This review contains almost all possible spoilers to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a bad movie. It is not a bad Star Wars movie, but objectively speaking, as a film, it’s a bad movie. Not only that, it is an egregiously bad movie: Poorly written, badly directed, lazily acted, and bombastically grating in both sound and image. It is, put bluntly, the worst Star Wars film since George Lucas’ own unfortunate prequels.
To be fair, to hold this opinion places a person in something like a minority of one. The critics have been, by and large, rapturous, with Peter Travers of Rolling Stone exemplifying the critical consensus by saying the film is “simply stupendous, a volcano of creative ideas in full eruption.”
There are, of course, two possible explanations for this: The critics are stupid or have been paid off by Walt Disney’s dark lords. These appear to be the only solutions to the problem, because “The Last Jedi” is not simply bad, it is incompetent on the most basic level.
Another Star Wars Second Act
The film, of course, follows its characters through the standard Star Wars second act epitomized by the beloved “Empire Strikes Back”: Everything goes to hell and the ragtag fleet of good guys desperately tries to escape from all but certain destruction while, elsewhere, a young would-be apprentice struggles with the nature of his or her nascent powers.
To give a cursory overview of the needlessly convoluted plot: Princess (now general) Leia Organa leads the aforementioned ragtag Resistance fleet in a desperate escape from the evil First Order. Ace pilot and Han Solo stand-in Poe Dameron favors an aggressive approach to the situation. Leia and a hapless Laura Dern with purple hair attempt to dissuade him, somewhat unsuccessfully.
Poe rebels, and persuades former stormtrooper Finn and his love interest Rose to undertake a dangerous and needlessly complicated mission that ultimately goes nowhere. All this culminates in a series of climactic confrontations, each one louder and more CGI-laden than the last.
Meanwhile, the desperate Rey (played by Daisy Ridley in one of the few competent performances) attempts to persuade the self-exiled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, in the other competent performance) to return to the fight. Despite coming off as a grizzled, surly, vaguely suicidal old man, Skywalker finally (apparently on the advice of a disappointing cameo from Yoda) sees the light and (sort of) hurls himself into a frenzied light saber duel with his wayward apprentice Kylo Ren that he (sort of) wins and then (sort of) dies.
There is also, to further unnecessarily complicate matters, some form of psychic connection or astral projection between Rey and Kylo Ren that ultimately leads her to conclude (for reasons never quite explained) that there is the proverbial “still good in him,” sending her off to the lair of the evil Supreme Leader Snoke (a poor replacement for the emperor) in a bid to save Kylo’s soul. That also leads to an anti-climactic nowhere after Kylo, for reasons left unknown, kills Snoke and installs himself as supreme leader.
If You Thought the Story Was Bad, Check the Execution
Even a cursory reading of the above reveals a plot so convoluted and bloated as to exhaust the potential viewer. (It is also the reason for the film’s impossibly inflated running time of an excruciating two and a half hours.) But the story is further laid low by the stunning incompetence of its execution.
To name a few of its many flaws: The script is laden with clichéd dialogue that is, at times, simply excruciating. Finn and Rose go on a mad pursuit to find a codebreaker and their entire quest ultimately leads nowhere, leaving the plot thread dangling before the perplexed viewer and wasting almost a half-hour of screen time. Luke’s angry alienation is reinforced at every point before he inexplicably has a change of heart and shows up to save the day.
Snoke is displayed as massively powerful and capable of effortlessly reading minds, but is dispatched with a simple ruse from Kylo Ren, who appears to kill his revered mentor for no particular reason. The entire story is based around a slow-speed pursuit between ships capable of light speed. All of this is semi-explained through remarkably long monologues that fail to move the story forward but continue ad nauseum.
The plot is further degraded by its pointed failure to follow up on the various story points set up by its predecessor, the wonderful “Force Awakens.” One of the best was the mystery of Rey’s parentage, which seemed to promise an exploration of the Jedi’s typically convoluted bloodlines. We discover, however, in a belated revelation, that her parents were “nobodies” completely unconnected to anything remotely interesting.
Second is the nature and origin of Snoke, who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, shrouding the grotesque monster in mystery. “The Last Jedi” reveals that he did appear out of nowhere by providing no solution to the mystery. Last was the nature of Kylo Ren’s rebellion against his mentor Skywalker and the founding of the “knights of Kylo Ren.”
This plot point is dispensed through a single flashback in which Skywalker, completely out of character, tries to kill Kylo, inciting Kylo’s understandable resentment. His presumably slow descent into the Dark Side, turn to the First Order, and the knights of Ren themselves are left to the imagination. Considering the quality of the film, this may be for the best.
Campy Humor to Best the Originals
Perhaps the most egregious misstep, however, is the film’s ridiculously campy humor, which debases and degrades the proceedings to a remarkable degree. The picture is filled with childish attempts at “Guardians of the Galaxy”-style jokes, like a bad prank phone call between Poe and a First Order ultra-fascist, Luke tossing a light saber indifferently over his shoulder, and an exposition-laden conversation with a tangential character that takes place, for some reason, in the midst of laser-gun duel.
The Ewoks also appear in spirit in the form of the Porgs, a bizarre cross between owls and penguins whose only purpose is being cute and silly and selling merchandise. The problem with this is not merely that the jokes are bad (which they are) but that they make the entire film seem to be a self-referential spoof akin to “Spaceballs” (if less successfully humorous).
The Star Wars films always had funny moments, but they rarely descended into outright camp. “The Last Jedi” seems to be enjoying undermining itself, as if telling the audience “Look at all this silly space opera, and look how silly you are for paying to watch it.” The result is an insult to the intelligence that would be more grating if the rest of the film were not equally so.
None of this, however, seems to have dissuaded audiences. “The Last Jedi” looks set to be a massive hit, which should only confirm the omnipotent Disney in its further plans. J.J. Abrams’ return to the franchise for the third installment may promise a resurgence, and previous attempts such as “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” were at least competent and at best highly enjoyable.
Can Disney Keep This Up Without Exhausting Us?
Nonetheless, “The Last Jedi” seems to promise a dark future for Star Wars, especially as director Rian Johnson has been tapped to develop a further trilogy. Indeed, the question arises as to whether Disney can, as it plans, release a Star Wars film a year without exhausting both audiences and the franchise itself. With billions of dollars already invested, they may be forced into the attempt, but it seems likely that further incompetent exercises in infantilizing the audience are likely to become more common than attempts to marry quality to blockbuster trappings.
Yet there is a deeper and more depressing phenomenon at work in “The Last Jedi.” Paul Schrader, the legendary writer of “Taxi Driver,” once dated the decline of American cinema to the release of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The beloved film, he said, is simply a bad movie.
Indeed, the case be made that it is merely a series of action sequences strung together on a thin storyline before ending with a literal deus ex machina. Much the same is the case in “The Last Jedi,” and now, it seems, the series that effectively founded Hollywood’s current blockbuster obsession is not immune to becoming one of its victims.