(Note: I actually saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi Thursday night with Max, Steph and Jenn. I had grading to do today so that slowed down the review process. This was a weird movie to review, but as always I will try to keep it spoiler free, at least until the comment. But I mean, honestly, if you’re reading this, you’re going to see the movie anyway… and probably already have.)
One of my favorite books and favorite movies is Michael Chabon‘s Wonder Boys. Yeah, I bet you didn’t expect to see a Star Wars: The Last Jedi review start off like that, did you? I’m full of surprises. Trust me, I’ll get to the main event in a bit. Anyway, there are a lot of things I like about both the book and the film (I’m talking Wonder Boys here still) but there’s one point I want to bring up from both. At one point the characters share a piece of advice that I heard often from my creative writing mentor the late Hilary Masters: “writing is about making choices.” After sharing this, one character tells another (about the fictional novel that he is writing inside the book) that perhaps a problem is that he “didn’t make any choices at all.” Everything that he possibly could put in the book is in the book… including the family lineages of all the horses ridden by the all the characters.
One of the biggest complaints people have when they see a film adaptation of a book is “but the book was better, because the movie left out ____” Wonder Boys, the movie, leaves out one of my favorite subplots entirely. In fact, several characters (the main character’s wife and her siblings) are left out of the film which would drive that subplot. Eliminating the characters that weren’t needed to streamline the story for the screen was just a choice the filmmakers made. The movie was better for it.
Choices needed to be made.
In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I’m afraid that Rian Johnson the director didn’t make any choices at all.
One of the biggest complaints people make about franchise tentpole films lately is that nothing really happens. They follow a formula and there’s not really a plot so much as a paint by numbers. That is not the problem here. There’s is certainly plot. SOOOO much plot… there’s plot just dripping out of this. There’s a LOT of movie here.
I’m glad I didn’t just review this last night when I watched it. I might have given it a really low score. I needed to let thing sink in and process. There is just so much going on. And at first I wasn’t sure if I liked that. Frankly, I’m still not. But I have had enough time to realize there are some things that I definite did like. There are also some things that I definitely didn’t.
Back when I reviewed Blade Runner 2049, I said that the film would have been better served if it had simply made up it’s mind that it was going to be a TV series rather than a movie. That’s probably what should have happened here as well. This is a 2.5 hour movie. There was enough going on that it probably could have been stretched out to eight and would have been better for it. And if it had to be a theatrical release… then some things needed to be edited out. And now that I’ve slept on it, I think I know what could have been removed in order to make it work better.
Yeah… that’s right. Finn.
I can go into spoilers later in the comments and be more specific, but to do it without spoilers, I can say that… I just don’t care about Finn’s plot line at all in this movie. It is the least interesting thing that goes on, and honestly, it is almost entirely superfluous. I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter to the greater narrative. It does. But only because the film wants it to. With a few simple changes, the film could have been written in such a way that it just ignored him entirely.
That’s not to say that I don’t like him. He was one of my favorite parts of the previous film. Here, it just felt like he was here because he’s one of the stars of the franchise. And he needed to have something to do in order to justify paying the actor. There’s a good half an hour of content with him that honestly just belongs in a different movie entirely. If this had been a TV show, there’d just be Finn episodes. But since it’s a movie, he’s just cobbled together into the story and it comes together as somewhat distracting from the important things that are going on. There’s similarly other trimming that could have happened. But this is the big one. Had I written this movie I probably would have just left him out entirely. I recognize the issue with this as he is the sole black member of the cast and apparently Star Wars can only have one at a time (seriously, where the fuck is Lando?). But it really did feel like the film just needed to try way too hard to make sure he has *something* to do. It’s not that the plot line was awful. It just doesn’t belong in this movie… Choices have to be made.
On the other hand, there are things that I definitely did like. I’d say that Finn was the D plot line. The A plot line belongs to Rey. The B plot line belongs to Kylo Ren and the C plot line belongs to Poe Dameron. I liked all of these. But there was an integration problem.
One of my own personal chief complaints with The Force Awakens was that Rey was in fact, a Mary Sue. It’s what most of my review of that movie was about. That’s fixed here. The character now has nuance beyond “she’s the fanboy interpretation of what Luke would be from before, except now it’s a girl and she’s amazing!” There were places in this film where it felt like she struggled. There were places where it felt like she could lose. There were places where it felt like she grew. I enjoyed the way Daisy Ridley played her interactions with other characters, and there was enough going on that intrigued me that I honestly want to see more of her. In fact, there are a couple problems with this movie where they cut short some interesting things that she was doing to make room to explore the C and D plot lines… a problem that could have been alleviated by cutting the D plot. Again… choices.
Similarly, there was much growth for the Kylo Ren character. I still don’t personally like Adam Driver‘s interpretation of him, but that is just something that can’t be gotten away from given the last film. Choices were made back then that I didn’t necessarily agree with, and now we have to roll with them. Given what they were, I felt like there was definitely progression and depth in the character. Most of the things that I didn’t like with him are due to me not liking Driver’s performance. I can’t get lost in the character. I am simply too aware that it is Driver and not Kylo/Ben. That said, the choices that are written into this film make sense and in the places where his plot line touches Rey’s A plot, it really shines.
The C plot line with Poe is maybe the most interesting thing to analyze. In the previous film, I really didn’t give a shit about Poe. Not at all. He just didn’t seem to matter and I felt like “why didn’t this guy just die?!?!” And from what I’ve learned since, in early drafts he was supposed to. But they liked Oscar Isaacs and decided to keep him around, which ultimately left him not mattering at all in Episode VII. That’s sort of fixed here. He’s probably the most important part of this film. And while I did enjoy seeing his movie, it really is a different movie than the other three major plots. In fact, I may have been most invested in him as a character in this particular film, for similar reasons to the things that *I* liked about Rogue One and everyone else hated. What makes it weird is that this is the plot line that is used to tie the other three threads together. I think this is mostly because there was no way to tie in the D plot line to the A and the B, so it had to happen here. It was the one thing that could touch the other plots.
With all of the plot going on, one thing sort of suffered. The Star Warsiness of the movie. I actually kind of liked that… kind of. I like Johnson as a filmmaker a lot. I like the way in which he metatextually comments on the genre within the film. This happened a lot in Looper. What makes it weird here is that it felt very un-Star Wars. This whole movie felt tonally wrong. It felt more like his own vision of a Star Wars inspired space drama than it did like an installment of the original series. Sort of a Star Wars reimagined… only it’s not. It IS the main series. And that makes it feel weird. I typically like each installment of a film franchise to stand on its own as best as it can. Star Wars I give a little leeway to because they really are produced as chapters of of a longer work… but those chapters are generally very cohesive. They fit in place very well. This one very much doesn’t. And since I don’t see JJ Abrams following the same tonal shift in the next one… that’s going to be weird.
And it was weird in this one as well. Because about two hours into the movie, Rian Johnson suddenly remembered that he was making a Star Wars movie and collapsed the A, B and D plot lines all back into plot C. And to make it Star Warsy, he just kind of dumped a stock Star Wars set piece in. And this is the kind of thing that I expect a lot of people will love. It was very Star Warsy. And it sucked. I hated it. I love the Star Wars. But the film had sort of moved beyond that… and it was jarring to be brought back. There’s a definite point where it felt like the producers said “well, this is all fine and good, I guess… but where’s all the Star Wars? Give us some of the Star Wars here please” and so… they just did…. for no real reason.
That’s not to say that the movie is bad. This is not one of the prequels. But it’s a much more complex movie than Star Wars really has to be. Maybe more complex than it should be. The metacommentary sort of attempts to be a deeper film than I think anyone is necessarily looking for in a star wars movie. It struggles with not only the classic Star Wars themes of hope and destiny and good and evil, but also tries to delve deeper into their nature. Why hope? Does destiny exist? It also touches on issues of class, war, politics and race. And as I said earlier, it even questions the nature of the Star Wars franchise… directly. Several times. In fact, one of my most favorite parts of the movie is something that I actually jokingly suggested before that I thought would be cool. But that I never in a million years thought would happen… because they don’t let people like me write Star Wars movies. And yet, they actually did it. That said, that’s a lot of themes to deal with. And there are a lot of plots. And a lot of characters. Too many. I know most people who are fans of the film won’t think that. But I ask you… once you’ve seen it, can you tell me what Billie Lourde’s character’s name is? I’m not sure they ever said. I mean, I know because I looked it up. But I bet some significant portion of the people who saw the movie are saying “Who the fuck is Billie Lourde?” And yeah… exactly. Choices should have been made.
But it won’t matter. It’s a Star Wars. People will see it. And while it’s not as bad as a BvS or anything, but I do worry that it was pushing the envelope a little too much towards being too self-referential and self-indlugent. It wanted to do too much. It didn’t quite enter the realm of badness, but it flirted with it. And if it didn’t have a Star Wars logo on it, I wonder if people would give it the chances they will.
★★½☆☆ (2.5 out of 5 stars… and everyone will complain because clearly I should have said it was the best movie ever, but it’s not… it’s conflicting)
Spoilers are ok in comments, just make sure you clearly mark them as such. Feel free to ask me for my opinion on any of the details. I might even start some myself.