The Force is back, but this time around, it feels more like a farce. The last related installment of this beloved franchise (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) was a tight, highly engaging film with an overload of entertainment value. This time around, writer/director Rian Johnson underscores why he hasn’t worked in film since 2012’s equally flaccid Looper. His myopic vision of this feature-rich fantasy series has the feel of a potluck dinner gone bad.
The awe of once-cherished characters Luke (Mark Hamill) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) is not only squandered, but at times openly ridiculed. The Luke of this film is a brooding, washed-up has-been in bad need of a shower, a shave and a good kick in the ass. The handling of Leia is even more of an affront. She seems to exist only for Johnson to tease Fisher’s omnipresent death at nearly every opportunity. Their force-connected counterparts, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), fare only slightly better. Ren’s boss and chief baddie, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), spends nearly the entire time sitting on his throne prognosticating about his prowess while failing to infer even the most basic plot realities that every member of the audience sees with ease.
The rest of the story feels like Johnson sat in his office spinning a big randomized Star Wars ingredients wheel. The first spin landed on “Overly Cute Minor Characters,” so Johnson created some tiny, adorable bird creatures. Based on their annoying abundance, I can only assume that the wheel had a bit of a built-in bias toward landing on the same spot. When it did manage to fall on something else, the result was just a cheap sight gag or another obligatory cameo.
Every time that Johnson finds some momentum, he destroys it with distracting, unforced errors. The most glaring of these is in his complete disregard for even the most inherent realities of outer space. In one scene, a character forces open the damaged pod bay doors of a spacecraft and manually releases countless small bombs that drop like rocks onto the ship below — in outer space. We also have to ignore that the character, clearly open to the vacuum of space, doesn’t seem to be at all in need of a means of breathing. In another scene, an entire wing of a ship is blown away while characters run about the open wreckage as if they’re on a sinking boat in the middle of the Pacific. The worst offender is a long shot involving Leia that involves CGI so poor that it looks as if someone hand-painted her onto the scene with magic markers.
This is a story that I no longer care to care about. We need cheat sheets to keep up. The good guys are the Rebels, or is it the Republic? Wait, no, it’s now the Resistance. Only the most dedicated fans have any hope of keeping up. I don’t even remember what Finn (John Boyega) is doing here, and often, it seems that neither does he.
Star Wars was once all about the draw of its rich, magnetic characters. The swagger of Han Solo, the adorable interplay of C-3PO and R2-D2, etc. Now, they’re all just afterthoughts pasted into a patchwork of broken ideas for no other reason than audience demand. Yes, I’m aware that this is still going to be a blockbuster, but it used to be a blockbuster based on merit. All that Johnson gives us is inertia and melancholy.