Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn’t exactly like any of the other Star Wars films, but it also doesn’t feel excessively different from any of them. The basic structure a few of the key scenes from Empire Strikes Back are replicated, but this movie doesn’t ape it’s predecessor quite as much as The Force Awakens mimicked A New Hope. Instead it takes some of the more self-serious aspects of the previous films and combines them with Marvel-Movie-esque comic indifference, resulting in a thoroughly underwhelming film that can’t decide what it wants to be, tries to be a bit of everything, and ends up feeling like nothing.
The film’s humor will probably end up being the most decisive thing about it. There’s barely a scene in the entire film that isn’t punctuated with a sight gag, a quipy one-liner, or an attempt at humorously awkward dialogue, and whilst the jokes themselves are serviceable it’s their placement into the film that creates the real issue. There’s no effort made for scenes to have any tonal cohesiveness, and the jokes are stuffed in between more serious dialogues or even in the middle of that classic grandiose mysticism that Star Wars has previously handled so well. It’s nearly impossible for an audience to take a concept like The Force seriously if the characters were riffing on it, and themselves, only moments before delving into an emotionally driven explanation of why the audience should care. In an effort to make everyone seem funny, Director Rian Johnson reduces every character to nothing but a few identifiable traits to spin jokes off. This is massively exacerbated by a poor edit that tries to run four different plot lines simultaneously by showing each for about a minute and then cutting away to the next one.
The script is similarly flawed, and at multiple moments in the film starts delivering the same vague, empty platitudes about fate and choices that dogged the prequel trilogy, except this film doesn’t linger for too long on these flat moments so the damage is somewhat mitigated. The actor’s are all giving it their absolute best despite this poor material, with Adam Driver and Mark Hamill managing to transcend their boorish dialogues and show some real character development throughout the film, and the Luke and Rey sequences being far and away the best parts of the film. Domnhall Gleeson delivers a similarly impressive performance, but his limited screen time and goofy pratfall limit the overall effectiveness of his character. The only actor who was noticeably poor was Carrie Fisher, mumbled and coughed her way through decidedly prequel-esque monologues while looking thoroughly unimpressed with her surroundings, which were also quite impressive.
The art design elements of the film were handled well for the most part, but despite the island locations originally minimalist look they fail to visually differentiate the film from any of the previous entries in the franchise and are uninterestingly simplistic. The ship battles and fight choreography are impressively smooth and feel large in scope without being unfocused, and actually do serve some plot significance and as the basis for some character growth instead of just being CGI light shows and flip-fests. Cinematography and shot construction are honestly quite good when the film slows down for long enough to get some appreciation, with the Luke and Rey island scenes again being particular standouts in this regard. Owing to the rapidly shifting edit the score was working overtime trying to stuff as many emotional cues into each scene as it could, and whilst it’s fine, it’s more just a re-hash of the same leitmotifs as the previous films.
More so than any of the previous films, even the muppet-heavy Return of the Jedi, this is a Star Wars film made for children, and I honestly can’t recommend The Last Jedi to anyone over the age of ten. Sure it’s a summer blockbuster popcorn movie, but if you get pasts the parts replicated from other Star Wars movies there’s just not that much there. The original elements of the film are poorly executed and feel inconsequential to the film’s incredibly long and dragging plot, and if you don’t laugh at it, the pervasive and puerile humor will sour the rest of the film. Despite the best efforts of the actor’s and designer’s involved, out of it’s two and a half hour run time, there’s maybe a forty-five minutes that feel purposeful, and maybe twenty of those that are any semblance of interesting.