Matt at the Movies: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
This probably goes without saying, but: light spoilers for The Last Jedi are ahead.
The next chapter in the Star Wars franchise is finally here, and one thing is for sure: people have lots of feelings about it. Usually, after a movie, it's not too hard for me to decide whether I liked it or not. But after leaving the theater on Sunday night after The Last Jedi, I realized that this one was going to take some time, and possibly even multiple viewings, to fully process.
But no amount of time is going to change what I already knew before the lights even dimmed: any Star Wars film will always have the burden of being compared to the original trilogy, and Rian Johnson is the most interesting choice for the director of a space opera franchise to come along in a long, long time.
That leaves us with a film that is cinematically beautiful, makes coherent sense, and has a lot of interesting character development. But it also means a movie that struggles to fit in tonally with the rest of the Star Wars universe. You could argue that's a good thing, as I have in the past, especially when looking at Star Wars being able to sustain itself long term. But these three films are closing a very definitive loop that has shaped many a childhood since 1977. Fans deserve to have their patience rewarded. I don't just mean everyone who has posted any wild theory about who's Rey's parents are since 2015.
Of course, fans were never going to quite get the films they deserved, no matter what. George Lucas, Godfather of the galaxy far, far away, sold the rights to Disney in 2012, effectively closing the door on his original vision for the stories. The prequels notwithstanding, Lucas still created Star Wars and shepherded Episodes IV, V, and VI. They were his stories to begin with, and I think he should have had the right to end it on his own terms, for better or for worse. Even Luke Skywalker himself wishes Disney had listened more to Lucas when it comes to these sequels.
But they didn't, and instead of getting a fitting final end to Luke, Leia and Han's story, we get a new generation of heroes and villains in Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren. Which is all fine, I actually like all of them and I think Kylo is the most compelling villain we've seen in the universe since Vader's turn in Return of the Jedi. But both The Force Awakens and now The Last Jedi can't shake feeling more like Star Wars fanfiction to me than they do actual Star Wars canon. They're just not what they were supposed to be. They're like stories in which your favorite characters show up in supporting roles, but even then they don't quite act like, sound like, or look like how you expect them to.
That said, there's a lot to love in The Last Jedi. Both Kylo and Rey are taken in new, interesting directions. We see parts of the Star Wars universe we've never really seen before, notably a planet of wealthy high-rollers. There are a lot of strong female leads in this one, which is a huge win. And as I said before, it's visually stunning in a way that none of the other films have been. Johnson is a true filmmaker, not just a helmer.
But it has lots of other problems, not the least of which is that it's about a half hour too long. It feels like it, too. We don't even get our first real lightsaber battle until about an hour before the end. There are about two or three different endings here. And while people may say it undoes all of the work The Force Awakens tried to build and do something completely original, I actually think that both in story structure and tone, it felt too similar to Empire Strikes Back, just as TFA was a carbon copy of A New Hope. Even Yoda shows up for a bit.
It's too bad that The Last Jedi has the burden of all of the Star Wars universe preceding and following it. As a standalone film, I think it would be really great. It bodes well for Johnson's upcoming all-new trilogy, set completely apart from the Skywalker saga. But as it is, I'm just much less interested in his version of events in this universe than I am of George Lucas'.
Sometimes, I feel like Luke, staring out at the horizon, dreaming of what might have been...