**Fear not, there are no spoilers here. I promise.**
***12/21/17 – I saw the movie again last night and the plot held together better than I had originally thought. I still stand by everything in this review, but I have adjusted the score up one point to better reflect its overall quality.***
I could open this review by citing the insane statistics behind how much money The Force Awakens made, or the sky-high expectations for The Last Jedi in its wake. I could talk about all of the hope that director Rian Johnson will be able to bring something special to the Star Wars universe, given that Disney just announced that he will be manning his own trilogy sometime soon. I could even go the anecdotal route and discuss my lifelong love of Star Wars in general, and how very much I wanted to adore this movie. However, I will spare you any of that fluff and simply get to the meat.
It will be exceedingly difficult to go into any detail about this film while still avoiding spoilers, so this review may be shorter than usual, and it may very well end up being a part one, with part two containing many, many spoilers. Consider this less of a formal review and more of a description of my general thoughts on the film. Ready? Neat.
It gives me no pleasure whatsoever to say it, but Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a poorly constructed film built of half-finished ideas, questionable decisions, and genuinely terrible editing. This is all made even more frustrating by the fact that with just a few degrees of correction, it could have been among the very best of the entire franchise. Instead, the teams at Lucasfilm and Disney delivered a visually arresting, but completely disjointed and often incoherent film.
The biggest issue with The Last Jedi is that there is simply too much going on, and none of it is given the spotlight for long enough to do any idea justice. Character arcs are begun and resolved almost immediately. Fascinating ideas, which have implications not only for Episode IX but also the rest of the series and the universe at large, are introduced and then ignored completely for the rest of the film. Virtually anything mystical, suspenseful, or curious introduced in The Force Awakens is completely irrelevant here. I understand the desire to subvert audience expectations, but it sincerely feels as if the filmmakers set out to do so in the worst way possible.
Additionally, the story moves along at a breakneck pace, while still somehow managing to feel drawn out. There were full thirty-minute sequences that contributed nothing to the plot, character development, or world building. There were characters who appeared just long enough to be utterly pointless, and then got stowed away for later. There were plot points that made exactly zero sense but were treated as the only logical way that things could have worked.
The script, similarly, is quite poor. It never hits “I hate sand” levels of cringe, but watching 150 minutes of expository dialogue becomes tiresome after a certain point. All emotions are stated outright. Massive reveals and twists are the topics of casual conversation, and characters seem totally comfortable openly saying lines that may have worked better as internal monologues in a novel.
As with the much-hated prequel trilogy, were you to simply take the core idea of the film and strip away everything about the production except for that, you would have a remarkably solid idea. The concept that Johnson and Co. are going for here is really quite outstanding. The issue is that any semblance of originality is entombed in a mountain of poorly executed ideas.
One thing that The Last Jedi absolutely cannot be faulted for is its visual direction. Johnson and cinematographer Steve Yeldin have brought a richness to the Star Wars universe that is unique, vibrant, and memorable. There were a number of shots so well composed, framed, and colored that I lost my breath. If nothing else, I am excited to see more work by Johnson and Yeldin specifically for the value of the imagery that they employed here.
I would also be remiss not to mention the work of John Williams while reviewing a Star Wars film. His music is, and always has been, the backbone of the series, and that is no different in The Last Jedi. The fact that this man, at eighty-five years old, is still able to create such stunning music is nothing short of incredible.
Despite the stunning visuals and predictable masterful score, the film almost entirely fails at achieving any real emotional depth. This is in large part due to the misguided attempts at humor. The Last Jedi whiplashes back and forth between franchise-shaking moments and slapstick comedy fast enough to leave you reeling and often confused. Moments that should have been the epic culmination of forty years of build-up are ruined by completely unnecessary (and painfully unfunny) jokes. I frequently found my eyes rolling and my entire self cringing far more than I had hoped.
All of this feeds into another of the film’s greatest problems: the fact that it seems to have entirely forgotten its characters. People with no history of being goofy clowns are suddenly cracking wise. Characters who are meant to take a spotlight disappear for long stretches of time for no discernable reason. Individuals with no reason to do certain things decide that those are precisely the things that they should be doing, seemingly for no purpose other than that the plot needs them to.
As if this were not bad enough, the editing makes an already uneven film into an incoherent mess. We are constantly tossed back and forth between characters, perspectives, settings, and occasionally time periods with no warning. There is one random shot filmed in handheld shaky-cam style for no reason at all. There are cheesy digital zoom-ins. There is even a time lapse of tiny plants growing out of the earth. Not only does none of this match the Star Wars aesthetic at all, but it makes the entire experience feel completely inconsistent.
There is no real sense of style, simply a bunch of close-ups of characters faces followed by establishing shots, followed by more close-ups, many of which seem to be out of order. I truly cannot fathom how an editor watched the final cut of this film and decided that it was sufficiently linear or comprehensible as one whole story.
All of this combines to create a genuinely baffling, frequently irritating, and ultimately disappointing eighth entry into this storied franchise. And yet, for as much as I have complained about everything, there is still a strange magnetism to The Last Jedi, and to Star Wars in general. Somehow, despite finding the film lacking in most areas, I want to see it again. More than that, I want to love it. Is it possible that I simply missed something? Could this actually be a great film and I just don’t understand it? While I’m inclined to say no, I cannot deny the fact that no matter how increasingly trying these new Star Wars films are becoming, there is something to this universe that keeps me coming back. The only problem is, I don’t think that Lucasfilm quite knows what that something is.