(This Star Wars: The Last Jedi promotional image is courtesy of Metro.Co.uk.)
Before reading this review of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” please understand that something can be enjoyable but not good. My sisters used to love to watch VH1. They weren’t the only ones. VH1’s slate of reality TV programming was popular because it was enjoyable. The beats for most shows were predictable and fun. These shows were not good. Nearly every program on VH1 in the earlier years of the 2000’s was bad and my sisters weren’t wrong to enjoy them.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is enjoyable but not good. Its mediocrity has nothing to do with “Star Wars” lore, or bold character choices, or changing the formula. It has everything to do with poor writing. Only read this review if you’ve seen the movie. There are spoilers.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has strong scenes, good acting, and better visuals. The set pieces, costumes, and CGI are stunning and the cast performs well. All the acting, scenes, and set pieces make it enjoyable but not good. The film’s plot does too much for the film to be good. The world building and writing are lazy and ham-fisted. The addition of female characters and people of color (POC) are well-intentioned but poorly done.
In terms of plot, Rey and Ren have the only well-conceived storyline. Every other storyline concludes too hastily and full of plot holes. Finn and Rose’s plot is mostly unnecessary and could’ve been axed entirely. It features an almost good moment where the movie subverts a trope and makes the hive of scum and villainy a planet of rich war-profiteers. Director Rian Johnson ruins this moment by spelling out the message. At the rich planet, Finn looks through binoculars and sees side-by-side displays of child slavery and animal abuse in about 10 seconds. It’s comically graceless.
Finn, Rose, and code breaker DJ’s talented POC actors are underutilized on the least-inspiring and most ham-fisted plot in the movie. Finn and Rose do a lot of work to shut down a tracking device. They fail several times and each time are saved by blind luck and deus ex machina. They’re incompetent but it doesn’t seem like it’s intentional. It seems like they were meant to be competent but lazy writing designed to push the plot and generate tension forced them to be incompetent.
The world building is lazy. Smaller rebel ships can easily enter and leave the bigger rebel carrier ship while it’s under siege because the behemoth Empire fleet can only scan for big ships or small ships at one time – not both. That’s too hard. They also can’t send out small ships or fighters to make a perimeter around the rebel ship because if they could half the cast would have nothing to do. The movie is full of plot holes and shoddy world building like this.
Some examples: if a smaller ship can tear through a bigger one with hyperspace travel why not fight this way regularly? Why have suicidally slow bomber ships? What did the dreadnought scene even do, other than to pad Poe’s character with traits the audience already knew he had? Why did Luke’s projecting his image via the Force kill him? Why doesn’t Vice Admiral Holdo tell Poe the rebel’s plan and avoid a mutiny? How does DJ, a random code breaker, know Holdo’s plan while Poe, the former vice-admiral, doesn’t?
These plot holes come from lazy writing and world building that puts tension and forward movement above all else. They weaken characters and make audiences less invested in them. Any work of science fantasy should in part be rated by how it builds the world and “The Last Jedi” builds a world too shallow to immerse. Many audience members don’t care about Snoke or Rose or DJ or the world. If they did “The Last Jedi” wouldn’t have mostly negative audience reviews on Metacritic.
“The Last Jedi” has a stellar cast of POC and women but they’re used in poor, even subtly regressive ways. There are so many POC characters but most aren’t allowed leadership positions on either side. Most of them are rule breakers, not rule makers. It’s conspicuous even if unintentional.
The Last Jedi isn’s a racist or sexist film but it is safe and stereotypical. Behind every great man, there’s a great woman. People of color lead, but as rebelliously as blaxploitation protagonists. The Last Jedi stereotypes Women as maternal and supportive. It stereotypes POC characters as rebellious but for the right reasons and wrongfully excluded from power structures. We’re in an ancient but futuristic fantasy space universe where racism doesn’t seem as much of an issue. It’s safe and unimaginative to play out our (maybe positive) stereotypes over that. Only Rey escapes criticism and that depends on how the next movie handles Ren.
“The Last Jedi” does a lot of things right and weakens them with the things it does wrong. It has strong scenes and ideas undercut by poor writing. It has strong characters diverse in race and gender that it under-utilizes and stereotypes. It has flickers of great world building through visual design that get overshadowed by egregiously lazy world building (Snoke). It has new ideas: Yoda destroys the Jedi bibles, Ren suggests cutting the Jedi-Sith crap, Luke doesn’t have to die to pull an Obi-Wan. It plays them too safe: Rey saves the bibles, Ren is way too evil to take any of his ideas seriously, Luke dies exactly like Obi-Wan, anyway.
“The Last Jedi” is enjoyable but it isn’t good. It’s mediocre. It’s a microwaved Oscar Meyer wiener inside a white bread bun. Eat it and enjoy it but don’t call it a nutritious taste sensation.