Disney have given the keys to director Rian Johnson for an entire trilogy after his work on The Last Jedi… I have no idea why. Episode VIII feels messy.
The First Order, having decimated the Republic, now hunt down the remaining rebellion forces who are desperately on the run. Meanwhile, as her powers grow, Rey seeks guidance from a weary Luke Skywalker and experiences strong connections to her adversary Kylo Ren and his master High Commander Snoke.
Quickly, a summary. I love the original trilogy, I grew up with it on VHS, my family adore it. The prequels were on the whole a disaster, The Force Awakens was excellent if playing it safe a little too often and Rogue One was thoroughly enjoyable even though its first half was forgettable.
The Last Jedi can leap high off the sturdy foundations that 2015’s TFA setup, to try new things and bring us all into a glorious new trilogy that can stand beside the originals. Use lessons learned from TFA in regards to practical effects and traditional film-making. Only it doesn’t. In fact, while it looks gorgeous, you can’t help but watch the several plates it is spinning come crashing to the floor.
The errors Star Wars Episode VIII run into are baffling and almost entirely self-inflicted. The editing is actually atrocious. It does not feel like a confidently made movie, it leaps and dances and dashes around frenetically, waving brief glimmering things at you but giving no weight, substance or meaning to any of them. Remember those gorgeous shots at the start of The Force Awakens, with Rey salvaging the wreck of the Star Destroyer? Calm, beautiful wide shots, establishing where we are and the tone of the movie. There is none of that here. Absolutely zero. This film is quite surreal with its tone, in fact, flipping from slapstick comedy to dread and foreboding far too frequently.
The writing too, the screenplay is a procession of weird hoops and requirements that all feel completely unnecessary and overly complicated, gutting the middle of the film. There’s a whole moment of inner conflict among the Rebels, that spirals into an elaborate and extraneous subplot, that makes so little sense it could have been avoided with just telling someone the plan. JUST TELL THEM THE PLAN! Coupled with the editing shredding any sense of time or tension, the entire second act leaves you clutching for things to hold onto.
To compare this to The Empire Strikes Back is inviting swift execution. This doesn’t even hold the wick of a candle to that movie. While that film built on the characters already established and strengthened them (introducing one new character, Lando) this film introduces several characters who… are… sort of… very important-ish? And after 150 minutes, Poe and Finn have not developed as characters, at all.
Oh boy… this film is more shot up than a close formation of rebel bombers up against a First Order dreadnought.
There are good moments. There are even good themes but they are jumbled in the editing. There’s a theme of ‘balance’ (ironically) that is not stressed enough, across several characters in different places, for good and ill, which when noticed is very intriguing for the entire franchise. The film is still very pretty to look at, in fact there’s an especially incredible moment towards the end that takes space battles to a whole new dimension. It was absolutely gorgeous.
Kylo Ren still remains the best thing from this franchise. Adam Driver continues to deliver a complicated and volatile antagonist and his relationship with Daisy Ridley’s Rey is compounded and taken in very interesting directions. Mark Hamill and especially Carrie Fisher are wonderful to see on the big screen again as Luke and Leia. Luke’s portrayal and development as a character was very much not what I expected. There is one lightsaber fight in particular that is pretty awesome.
The film definitely wants to surprise you. In fact there were a couple of moments when it did things completely from left-field (one was quite exceptional) which is a noble thing; Star Wars has a legacy of Hollywood surprises to its name.
The final act is perhaps the strongest with intense visuals, although how we get there remains something of a mystery for the viewer. It isn’t the straight up Empire Strikes Back clone most people feared either.
I really thought Disney had cracked the lid on this Star Wars thing, but instead I am left despondently looking at a firmly sealed jar. The cookies inside look great, but Disney are struggling and embarrassing themselves in getting them out.
I really don’t know what has happened. Perhaps a second viewing will help, it is pretty and does have noble intentions, but on face value I felt no emotional investment in any of it.
Additional Marshmallows: As seen in the trailer, there’s a battle on a planet against AT-AT looking machines on something that is not snow (but clearly is a homage to Empire Strikes Back‘s Hoth). The film is so embarrassed with the similarity it actually writes in a random soldier tasting this powder and remarking: “It’s salt.”
Are you actually kidding me? Why not have him say: “Hm, it’s not snow” and be done with it? What a stupid line.
Additional, additional Marshmallows: Unlike BB-8 in The Force Awakens… I don’t like the Porgs. They may as well have a massive “BUY ME” sign stapled to them whenever they pass over the screen unnecessarily.