Length: 152 mins
Writer: Rian Johnson
Dir.: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac
Well, this has proved to be a divisive little number, hasn’t it? While critics have been raving about the latest instalment in the ongoing Star Wars saga, there has been something of a backlash among hardcore Star Wars fans. At the time of writing, The Last Jedi has a 91% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes versus a 50% audience score, and while these figures should obviously be taken with a pinch of salt (as they always should be), that’s quite a disparity. It’s a disparity I can understand, however.
I’ve found it difficult to write about The Last Jedi because I’m still not sure whether I actually enjoyed it or not. The first time I watched it, I have to say, I left disappointed – but in fairness, I don’t think that this was the movie’s fault. After the success of The Force Awakens, the year-long hype for the follow-up, and the aggressive marketing for this film, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that it didn’t live up to my unrealistically high expectations. I’ve seen it again since that first watch and I appreciated the movie a whole lot more, but there was still something missing for me.
Please note that if you’re looking for a disgruntled “fan” rant, you’ve come to the wrong place. While it would be so easy to succumb to the dark side and indulge my inner fan-boy, I’ll try and be as considered and professional as possible.
The main criticism I have of The Last Jedi is that the overall narrative lacked focus. Whether this was a result of the writing or editing (most likely a combination of the two), there were sections of this movie that felt superfluous and tacked-on – almost like they came from a different script. There are three main narratives in the film: Rey finding Luke, Po and Leia doing Rebel stuff, and Finn’s mini-adventure with a new character, Rose. Of those three, Finn’s arc felt the most out of place – barely tying in with the narrative at large and introducing ideas and elements that didn’t particularly gel with the rest of the movie. It’s like the film was struggling to give Finn anything meaningful to do. None of these scenes are bad, by the way – they’re well acted and well shot – they just seem to be from a different film. This idea is exacerbated somewhat by the not inconsiderable run-time of the movie – making these sequences feel even more surplus to requirements.
Another frustration is that the movie seemed to make a point of breaking with elements that were introduced in the previous film – almost intentionally ignoring plot points and intrigues established in The Force Awakens and asking more questions than it answered. It’s really hard to talk about this without spoiling anything… suffice it to say that there are certain moments where the lack of continuity is jarring. That’s not to say that The Last Jedi shouldn’t have tried to do something different or take risks. Not trying to push the envelope is one of the main reasons why franchises stagnate and die. It’s just that some of the twists and reveals in this movie can feel a bit contrived and cheap. You can only subvert so many expectations.
I hasten to add that I am not arguing that The Last Jedi is bad because it’s different – I love the overall tone and certain story elements that are touched on in this movie. If anything, I don’t think it’s different enough. There are some really interesting concepts introduced here that could have done with more exploration and have great potential if handled right – but the movie doesn’t give itself enough time to develop these ideas. For example, the film goes into some detail about the notion of balance in the Force – that the Sith only exist because of the Jedi, and that the only way to rid the galaxy of the Sith is for the Jedi to end (not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer). That’s a cool idea that hasn’t been explored (at least in any meaningful way) in the previous instalments – but the movie doesn’t develop this idea any further than that, which is a shame.
For all the talk of how this film takes Star Wars in a new direction and opens up the narrative, it strikes me that by the time the credits roll, very little has changed. We get a huge amount of character development – particularly for Po, Finn and Kylo Ren – which is great, but the rest of the story ends up taking a back seat. When you focus so intensely on characters, as Rian Johnson is want to do, it can be easy to forget about the universe that they occupy. I think that’s what it comes down to – as much as I enjoyed this movie, it doesn’t feel like we’ve moved any further forward in terms of the saga. Someone I saw the film with referred to it as a “filler movie” – and I have to say that I agree. Weirdly, there are times when The Last Jedi feels more like a soft-reboot than The Force Awakens did – like it’s starting over again rather than building on what’s gone before.
I feel like I say this a lot, but despite my reservations, The Last Jedi is a really good movie. It’s exciting, well shot and the performances are flawless (particularly from Mark Hamill, who does some of the best acting he has ever done here). My problems with the narrative are more to do with structure and scope than anything else. I feel like more time could have been taken to explore some of the ideas that were introduced and that the story could have benefited from being more focused.
The Last Jedi is great, I just think it could have been more.