So I might be able to save you some time by just skipping to this part: I’m one of the people that didn’t like the movie all that much.
Not that I thought it was terrible or anything. I personally rank it above all three prequels, but I think it’s the worst of the “new” Star Wars movies. (If you’re curious, my ranking of the new ones is Rogue One first, Force Awakens a relatively close second, and The Last Jedi last).
If I had to identify a single weakness, I would say that the editing was lacking. The movie lasted two and a half hours, and in my completely unprofessional opinion it was 30-45 minutes too long. It was like watching one pretty good movie with two pretty good short films mashed into the middle. Separately, they might have worked, but together it just gets too crowded.
And so concludes my review of the movie! Truly, brevity is the soul of impatience. What I really want to do is review the fan reaction to the movie. Excepting those of you who have better things to do with your time than stress about other people liking things either too much or too little (screw you guys), most of you probably already know that that reaction has been unusually divided. The most frequently cited evidence is Rotten Tomatoes, which rates it 92% according to critics and 52% according to fans.
And it’s not just the usual suspects griping their usual gripes, either. Online communities that are normally of one mind about things are of several minds about this one, causing great fear and disharmony. I’m here to heal these wounds so we can all get along again. If you think there’s something almost saintlike about me right now, don’t worry – you’re not alone. I don’t usually like to compare myself to Gandhi, but sometimes the comparison is inescapable.
So, below I will both be using spoilers and fixing everything.
Here Be Spoilers
This struck me as the most self-conscious Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen. That’s not meant as criticism; more like a neutral observation. The original trilogy was fueled by the exuberance of early George Lucas (and, apparently, by the craft of those who reined him in at the right times). The prequels were fueled by the placid self-assurance of late George Lucas (who, if he suffers at all from self-doubt, certainly hides it well). The Force Awakens aped the story beats of A New Hope so closely that I imagine its producers enjoyed fairly untroubled sleep on the night of its release (that, and they had the reliable J.J. Abrams calling the shots).
But here, in a surprisingly un-Disneylike move, both writing and directing duties were handed over to a relative unknown named Rian Johnson, resulting in the first time in history that I’ve noticed visible flop-sweat on Star Wars’ brow. I think it was probably most evident when someone on twitter asked the director if he had heard of RedLetterMedia (they of the Mr. Plinkett reviews fame, with the obligatory link here). His response? “I love them but I fear them.”
Can you imagine George Lucas admitting to being afraid of some schlub off the youtubes? Again, this isn’t meant as criticism. There’s something endearing about being willing to take such risks with such a thorough appreciation of the incoming scrutiny. It also gives us a method for understanding the different ways audiences react to this movie.
What if we assume that Rian Johnson took the Mr. Plinkett reviews to heart, and they played a significant role in his vision for Star Wars? If you’re like me, your urge to scoff at that thought is unexpectedly weak. In any case, we don’t have to know for sure. Think of this as a thought exercise.
The Plinkett reviews emphasized the importance of having relatable characters, of characters having arcs, and of creating emotional investment in the events on screen. All of those things were present in abundance in The Last Jedi. Some of us would say that they were overabundant. In fact, it was Plinkett’s normal-seeming alter ego Mike Stoklasa who described the film as “the cinematic equivalent of Homer Simpson’s makeup gun.”
A good distillation of this problem can be found in my personal reaction to the music. This movie did something that I had previously thought impossible: it had too much John Williams. The orchestra swelled into raptures at the slightest excuse, to the point where I found myself irritated by it. I don’t claim that my reaction is the “right” one, but I did have it, and I’m not alone.
By the same pattern, too often during the film I felt manipulated. Scene to scene, I was never unsure of what I was supposed to be feeling, but I only occasionally actually felt it. I know that Poe was supposed to have had a satisfying character arc, but said arc’s journey seemed so disconnected from its destination that I couldn’t buy into it. Same with Finn’s arc, to the extent he had one, and the final-third Rose/Finn shipping, which I found sudden and unearned.
Same with the film’s humor – in the theatre in which I saw it the first time, the audience was game enough to cheer for the opening crawl, but most of the would-be humorous moments still landed with a thud. (I was miffed at dramatic dialogue between Rey and Kylo being interrupted by a “shirtless boys are gross” joke. It was something like having a pie-in-the-face gag immediately after Luke learns that Vader is his father.)
At this point I should point out that the supposedly sacrilegious, supposedly canon- and fan theory-shattering parts of the film were among my favorites. I like the see the sacred cows of the setting questioned and/or jettisoned – in fact, I would say it’s important. To extent that there’s truth to be found in fiction, in my opinion that’s one of the best ways to find it.
So how to account for the fact that some audience members, who are otherwise very similar to me in demographic, demeanor, and life experience, loved the things I didn’t? I suspect that, much like story collapse, different people have different tolerances for this sort of thing. Those of us that fancy ourselves critics, by inclination if not always by outside validation, may have a lower tolerance than others. If that sounds like a self-congratulatory thing to say, well, thank you! I also think I deserve healthy congratulation.
For all that, I retain optimism for future installments. I believe that simple inexperience was a major source of The Last Jedi‘s hiccups. Using an admittedly arbitrary definition of the word “major,” this was only Rian Johnson’s second major film – now, he’s more ready to make the next one by virtue of having made this one. He’s also now received his first lukewarm review from the dread RedLetterMedia, which I imagine must be like your first time going off the high diving board – it gets easier from here on in.
So, I have now resolved all of the fandom’s lingering tension. You’re welcome! As you stumble across those who have wrongThis note deliberately left ambiguous. opinions about this movie, remember to be excellent to each other, and that in this case a disagreement reflects, in my opinion, a difference in taste, rather than a fundamental injustice in the world as it usually does.
 This note deliberately left ambiguous.
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