Two years ago, after ten years of absence, Star Wars returned to the big screen and for the first time the space opera saga was in the hands of someone other than its creator George Lucas. The Force Awakens arrived in theaters around the world greeted with great excitement. Many early viewers heralded it as a resounding success. In contrast, I found myself initially quite disappointed with what I saw as a piece of entertaining, but lazy filmmaking that overly relied upon viewer nostalgia and recycled plot points to carry it across the finish line. Despite this first impression, I gave myself the opportunity to view the film on multiple occasions and the time to truly reflect upon it and process my feelings. Two weeks later, I posted a detailed look into what I saw as the film’s weaknesses and strengths: My Thoughts on The Force Awakens.
Despite having many criticisms of The Force Awakens, I made peace with the film and ended my post on a positive note:
The Force Awakens remains a mixed package for me. While it entertained me and allowed me some of the thrills of visiting a galaxy far far away, its reliance upon nostalgia and sloppy rehashing of a superior film left me disappointed and missing the fresh wonders, the creativity, and the substance that George Lucas always brought to each new Star Wars film. Still, I remain thankful for the parts that worked as well as for the promise of an Episode VIII from Rian Johnson that just might deliver a fully authentic Star Wars experience again. May the Force be with him!
My favorite parts of The Force Awakens all revolved around the new characters and the questions and hints surrounding their pasts and futures that the film set up for further exploration. I was very excited to see what the talented Rian Johnson would accomplish with these raw materials as I admired his earlier film Looper as well as his directing work on Breaking Bad.
Now, after two years of anticipation, The Last Jedi has arrived and despite my optimism going into the film, I once again found myself leaving the theater after my first viewing wondering what I had just watched and feeling as though I had been handed a mixed bag. While Johnson has avoided most of the mistakes of The Force Awakens and has delivered what is in many respects a beautiful film, The Last Jedi suffers greatly from a persistent tone deafness where many of its more interesting and strange choices when taken together in succession – especially on a first viewing – go beyond introducing fresh ideas and instead break the compositional constraints that identify something as Star Wars. Additionally, in striving to develop his themes and characters in the most dramatically exciting way that he can, Johnson finds himself in conflict with the constraints imposed by The Force Awakens and so commits the sin of violating legitimate expectations for the development of plot points set up in that film. What could have been among the strongest of Star Wars films is something of a mess filled with exciting action pieces, creative ideas, odd misfires and missed opportunities. It is a great film that shoots itself in the foot and that will turn off many non-casual viewers producing the intensely polarized response to the film currently seen on social media and around water coolers.