4/10 “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a colossal technical failure. It is a clear-cut case of “good story poorly told,” and that’s very painful because there are far more good ideas here than bad ones. Poor editing, which arises from trying to fit in a ridiculous, go-nowhere B plot, completely ruins the movie.
Under the smarmy, charlatan shroud that executive producer J.J. Abrams places on all his projects, even basic plot details are spoilers, but storyboarding is a major problem with “The Last Jedi,” so we do need to get into it to do this properly. Spoilers below.
After “The Force Awakens,” Rey (Daisy Ridley) has sought out Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last jedi, to train her in the ways of the Force. Skywalker balks at the notion, afraid after one of his previous students, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), turned to the dark side and destroyed his new order. Ren is himself at odds with his new master, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), after his failures in the last movie. Both estranged from their masters, he and Rey build a tentative relationship.
In an unrelated and completely unnecessary B plot, the last few ships of the rebel fleet are on the run from the First Order’s armada. They cannot escape by jumping to light speed, nor can they outrun the order using conventional engines, but they are fast enough to keep their pursuers at arm’s length while they slowly run out of fuel. Command passes to the hapless Vice Adm. Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), who seemingly has no idea how to proceed. Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) hatch a plan to get out of the tight spot that is stupid and boring and takes up half the movie.
The main complaint people are sure to have about “The Last Jedi” is its 152 minute runtime. Coming from the viewing public that paid to see two entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogies, that’s not a real complaint. Time itself is never an issue in a movie — it’s the way that time gets spent.
The pacing for “The Last Jedi” is absolutely horrendous. Despite a historic tolerance of longer blockbusters, studios are scared to go too far over two hours, so this movie needs to get its overlong plot as close to 140 minutes as possible, so it cuts corners and creates problems for itself. Most scenes in the first two thirds of the movie have three or four key details missing from them — establishing shots to appreciate the setting, moments for the audience to reset from the previous scene, little continuity shots to make it feel like a scene instead of a bunch of shots that have been edited together.
As a for instance, there’s a scene toward the end where a closeup of Ren holding his lightsaber behind him cuts directly to a wide shot in which he’s holding it out in front of him, and there’s no transition.
Without giving the actors time to go through their emotions, some scenes, particularly between Rey and Skywalker, feel less like conversations and more like moderated political debates. They belt out their lines, ostensibly to each other, without really seeming to interact.
Talking about it, it sounds like these are things you can just brush off, but they aren’t. These are key elements of building and maintaining the illusion of a movie, and “The Last Jedi” has shaved them to make room for wacky hijinks with Finn and Tico on the casino planet.
That’s part of the larger problem — the movie has a lot of trouble taking itself seriously. Skywalker is constantly cracking wise, and once the B plot really gets going, it turns into this out-of-place rom com. The whole thing feels a lot like it was made in the same sterile laboratory that produced the recent “Avengers” movies, less of a “Star Wars” installment and more of a third-tier Disney Renaissance movie with lightsabers.
What’s painful is how obvious it is that the pieces are in place and how little would need to be done differently for this to be a really exceptional movie. The final confrontation between Skywalker and Ren is an extended glimpse of how good it could have been — slow, character driven, detail oriented and emotionally intense. It, and a handful of other scenes, make “The Last Jedi” worth the price of at least one admission, even if the movie on the whole is a mildly regrettable experience.
Ending is a major theme in “The Last Jedi.” It’s reflected not only in Skywalker’s isolation as the last member of his order, but in the dwindling resistance, now just a few hundred fighters on a handful of ships. Even the First Order’s imposing armada seems kind of small. There’s an emotional tug-of-war between the older characters, who feel the “Star Wars” saga sputtering to an end, and the new, who are burning to fight on. This metastory, as well as the film’s meditations on ego and celebrity within a military outfit, make “The Last Jedi” one of the most thematically weighty entries in the entire saga, and the film needed to be edited around that.
Slow it down and use your establishing and continuity shots, cut the stupid B plot and quiet everything down and use the score to more effectively reinforce the sense of isolation. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the balance longer, people are willing to sit through a movie if they’re enjoying it, and it doesn’t matter if you can’t find anything else to do with Finn and Dameron — they didn’t really have anything to do in The Force Awakens either. Do these things, and you’ve converted on the promise of The Last Jedi’s themes and characters. As released, they’ve sadly been blundered away.
For more, check out Knopp’s movie blog at reelentropy.com.