Even as I sit down to write this review, I am at a bit of a loss when it comes to The Last Jedi. The crowd hit the sidewalk after the screening in Italy babbling away, but I'm still struggling to figure out exactly what my opinion of this movie was. It was exciting, that's for sure. It changed the game for several characters. It was beautiful and entrancing. Something about just doesn't sit right with me, though. My thoughts all revolve around one plot detail.
Warning: This review is going to remain spoiler-free for the most part, but there may be some minor implications about what is/isn't revealed in this movie. Read at your own risk.
It's no secret that Kylo Ren and Rey's plotlines are converging in this movie. Whether or not this convergence really worked goes hand in hand with Rey's parentage. Without spoiling too much of how Rey's family is discussed in this movie, I will say if Kylo and Rey are related, I would love a good portion of this movie. That's not just me being a hardcore Rey Skywalker enthusiast, it's a genuine belief in the way this movie played out. Whether they're siblings or cousins, Rey and Kylo's storyline in a familial context was exciting to see. The parallels between them, Luke, and Leia were so clear and neat. I would have cashed in on my Rey Parentage Theory right then and there halfway through the film. It's an enticing dynamic that I would be thrilled to see play out in the next film.
This dynamic all relies on that familial connection already being there as a foundation for what happens in this film, though. If Rey is not a Skywalker, their relationship is incredibly weak. Whatever connection they form is forced and unbelievable. The entire dynamic moves too quickly and is utterly unconvincing based on Rey's opinion of Kylo in The Force Awakens. What could be an exciting development between these characters feels like Rian Johnson's awkward attempt at mimicking Luke's ability to see good in Vader. Rey's character is fundamentally different from Luke's, so if they are not related, any doubt she has about Kylo's nature has to be warranted. This film didn't convince me that it was.
Outside of my Schrödinger's Film Critique, my opinions on the film's strange treatment of other characters is a little more sturdy. Luke, especially, moves in and out of character like it's his job. There were moments where my heart jumped at seeing Mark Hamill say or do something that was so undeniably Luke. And others made it hard to reconcile the original trilogy's characterization with this new one.
The rest of the resistance is handed a plot that feels like it was crafted simply because Rian Johnson's focus on Rey and Kylo left him at a loss when it came to figuring out something for the other characters to do. Rose is a wonderful and instantly-lovable addition to the franchise. Most of her journey with Finn felt unnecessary until the very end. The movie's strong points are mainly found in Leia and Poe, both of whom really step up from their roles in The Force Awakens. It adds some essential love and life to this film's more edgy take on the franchise. Overall, the Resistance feels like a backdrop for Johnson's fixation on Rey and Kylo.
This film is competing with The Empire Strikes Back, so I'll give it points for trying, but it goes about combating that film in the wrong way. The paralleled training montage and rebellion mission storylines do not have the same urgency or power behind them. It features some incredible and beautiful moments worthy of Empire, but the characters behind them often feel off or like they haven't earned them.
While I know my stance on these aspects of the film, I almost feel like I have to withhold judgment on this movie's central plotline until Episode IX comes out. I have the full story for all of these characters. Until then, The Last Jedi remains a giant, possibly entertaining bundle of questions to analyze for the next two years.