The eighth 'Star Wars' installment features fantastic moments atop a narrative dusted with Hollywood liberalism.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” serves up moments you’ll like, maybe even love, throughout its 151-minute running time.
And then there’s the rest of it.
The latest “Star Wars” entry is nowhere near the digitized debacle of the first two prequels. Still, coming off 2015’s effective reboot and the stellar “Rogue One” “The Last Jedi” is a disappointment.
There’s worse news for right-of-center movie fans. The film stops cold to sling some stale talking points against the rich. That’s something the franchise has avoided for decades — tapping a progressive meme instead of focusing on the elemental themes that made the saga so potent.
The moment doesn’t kill the movie. Not in the least. It’s still one of several signs writer/director Rian Johnson was the wrong man to steer the series.
Heroic Rey (Daisy Ridley, growing beautifully into the role) has finally found Luke Skywalker, but recruiting him to fight the First Order won’t be easy. He’s disillusioned with both The Force and his role in leading Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to the Dark Side.
Rey’s resistance has more immediate problems.
The First Order knows the rebels’ location. A battalion of Star Destroyers is on their tail, and the ragtag fleet’s fuel is running out. Good thing Finn (John Boyega) and his new pal Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) have a plan to save the day. Only it’ll take plenty of screen time while dragging the franchise into the culture wars … where it most certainly doesn’t belong.
John Williams’ score punches the clock in the best of ways, although it’s too soon to know if any new arrangements will become iconic.
Johnson’s screenplay bounces between silly laugh lines and expository drivel. “Quick, we have to [fill in the blank] in order to [fill in another blank].” The formula gets tired after the first hour, and there’s still so much time left to reuse and recycle it. The story is essentially the rebellion hiding in one place, getting caught, and then finding another spot to hide.
We haven’t had this kind of compelling tale since “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
Johnson drops plenty of cutesy comic moments into the mix, some of which would make even George Lucas blush. What was passable in 1977 no longer flies as easily today. And a franchise as esteemed as this one deserves richer comic relief.
Consider Alan Tudyk’s stellar K-2SO from “Rogue One” as a prime example.
Johnson’s script has other issues. He occasionally withholds crucial information from the audience for a big reveal later. The technique will make you groan, not cheer. One such moment is such a staggering plot hole you could fill it with a hundred Death Stars.
Narrative arcs offering real meat wither with misuse. Rey and the Kylo Ren connect in intriguing ways, both thematically and visually. Their bond gets jettisoned for the noisy third act.
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The franchise’s new PC directives are front and center once more. Female leaders repeatedly dress down male heroes. Every other fighter pilot is a woman or person of color. It’s in your face …. and totally acceptable had the film soared like “The Force Awakens.”
You can see the PC mindset with Rose, an Asian heroine played by Kelly Marie Tran. She’s plucky… and that’s about as far as her character development goes. “Rogue One” offered a similarly diverse group of heroes, but many stood out thanks to the performances and script.
That’s not often the case here beyond a savvy Laura Dern as a Rebel commander. Meanwhile, both Rose and the villainous Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) leave little impression.
The less said about Benicio del Toro’s role, a walking, stuttering plot device, the better.
DID YOU KNOW: Rian Johnson spent six weeks in San Francisco meeting with Lucasfilm officials to prepare for his entry into the space franchise.
Rose’s character is front and center in the film’s weakest sequences. We’re diverted to a city where the worst of the worst frolic. No, not the usual hives of scum and villainy. It’s a casino where the very, very rich cavort.
The evil One Percenters!
If you’re not immediately yanked out of the story here you deserve a prize. The accompanying dialogue is equally clunky, as is the reason all these vapid souls gained their fortunes.
The “Star Wars” saga has always focused exclusively on good versus evil, a timeless template that helped forge its place in our lives. Not anymore.
“The Last Jedi” offers up some old friends (no spoilers here) with mixed results. Other connections prove more fortuitous. Johnson shrewdly adopts director J.J. Abrams’ blend of CGI and old school effects from “The Force Awakens.” John Williams’ score punches the clock in the best of ways, although it’s too soon to know if any new arrangements will become iconic.
“Return of the Jedi” caught heat for its cutesy supporting players. Clearly Team Disney didn’t learn that lesson or demanded a cuddly toy line for Christmases to come. The Porg creatures are amusing for all of five seconds. Those Ewoks deserve a cookie bouquet from cultural critics over the past 30-odd years of grief.
And then there’s Luke Skywalker. Mark Hamill is older, wiser and always compelling as the character that shaped his career. He’s not a hero but a bitter old man unwilling to leverage the Force as he once did. His arc is fascinating, and a fine use of a classic character bridging the chasm between the old and new films.
General Leia isn’t as helpful. Carrie Fisher can’t help but bring gravitas to the franchise, but a clumsy subplot bludgeons that impact.
“The Last Jedi” often looks gorgeous in a way that lapses the usual CGI wizardry. A battle sequence set on a salt-covered planet, where the heroes and villains leave a blood colored trail in the sand, is stunning.
Other sequences astound, like a sneak attack from a certain Jedi and a light saber fight with a nasty finale. For every shining moment comes a dud, and the ratio doesn’t flatter the film’s frantic third act.
The story itself? It’s intermittently beautiful, too. Too bad the blemishes come early and often enough to ding a precious part of our pop culture landscape.
HiT or Miss: No critical warning will stop fans from seeing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Just know the eight film in the saga isn’t what we hoped it could be.