THERE IS NO TRY
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Review by Paul Preston
The pull away from the ‘70s filmmaking that made 1977’s Star Wars great continues with a disappointing The Last Jedi, a film inconsistent in tone, often rehashed, and always in a hurry, to no great reason or success.
I wanted to love this movie. I want to love all movies. But when I leave disengaged, unmoved or indifferent, I have to CSI exactly why. Here’s what I’ve come up with as far as The Last Jedi is concerned.
In the wake of criticism for more or less revamping A New Hope with The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi surprisingly begins by more or less revamping The Empire Strikes Back. It’s enough to make me give credit to the prequels for at least covering new ground. The Death Star, or Starkiller Base, is destroyed and the rebels are on the run. They seek shelter while the Empire, or First Order, seek them out to destroy them.
What happens next is a page right out of the Battlestar Galactica television show. Granted, one of their finest episode arcs, so at least they’re ripping off the best. Galactica’s pilot episode was called “33”, based on the plot idea that any time the colonial fleet jumped to hyperspace, thirty-three minutes later, the Cylons would also jump to their exact coordinates to continue the fight. This made the fleet have to jump AGAIN, and on and on until the crew could figure out a way to break the cycle. When we only get a Star Wars movie every two or TWELVE years, I was shocked to see that this plotline is one a new Star Wars film would hang its hat on, as the rebels have to find a way to keep The First Order from jumping through hyperspace to wherever they plan to hide next. The question then becomes, “Did they at least do the familiar well?”. Not so much.
The problem for me as a viewer was the film’s desire for me to root for Finn, Rose and Poe in their endeavor to find a solution, when they were in the wrong the whole time. Princess Leia has an alternate plan for escape – evacuation to a nearby mining planet and it ends up being a waste of time for Poe to have led a quest to destroy The First Order’s tracking mechanism. Result: a good thirty to forty-five minutes of the movie that add up to nothing. Pointless.
That middle of the movie involves a trip to a casino planet that is some of the worst Star Wars plotting and world-building since the prequels. It’s a land of excess that Finn in initially excited about, but ten minutes later, after a heart-warming story about animal cruelty, he hates it and can’t wait for it to be destroyed. And the casino is chock full of the kind of over-the-top comedic characters you’d find in a Lucas Special Edition who derail any importance Finn’s mission was supposed to have. But the movie jumps from BB-8 goofing with a character who thinks he’s a slot machine to Rose’s tearful story about animal cruelty to their arrest (for, not kidding, a parking violation) in the span of about five minutes. Then they bring up illegal weapons dealing as if there weren’t enough underdeveloped ideas. This movie was in a hurry, jumping from thing to thing without the benefit of letting any moments breathe.
While we’re on the subject of Finn, it’s time to be done with this guy. After realizing the rebel ship’s situation, he is caught entering an escape pod with a pack full of essentials. He was hightailing it away from the danger (I initially thought he was trying to enact a plan to save everyone but needed to be discreet about it. I will no longer overestimate his heroism). This, after leading an expedition to the surface of Starkiller Base to rescue a girl, while the fate of entire rebellion was carelessly disregarded (a moment which seemed entirely in service of a Han Solo one-liner). Maybe too many selfish moments to still be following the exploits of this “hero”? His suicide mission into the heart of The First Order’s gun in the final sequence would’ve been some sort of redemption for Finn, but that was taken away so we can have him in the next movie maybe full-out betray someone.
Speaking of characters that don’t make sense, why is Captain Phasma back? When last we left her, she was going to be thrown in a trash compactor in a joyless callback. Then, presumably, while in the compactor, the entire Starkiller Base exploded. So…why does she show up in The Last Jedi? The original trilogy would’ve made mistakes like this if Greedo just showed up in The Empire Strikes Back like nothing happened. But they didn’t make that mistake. The current Star Wars filmmaking regime does. Frequently. It’s frustrating. Phasma action figure sales must’ve been popular.
Meanwhile, Rey and Luke Skywalker pick up on the island where we last left them at the end of The Force Awakens. Literally, from the exact moment, and that shot, which did everything it could to be iconic, is crapped on with a physical gag. Unfortunate.
We get to learn how tormented Skywalker has been since his attempted tutelage of Ben Solo went south, allowing him to slip into the persona of Kylo Ren. Daisy Ridley spends a lot of the movie crying. She’s absolutely up to the task of being a young woman frustrated with being saddled with The Force, but not knowing what to do with it. She begins training with Luke in and amongst more comedy bits with Luke’s one-liners, Porgs and the island caretakers. Again, the tone asks a lot of your ability to “go with it”. It seems harsh to keep harping on this angle of why I didn’t like The Last Jedi, but I can only use the initial trilogy as a template for how to do things right (well, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back). You can’t make these new movies without the originals in mind, and it just feels like many decisions here were made “’cause it’d be cool” or “’cause we have a Christmas 2017 deadline”.
In the end, my favorite character is Kylo Ren. The tantrum-throwing young adult phase of his is over and he’s become a much more menacing member of The Dark Side of The Force. Shades of Return of the Jedi abound as Rey is sure she can turn Ren, and much like Luke and Darth, they go before The Emperor, or Snoke, to do it. Here, Snoke/The Emperor shows Luke/Rey how his/her friends are in horrible peril and she/he should turn to The Dark Side…like in Return of the Jedi.
Benecio Del Toro shows up as a character on the casino planet, who has all the definition and memorability of Mack from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And if you’re saying, “Mack? Who?”, I say “Exactly”. Domhnall Gleeson returns as General Hux only to be emasculated by two things – unnecessary humor that undercuts any threat his character might be, and his own overacting as if sneering=bad guy. Hux and Snoke also claim to have The Rebels “tied to the end of a string”, and this brings up another frustrating plot point. How do they have them tied? Is it a spy on board the ship? I thought that plot point might’ve come to a head when Poe declared Laura Dern’s Holdo a traitor! But no, that actually went nowhere and The First Order can track The Rebels through light speed just because they can, much like The Saviors escaped The Sanctuary on The Walking Dead just because they did (“Eugene” was their reason, I believe), and if you can compare your script to this season’s fall finale of The Walking Dead, you’ve got a problem.
– Han had dice we’re supposed to care about?
– Finn somehow was able to drag Rose safely into the rebel base without the entire First Order Army seeing them or killing them?
– Luke thinks he can turn Darth Vader back from The Dark Side, but gives up so early on Ben Solo that he gives him a death sentence in his sleep?
Star Wars remains one of favorite movies of all time. But the newest incarnations…have lost me.
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Release Date: November 15, 2017
Run Time: 152 Minutes
Distributor: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Pictures