I just got home from seeing an early screening of Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi, and if I could sum up my thoughts and feelings in a single word, it would have to be… unsatisfied.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable movie, with stunning visuals, good pace, spot-on comedy, and of course John Williams’ classic handiwork on the score, but while I enjoyed it during the act of viewing, when the end credits began to roll, I found myself staring at the screen and wondering what was missing. There won’t be any spoilers in this review, so don’t worry on that front. I’ll be discussing this in a more abstract way, and arguing with people who have seen the movie about the fine details.
One of the biggest criticisms of The Force Awakens I heard from people is that Rey is a ‘Mary Sue’. A character who can do no wrong and excels at everything she attempts. As one might have already gathered from the trailers, The Last Jedi disabuses us of this notion. She remains the same character, but circumstances change and she finds herself in scenarios that show us her flaws and weaknesses. This is a positive thing for her development arc, and yet I find myself more disappointed by the choices she makes now, as a more fully-fleshed character, than I did in The Force Awakens.
The other big attack on VII was that it was nothing more than a retread of IV: A New Hope. If you’re in that camp, I’m afraid you’re in for more of the same; The Last Jedi covered a lot of ground that had already been covered in both V: The Empire Strikes Back and VI: Return of the Jedi. I defended The Force Awakens because I felt that a little retreading and fanservice was useful, even needed, to reboot the Star Wars universe. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and said I would render a more final judgement after Episode VIII. Well, VIII has come and gone, and I’m left feeling the fool. Again, there was a great deal to like about this movie, but the plot beats, and even some of the scenes and shot choices, were ripped directly from Episodes V and VI.
It wasn’t so far gone as to make me lose my hope for the series. After all, they’ve run out of old movies to copy, since they de-canonized the prequels, so anything they make now must be new material, new ground. This movie did, however, suffer from being the middle of a new trilogy. Unlike The Empire Strikes Back, held in many circles as the greatest of the original trilogy, The Last Jedi fails to offer us anything concrete to carry into the next movie. The plot twists and character arcs were either deliberately unresolved or simply not well fleshed-out, so the entire movie ends up building a sense of anticipation that never really pays off.
Despite all this, I would give The Last Jedi an 8/10. There were enough moments with emotional impact to keep me invested, and the humor knew exactly when and where it should be, and showed itself in those places and only those places. Once again, I find myself in the position of saying, “Well, we’ll see if it all pays off with the next movie,” and tenuously defending Disney’s choices while hoping they know where they’re headed; sadly, with Carrie Fisher’s passing, and the subsequent rewrite of Episode IX that that forced, I’m beginning to question whether they can pull it off. They cleaned up some of the questions surrounding the first movie, only to generate another batch, and personally disappointing me in a few specific ways.
See you in two years, when I decide whether or not Disney was able to pull together a trilogy that matched or even outshone the original.