Unfortunately, director Rian Johnson seems to have taken his own advice too seriously without thought of character, narrative, or consequence.
Bear with me, because I know I'm in the vast minority as someone who found this latest installment lackluster, thin as a croissant flake, and generally puerile.
The Last Jedi picks up directly where the previous movie ended, unlike all other Star Wars sequels which have had several years in-between movies. The First Order has found the base of the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, and starts off a long chase sequence across the galaxy to snuff them out for good. In the meantime, Rey seeks out the last jedi, Luke Skywalker, in a last bid for hope for mankind and for guidance for her own troubled yearnings.
JJ Abrams' The Force Awakens was flawed, yet it was entertaining. It was fun, and it made us happy to be back in its world. Furthermore, Abrams' strength has always been in creating likable characters and joyous action sequences.
Johnson's movie chokes the life out of his characters. There's a sense of a man behind the curtain that delights in making his characters do what he wants them to do rather than letting his characters guide him, which is what a good storyteller does. Perhaps Force Awakens worked too hard to service its fans, but Johnson is lacking in perception for the universe or what came before him. Instead of understanding the mythos, he throws it out the window, often devolving down to the level of "your momma" jokes.
Take for example, the first meeting of the hallowed Luke Skywalker and Rey. As the closing scene of the previous movie, it was haloed with wonder and mystery. For the past two years, there has been speculation on what to follow. And then perhaps to thumb in the nose of all that expectation, Johnson throws it all way in the first five seconds of the interaction. The scene in Last Jedi that picks up right where that previous scene ends garnered a few laughs as perhaps Johnson meant, but was met mostly with shock.
This seems to be the theme in Last Jedi. Picking up directly from the last movie and putting the characters in immediate peril means that the previous movie is robbed of any sense of accomplishment. Perhaps Johnson is trying to emphasize his storytelling and his film auteurship in shedding the previous Star Wars trappings, but does that also mean his generals must constantly forget their past and make unbelievably amateurish strategic mistakes over and over again? If this movie is supposed to lambast last stands and the improbable crazy bids that save the universe, why does it rely constantly on deus ex machinas? His disavowal of what came before him goes from small things like moving Kylo Ren's scar to larger, far more troubling character inconsistencies.
There is no development of the wonderful characters we met in the first chapter. There is no sense of growth, nor any real sense of dangerous temptation for our heroine Rey. And Kylo Ren and Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), who are supposed to be the leaders of the First Order, are children constantly swayed (to their detriment) by their own emotion. Gone are the calculating iciness or uncompromising darkness of Palpatine or Darth Vader. Part of the allure of the darkness was how opaque they were, but when all the emotions are raw on the surface, there's no reason to go any deeper. What have we to fear from an enemy that resorts to smashing items when he's angry, or better yet, has already been defeated by the heroine in the first movie?
And this is another complaint, is how easily everything comes for the characters. Skywalker may have undergone exceptional training to even lift a stone, running through forests with Yoda strapped to his back, and yet we get no sense of strain from Rey. We never feel a sense of danger for our characters, such as Finn (John Boyega) or his new partner-in-crime Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) in a particularly atrocious side quest.
Despite all of these lamentations, there is too much to be said about specifics or whether the movie is true to the Star Wars legend. The question above that is, is this a good story?
Sadly, The Last Jedi fails there as well. It's a bloated chase sequence that doesn't know how to shape or give well-rounded arcs to its characters or its villains. There are a few wonderful, stunning scenes, but they only serve to emphasize the complete waste of talent and storytelling there is in this installment. At times, it feels as harebrained as the schemes in the movie.
And yes, thankfully there are several strong female characters in the film. But are we always going to be subject to the Wonder Woman flaw? Are we so grateful to have a strong woman that is integral to the plot, that we allow ourselves to be blind to the other narrative elements surrounding it? Why does every single moment that a woman is strong in the plot of Last Jedi come at the detriment to narrative?
On that note, Daisy Ridley was so fresh and likable in Force Awakens, we welcomed the hope of a nuanced portrayal in Last Jedi where we would see her delve into darkness, as was so suggested by all of the trailers. And yet, we come out of this movie not having seen her really be tempted by any shadows.
Ultimately, The Last Jedi turned out to be what I had originally feared The Force Awakens would be. There is no fundamental awareness for the story or the universe, and in that, Johnson has lost the awe and reverence of the Star Wars universe.