Kevin: “The Last Jedi” this week officially became the highest grossing movie of 2017, and while such a milestone would normally be an indication that said film is a four-quadrant crowd-pleaser, the newest “Star Wars” is actually one of the most polarizing box office champs of all time. While many early reviews hailed it as the best in the series since “The Empire Strikes Back,” the fact that the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes (56%) ranked far below that of the critics (93%) indicated that this installment is not connecting with a sizable contingent of the fans.
The numbers seem to be backing that up, as “The Last Jedi” is set to gross $800 million less than “The Force Awakens,” while even Mark Hamill expressed displeasure at the direction they took Luke Sykwalker, before quickly walking back his comments after Disney stormtroopers put electrodes to his genitals. I finally caught up to the movie a month after its release, and while I had heard a few enthusiastic responses from people who had seen it, it was impossible not to detect a general sense of disappointment from most of those I talked to. So where did I fall on this spectrum?
Well before I go into my thoughts, I’ll note that “The Last Jedi” has already been pulled from theaters after bombing in China, whose audiences usually eat up American sci-fi blockbusters like they were smothered in garlic sauce. But much of their disinterest in the latest “Star Wars” has been chalked up to their unfamiliarity with the franchise and the fact that they have no childhood attachment to these characters, and I gotta say I side with China on this one. If I were also coming into this movie cold and with no pre-existing affection for this franchise, I too would wonder why I should care about watching some grumpy old asshole mope around a cave while some incompetent heroes run out of gas in space.
Because in essence, whatever grand and rousing adventure the cliffhanger of “The Force Awakens” promised, that’s pretty much “The Last Jedi” in a nutshell. And while I was one of those who felt that J.J. Abrams’ film was an inferior remake of “A New Hope,” at least it felt like a movie made by someone who loves “Star Wars,” while “The Last Jedi” feels like a movie made for people who hate “Star Wars.” But before I get into the many things I didn’t like, I’ll be generous and start with the good stuff (major spoilers to follow):
– Adam Driver is always interesting to watch, and his character was the only one I cared about. If nothing else, Kylo Ren had a goal and he was the only person in the film who came even close to getting it done.
– While her character in the first film felt less like a recognizable human being and more like the embodiment of every Katy Perry girl power anthem, I actually thought Daisy Ridley showed growth as a character in this even when she didn’t get much help from the script. Her moments with Driver were the only times I had any interest in where the story was going.
– Ummm, let me get back to you if I think of anything else.
Now let’s deal with the bad:
– When we left off at the end of “The Force Awakens,” the First Order had been dealt a major blow after their Death Star – sorry, Star Killer – base had been destroyed by the Resistance. But apparently since then, as we read in the opening crawl, the Resistance has somehow been decimated, and it’s pretty easy to see why since they are led by an elderly alcoholic whose second-in-command is Laura Dern with purple hair.
– Now I hate to speak ill of the dead, but in retrospect it probably wasn’t a great idea to kill off almost all the characters from the original trilogy (even Admiral Ackbar!) except for the one played by the actress we all kind of expected to pass away first in real life. Seriously, it is distracting how unhealthy Carrie Fisher looks and sounds in this, and considering some people would like to declare Trump unfit for duty because he likes Big Macs, I think a physical for General Organa is in order as well.
– Of course who cares if your alternative is Laura Dern. Sorry, I don’t care what sort of “Fifth Element” look they give her here, Laura Dern fits into the “Star Wars” universe as well as her one-time lover Billy Bob Thornton would have. Also, why wouldn’t she tell anyone her stupid plan, even when her crew is mutinying against her? I guess this is supposed to be some sort of veiled statement about how women in authority don’t get the same deference as men, but considering she is immediately hostile and sarcastic to Poe because he apparently represents every cocky flyboy she has ever known, I’d say she actually embodies some regressive stereotypes about women making emotional decisions due to daddy/ex-boyfriend issues. Also, if your crew is already staging a coup against you after like 6 hours, I’d say maybe a little bit of soul-searching about your management style is in order.
– I will say I am surprised that this didn’t do better in China, since a big message of the film is that it is important to always trust and defer to authority no matter what, even when that authority figure is your elderly drunk aunt. Apparently Rian Johnson doesn’t care that the daring, roguish, rule-breaking hero is a staple of sci-fi from “Star Wars” to “Star Trek” to “Firefly” because we like that archetype and we like to see them succeed by using their own instincts and independent streak to save the day. Or maybe he thinks he’s above doing that trope, but either way I’m not sure why they brought Poe’s character back in “The Force Awakens,” after originally planning on killing him off early, just to constantly make him wrong and largely responsible for the near-total annihilation of the Resistance in “The Last Jedi.”
– The return of Luke Skywalker was the biggest hook for this film, and when the movie deflates the audience’s expectations by having him accept the lightsaber from Rey and then toss it behind his shoulder, I knew we were in the dreaded post-modern territory. It’s been less than a couple of hours since I watched this movie and I can barely remember anything that occurred in this subplot, and honestly I dreaded every time we returned to the two of them. It just seemed to be a lot of scenes of Luke refusing to train Rey and her pestering him until he finally does a little, although I don’t even know if he actually did teach her anything she didn’t already know. Honestly it’s pretty much just like Daniel and Miyagi in “Karate Kid III,” except Terry Silver would be a way better villain than anyone we have seen in these recent sequels so far.
– I’ll just say this, as much as we love the character of Luke Skywalker, as far as acting ability goes there is a reason why Mark Hamill has spent most of his career in a voiceover booth and not on the big screen.
– The humor in this is just as bad as I had heard. Yes I know there were jokes in the original trilogy, but that doesn’t change the fact that the humor in this isn’t funny and even worse, is constantly used to undercut potentially real moments. It’s as if in “A New Hope” they had the shot of Luke staring at the two suns while the John Williams score reached its crescendo, and then the camera pulled back to show a Bantha taking a shit behind him. Let me put it this way, for all the crap George Lucas got for the embarrassing humor in the prequels, if he had directed “The Last Jedi,” would the comedic tone be THAT much different, especially in the already infamous detour to the casino planet that is perhaps the worst and most pointless subplot in “Star Wars” history?
– Speaking of, why has there been no backlash against the Porgs? They’re not cute, they’re not funny, and they serve no purpose. At some point it was declared that the Ewoks were a horribly embarrassing addition to the “Star Wars” universe, but at least they showed a Rambo-esque inventiveness in killing their enemies in the forest. This is as if the stupid CGI gophers in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” kept popping up throughout the movie for no reason.
– I can’t decide if Rose reminded me of a young Margaret Cho or a large sentient chipmunk, but either way she is probably the most annoying non-Jar Jar character in the “Star Wars” universe. Her sister is a badass super-hot chick who sacrifices herself to take out a Dreadnought, while Rose is some crunchy PETA member who prevents Finn from sacrificing himself and destroying the laser cannon that’s about to wipe out the Resistance. I honestly laughed when she says something about how they will win because they love rather than hate, right as the giant laser Finn tried to stop is tearing a hole in the Resistance compound behind her.
– Actually this points to my biggest issue with “The Last Jedi”: I don’t care what happens in the next movie, but if I did I’d be rooting for the First Order to win. Honestly the Resistance seems incompetent at everything, which I would assume includes running the universe, while if nothing else the First Order seems to have their shit together, and if they were in charge I’d be a lot more confident that the potholes would get fixed and the garbage men wouldn’t go on strike.
Either way, we are left with the lesson at the end of “The Last Jedi” that the youthful and swashbuckling heroes in the original trilogy, who went through so much and came out happy and victorious, actually ended up becoming huge miserable failures who spent their remaining years living in regret before being killed off (including one by his own son) and letting the galaxy get taken over by pretty much the same threat they thought they had vanquished 30 years earlier. Except Lando, wherever he is I’m sure he’s doing great, so if nothing else don’t ruin him too in the next one J.J.