied importance of destiny and inheritance. There’s also room in the picture’s bedrock for the considerations of age and forgiveness, while a wonderfully grizzled Hamill delivers a series-best performance, offering a wry humour behind his bushy beard.
The strength of these performances helps sustain the interest around a few deeply ill-advised plot turns, subplots that go nowhere, and stuff that just doesn’t make any sense. I won’t go into detail, but what exactly is it that keeps one group of space-ships from speeding up and diverting or destroying another group running out of fuel? It’s a jaw-droppingly clumsy blueprint. What does a visit to an interstellar Monaco offer the story aside from a dull 15 minutes of screen time? Some of this is storytelling 101 that should’ve been cleaned up, but instead we have to put up with enormous plot holes you could park a galactic cruiser in.
The third act, one that takes way too long to get to, finally delivers emotional investment and impact. The disposition of certain characters is cleared up and a few solid turns keep things jumping to a satisfying, concussive conclusion.
The Last Jedi is overstuffed, overlong, and lazily plotted, but the character work, humour, and a few set-pieces carry the day. It is the rare blockbuster that improves past the half-way point, but whether there’s enough here that’s genuinely new or this is just another attack of the clones, well, your midichlorians may vary.