After watching “The Last Jedi” one thing has become clear. Disney is intimidated by the Star Wars property they own. Its massive value, rabid fan base, and cultural significance has frightened the house of mouse from doing anything unique. Instead, they keep falling back on saga-old cliches, dramatic head-fakes, and critical injections of nostalgia.
It’s not that they aren’t trying to do something new, it’s that they don’t go far enough. Many of the best parts of “The Last Jedi” occur when the story seems to be heading towards the familiar but takes an unexpected turn. Since “The Force Awakens” was a blatant remake of “A New Hope”, many have feared this would be little more than a re-skinned “Empire Strikes Back.” The opening crawl seems to tease this very same thing before suddenly taking a different turn. At first, this misdirection is exciting! Like a sidewalk magician’s game of “which cup is the ball under” it works well until it becomes obvious were are being manipulated.
Here’s the formula:
Tease the expected. (Audience thinks they know what will happen)
Flip the script and do something unexpected instead. (Audience is thrilled! Anything is possible!)
Inject the familiar/nostalgic. (Reassure the audience this is still the Saga they love)
Ensure major plot points have no lasting impact.
Rinse and Repeat.
The movie is a mess, but it’s not a total waste. Seeing Mark Hamill as Luke back on screen for more than 20 seconds is almost worth the price of admission alone. The space battles are impressive and do their best to show us something new. There are some great moments in the script where characters have logical discussions on the shades of grey between good and evil, and the dangers of an arrogant religion, such as the Jedi. It’s a bit thrilling to hear Old Master Luke sharing the same Anti-Jedi sentiments that fanboys have argued about online for decades. Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley both shine in their performances, especially in the scenes they share together. These moments are the ones that actually feel like a fresh new Star Wars.
Walking out of the press screening, I understood the conflict that Darth and Kylo have in their hearts. I felt like I had a good time and was entertained, but why was I trying to reassure myself that this was the case? What was this nagging feeling, this disturbance in the force that I felt? The problem is, the film carries absolutely not narrative weight, and each and every mystery that is revealed ends up being completely unsatisfying. It’s impossible to go into more detail without significant spoilers but try this exercise. Consider what are the most interesting and compelling elements that were introduced in “The Force Awakens” Then after seeing “The Last Jedi”, consider how each of these was resolved.
In full disclosure, my score dropped a full point between the time I walked out of the theater until writing this review. For a franchise whose last two entries incessantly preach “hope”, The Disney version of Star Wars has done nothing but drain all hope from me.