Oh boy. Well, here we go. Let’s just get it out of the way. This is a really good movie. The people who loathe it are baffling to me. It’s far from a perfect movie and in fact, going by sheer number, the flaws may outweigh the strengths, but the strengths it lands are so perfectly done that they end up outweighing the flaws. First, let’s get to the flaws. The movie is a solid forty-five minutes too long and it’s unfortunate that this forty-five minutes sits within the first half of the movie so that when the movie ends up being very good it coincides with the movie starting to feel long, thus giving kind of a disservice to the good parts of the film. The movie sets up a really horrible plot thread whereby we spend a tremendous amount of screen time watching the slowest chase scene in history as a batch of ships poke along at what seems like a snail’s pace. One could excuse this if it was being drawn out because there was so much going on for the characters, but the movie doesn’t even know what to do with the characters during this time. Oscar Isaac has the misfortune of seeing his character wasted in a plot that seems to consist entirely of him either pacing in a room or yelling at Laura Dern’s character; Laura Dern’s character is its own kettle of fish, but who has the time? The same goes for John Boyega who ends up getting shunted off on a really pointless exercise that is the film’s most annoying sequence. The film has a great new character in Kelly Tran’s Rose, but she ends up playing tagalong with Boyega and has next to nothing to do. There are missteps so astonishing as to be baffling. I have no idea how a scene of Leia more or less recreating the Can You Read My Mind scene from Superman got past even the first line failsafes; it doesn’t even pass the smell test. And the film can’t be bothered to set up a real way for Kylo Ren and Rey to learn about each other and instead falls back on a series of very strange vision sequences that are, aside from the other flaws, a real eyeline cluster****. It’s almost amusing that the dastardly Porgs ended up being the least of the film’s many problems.
But when the film works, it really, really works. In the same way that The Force Awakens was Harrison Ford’s film, The Last Jedi really belongs to Mark Hamill. He digs deep into his character and gives a really brilliant performance. He has the gravitas he needs, but he finds a deep sadness that underlies his exterior of crankiness and then leavens that with a quiet wit that’s almost sarcastic. It might just be Hamill’s best performance and, while I might quibble with a couple of plot points regarding the character, it’s impossible to get too worked up; the pleasure of watching a true master actor at work is too great. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver both get more to do and, aside from a few vision scenes that even they can’t save, I found their performances to be better than in the first film. Driver in particular gets a more complicated character arc this time around and he really nails it. The film’s action sequences, toward the end especially, are really stellar. Once everyone gets to the salt planet, things really take off and the visuals during that sequence of the film are breathtaking, both in a large scale battle and in the one-on-one duel that follows. Likewise, an action set piece in a room drenched in crimson is phenomenally well done. A moment that takes place in absolute silence is jaw-droppingly effective and the whole theater I was in was so hushed you could have heard a pin drop at that moment.
At the end of the day, I found the film to achieve greatness at its best. At its worst, it is very bad indeed. The problems aren’t entirely structural. It would be easy to say what scenes should be cut or what elements should be tightened, but it isn’t that simple. Whole plotlines need, not just to be tightened, but to be tossed out entirely. There’s no fixing the Poe subplot, for instance; the problem there is existential and the only way to get that character a compelling plot thread is to start all over at square one. But the film, for all that, is pretty entertaining and I did find some of the subversive elements to be interesting; the scene with Snoke & Rey is exactly what you expect, for instance, until suddenly it isn’t and there’s a fantastic moment where the camera does a tight zoom in on a character’s face as a plan absolutely disintegrates and he’s absolutely baffled as he says, “They didn’t make it.” These moments work really well. The Last Jedi is a deeply flawed movie and it’s far less consistent than The Force Awakens. But The Force Awakens kept a pretty consistent tone of pretty good, this one whipsaws wildly from very bad to brilliantly great and I’ve just discovered that I’ll take a movie with the kinds of highs The Last Jedi has over a movie that plays it safe and right down the middle like The Force Awakens, even if the highs are balanced by a lot of lows. The Force Awakens was an entertaining film that gave me a lot of things I really, really wanted; it was a solid line drive, aimed right at its target audience, aiming for a solid double. The Last Jedi at least swings for the fences; it hits the ground instead of clearing the fences, but when the dust clears at third base, it’s a safe. Not a home run, but, you know, if I can mix these sports metaphors (and God only knows where they’re coming from), sometimes a play falls apart, but it’s so gutsy, you’re glad they tried it. 3 ½ stars,
tl;dr – flawed plot and an overcooked running time, but The Last Jedi is ambitious and daring enough that a lot can be forgiven; not a masterpiece, but thrillingly perfect in places. 3 ½ stars.