‘The Last Jedi’ leave mixed feelings

I’ve seen “The Last Jedi,” the latest film in the third trilogy of the Star Wars universe, twice now. The first time I walked out feeling a mixture of apathy and disappointment, confused at some of the choices the director made, not to mention the crushing realization that I may not have liked it as much as I desperately wanted to.

It wasn’t until the second viewing that I began to accept the film for what it was and on its own terms, and while some of the egregious flaws that I noticed on the first showing didn’t resolve themselves upon a second screening, my opinion and appreciation of the movie itself improved dramatically. Yet, there are some significant flaws, but there’s a 45-minute stretch in the middle of “The Last Jedi” that is pure Star Wars: legendary, influenced by Kurosawa and Westerns alike, a perfect blending of so many of the things George Lucas coveted when he was young. It’s just unfortunate that it’s sandwiched between two other sections that are defined by some very poor writing.

“The Last Jedi” is the sequel to “The Force Awakens,” Disney’s rebooting of the Star Wars franchise back in 2015. “The Last Jedi” takes place directly after the infamous cliffhanger of the previous film, establishing itself immediately as a different kind of Star Wars film. Star Wars, by its nature, tends to be epic in scope, but “The Last Jedi” instead focuses only on a few characters and a few relationships, fleshing them out and detailing them in a way that ties them into the overall Star Wars mythos. Gone are the political underpinnings so readily apparent in the prequel trilogy and original films. This is also caused by the seeming ineptitude of both The First Order and the Resistance, with both factions struggling to maintain any sense of control over their hard-earned territory in the universe.

The bulk of the film is placed upon the triumvirate of Kylo Ren, Rey and Luke Skywalker, as each character begins to truly understand their place in the universe and their relationship with the force and one another. The film is at its strongest in these moments, as each actor brings some of their best work to their characters.

Adam Driver is especially captivating. His whiny and petulant Kylo Ren from “The Force Awakens” is gone, replaced by a menacing and magnetic villain, one whose motivations and terrors become clear over the course of the movie. Driver really sells his performance with the physicality unique to his stature. In “The Force Awakens,” he was awkward and stilted, but here he is confident and full of the trademark anger that defines the Sith. Driver seethes with it. Furthermore, his Sith snarl swallows sentences whole and then spits them back out, leaving the mangled corpses of words on the floor; one can almost imagine him picking consonants and vowels out of his teeth with a sharp toothpick, letting each syllable be savored.

Additionally, Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley are also accomplished, balancing levity and the gravity of their characters’ situations almost effortlessly. Hamill can sometimes dip into over-dramatization, but luckily the script reigns him in when needed.

Yet, the film makes some very odd creative choices that really hamper its full effect. Finn and Rose (the newest addition to the Star Wars universe) and Poe Dameron feel like drags on the story, with each scene weighing down the momentum the previous scene tried so hard to cultivate. In addition, some characters act with no real sense or logic, instead just ferrying from plot point to plot point to further the story. Finn and Rose especially feel useless, as their entire storyline is shallow and dull and marked by a freshman anti-corporate sentiment that is hokey and painful.

Benicio Del Toro’s short stint as adroit thief DJ is shoehorned into the already crowded plot and his talent is wasted. Even Finn’s confrontation with Captain Phasma, which was hyped after her abbreviated showing in “The Force Awakens,” is unsatisfying and tacky and riddled with bad dialogue. A bright spot is Larua Dern’s Captain Holdo, but her appearances are few and far between. Linking all of this together is forced humor that seems very out of place in the Star Wars universe. It’s not that previous Star Wars films weren’t funny, the humor was just sparser. In contrast, this film is almost tripping over itself to tell every joke, letting some moments of great dramatic tension be unnecessarily undercut by humor. I couldn’t help but imagine that Disney was trying to retrofit the ultra-successful Marvel formula for the Star Wars universe.

There’s something to be said for the bold creative decisions writer and director Rian Johnson makes in “The Last Jedi.” However, there’s subverting expectations skillfully (which he does) and then there’s poor writing (which he is also guilty of). I can’t help but wonder if the megalomaniac Disney corporation is somehow involved in how “The Last Jedi” unfolded, but it seems hard to believe Johnson didn’t accomplish everything he wanted. However you feel about how “The Last Jedi” reveals itself will depend on your level of loyalty to the franchise. As someone who appreciates Star Wars on a mainly surface level, some of these character revelations didn’t rock my world. However, for those who hold Star Wars near and dear to their heart, they might find this Star Wars a bit too different for their taste.