The film has its blunders, and plenty of them, but the positives ultimately outshine any glaring negatives. (Major spoilers follow)
I don’t know that I even consider myself a “Star Wars” fan per se, but it is a series I find myself thinking of much too often and, thanks to the new trilogy of sequels and proposed spin-off films, discussing even more. “Star Wars” is something of a cultural phenomenon, and so it can be difficult to peel away the institution (the legendary status of the films, the rampant merchandising, both the canon and non-canon extended universe material and a rabid fanbase) and really look at the source material. I’m not going to say “objectively” look at the source material because taste is subjective. That all being said, subjectively I very much enjoy the original trilogy, I think the prequels are trash, I think “The Force Awakens” played it too safe and finally, and that “The Last Jedi” is the best “Star Wars” film since “Return of the Jedi.” Then again, that isn’t saying much.
For almost every good decision made in the making of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” there’s some questionable or downright bad one to counteract it. Right at the beginning, I enjoyed seeing General Hux’s weaknesses being played up for humor but disliked Poe’s Marvel-like spewing of quips. I enjoyed the look of the casino and the races inhabiting it, but disliked Rose’s painting with a wide brush (why is she so positive they’re all arms dealers?) and that dreadful scene of the stampede. The visuals of the hyperspace kamikaze scene were great, but the implications of hyperspace being some untapped military strategy with wildly destructive potential perplexed me even in the theater. There’s a wealth of little decisions that are similar. These are just some examples of positives and negatives (porgs) which left me with a feeling of ambiguity about the film. I still enjoyed the movie a lot, but I have a hard time saying it was great. Although I’m very willing to argue this film’s redeeming qualities with anyone who wrote the whole thing off as atrocious.
For one thing, Kylo Ren became an exponentially more interesting character in “The Last Jedi.” His character arc reached its peak in this film with his betrayal of Snoke. When I think of how much I enjoyed seeing “The Last Jedi,” I think most often of the Rey/Ren side of the story and especially their climactic battle in the throne room. What makes Kylo Ren so interesting by the end of “TLJ” is his almost fourth-wall breaking motivation: out with the old, in with the new. “The Force Awakens” suffered from a serious reluctance to try anything new; almost every character and event of that film shared a parallel with “A New Hope.” Here, I almost see Rian Johnson forcing JJ Abrams’s hand to make this trilogy something new and fresh. Despite this effort, I predict watching the ninth Star Wars film in utter frustration, as Abrams pulls back the reins and resorts to more tired franchise tropes. It shouldn’t be too surprising to even see yet another Death Star, as unoriginal a concept as that now is.
But then again, a good portion of the “Star Wars” fanbase seems to have a hard time swallowing anything in these films that subverts their expectations. (Maybe as many people thought these subversions were bad for more reasons than them being unexpected; my argument isn’t with them at all.) Many audience members seemed absolutely floored that Snoke didn’t conform to their over-informed theories of his origin, or that Rey might in fact lack familial ties to some previously introduced character. The best example of this, however, is Luke’s characterization in the film. Mark Hamill is partially to blame for the negative backlash here, since he so vehemently voiced his dislike of Johnson’s direction for his character, from the noble knight he’d become in the original trilogy to something of a disillusioned hermit for the bulk of “The Last Jedi.” Never mind the horrible events that have conspired to put him in such a state, or the fact that characters become more interesting the more complex they are. In Hamill’s mind and that of many die-hard “Star Wars” fans, Luke isn’t merely a fictional character, he’s a religious icon. For them, to portray him making morally-questionable decisions or questioning his beliefs isn’t an interesting take for the character; it’s absolute blasphemy. As for his death, I think it could have been executed better, sure. But I think it was necessary if Rey’s to shine at all in the next installment, since so much of her role was overshadowed by him in this one.
If you loved or hated this film, and it’s your own opinion, I couldn’t care less. But Star Wars has become a sum even greater than its innumerable parts. Disney is largely composed of corporate-minded agents who lack artistic vision; the “Star Wars” fanbase’s loudest members can often be more driven by the institution of the series than their subjective opinions of each installment. The best way to avoid enabling or becoming either is to judge each movie on their own merits. You don’t want to see the next one? Skip it. Maybe then this series can finally end.