Due to my longstanding ‘Star Wars’ ennui and all the vehemently negative word-of-mouth surrounding the movie, I feel like I must be one of the last people on Earth to see ‘The Last Jedi’. When a window of opportunity opened the other day, all that hectoring from one of our readers must have gotten to me, because I finally watched the damn thing.
Rian Johnson’s ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi‘ was simultaneously one of the highest-grossing and most popular movies of 2017, and also one of the most hated. At the end of last year, it topped both our Favorite Blockbuster of 2017 and Most Disappointing Blockbuster of 2017 polls. It seems like the people who hate it do so with an unceasing, volcanic ferocity that they are compelled to tell everyone about as loudly and as often as possible. Long before watching it, I couldn’t avoid having almost all of the movie’s plot spoiled for me, and had read countless complaints tearing it apart scene by scene, if not frame by frame. The unavoidable perception this left me with was that ‘The Last Jedi’ was not only the worst movie ever made, but quite possibly the worst piece of narrative fiction ever conceived in human existence. Given that I wasn’t particularly a fan of its predecessor, ‘The Force Awakens’ (not to mention the George Lucas prequel trilogy), I was neither inclined to disbelieve any of this nor eager to find out for myself.
Well, now I’ve watched it. Does it make me a bad film fan to say that I kind of liked it?
(Spoilers follow, in case you didn’t bother to watch the movie either.)
Don’t get me wrong, the movie has some issues. It has a number of pointless and/or dumb scenes and plot points that don’t make sense, and the story hinges on both Luke Skywalker and his sister Leia suddenly revealing new magical powers that had never been mentioned or even hinted at in any prior ‘Star Wars’ canon. It’s also at least a half hour too long. I do not believe this is one of the best ‘Star Wars’ movies. However, it’s also definitely not the worst. I’d rank it around the middle of the pack. Its problems don’t seem particularly worse to me than most other blockbuster movies of this type or scale. Frankly, I thought ‘The Last Jedi’ was a lot better than ‘The Force Awakens’.
I can understand some of the complaints about the plot of the movie ultimately going nowhere. The heroes don’t actually accomplish much of anything, except to lose time and again. Every plan they enact fails. In particular, Finn and Rose’s extended trip to the casino planet ends with everyone worse off than they started. However, I don’t agree that these storylines are a waste of time. Johnson clearly made a conscious decision to deconstruct the classic Hero’s Journey narrative that this franchise has relied on so heavily, even setting up an elaborate side-quest that viewers expect will prove critical to saving the day, only to pull the rug out from under that at the end. I get that this pissed off a lot of viewers, but it worked for me, especially since the film is positioned as the middle act of a trilogy where the heroes are supposed to get their asses kicked, much like what happened in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.
Honestly, I don’t really understand the vehemence of many viewers’ loathing for this movie. Even the things about it I decidedly didn’t like (especially the lame attempts at humor) don’t seem that bad. Anyone claiming that ‘The Last Jedi’ is worse than ‘The Phantom Menace’ has very different views on the definitions of “good” and “bad” than I do.
I recognize that by writing this post I am opening the floor for the haters to expound once again on everything they found wrong with the movie. I think it might be nice for a change if some of the people who did enjoy the movie (and a lot of people did) might be allowed some space to explain what they liked about it.
With all that said, I have to concede that the Blu-ray is one of the worst-looking and -sounding discs for a major blockbuster I’ve seen in quite some time. The video is frustratingly soft and flat, with milky, elevated black levels. As an experiment, I tried to watch the Ultra HD copy downconverted to 1080p, but because that disc is encoded with Dolby Vision, it locks my OPPO player out from using any video adjustment controls, and as a result the entire image was far too dim on my projector to be watchable. The standard Blu-ray looked at least slightly better. (I cannot judge what the UHD looks like on a true 4k Dolby Vision display at this time.) Worse, even after cranking the volume above reference level (I watch most movies around -9dB below reference), neither the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack on the Blu-ray nor the Dolby Atmos track on the UHD had any bass at all. Literally none. This is the worst-sounding movie I’ve suffered through since ‘Age of Ultron’. I’ve watched classic movies with mono soundtracks with far more dynamic range than this one.