There are so many ways to assess “Star Wars:The Last Jedi.” Is it a good film? Is it a good Star Wars film? Does it progress the narrative arc well? Is it told well? Does it appeal to veteran adult fans? Is it written for younger fans or as a vehicle to promote tie-in products like toys and games?
Overall, it seems to do most of those things somewhat well but the inherent problem is that not all of those goals coincide well at all times. There are moments here where it feels like the need to appeal to younger audiences, and also not to upset the ratings board, left a film that’s dark and full of death and destruction (really, how many films can match the death counts in these?) a little too light and cute, and verbally safe.
There’s also the problem that the original cast have aged 40 years, or in one prominent case, died. And if the franchise can continue, it needs to transition to its younger cast members and characters and leave the others behind, as legends, role models, villains, or occasional apparitions, ready with a witty observation or a critical piece of advice. It’s all a convoluted exercise in having your cake and eating it too, while inviting new cake eaters and hoping the cake neither goes stale nor fails to go around.
“The Last Jedi” advances the arc in ways that are necessary for the saga to continue along the path chosen. But that also means that certain characters are essentially sidelined as others play out their larger parts in this particular chapter of the story. What do you do, for example, with an ace fighter pilot in a story that doesn’t need one for most of its running length? Especially when you haven’t really given him much else of an identity up until this point. You keep him busy with a side plot to teach him humility and leadership and build that identity for later. Meanwhile, you focus on the central showdown of young wills and the need to both bring back one of the former leads, determine his fate, and yet not make it all about him. It’s obviously a juggling act.
On an overall level, I liked the film but there are aspects that detract. Not that these are all out of place – there are always new species to absorb in a series with such a broad galactic sweep, but these aren’t the best examples we’ve seen. Suddenly a previously seemingly barren island on a lost planet us teeming with a supporting cast of milking stock, a housekeeping staff that looks like amphibian Mrs Tiggywinkles, and this year’s choice of cute stuffed animal.
It might also be worthwhile noting that I watched one of the first screenings in Reykjavik, Iceland where the flow is interrupted by an intermission. And that was after a false start, a restart due to incorrectly functioning 3D, and a boisterously unhappy audience who had lined up for an hour only to have the projection malfunction.
But such distractions can’t account for all of my reactions. I’m a long-time fan of the kind who can wear Star Wars shirts on a daily basis without repeating them for a couple of weeks. But I won’t be rushing out to purchase anything that reminds me of Supreme Commander Snoke’s onboard throne room, which looked like a set for a Flash Gordon themed music video. Or the awkward subplot that plays like an essay on the one percent getting rich by playing both sides in a conflict and idly gambling away their arms dealing profits. Or Chewbacca’s camping recipes. Well, maybe that last one.
However, at the end of the day, it’s still a largely fun ride. Complaining about a Star Wars movie is like complaining about mediocre pizza. It’s still pizza.