The internet is a weird place. In the last week or so, The Last Jedi has become a hotbed of community fracturing, an usual race in which people try to be the first to say how much they absolutely love the movie or how they hate everything about it. There are also bizzare mentalities surrounding even that: “Mature people liked it, immature people didn’t” is one of many strange lines being drawn in the sand. The main thing I dislike about this hard separation is that it only allows for two responses: the film is either perfect, or it’s awful. I dislike that method because ultimately I think The Last Jedi requires a different response: the film is okay.
For what it’s worth, I also thought The Force Awakens was “okay,” but for different reasons. The Force Awakens isn’t an especially novel film (it has been repeatedly touted as a soft remake of A New Hope) but it accomplished its main job: remind people why “Star Wars” was special. It worked as a remake because that was kind of the point, but as a result there wasn’t much to The Force Awakens that really helped distinguish it. The Force Awakens is “okay” because it works adequately without being especially remarkable.
Now we have The Last Jedi, which should serve the same role as The Empire Strikes Back. And it does just that by specifically not being a remake of The Empire Strikes Back. If The Force Awakens set out with the goal of reestablishing the status quo, The Last Jedi’s goal is to break it and make something new. The splintering of the Star Wars community is a symptom of this mentality; the film itself doesn’t feel much like a Star Wars film. I mean, yes, we still have the basics: lightsabers, space battles, undercover missions, and “The Force,” not to mention subplots and side stories that help define all but two films in the main franchise (the outliers are the previously mentioned A New Hope and The Force Awakens), but at the end of the day The Last Jedi is probably the least “Star Wars” of all the Star Wars films...and that’s a good thing.
The most positive thing I have to say about The Last Jedi is that it honestly tries to break assumptions. There are three stories told throughout this film that finally collide by the end, and all of them feel pretty fresh within the Star Wars universe (the Rey/Luke story is probably the most familiar, and even that treks in some new directions). I suppose there’s also a decent splurge of top notch visual design, a couple solid character performances, and a few moments of truly excellent color contrast that legitimately caught me off guard; all elements wrapped together, The Last Jedi has plenty of hallmarks that identify it as a decisively good film. Unfortunately, for every aspect working in the movie’s favor, there’s either a solid counterpoint or equally terrible facet working against it. Yes, the three primary narratives at play all bring something fresh to the table, but they also aren’t overwhelmingly great. The Rey/Luke story is honestly well handled, but the other two stories really fall short and fail to impress; when every story is given about equal screen time, that means two thirds of your film are not terribly effective. There’s plenty of solid visual design strewn throughout the film, but some of that design doesn’t feel right within the universe’s aesthetic. We’re treated to some solid character performances, mainly from Luke, Leia, and Kylo Ren, but the rest of the cast is either really basic or not bringing much to the table. As for the color contrast and cinematography...well, it’s actually all pretty good, and every once in a while it’s fantastic, so no backlash on that end. What I’m getting at is this awkward balance the film carries; it almost feels like a story in which every other chapter is impeccable, but the inbetweens drag it down. The Force Awakens is “okay” because it works adequately without being especially remarkable; The Last Jedi is “okay” because it’s loaded with great scenes and good ideas, but it’s also equally bogged in bad execution and poor payoffs.
For what it’s worth, I largely favor The Last Jedi with its few monolithic moments and several blunders over a steady and largely uneventful The Force Awakens. For every mistake made, it’s very clear that The Last Jedi is trying to do something right, and it shines so beautifully whenever it succeeds. It’s hard to talk about exactly when and where these powerful moments exist without getting into spoilers (which unfortunately stops me from really delving into the film’s themes and victories in depth), but I think everyone will be universally agreeing on the same few scenes and ideas that push the film into solid territory. The Last Jedi is rife with problems and runs a little too long, but I think it’s at least a stumble in the right direction.