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“The Last Jedi” doesn’t bring A New Hope

When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and then announced to the world that there would be a plethora of new Star Wars films, both arc and side stories, fans of the stories from a galaxy far, far away nearly went mad with anticipation, and now the second film in this latest main trilogy arc, Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi has finally been unleashed to a fan base that saw itself become wildly split after the release of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. Luckily the majority of fandom fell in line when the first release of their side stories, Rogue One was released. Now with episode VIII having come after receiving some of the most glowing early reviews from the press, fandom is hoping that perhaps The Last Jedi will be that one universally loved Star Wars movie that the critics have been crowing about.

There is not much to tell regarding the story. The trailer for this film has confirmed that the character of Rey goes in search of Luke Skywalker, and the rest of the Rebellion is merely trying to stay alive. Along the way there are many subplots and secondary storylines that creep in to the film that helps to make the 152-minute movie slow down and feel a bit tired now and then. The cast of characters is generally thought to be solid and each gave a good performance. Mind you there are no parts here that would be deemed as Oscar worthy, but they all gave performances that allowed you to be kept in the story most of the time. Even when the portrayals felt out of character, what saved those same portrayals was how well they performed. Again, nothing that would deserve any acting awards, but each one was more than solid.

The problem that this film has is more of what irritated fans regarding The Force Awakens, and that is overfamiliarity with much of the storyline and plot points. However, while a recycling of ideas may have worked for The Force Awakens, that same tactic does not work here. Ideas that were crafted and expertly handled in the original, and prequel, trilogies are stretched ridiculously thin, and not just once or twice, but repeatedly throughout the movie. While watching this film I actually lost count of the number of times we were given old ideas again and again, and that brings up probably the most egregious problem with this film, and that is it’s just too long. While the movie hits the ground running in probably one of the best opening acts I’ve seen in any of the movies, it promptly loses steam through a combination of recycled ideas and lines, as well as B and C storylines that ultimately do nothing to affect the outcome of their critical situations. Instead of giving us a story that might advance a character arc, or lay the foundation for something big to payoff later in the film, what we end up having is nothing more than just padding. That’s not to say that this film doesn’t deliver at times. When those scenes happen where everything comes together, it does so with a bang. As much as old ideas are revisited ad nauseum, the film does pack a quite a few surprises. Unfortunately even after the theater lights come up and you start to digest what you’ve just seen, some of those same surprises actually don’t look all that good in the end. They come off really amazing when we get them, but some of them end up actually failing upon closer examination.

I’m not about to say that The Last Jedi is a bad movie. Far from it. It’s “okay,” and there are a couple of things to really commend. For starters, the visual effects have never looked this good. They are remarkably slick and serve as quite the reminder why practical models and effects can work so well. The technology has certainly advanced since the first Star Wars movie came out, but it’s easy to see how technological advances have made The Last Jedi possible. Lastly, there is the music. John Williams has certainly perfected the form of the leitmotif that he started doing with A New Hope. Here we are treated to a return of many themes from past films. Now this is not to be confused with recycled plot lines. The leitmotif is designed to represent an individual(s), as well as refer to an object, or even an event. Williams plays with the old leitmotifs just right so as to not overstay their welcome, as well as give us plenty of new music that has much of that same fanfare we had heard in his earlier movie scores.

I liked The Last Jedi, which is a far cry from what I feared I was going to feel, but as equally a far cry from what I had hoped I would feel. Granted, this movie is not Gone With The Wind. It’s just a simple popcorn holiday flick for people to have fun with, and this movie does have its element of fun. What made Gone With The Wind a successful film is that there was plenty of content to justify its length. Sadly, that is not the case with The Last Jedi. Even fun popcorn films need to be put together in a smart manner. All one has to do is look at any of the movies from the original trilogy to see that. Those movies had even pacing and tightly told stories, as well as original ideas. The Last Jedi is terribly uneven, some of the plot points stall and it then feels as if the movie will never move on, and the ratio of new ideas to recycled ones is pretty poor. If this movie had been trimmed by 50 minutes those same recycled ideas wouldn’t feel quite so stale as they presently do (by not being dwelled upon quite so long as they are), and jettisoning some unnecessary scenes and storylines would have helped to make this an infinitely better film. As badly as I tried to give this movie 3 out of 5, I simply cannot rate it that high.

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi gets 2.5 out of 5 lightsabers.
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