Fans were rightfully nervous when Rian Johnson was given The Last Jedi, if only because he doesn’t have as much history as you might expect. Looper might be the kind of film that makes you think positively about anyone’s ability to continue a sci-fi saga, but he only has The Brothers Bloom and Brick behind that, which doesn’t make for a collection that stacks up against a plethora of potential directors. Considering that Johnson is writing as well, fans of the biggest series in both movie and pop culture history had a lot to be nervous about.
Moreover, fans and critics were split over the last movie, which many (myself included) complained was a strange, if entertaining, rehash of the “fourth” and “fifth” films in the series.
The problem with The Last Jedi is that it defies the audience’s ability to savor it, though it may manage a series of entertaining notes. You can’t think about the film, even for as long as its duration, because it is designed to spin a two-hour yarn in which nothing happens. Worst of all, depending on your point of view, if the film is approached as the part of a larger whole that it is, it simply hammers home the idea that these final three films are ultimately little more than a strange reboot of the same story.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), but he’s now a meager shadow of the man we only know by his hints of the past. He has sworn off The Force (or, whatever) as a result of Kylo Ren’s move to the Dark Side, and he now believes that the Jedi should be allowed to die out, precisely because of the danger of (one imagines) simply creating more enemies. Hamill has famously voiced his issues with this idea, and despite sort of taking his statements back, he’s absolutely right. Hamill doesn’t think Luke turns into this guy and apart from the ease with which we can shove out a “weary, disillusioned mentor” cliche, there is no reason to think he would.
Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega), Po (Oscar Isaac), and the rest of the gang are on the run from General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) in what is ultimately the equivalent of a motorized-scooter chase through space. The idea that we have added some level of drama to the universe’s slowest, most meaningless chase, that lasts the entirety of the film, is actually quite impressive. Without being able to slap the Star Wars logo on this maneuver all audiences would have walked out on this travesty of “tension.”
Be that as it may, where the film truly becomes insulting is in its use of a bonafide red herring as a major plot arc/excuse to wax poetic on the evils of people who make money dealing arms. There’s nothing wrong with a good, honest trip through philosophic waters, but our excuse for thumbing our nose at the rich and useless here is a last-ditch effort that would have been meaningless if had gone right, and only goes wrong by way of a kind of layered anti-deus ex machina.
In the end, though there is a fair amount of fun to be had with this installment, it feels like something that suffers from the same problems as many of the lesser comic-book films, which is that it apparently isn’t made by someone who enjoys the source material. This is a movie with an idea of what it hopes to accomplish, whether that fits with the world already created, requires lazy and pandering plot choices, and/or suddenly makes Leia the most powerful Jedi there ever was. It becomes, perhaps a testament to Disney‘s ownership, something that has a lot more in common with a really good ride than a film.