Matter not, it does, what I write about this movie. Star Wars: The Last Jedi ranks as the highest of mandatory moviegoing experiences for a certain segment of the population regardless of what critics, other fans or friends say. As a Star Wars fan, I’d be right there with them. I didn’t get the chance to see the original trilogy in theaters on opening day or weekend, so I ensured that I would enjoy all of the hullabaloo around the Star Wars releases since then. Despite this appetite, too much of a good thing sometimes diminishes the impact. Although it’s a solidly entertaining outing, Star Wars: The Last Jedi wanders without focus instead of concentrating on the core story and characters.
Disney passed the crown from J.J. Abrams to writer/director Rian Johnson, which is a big leap from his previous projects. Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper form a kind of evolution in storytelling and ambition for Johnson, and wrangling the kind of disparate elements for a Star Wars production would make most filmmakers buckle. Johnson the director does an amazing job. From space battles and hand-to-hand combat to touching moments and character development, you’ll find it all here in engaging scenes tinged with nostalgia and humor. Johnson the writer needs some work. Whole sequences and characters could be excised without any real loss to the film. Thus, the story feels bloated and at times going nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
The plot picks up immediately after the finale of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Complete with a Stegosaurus hairdo, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has delivered to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) his lightsaber on his remote island and asks to be trained in The Force. Pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) have returned to the Resistance alongside Leia (Carrie Fisher). Fresh from an unproductive father-son talk, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) undergoes reconstructive surgery for his lightsaber boo-boo and receives orders from Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis as the performance actor) to eliminate the Resistance and reestablish the First Order baddies on the top of the heap. You could make the argument that the story models The Empire Strikes Back in that the First Order does everything in its power to obliterate its enemies, but nothing remains that simple here.
There are lots of characters, so you might need a scorecard to keep track of them. Ultimately, Luke drives the movie with Hamill as the star. The character takes a different direction here with equal parts Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid and Muppets Statler or Waldorf to turn him into a grumpy old Jedi who doesn’t want to be bothered. Luke eventually comes around, and Hamill does some fine work. Fisher completed her scenes before her untimely death, and every moment sparks with her power, creativity and humor. Although many people found a strong heroine and role model for little girls in Wonder Woman, I’ll take Ridley’s Rey over her at any time. Ridley impressed with her introduction of Rey and grows so much more here. I look forward to what Rey eventually becomes in Ridley’s capable hands. Standout actors also include Serkis, whose acting skills go unmatched with his creation of characters employing just voice and movement, and a purple-haired Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, who just about steals the thunder from Fisher.
For every great role and actor, there are equally annoying or superfluous ones in balance. Usually so good in his work, Domhnall Gleeson has a strong résumé with the oafish General Hux at the bottom of the list. I swear that he looks like Gargamel from The Smurfs. Benicio Del Toro’s thief serves no purpose other than to get characters from Point A to Point B, and the stutter makes him sound like Porky Pig. Worst of all is Driver’s Kylo Ren, once a formidable enemy and now a whiny brat. Snokes remarks, “You’re just a child in a mask.” There are Twitter feeds for “Emo Kylo Ren,” and their writers will have their hands full after this movie. This character needs a strong third act, or he will go the way of Jar Jar Binks as an annoying character who has to be endured rather than liked.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is most guilty of not knowing the line between just enough and too much. There has always been humor in the Star Wars films. Unfortunately, the comedy delivered involves more slapstick and juvenile guffaws than outright funny moments. Droids C-3PO and R2-D2 used to provide the comic relief with well-timed comments. Finn having a sort of wardrobe malfunction doesn’t hold a candle to those other moments. BB-8 returns to kind of outdo R2-D2 at his own game, and symptomatic of this movie, BB-8 seems to have everything but the kitchen sink tucked into that soccer ball-size frame. Come to think of it, I think that I did see a kitchen sink as part of the surface of some new vehicles. When there are so many battles and duels, it’s hard for any of them to stand out. I enjoyed these scenes in the moment, but in retrospect, it would have been nice for them to be memorable after the fact. One such moment belongs to Luke, and that scene will resonate long after the sugar overload.
Many people will avoid all reports on this film until they see it to avoid spoilers. Unlike the previous film’s pivotal moment, there are no shockers here. Sure, there are surprises that will delight the fans, but even knowing what might happen won’t take away the enjoyment of when it actually does. I’m more disappointed in what the film doesn’t address. There are holes left open and other secrets that are almost revealed but then saved for the next film in this trilogy. I can guess where this is all headed, and it’s just sad that Johnson didn’t deliver some juicy knowledge along with the plethora of characters, vehicles, creatures and other fodder for future LEGO sets.
The familiar elements continue to make this feature feel like home. John Williams delivers a score that features key themes for characters like Luke and Leia while mixing in newer sounds to accompany the action and drama. The special effects are phenomenal, even throwing in background characters where none are needed and filling the field of vision with elements to delight the eye, especially in Snoke’s throne room, a First Order launch bay and a red-tinged cavern during a chase scene. The Porg bird creatures will divide audiences. Some will cringe at the memory of the Ewoks, while others like me want a plush toy or a Furby-like version yesterday. The new AT-AT walker called the AT-M6 surpasses the original with the way that it walks like a gorilla with the sleek head of a cat (maybe a tiger). If you want a cantina scene, a casino takes its place with all sorts of gamblers and hangers-on.
You know that you’ll see this movie multiple times, and there will always be parts that you trudge through and others that you savor. I hope that the conclusion of this trilogy bounces back and delivers the goods. The direction of certain characters demands it. People praise The Empire Strikes Back as one of the best movie sequels. Star Wars: The Last Jedi doesn’t rise to that level, but the proper third act will bring focus to the key moments that stand out above the noise.