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Got a Bad Feeling About This

If Force Awakens garnered criticism for staying too close to A New Hope, then be prepared: Last Jedi mashes together Empire and Return of the Jedi. Under Disney’s banner, Star Wars isn’t taking chances.

Last Jedi is a Star Wars movie for a different generation. Hope is the direct theme, so much it’s spoken about ad nauseum. Younger audiences who stared up at Barack Obama’s campaign Hope poster find Last Jedi using a similar voice. Last Jedi is a chase movie where the ideologically impure First Order guns down the multi-national, inclusive gallery of rebellious heroes. The latter need hope against an enemy still poorly defined by this sequel series, but the will to fight against them remains strong.

There’s not much to Last Jedi. That’s the critical issue. This is the first mainline Star Wars to pick up minutes after the previous edition. There’s a reason others skipped ahead years, even decades. No one great threat looms in Last Jedi; there’s a swarm of First Order ships chasing down a small fleet of Rebels/Resistance. That’s the story. Empire Strikes Back, if without the urgency of characterization.

It’s less a war among the stars than it is a close quarters battle in a small pocket of inconsequential space

If anything, Last Jedi finds itself avoiding answers. It’s all an elaborate dodge, set between piles of laser powered ammunition and a couple of lavish lightsaber battles. Force Awakens artfully established the fascist form of the New Order; Last Jedi’s compact story shoves most of its characters inside cockpits, staring on at their opponents. It’s less a war among the stars than it is a close quarters battle in a small pocket of inconsequential space. The dismal lack of scale is an oddity in the mainline films.

There’s still a family squabble at the center of it all. Rey (Daisy Ridley) hunts for her parents. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) deals with the loss of his – one of them, anyway. When the credits roll, those critical thematic issues remain unsolved, awaiting answers in Episode IX, as if Disney needed a hook to lure audiences into a Star Wars movie.

Last Jedi ultimately feels empty, a stopgap film made under the Disney banner, with the same adoration for comic relief as their Marvel movies. A sequence on a casino planet is dire enough to originate in the prequels. Some puffy fan service moments, although funny, sour the impending sense of doom needed in a middle child film. Newly introduced characters do nothing other than comedy skits, and one eye-rolling, sure-to-be-a-meme moment is a better fit for Doctor Strange’s magical mysticism.

It’s fine for these movies to joke about themselves – this is still Star Wars – but Last Jedi drenches itself in contemporary cinema tropes. Again, Last Jedi wants to sink itself into the brains of a different generation, even at the expense of tone, lest they feel this multi-ethnic rebellion is ever truly in peril.

It’s fun. That matters still. All of the money being spent shows on screen, from drool-inducing production design to dazzling, sunset-soaked confrontations. Unnecessarily busy as this is (AT-AT walkers receive a redesign, but it’s never clear why they needed one) there’s little doubt in the visual prowess, even as the narrative becomes a background element. By the end, as rebels stare down yet another Death Star remnant, it’s a wonder if writer/director Rian Johnson was out of ideas, or some corporate New Order types squashed creative risk-taking.

At least Last Jedi leaves hope for Episode IX, and hope is what’s left for this series.

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As with its predecessor, The Last Jedi goes through its motions, but this time almost indifferent to even the basic needs of story beats.

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