Release Date: 12/15/17
Director: Rian Johnson
Music: John Williams
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Benico Del Toro, Laura Dern, cameos by Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong'o, Gwendoline Christie, Veronica Ngo, Frank Oz, Billie Lourd, Justin Theroux, Hermione Corfield, Warwick Davis
Following the events in "The Force Awakens" (2015), The First Order relentlessly hunts down and destroys the last remnants of The Resistance. A handful of rebels led by General Organa (Carrie Fisher) manage to escape destruction, only to be tracked like a wounded animal by General Hux's (Domhnall Gleeson) fleet. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and a mechanic named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) hatch a desperate plan to disable Hux's ship, while Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) leads the remaining rebels to their inevitable doom. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) makes contact with Luke Skywalker and attempts to persuade him to help Leia's cause. He's a bitter old man who wants nothing to do with galactic conflicts and has no interest in helping Rey understand how The Force has manifested itself within her. As her powers grow stronger, she discovers that she and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) have a unique connection that allows them to communicate with each other telepathically. She takes it upon herself to confront him and free him from Supreme Leader Snoke's (Andy Serkis) influence, but Ren has other plans. Things finally come to a head as the remaining rebels make their final stand against Hux and Ren on the salt planet of Crait.
I found the film to be enjoyable, but disappointing. The scenes with Rey are marvelous, while the Poe/Finn/Rose sub-plot is simply awful. The weak plot feels like an old episode of "Battlestar Galactica" (1978), while the lighthearted direction feels like a goofy Marvel movie. It's frustrating that nearly all of the visual language and world building that "The Force Awakens" established was thrown out in favor of a bold new style and direction. I suppose that's an inherent risk in having multiple directors involved in the material. The emerging relationship between Rey and Ren is intriguing, while other characters like Snoke, Phasma, Ackbar, and Maz get left behind. Daisy Ridley shines throughout as Rey and is a pure joy to watch. It's amazing how much she and Adam Driver have grown and matured since the last film. Oscar Isaac and John Boyega are just as goofy as they were the last time around, but newcomer Kelly Marie Tran is a bit of a letdown as the nerdy and insecure Rose. Her sister's character is played by Vietnamese action star Veronica Ngo, and I would have much preferred to see her in the role. Mark Hamill's performance is delightful, and Luke Skywalker has become a tired, jaded, and eccentric old hermit, much like Obi-Wan Kenobi before him. Carrie Fisher delivers a surprisingly strong performance as Leia, and has a much larger role than I expected. It's a considerable improvement over her disappointing cameo in "The Force Awakens," and would sadly be her final appearance. Her daughter Billie Lourd has an amiable cameo as a Resistance operator who helps Poe and Finn, and I look forward to seeing her character grow.
CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Much like the prequel films, "The Last Jedi" does a superb job of alienating existing "Star Wars" fans, and includes several critical mistakes that are too glaring to ignore. While the space battles look spectacular and are exquisitely crafted, they make no sense and they defy the existing rule set that makes up the cornerstone of the series. World War II era military strategies and tactics make for great drama, but they are way too anachronistic for this film's battle scenarios. The film's opening conflict features a group of sluggish Resistance bombers that actually "drop" bombs onto the deck of a Dreadnought class Star Destroyer, while smaller fighters scramble to protect them and the main fleet watches from a distance. It's exceedingly silly and illogical, but I could almost forgive that if it were the worst infraction the film makes. But it's not, and it only gets much worse from there. The worst offense by far is when Holdo decides to ram her ship into Hux's at light speed, which has devastating results. This simple act invalidates every other space battle in the entire series, since every conflict could have easily been resolved by strapping a hyperdrive engine on any piece of junk and hurling it at the enemy. Even the original Death Star could have been destroyed at no cost to the Rebels by simply having a couple of unmanned X-Wing fighters ram it at light speed. This violation of the pre-established contract with the audience is unacceptable and makes the film nearly unwatchable. Where can you go after pulling off a maneuver like this? Holdo's sacrifice is also absurd, as she insists on staying behind to pilot the ship. Seriously? With all of this technology there's still no auto-pilot, droid, or remote control system that can pilot a cruiser on a pre-set course? And why did Hux waste all of that time following the Resistance fleet at sub-light speed when he could have easily ordered several other ships to fly ahead and box them in? Or he could have just strapped a hyperdrive engine onto a probe droid and thrown it at them at light speed...
The settings are also ridiculous. A Las Vegas styled gambling casino? A planet covered in salt? Seriously? It's like the writers weren't even trying. The salt planet is so absurd that they have to explain it by having a soldier put a handful of dirt in his mouth and say "it's salt." Of course! Why not? Who wouldn't do that? Why go through so much trouble to explain something that stupid in the first place? And the speeders on Crait are just as silly, with their ridiculous mono-skis. Who designs a ship like that, and why? It doesn't even look cool.
Admittedly, both "The Force Awakens" and "Rogue One" (2016) got a little loose and janky with hyperspace physics, and so does "The Last Jedi." It's a major plot point that Leia's ship can be tracked through hyperspace, but this isn't something new. The Death Star tracked the Millennium Falcon to Yavin IV after travelling through hyperspace, simply because it had a homing device onboard. It's not too outrageous to consider a passing TIE Fighter attaching a tracking device to her ship during a skirmish. They certainly had plenty of opportunities to do so. The film also breaks some rules regarding The Force. One of the things that George Lucas firmly established in the original movies was that people couldn't use The Force to fly. And yet, Leia does exactly that when she effortlessly flies through the vacuum of space back to her ship, having never exhibited any Force powers before. Additionally, Luke's final spiritual projection trick would have actually worked if he hadn't physically interacted with Leia beforehand. That would have been impossible and it invalidates the entire gambit. The phantom residue of Han's dice also makes no sense. And much like Emperor Palpatine before him, Supreme Leader Snoke fails to anticipate and prevent his apprentice's inevitable betrayal, despite his incredible mental and psychic powers.
In addition to the sloppy writing and inconsistent logic, the dialog is also pretty juvenile and cringe-worthy. While Luke authoritatively dismisses the notion of midichloreans, he also disparagingly refers to lightsabers as "laser swords," which recalls a similarly horrible piece of dialog from "The Phantom Menace" (1999). Even worse is Holdo's shocking utterance of "god speed," which is thoughtless, offensive, and completely inappropriate for the mythos. That really annoyed me. In fact, everything about Holdo annoyed me. Finn's dialog continues to be adolescent and goofy in nature, but at least it's consistent.
Rian Johnson's direction is also a bit clumsy, and it's difficult to make sense of his cuts and the overall timeline. According to the film, the pursuit of the Resistance fleet lasts less than eighteen hours, but Rey presumably spends days, weeks, or even months with Luke on his island during that time frame. Unless Leia's ship also spends that much time in hyperspace, which seems unlikely. Johnson desperately tries to evoke the same tone and dark despair of "The Empire Strikes Back" (1980), but fails miserably. The themes are tragic and the plight of The Resistance seems hopeless, but the treatment is overly lighthearted and juvenile. The humor in the film is forced, awkward, childish, and not funny. The inclusion of the Porgs and the temple caretakers is unnecessary, and invalidates Luke's existence as a hermit. They only succeed in being annoying and distracting, and they contradict the isolated setting that was established by "The Force Awakens." Watching the movie makes your brain hurt if you spend any amount of time thinking about it.
And yet, despite its shortcomings and egregious trespasses, it's a solidly entertaining "Star Wars" movie. It's still less offensive than the prequels, which is something that bears repeating. Rey continues to be a wonderful and compelling character, and watching Daisy Ridley hone her action persona is thrilling. The lightsaber battles are intense and delightfully satisfying, and I'm curious to see what will happen with her and Ren going forward. The space battles are exciting and look stunning, regardless of their complete lack of sense and logical consistency. While I won't miss Snoke, I was sad to see Captain Phasma get the Boba Fett treatment by being so easily defeated by Finn, and I was hoping she'd stick around a little longer. And with Luke out of the picture, I was really hoping that Leia would say good-bye as well. It will be interesting to see how they write her out of the story for Episode IX, since Kathleen Kennedy strongly stated that Carrie Fisher would not be digitally resurrected. The franchise is definitely on shaky ground right now, and I hope it can find its footing and get back to being smart, focused, and serious-minded. While the series may be aimed at younger audiences, that's no excuse to insult their intelligence. Kids will figure it out, and are even more sensitive to logical fallacies than adults are. I know I certainly was when I saw the original trilogy as a child.