I saw The Last Jedi this morning.
I'll need to see it again.
I will reserve a fuller review for later, and will avoid spoilers here, but I have to be honest that I was jarred a little by it. While a solid action, sci-fi/fantasy film with all the elements you need to have a popcorn chewing good time, I am not 100% sure it felt like STAR WARS enough for me.
The film felt like a really good story arc from a comic book, novel, or fan fiction of STAR WARS. At least that was my take away from the first viewing. It was as if Rian Johnson had a little too much freedom in the telling of the story, and could have used some writing assist from Lawrence Kasdan, whose tone and dialogue made The Force Awakens feel seamless in the STAR WARS world. This time it felt like Johnson was the fanboy who made up the whole "what happens next" story that won the prize and was adapted to the next film, rather than a well-planned follow up.
Some of the comedy is too on the nose and tonally too far out of STAR WARS realm of humor.
There are a few choices that he made that I outright disagree with, especially given the powerful emotional weight of the final frames of TFA, the next moments through the Rian Johnson lens squander that powerful moment for a cheap visual gag. No spoilers though.
Johnson hits all the beats, but they never quite land with the impact they should have, save a handful of times. And Johnson's lack of a better adherence to the classic 3 act structure makes it feel out of balance (with the Force of STAR WARS storytelling.)
Laura Dern's character and the whole minor subplot that pops up around her in the middle of the movie is filler and needless on almost every level, and could have been streamlined to trim about 15 minutes out of the movie. Had that beat been left out, the final act of the movie would not have felt like it was just a bit too much in an already stuffed movie.
Princess Leia has a Force using moment that is WAY off base from everything we know about the Force and those who can use it.
In fact, Johnson plays fast a loose with the Force in ways that felt like they needed to be reigned in. Its a whole new take on the Force that feels too much like it comes from a playground scenario I would have had at age 9 with friends as we all speculated the next movie.
I guess it sounds like I'm not a fan of Rian Johnson's take on STAR WARS, doesn't it? Well, I think that is correct. While delivering a technically great movie that has plenty of flash and flare, I don't think he "gets" the deeper soul of STAR WARS, but understands the surface of it incredibly well. This is a surface STAR WARS movie. It lacks true depth and misses the chance to leave the viewer as shocked as we all were with EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, or as dazzled as we were with A NEW HOPE.
It does leave us and the characters in a darker place that they must overcome against all odds in the next film. But there was no real "holy crap" moment that left me feeling like I am on pins and needles to see how the next movie plays out. The stakes are high, but don't feel as significant as they should.
Perhaps upon a further viewing, I will feel differently. But it should not take a second viewing to "get it" when it comes to a STAR WARS movie.
My current ranking of the films lands this one in the middle of the pack:
EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
A NEW HOPE
THE FORCE AWAKENS
RETURN OF THE JEDI
THE LAST JEDI
REVENGE OF THE SITH
ATTACK OF THE CLONES
THE PHANTOM MENACE
It did make me feel one thing very strongly: I can't wait to see the Lawrence Kasdan scripted SOLO in May. Kasdan is a master and Johnson should beg him with the persistence of Rey to Luke, so that he might learn at the feet of the master.
I know it is popular to hate on TFA now, and decry it for being too formulaic and too much a NEW HOPE homage/rip off. But JJ Abrams was far better at tapping into the right tone and energy. He and Kasdan understood how to continue the universe while also recharging it. The task they had with that film was epic, and they succeeded on every level, in my opinion. Johnson simply furthers the plot a mere few paces, when he could have and should have taken it light years.