If you “have a bad feeling about this”, chances are you could be right. Sprawling and, in some ways, complex, it could be said that new installment to the epic Star Wars saga still overshoots its target, which is especially true if one views it as a standalone piece. One can only imagine that attempting such a task would be akin to translating an alien dialect, in terms of how much one could understand when examining it as their introduction to the series, rather than a bridge between episodes. This is because the whole thing was quite difficult to fully take in, regardless of the fact this reviewer had previously seen all nine prior Star Wars works including the Rogue One spin-off.
There were several subplots to the film but none of them attempted to weave skillfully in and out of each other as in, say, the noughties film Crash. Instead they simply confuse the viewer at times and making the story overly elaborate with no real gain other than perhaps upping some enigmatic suspense. There was, however, little time(if any) where one was on the edge of their seat, and few great surprises. The nature of the story was such that one stopped expecting anything in particular to happen. This was partly because the audience supposedly knew that there must be a great twist somewhere (although such a huge change never came, or at least not one of much significance). This happened partly due to the moral ambiguity of some characters, and partly out of apathy—something not helped by the running time which seemed as never-ending as the vastness of space itself, although I am sure many far more severely-boredom-inducing films have been made. Despite the film’s length, it seems that no one character—except perhaps Rey—got time to really shine.
Although the dialogue, like most other elements of The Last Jedi, lacked much depth overall, and was sometimes hindered by its distracting use of technical terms of the Star Wars universe which even the greatest fanboy would struggle to understand. However, one was able to salvage from it the occasional moment a great deal of profundity (about “the burden of all masters” and how “failure a great teacher is” according to Yoda in his mixed-up syntax) and some humour (as Leia tells the robot C-3PO to wipe a worried expression off his expressionless face).
Furthermore, although a simpler plot overall would have been better, complexity is not always a bad thing, as is the case with the film’s welcome toying with once-rigid hero and villain roles. This intensifies as things fall apart like a fragmenting spaceship: new alliances often appear or crumble, with conflicts emerging within as often as those more obvious ones found between warriors. Indeed, one could make the case that the main theme on display in this film is not warfare between factions but that of a psychological or spiritual nature.
Overall, though, one is left mostly with a feeling of indifference and an impression of the film being not even buzz-creating for the viewer as they were watching, let alone afterwards. However, this could be seen as a good thing in the sense that one doesn’t feel like ranting about how bad it was, and some things—not just the beautiful moments of truth but also the equally magnificent settings—still linger in memory.
In summary, I sense that Star Wars creators need to force themselves to streamline their narratives: less-characters-is-more-depth could be a winning formula. They also need a greater willingness to significantly change the story and the way it is told even more than they have already. Experimenting more boldly and with better execution, they would hopefully more effectively affect the viewer, or at least their expectations.
Looking at the current hype machine surrounding the film, one is left thinking that such critical success just “does not compute”. Given some of its complexities – the kinds that scores goals despite failing to ‘keep a clean sheet’ – and it’s quite-appealing stories and visuals, plus some material to mentally take away, it was actually not that bad if one conveniently forgets about the masses of money and praise heaped upon it.
David J. Lownds is based in southern England and has written for a number of sites including Muso's Guide, who published a lot of his writing, including the playlist-meets-autobiography My Giant Steps in 2017. As well as writing about music, video games, film and psychology, he also sings plays bass and other guitars as well as writing songs and has dabbled in playing piano. The Shawshank Redemption and Inside I'm Dancing are among his favourite films.
Follow David on Twitter: @DavidJLownds.