As someone who grew up on Star Wars movies, it hurts to watch one that I think is truly bad. These new movies were supposed to bring balance to a damaged franchise but have so far done a shaky job of that.
The Resistance is in a particularly poor state. Led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), the small fleet of Resistance fighters must come up with a plan to escape the First Order’s fighters. Meanwhile, as Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to train with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she finds herself strangely connected to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and possibly to the dark side of the Force.
This is a sloppy movie, and to its detriment, it has populated its messy plot with mostly uninteresting or unimportant people. It is not, however, without its strengths. As with The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren is the most interesting character in this film and the only one that I have thought much about since seeing it. I find his inner conflict genuinely compelling, and given his personality and past and what he does in this movie, I honestly have no idea where his arc as a character will go. He even has a uniquely brutish and aggressive fighting style that makes his lightsaber work genuinely intimidating. The movie has me engaged just about any time he is on screen, and as he interacts with Rey, it becomes apparent that the two of them are just about the only emotionally engaging parts of the movie. I have remained interested in Rey’s journey since The Force Awakens, and while I am confident she will find her place on the right side of history, just how she gets there is likely to be interesting to watch.
I honestly cannot say much about the rest of the cast, as neither the returning characters nor the new ones are particularly interesting. I would like to speak highly of Mark Hamill’s return to the role of Luke Skywalker, but to my disappointment, the script hands him some interesting dialogue and ideas, juggles them a bit, and then walks off in boredom. He is an important part of Rey’s personal journey but does not in my opinion present much compelling material to the audience aside from his vague distaste toward the Jedi. Otherwise, the cast is almost completely forgettable: Poe Dameron is unlikably rash, Leia is just sort of there, Finn is the same as before, and Vice Admiral Holdo would be more at home in a PTA meeting than in a respected military position.
These characters spend most of the film standing and talking – sometimes walking and talking – about hope and about how poorly The Resistance is doing. A convoluted mashup of subplots arises and ultimately leads nowhere, and, well, the bad guys are bad. The Last Jedi‘s primary flaw is in just how pointless most of the film is, and after I finished watching it, I had a tough time remembering the majority of it aside from the finale. In that way, this movie reminds me of Rogue One with its structural issues and epic finale. Despite its many flaws, that film was at least fairly straightforward in delivering its simple plot.
I have other, smaller nitpicks with the film. For example, I think that the humor is often arbitrary, unfunny, and out of place. There are several clumsy comic relief moments and important scenes interrupted by these jokes. This is a trend that I have noticed in several Disney-owned films recently, particularly Spider-Man Homecoming from earlier this year, and as I commented in that review, it comes across as the filmmakers being afraid to look genuine and make the audience feel too much emotionally. Also, Daisy Ridley is a poor fighter, and her couple of fight scenes look more like dress rehearsal footage than the epic Star Wars fights of other films. I hope she trains a bit more for Episode IX. Finally, there are multiple points in the film where the script seems to subvert audience expectations entirely for the sake of subversion. There is, of course, nothing wrong with taking material in unexpected directions, but in this case it harms the overall experience of this film and feels like the movie wants to be recognized for innovation over its ability to tell a story.
Overall, The Last Jedi feels like a rough draft. With its cobbled-together opening, stumbled-through middle act, and effective finale, there is a good movie in here somewhere. That is not what I saw in the theater, though. The Last Jedi has me concerned with the trajectory of these new Star Wars films, as I enjoyed The Force Awakens, thought Rogue One was mediocre, and now find this one to be simply bad. I am still going to watch the next release given my hopeless love for the series, but it will need to deliver in ways that this one did not in order to keep me interested down the road.