“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a massively entertaining but ultimately unrewarding flick. It’s embodies the best of modern day cinematic storytelling but feels like a distant, unwelcome stepcousin at the Lucasfilm Thankgsiving table. The spaceships still fly at warpspeed and the light sabers still shine with their brilliant, fuzzy hue, but director Rian Johnson’s galaxy is too many lightyears away from the universe of the good (and bad) films that proceeded it. It is arguably the best movie from the “Star Wars” saga, but the worst movie to call itself part of “Star Wars.”
The film picks up not too long after the events of “The Force Awakens.” Rey has traveled great distances to meet Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren is getting scolded by Snoke for getting whooped by a girl, and Poe, Finn and Leia are all huddled into a small resistance ship, while trying to escape the clutches of the First Order, who on the evil scale, aren’t quite as bad as Nazis, but certainly a lot worse than communists. Johnson proves early on he has a stronger penchant for detailing intricate space battles than his predecessor J.J. Abrams. And the scope of Johnson’s story is massive but not intimidating, where its a feat to realize the distance all the the characters have covered without us feeling overwhelmed or bored. The biggest joy of the film is the increasingly complex relationship between Kylo and Rey, each a source of immeasurable strength and pain, mistaking the other as an answer to their own torment. The ultimate result is disappointing and expected, but everything until then is pure movie force magic.
Like Rey and Kylo’s relationship, there are so many moments where the dramatic impact could be substantially more rewarding, but “The Last Jedi” constantly pussys out. The movie is constantly standing at the edge of a dramatic diving board, asking us to watch it take a big leap, but gets scared of the height and instead chooses to enter the shallow end of the storytelling pool. The triumphs and tragedies of “The Last Jedi” echo as faintly as a floating scream in the noiseless void of space, where not even veterans like Mark Hamill or Carrie Fisher can use the force of their acting to pull it to safety. The scope of the journey is incredible, but hurdles we take are just inches above the ground, where it feels one could almost watch “The Force Awakens” and whatever the next film is without ever watching “The Last Jedi.”
These successes and failures fall solely on the shoulders of Rian Johnson, who will apparently be the president of “Star Wars” for the immediate future. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Kelly Marie Tran, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher throw themselves fully into their characters, but it’s Johnson who makes nothing of the performances. The movie feels like he’s poking into unwelcome parts of the “Star Wars” universe, like a fan peeling back the wallpaper that George Lucas so meticulously laid down years ago. But any damage he might have caused the franchise is negligible, as “The Last Jedi” is entertaining but forgettable, a worthy way to spend 150 minutes but one you won’t dedicate a single second of thought to once its completed.