The Last Jedi is the biggest film of 2017, and one of the most anticipated films since…well, the last Star Wars film. Normally, for blockbuster films I try to post spoiler-free reviews, but I’m going to be even more careful with this, because this is a film that everyone is going to go see regardless of what my initial reaction was, and I don’t want to color their impressions going into the theater. My simple review, and I honestly wouldn’t read more until you see the film, is exactly what Luke says in the trailer: “This isn’t going to go the way you think.”
It’s almost impossible to break The Last Jedi down without getting deeply into spoilers, and I plan on seeing the film again Saturday and will likely write a more detailed review heavy on spoilers after opening weekend. The film has some incredible moments, and director/writer Rian Johnson is fearless about making his own film rather than sticking to the saga’s more formulaic elements. This is both a good and bad thing, because ultimately the best and worst things about the film are Johnson’s doing.
The film has been marketed and predicated on the secrecy of its plot, and there are truly shocking moments in this film, some of the best battles in the saga, and excellent acting from the ensemble cast. The film is also extremely bloated, filled with subplots that feel like busywork for the majority of characters, and ends-in my opinion-in such a way that I have no idea where this trilogy is going or what-ultimately-its purpose is. I don’t mean that in an amazing cliffhanger sort of way. Unfortunately, I left feeling that many characters were just wasted and puzzled as to where they can possibly go from here to justify the perfect beginning they squandered from The Force Awakens.
There are fantastic things about the film, and it is undoubtedly the best Luke Skywalker story arc in the saga. Mark Hamill gives the best live-action performance of his career, and the film is at its best when it’s dealing with Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren. John Williams turned in another perfect Star Wars score, topping The Force Awakens. The cinematography, art direction, and F/X are among the best films of the year. The film itself, though, is not. It’s islands of great moments surrounded by bloat, and having followed Johnson’s career as a writer, I’m really surprised that his normally tight scripting was nowhere to be found. It’s by no means awful, but after my first viewing I’d only put it ahead of Episodes I & II if I were ranking it against its peers. People will likely feel wildly different depending on how the approach the film, and-as I said-I’m already planning on seeing it again, but my first viewing left me feeling the opposite of how I felt when I left the theater after Episode VII.
SECOND VIEWING UPDATE
After a second viewing, I slightly raised my score, but I stand by my original review. The fundamental story is so wrongheaded and out-of-sync with the rest of the Star Wars Saga that it bogs down the spectacular moments that the film DOES possess so it cannot be dismissed wholesale. It’s a frustrating movie, and one that leaves the franchise in a very uncertain direction.
ONE MONTH LATER
This is the only film I’ve ever reviewed that I’ve gone back and changed the score twice. While the second viewing made me feel slightly more positive toward Episode VIII, mulling over it for a month, I have to say I feel less charitable toward the film the more I think about the ramifications for the Saga going forward. Star Wars fans nitpick. We do. But The Last Jedi has huge problems just as a film in terms of pacing, and while technically near-perfect, the impact that Rian Johnson’s choices have for the future of the franchise are deeply unsettling, as are the number of inexplicable plot holes that riddle the film. If I didn’t know Johnson was such a fan, I would think he hadn’t seen a Star Wars film before, because there are things in this film that just are NOT Star Wars. But it also has brilliant moments. It’s a maddening film, and-to be honest-I’ve not gone through it as much as I would normally because it’s so frustrating to me. I don’t know what it’s legacy will be, but in terms of ranking it, I’d only put it ahead of Episode I & II.