An incoherent story and inconsistencies within the established canon bog down the tepid “Last Jedi.”
I want to start this off by making it absolutely clear that I am not a film elitist. I’m not the kind of douchebag who can’t enjoy anything besides “The Godfather” and “Citizen Kane.” Movies are made for all sorts of reasons and should be judged accordingly; I’m not going to critique a Liam Neeson suburban-dad’s-midlife-crisis-fantasy action movie the same way I would a Liam Neeson dense historical drama.
Now, with all that said … “The Last Jedi” was a steaming pile of hot Bantha poo-doo and either the worst or the second-worst film in the entire “Star Wars” franchise depending on how I’m feeling about “The Force Awakens” that particular day.
God, where to begin. Was this movie “all bad”? No, few things are. There were some breathtaking visuals that I can’t possibly criticize — Laura Dern’s lightspeed kamikaze attack, Kylo Ren and Rey’s pitched duel against the Red Man Group, Adam Driver’s memetastic no shirt, granny pants combo — but these were wrapped up in an incoherent and deeply unsatisfactory story.
What the hell was up with Finn and Rose’s stupid casino-planet sidequest during which they accomplished absolutely nothing to advance their own character arcs or the plot of the movie? Isn’t this exactly the sort of thing that people have blasted the prequels over (and for the record, the podrace in Episode I was infinitely cooler than those giant rabbit horses and Benicio del Toro’s inexplicably stuttering master thief in this one)? Admiral Holdo’s idiotic refusal to tell anybody about her plan for the Resistance made no sense in-universe, instead serving as a cheap trick from director Rian Johnson to spice up an otherwise forgettable character by making the audience think she’s a villain. Don’t even get me started on the slapstick Marvel/Disney humor that infected this movie from start to finish (Hux and Poe’s phone call, Maz Kenata’s cartoonish advice session while engaged in a shootout, Luke’s guzzling milk from the teat, playing with grass or brushing his shoulders off) which completely removed any tension or weight from their accompanying scenes.
Still, these types of cosmetic flaws would not be nearly enough to make me hate this movie. Dislike sure, but not hate. No, the true deal breaker for me was the total disrespect towards the framework established by the previous movies in the “Star Wars” canon.
Like them or not, the original six George Lucas-driven films told a tight story when taken together as a whole. Sure they featured the Republic, the Empire, the Rebellion, the Jedi, the Sith, but at their core, they were the saga of Anakin Skywalker and his son Luke. Anakin is introduced as the Chosen One, an on-the-nose Christ analogue down to his virgin birth, a person with greater strength and significance to the Force than any other, who will destroy evil and restore Balance™. Of course, he falls to the Dark Side and almost destroys those he was supposed to save, before being redeemed by his son and ultimately fulfilling the prophecy by killing his master. He dies in the process, but it doesn’t matter. The galaxy is saved, and evil (at least Dark Side of the Force evil) is vanquished for good. Roll credits.
Now you can dislike that story all you want, call it cliché, unoriginal, whatever. But it’s the story that exists, the labor of the man who created this whole universe in the first place. And my biggest fear when Disney acquired the brand, that they would completely ignore the resolution of the originals with a new Light vs. Dark sequel (as opposed to a non-Force-centric sequel or a prequel so as not to disrupt the canon), has now been realized.
In fairness to Rian Johnson, this is as much J.J. Abrams’s fault as his own. It was Abrams who started off this new trilogy as a nostalgia-driven rehash, essentially recycling characters, locations and plotlines from the originals. But I can’t let Johnson off the hook. He didn’t have to double down and invalidate so many things from Lucas’s films. Abrams pretty much left Luke a blank slate. It was Johnson who decided to butcher his character and make the man who redeemed the irredeemable (Vader) insecure and incompetent enough that he would contemplate murdering his own nephew upon observing the latter’s slightest doubts. It was Johnson who decided to give Rey (who apparently doesn’t even have Skywalker blood!) and Kylo Ren the most raw power of any force user, conveniently ignoring that this was the entire point of Anakin’s character. It was Johnson who decided not to give any backstory or explanation to the seemingly ancient, incredibly powerful, randomly existing Lord Snoke, instead passing off the responsibility to any one of the dozen shitty books that will probably be written about him. It was Johnson who missed the opportunity to make the destruction of Starkiller Base impactful to the First Order, instead opting to stick with an even more exaggerated Empire-Rebel dichotomy than the original trilogy, which at this point might as well have never happened! In short, it was Johnson who decided to do his own thing with this film, making characterization and plot decisions without any regard for having them match up with what came before.
Know this: though it was far from a flawless movie, most of my criticisms of “The Last Jedi” are based on how poorly it fit in with the rest of the series. If you take issue with that, if you think that I should be looking at this film on its own merits and not relate it to its predecessors, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re just wrong. I can’t view “Star Wars VIII” as a standalone (and neither should you) because it wasn’t a standalone; it’s the eighth movie in the series for God’s sake! Does this make me a nerd who cares too much about the the continuity and canon of a fictional universe? Probably. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.