My crew and I left the theater late yesterday afternoon disappointed with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but Star Wars universe fans court disappoint like Democrats do despair. No movie can measure up to the perfect Wookiepedia in their minds. At least a half hour too long, The Last Jedi is dependent on the good will of audiences as it immolates — in one scene quite literally — the past as they know it.
Writing a conventional review for Star Wars films exhausts me, so, following tradition, let me list the stuff I liked:
1. Writer-director Rian Johnson wasn’t kidding when he sought to chronicle the collapse of the Old Order: everything must fall. In the first scene, Luke Skywalker makes clear that lightsabers are shit. Second, this galaxy far, far away finally has characters reflecting its diversity. What Luke and General Leia’s arcs eventually reveal is how they yield to a new order. Subsequent Star Wars movies will star Poe, Finn, Rey, and possibly Rose: Hispanic, black, woman, and Asian woman characters, respectively. The Last Jedi goes further: in the film’s last third, Leia accedes to Poe’s leadership. Moreover, the Force-ghost of Yoda cheerfully blows up the Jedi Temple, with its precious hardbound Jedi tomes (Yoda’s quip “Page-turners, they are not” got the movie’s biggest laugh). Sorry, classic Star Wars fans: the old white people are gone. Even Threepio is regarded as at best an annoyance, at worst a cowardly appeaser.
2. The warm, calming presence of Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. Kudos to Johnson for showing the patience to work out the arc of her plot line, who for long stretches of the film has convinced the audience (and Poe) that she’s one thing when she turns out to be another.
3. Because Mark Hamill was not among the original trio’s acting lights, I worried about him. Turns out the years of voice work in animated films have given him a gravelly gravitas. Luke only moves when he absolutely has to, which includes for a rubbing-dirt-off-his-shoulder moment that drew the second biggest laughs. I pat Johnson on the book for having the temerity to acknowledge that the prequels exist — at one point Luke, discussing the long dead Emperor Palpatine, refers to him as Darth Sidious.
4. The debut of the crack comedy duo of Ren and Hux. In one of the film’s first scenes, the Resistance clowns him (see below for additional remarks). Later, when he pulls out his side arm to finish the job on a prostrate and presumably dying Kylo Ren he silkily returns it to its holster after realizing he was…wrong.
The stuff I didn’t like:
1. What is the Resistance, uh, resisting? Although The Force Awakens explained the collapse of the Republic’s senate, an entity as efficient as a condo board, is the First Order so powerful that it simply took over the Empire’s rusting hardware and continued where it left off? How does it govern?
2. Finn and Rose’s journey to Canto Bight, the ill-named Monte Carlo of the Star Wars galaxy, to find a “code breaker.” While the code breaker is an essential plot element, the Canto Blight episode plays like an excuse to (a) introduce more characters available for purchase at your local Target (b) show Star Wars characters drinking champagne.
3. To expect Samuel Raphaelson from Star Wars screenwriters is folly, but, still, too many of General Hux’s scenes played like Spaceballs or SNL parodies. These moments work if you imagine Hux and Snoke as Marxian emblems of a culture that copies historical gestures of power and unintentionally parodies them because that’s all these poseurs can do: young Hux as Drago type with Bela Lugosi hair growing up admiring the Empire, is old enough for its disintegration but knows nothing but what he experiences secondhand. This goes double for Snoke. Why after all does he regard Darth Vader as a suitable model for Kylo Ren? Vader was redeemed. This is as much thought as I intend to give the matter.
4. I suppose audiences must be familiar with the Star Wars novels to know why a Force-sensitive like Leia chose to lead armies and legislate or whatever rather than pursue Jedi training, but a certain scene in space jumped too many Rancors for me.
5. A pause on the growing Poe-Finn romance.