Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi Review

Posted December 15, 2017 by Jean-Luc Botbyl in Movies

Going to sleep the night of the 13th, I felt like a seven-year-old kid on Christmas eve, yearning for nothing more than the next day to come. The low hum of excitement that had persisted throughout the year was coming to a head – finally, I was going to see the sequel to The Force Awakens. The possibilities were manifold. Getting to spend time with characters I had fallen in love with felt like such a privilege, a respite of happiness on an otherwise awful day in an otherwise terrible year.

Unfortunately, I’m writing this with the bitter taste of disappointment in my mouth. To clarify: The Last Jedi is a perfectly solid, competent film. But it’s a heavily flawed film, and those flaws feel pronounced.

In my first screening of the film, something felt off. I was having a decent time, but couldn’t shake the feeling that what I was watching wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t until my second viewing I was able to place it: The Last Jedi rarely feels like a Star Wars film. The aesthetic is far too clean, losing the lived-in feel of the rest of the saga (yes, even the prequels). Whether a scene was taking place on an alien planet, the bridge of a Star Destroyer, or the inside of a hut, the mise-en-scene felt too carefully designed.

Compounding on this, the set design is shockingly generic. Any of the settings from this film could be transplanted into another science-fiction/fantasy property and feel right at home. As a result, an essential component of the experience feels lost. If this makes me sound like a purist, so be it. But the critique goes beyond The Last Jedi not looking like a Star Wars movie. It looks like a generic sci-fi blockbuster, right down to the camera angles and shots.

Other than the aesthetic, the visuals are fantastic. Every dog fight looks great, and the action scenes are spectacular to watch unfold. The lightsaber combat (this really can’t be a spoiler, it’s a Star Wars film) is excellently choreographed. I just wish it felt more like Star Wars.

Perpetuating this line of critique is the film’s humor. The wit of the Star Wars franchise consistently goes unnoticed, especially that of the original trilogy. The Force Awakens learned some valuable lessons from those films, with much of its humor being nuanced and subtle. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. Any sense of tact is replaced by humor ranging from prequel-style juvenile humor to the occasionally funny but worn out “witty banter” of the MCU. Fortunately, it mostly dissipates after the first act.

On rare occasions, it works. When it doesn’t work, though, it feels superfluous. Spending unnecessary time with funny shots of the Porgs or cringe-inducing lines of dialogues were almost the death knell for a film that already has pacing issues. Similarly to Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi splits the main cast into groups, each one with different objectives. But where Empire is tight, focused experience, this film meanders.

The split focus also means characters don’t get to spend as much time interacting as I would have liked. The characters who do get screen time together are largely excellent, in particular an unexpected grouping I’m excited to talk at more length about. For all the script’s comedic failings, the dialogue is largely excellent, and aided by stellar performances almost entirely across the board.

Kelly Marie-Tran (Rose), Daisy Ridely (Rey), and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren/Ben Solo) are the standouts. But there’s so much passion and heart poured into every performance – the casts’ enthusiasm for Star Wars shines through in nearly every moment. Often, it’s so palpable I have trouble not feeling bad about critiquing the film. Even the weakest link, which is surprisingly Mark Hamill’s Luke, puts in an outstanding performance overall.

Splitting the focus so much also means certain ideas are never fully developed. Scraps of dialogue and small moments hint at a version of the script that wanted to do a little more with some of its themes. Some of those hints are at concepts explored in the old Expanded Universe I would love to see built upon in actual canon. The Last Jedi is occasionally reflective in ways I would never have expected from a Star Wars film, but is frustrating in that it fails to go to the lengths I would have liked it to.

Of course, The Last Jedi is the middle film in a trilogy. There’s plenty of time for themes and concepts introduced here to get their day in the sun. But with such a large cast of characters, I have a tough time figuring out exactly where they’ll slot in when Episode IX comes around. And anyway, whether they’re addressed later has little bearing on the quality of this film right now. Considering its the middle film, more stakes would have been welcome. There’s a bit too much back and forth for them to stick.

Perhaps some of my complaints stem from my expectations being too high after the stellar Force Awakens. And, at the end of the day, it would be stretch to say I didn’t like this movie. It has some real lows, but it also has some franchise-best moments, and I teared up more than once. In a lot of respects, the film does its job. I just wish it had done a little more than that.

About the Author

Jean-Luc Botbyl

Jean-Luc is a grizzled veteran of We the Nerdy. Most days, he just wonders why he hasn't been formally fired. Follow him on Twitter at @J_LFett to make him feel validated.