There's nothing too sensitive in here, spoiler-wise, but there's not nothing. I will try to warn you any time I talk about that occurs after the first 20 minutes or so.

The obvious praise first: Star Wars: The Last Jedi swings for the fences, and of course that's something to be grateful for. Particularly for a film that costs this much; particularly for a film made by such a challenge-averse company as Disney; particularly for the sequel to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, one of the most cautious bunts in the history of commercial cinema. The Last Jedi, under the guidance of writer-director Rian Johnson, does not lazily retread Star Wars past, and it does not simply give us more of the same; it upends assumptions one makes 40 years after the original Star Wars, assumptions made 2 years after The Force Awakens, and assumptions made simply on knowing how big-budget franchise cinema works.

On the other hand:

Sometimes, bunting wins the game. And sometimes, you swing for the fences and miss, and the bat goes flying out of your hands and into the grandstand, and it smacks somebody's nice old grandma in the head and she has to go to the hospital.

The film is almost four days old at this point, so obviously everybody already has the opinion set in stone that they're going to carry with them for the rest of time, but let's go ahead and do this thing. What are we to make of this thing called The Last Jedi? A stunningly effective, revolutionary approach to popcorn movie storytelling? A grotesque insult to the 40-year history of this franchise and the people who kept the fires lit during its many years of insignificance in the 1980s and 1990s?

Here's my pick: I absolutely do not give a shit about either of the above options, because you know what else The Last Jedi is? 50 fucking minutes too long, that's what, and the most excruciatingly boring movie that has ever been released in this franchise. And this is a franchise that once opened up a movie by talking about controversial tax legislation.

Oh, not all of it is the most boring tentpole of 2017. Hell, probably less than half of it is. And the more-than-half that's good contains some extremely good parts at that. The first action sequence, while perhaps the most implausible space battle in Star Wars history (the series' insistence on treating spacecraft like they follow the flight physics of World War II fighter planes reaches a new height of idiocy when we see a payload of bombs dropped like the firebombing of Dresden in outer space), is a terrific addition to the series' portfolio of tense battle sequences given a boost of exhausting emotional brilliance by John Williams's score. A character we've never seen and shall never see again (Veronica Ngô, who we last saw around these parts thanks to her directorial effort Tam Cam: The Untold Story), using the last of her physical will to sacrifice herself to save the day, in a scene where Bob Ducsay's tightly-focused analytical editing working on Johnson and cinematographer Steve Yedlin's impressively small-scale images to create one of the best thriller scenes that has ever been seen in this series (which has never exactly gone all-in on thriller mechanics). And there are other equally amazing moments throughout, or even more amazing moments: a very wonderful moment in a space battle where the audio cuts out to allow us to gawk at one of the most singular tactics in the history of screen space battles; an action scene in a cherry red room that has the best lightsaber choreography since the Darth Maul fight in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace way the hell back in 1999 (in part because, like that fight, it needs to arrange choreography for more than two participants), as well as a properly rousing "hell yeah" climax; a climactic battle sequence that I will describe only so far as to say that it too uses the color red in some astonishing ways, tracing beautiful lines in monochrome and kicking up some really fantastic crimson dust clouds. It is, if nothing else, the best-looking Star Wars film since the exquisite color and lighting play of The Empire Strikes Back.

Indeed, on the order of once every ten minutes, for about 15 seconds at a time, I found myself absolutely baffled why I wasn't enjoying myself. I mean look at that! Or that! Or holy shit all of THAT! How could a bad movie have all of those things in it? Well it does. More than any other thing, The Last Jedi is an astonishingly uneven movie - far more uneven than should be possible for a film with this many minders. There are, broadly speaking, three subplots at play (and right about here is where the mild spoilers are going to come in): one of these is the story of Rey (Daisy Ridley), the Force-sensitive orphan we met in The Force Awakens, who after much struggle and torment has come to find the distant planet where Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has been hiding for many years, ever since a tragedy befell his Jedi training school. She desires to be trained in the esoteric arts of the Jedi, and to learn why this strange power has only now awoken in her soul; he has grown embittered and cynical, and wishes to have nothing to do with the ways of the fallen world anymore. This is the good-to-great subplot, the one with the film's most successfully developed character arc (Luke's), its most interesting and active character (Rey), and most of the best hell yeah moments and nearly all of the jokes that land (The Last Jedi has an impressively poor batting average for its jokes: it opens with a vengefully dumb "I have a bad phone connection" bit that put me on the movie's bad side basically as soon as it had a side to be on, and it's not exactly all uphill from there). Indeed, I'd almost go so far as to say that The Last Jedi is only good when one of either Luke or Rey is in a scene, and it is always good when one of them is in a scene, though this ignores the setpieces that work with neither of them being involved.

Then there's the subplot that's basically just a middle-tier episode of the 2000s Battlestar Galactica (and it makes sense that Star Wars would steal from Battlestar Galactica, given that the original version of Battlestar Galactica was stealing from Star Wars): hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is too impetuous and makes poor choices, putting him on the wrong side of fleet leaders General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), in a study of the tension between military leaders and the people they command that is, I am sorry to say, an Idiot Plot. Like, a pure-blooded, absolutely flawless version of an Idiot Plot: there is not one good reason for Holdo to withhold information she withholds, there is even less reason for Poe to withhold information he withholds, and a full goddamn hour of this movie takes place solely because they are both being dumbasses. And it's not even a productive hour - the plot is advanced in not the smallest, most insignificant detail because of this hour. It goes exactly where it would have gone anyway, and all we get for it is Dern being amazing in a thready little nothing role, and Isaac being frankly not all that great in a heaving cliché of a role.

And this plotline feeds right into the absolutely unforgivably terrible subplot, which is the adventures of Finn (John Boyega) the cowardly ex-storm trooper, and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), the class-conscious engineer, who go on a fetch quest that is every bit as pointless as the whole matter of the military nonsense, only even worse, because it hinges on terrible comedy, bad CGI, and a spectacularly horrible moment when Johnson stops the film in its tracks to provide a ruthlessly on-the-nose lesson about economic inequality and the military-industrial complex, and I hate this all the more for the film's message in this moment being one I passionately agree with - if something has to be artless and awful, better that it not take down a cause I hold dear as part of the collateral damage. And it really is awful; the worst thing in the movie, despite the best intentions of various film critics to defend it (I am sorry, but "has politics I like" is not all it takes to make a movie good. If all you want is for a film to spit your ideology back at you, and it doesn't matter if this is done with any grace or artistry at all, congratulations: you are a Stalinist. I like politics in movies - I love politics in movies - but not every political filmmaker is Sergei Eisenstein, and they should damn well not be treated like they are). Boyega and Tran fight a good fight; they try to be upbeat and fun, despite the aimless, goofball horseshit they're stuck with. And this takes place on what is, by all means, a very cool set: the casino planet where the plot takes them for a spell feels like the best parts of the prequels in terms of world-building, and it has the best new composition Williams has written for this film. But it's dramatically dire - honestly, as dire as anything in a theatrically-released Star Wars film has been.

Anyway, the film's structure is a straight disaster: while other Star Wars films have had worse screenplays at the level of story, and they've definitely had worse screenplays at the level of dialogue, this screenplay has the worst bones. Compared to this, the back-and-forth-and-nowhere-at-all shape of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones looks altogether classical. Couple that structure with the film's exhausting 152 minute running time, and there you have all the boredom in the world: I would absolutely say that more good things and fewer bad things happen in this movie than in any of the three prequels, but the film is hellbent on presenting its good things in the worst possible light, by kludging together the narratively barren central hour from a mixture of awesome things - Rey's frustration, Luke's slow moral awakening, Rey's psychic bond with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, who is much less interesting than he was last time, in part because he has a less interesting plot), Rey's attempts to harness her Force power without guidance, Rey's final triumph near the end, basically anything Rey-related and not much else - from tedious things like the grinding military plot, and from the heinous things that are Poe and Finn and Rose's grand tour of the most dangerous kind of stupidity imaginable.

It is a miserable feeling to not like this film: it does so much that I liked a lot, and the supercut of the film that's just Rey's journey, her discovery of some unsettling truths about herself, and the new strength of will that discovery brings, that supercut would be one of my favorite Star Wars movies. That supercut would also be less than an hour in length, and what fills out the rest of the time is the most palpable filler, serving no narrative purpose, and doing very little to increase our sense of what's going on inside the heads of a bunch of under-conceived characters (Finn is a huge missed opportunity: he should be a complex, troubled figure, and he's used as a slapstick buffoon without fail. Poe was never going to be more than a well-acted stock character, but turning him into a less interesting in every way version of BSG's Kara Thrace is especially galling. Holdo gets the film's best performance, but she has hardly any screentime. Domnhall Gleeson's villain Hux is just annoying and pointless and the film barely even has the energy to make him the butt of jokes).

I am happy for the people who walk out of this movie having had a good time; I am happy for the people who see in it an inspiring challenge to our preconceptions of what this kind of movie can be. I just don't have any fucking clue what has driven those people to have that response. To me, it is a dreary drag, with enough good material to make the bad material really stand out, and whatever charms accrue from doing unexpected things with the Star Wars mythos are largely counterbalanced by the almost complete lack of plot advancement that happens over this film's expansive running time. The simple fact is, I didn't have any fun, and whatever social, psychological, and narratological issues you want to use the film to talk about, a Star Wars film that's not first and above all fun really just isn't worth very much.

Reviews in this series
Star Wars (Lucas, 1977)
The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980)
Return of the Jedi (Marquand, 1983)
Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (Lucas, 1999)
Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (Lucas, 2002)
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (Lucas, 2005)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Johnson, 2017)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Abrams, 2019)