***MILD SPOILERS BELOW***
It’s official: “Star Wars” is milking it.
There’s a scene in “The Last Jedi” emblematic of Disney’s directorial influence—toward unserious, self-referential mockery that panders to the poorest of tastes—and director Rian Johnson’s admonishment of nerd-like nostalgia.
In our first in-depth look at Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in 34 years, after he redeemed his father and saved the galaxy, the once-revered Jedi master milks a sea mammal and then shamelessly sports a milky white mustache upon consuming said mammal’s secretion. It might do a body good, but it does “Star Wars” bad.
“New rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wadges [sic] of pink paper, and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable,” Sir Alec Guinness wrote during his filming of the original “Star Wars.” Now imagine his contempt had George Lucas tried to make him physically explain the origins of that film’s famous blue milk.
Guinness’ sentiments aside, Lucas was too wrapped up in making a mythos to even think about pulling the rug out from underneath himself, those making it, or the audiences he hoped would accept it as sincere sci-fi storytelling. Disney, on the other hand, just wants to make an amusement—and a buck or two (billion) in the process. It does so quite brilliantly, in the cheapest way possible: by “letting” audiences in on its inside jokes. (Disney’s superhero Marvel movies do the same.)
Great movies—heck, even good ones—give audiences access to the greatest of experiences, ones we can’t (or would rather not) experience ourselves. “The Last Jedi” does the opposite; it lowers itself to our experiences. Who hasn’t had or seen a cream-clad upper lip? Who hasn’t been put on hold (something Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) suffers while staring down death with the First Order)? And who hasn’t used or heard the colloquial “page-turner” (which Jedi ghost Yoda uses to describe sacred religious texts)?
The original “Star Wars” trilogy had lighthearted moments mind you, but they never came at the expense of characters not taking their dire situations seriously—we laughed at them; they didn’t laugh with us. With the former, however, comes the risk that audiences won’t get the subtleties and thus won’t pay to see it. Case in point: The funniest of all the “Star Wars” films – “The Empire Strikes Back” – is actually the deepest. And the best. It’s also the lowest-grossing.
That’s why “The Last Jedi” is filled with ironic gags, before and after Skywalker’s sour milk. It’s a sure way to capture the masses’ attentions without putting them through the arduous task of having to listen and think. After all, there’s cell phones, craft beers, leather recliners, side conversations, and food to worry about.
When one does pay attention to “The Last Jedi,” they’ll find it is first and foremost a boring, repetitive, nonsensical mess (quick, insert gag here to distract). Even the new ground that Johnson supposedly breaks—that the Force is not a luxury reserved for the Jedi but a right procurable by the proletariat—was actually the saga’s initial sequential bombshell: Anakin “Darth Vader” Skywalker was freed from slavery.
For Johnson, lowering Luke to lactation is his way of removing any aura we ever applied to him or the Skywalker story. It’s a rebuke of royal-like reverence (even though Anakin was a slave and Luke a moisture farmer) and our own esteemed remembrance of the original series.
And yet, this new series is devoid of almost any originality, aside from a few artistic sequences unique to the director’s style. Overall, from its opening scroll and closing snow—er, salt—to Supreme Leader Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) Emperor-esque throne room, “The Last Jedi” reeks of “Empire” and “Return of the Jedi” rehashes. The CGI and dialogue bring to mind “Attack of the Clones”-level quality—it’s “coarse, and rough, and irritating”—and the John Williams score is an uninspired recycling of past tracks.
And the movie is slow. Painstakingly slow. One of its two major plot points involves a First Order superweapon tailgating a fuel-famished Resistance ship. Both are moving at idle speed—the entire movie. How apropos. Its side stories, meanwhile, have equal energy and, when thoughtfully scrutinized, are practically meaningless. Actions by Poe, Finn (John Boyega), and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) change almost nothing. There’s character development, and there’s character irrelevant.
If any satisfaction is realized in “The Last Jedi,” it’s in the uncovering of Rey’s roots and in further establishing some tension between her and Ben “Kylo Ren” Solo (Adam Driver). Even its conclusion, however, leaves little to care about. It’s about as hollow—or holographic—as the movie’s final lightsaber battle, which, in past underwhelming films, has at least been somewhat of a saving grace.
But director Rian Johnson is interested little in what came before. To him, it’s just an “udder” joke. So is “The Last Jedi.”
1.5 out of 5