“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is nominated for four Academy Awards, including best original score. (Photo courtesy of Disney)
A couple of years ago, the world was excited for the new release of a “Star Wars” film for the first time in a decade. This was said to be a continuation on the saga, occurring chronologically after the original trilogy. There was not a certain endpoint that had to be reached as with the prequels; Walt Disney Studios, the new owners of the franchise, could take it wherever they wanted. But a large, overarching issue, and one that seeps problems into other aspects of the newest movies, stems from that: Disney does not have any end goal with their story, so they are aimlessly developing the story one step at a time. This is quite apparent with a critical viewing of the second film of the continued series, “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.”
Being a direct sequel to “The Force Awakens,” with some events happening momentarily after it, “The Last Jedi” should logically build on what “The Force Awakens” set as a foundation. Nevertheless, this is untrue right after the classic yellow text finishes scrolling. Despite having destroyed the First Order’s Starkiller Base at the end of “The Force Awakens,” the rebel heroes are somehow down to one base of their own while the bad guys are just as strong as before. At the beginning of the movie, the meeting of these two factions causes a space skirmish to set up one of the main plots. The rebels barely scrape by in a fight, wrecking only a lone Star Destroyer while most of their offensive ships are blown up. Then, unremarkably, the First Order is in pursuit of them for the remainder of the film. This narrative is so lacking in a compelling plot that being low on gas was the big challenge they had to overcome, which helps to reiterate Disney does not know where they are going with this story.
The other narrative of the movie involved protagonist Rey (Daisy Ridley) training with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and it, too, was without a feeling of underlying story direction. Despite the end of “Force Awakens” suggesting a hype-worthy meeting between Rey and Luke, Luke shows to be curmudgeonly in “The Last Jedi,” wanting nothing to do with the Jedi or society in general. The disparity is quite evident and palpable between previous iterations of this character and the current one. But, Rey also comes to meet another character whose purpose has changed.
Many points that J.J. Abrams sowed into the previous movie have been dismantled by the new director, Rian Johnson, in “The Last Jedi,” which would make a bit more sense if Disney was not bringing him back to direct Episode IX. Seemingly, Disney is looking to manage all aspects of the films instead of letting someone with a big vision take the reins. The approach is like how they have been working on the Marvel movies, and it bleeds into the script.
Nearly all the humor of the movie is packed into curt, bantering zingers the characters try to roll off. That is not necessarily bad, but the way most of them are timed often ruin the feelings of scenes. For instance, the very beginning has a call between Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and a First Order commander. Amid their serious call, the pilot drops an off-hand joke about the commander that seems unfitting. A scene like this can have good tension that gets ruined by the humor.
The entire movie’s actions make it seem like the good guys will lose if they do not overcome impossible odds at every single corner, until the end. There could very well be nearly a hundred close calls throughout the movie. After a certain point, the contrived tension just becomes irksome.
Overall, the cast of characters in “The Last Jedi” has is very good, and there is a good deal of vibrancy and fun to be had. The trouble lies in knowing when to turn the fun down and how to write seriousness in an enticing fashion, so as to be surprising every once in a while, and just writing a whole compelling story overall for that matter.
Final Grade: C