“The greatest teacher, failure is,” Yoda tells Luke, in the central scene of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. And, if that’s the case, then TLJ is one hell of a learning experience.
Look, I didn’t like The Last Jedi when it came out, and, if anything, I like it even less now. When I first saw it at the cinema, at least I had the thrill of a new Star Wars movie to carry me over some of my greater misgivings – but even then, I had to admit that I just didn’t care for it very much. But now? Yeah, now, I don’t even have that.
I wrote in an epic two-thousand-word review at the time of major problems with the movie, and I don’t want to just write them out again here – that review, linked above, is about as in-depth as I’m wiling to go about a film I dislike so much, and I strongly reccommend you take a look at it for my actual and contemporary opinion on The Last Jedi. This retrospective entry? This is just going to be a tantrum.
Because there’s so much here that just doesn’t work. The Last Jedi doesn’t even have the good manners of the prequels to make its universe feel fully like a Star Wars one; so much of its runtime, especially the Casino Anti-Capitalism Planet, looks like something out of a dud episode of The Clone Wars, and some of the CGI and effects work leaves a whole lot to be desired.
And the dialogue – great and good Lord, I know Star Wars has never been a high point in the world of pin-sharp cinematic dialogue, but there are some utter duds in The Last Jedi that had me writhing in distaste. I’ve seen Rian Johnson’s movies – recently, even – I know he can do dialogue, but for some reason, that ability seems to have gone soaring out the window for this script. I’m not sure if its studio interference or just his own apparent discomfort within the Star Wars universe, but whatever it is, it leaves a lot of actors underserved, with only Adam Driver through sheer force of will managing to turn his arc in this film into something with bite. Daisy Ridley really suffers, to be honest, despite her chemistry with Mark Hamill, with her just wandering into characterisation caverns and blurting out a lot of very silly Force-isms that leaves Rey feeling more insipid than vital. Oh, and Poe has turned into a giant jerk in this movie, and, while Oscar Isaac can sell a lot, I was just rolling my eyes at his blatant, dumbass arrogance for a lot of this runtime, especially given ow it undermines his earnestness in TFA.
And honestly, more than anything, I just have this to ask: why Rian Johnson? It’s not that he’s a bad director, because I know he’s not – it’s not even that he hasn’t got form in the sci-fi world, because he has that, too. But he’s just not cut out for this franchise. And why would they give the middle part of a trilogy, the bread of which was to be handled by the same creator, to someone with no proven blockbuster chops? Someone who had basically been wrenched unceremoniously out of indie-dom and into one of the biggest franchises in the galaxy? Somebody who clearly had a very different vision for the franchise than Abrams (who has already hinted at retconning some of Johnson’s work here in Rise of Skywalker)?
In all honesty, I’m not really surprised that The Last Jedi is kind of a disaster: Rian Johnson, while he is the right man for many jobs, is the wrong man for this one. But I said this would be a learning experience, after all, and so, let’s take this from it: if you’re going to tell a story, make sure you’ve got the right person behind the helm to bring it to life. And, for fuck’s sake, hire a script editor next time.
If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it, please check out our other cinematic universe retrospective – for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Jurassic Park movies, and the Batman cinematic universe. You can check out more of my work on my personal blog, The Cutprice Guignol!
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via The Mary–Sue)