Star Wars: The Last Jedi stirs up a lot of emotions for fans old and new. Time should be kind with evaluation of the film as more and more the memories of the original trilogy dim and give away to a new generation but for those of us who grew up on those memories there are things that hurt in this movie and we don’t have to go quietly into the night.
The story follows three threads; Rey (Daisy Ridley) has arrived on Ahch-Toto be trained by the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Finn (John Boyega) is dispatched with a new character Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) on a mission to Canto Bight, a Casino planet, to find hacker. Meanwhile Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) remains with the Resistance fleet being commanded by Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) as the First Order follows them from a distance waiting for their fuel reserves to run out.
Rian Johnson has made a career out of doing films in specific genres with a sense of reinvention. Here he re-invents Star Wars, a mid-stop for a trilogy that feels like a “cappe” that also rejects some of the set-up of the previous film. New powers and logistical considerations appear that change the dynamics of this universe. Most importantly he asks us to re-evaluate these characters and present them in a new light.
This is no more present than with Luke Skywalker, the hero of the original trilogy now a broken man full of remorse, his earnestness replaced with bitter cynicism and his good heart now tortured. How much you enjoy this film is going to depend an awful lot on how much you believe the characterisation of Luke Skywalker at this point in his life. There is a moment where Luke finds out the events of the last film and it feels painfully glossed over.
Still there’s a lot to admire in this approach to demystifying the most successful pop mythology of all time. Skywalker has become a myth and true fans will remember that he is just a man, once quite a green horned farm boy actually, so it’s an interesting idea to show that once young adventurous soul now inhabits an older man with many regrets about his own failings. The ending is also neat dealing with the ideas of myths, how they come to pass and what really happened on the day. General Leia is also back and even though she sports less screen time she remains every bit the wise and brave leader we always knew her to be. It is interesting to note in these times of discussions about gender representation on film, abuse against women and female empowerment that it is unlikely that Leia would portrayed as anything but a positive well-adjusted figure whereas Luke here has to grow as a person. I don’t know if the roles had been switched whether that would have brought the film some criticism.
Besides Luke’s arc, a lot of new things are added including new forces powers and new considerations when jumping to light speed for one thing. Some things will bother some fans, some won’t mind. All of these developments seem to be made in aid of telling the story; the stakes are very high in this film, the Resistance now cut down to personnel on a handful of ships being chased across the Galaxy with minimal hope of escape. There are compelling ideas in the story of Rose but no real connection with the audience and if this was the first time out for Finn he would fail to be someone we cared about nearly as much. On the other hand the development of Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and their relationship which plays out a little like an adolescent crush on the kid your parents don’t approve of is handled really well. There is a fake out involving the death of a leader and the surprise death of another leader. A surprise re-appearance from an old favourite touches the right tone. It’s difficult to write about the film without giving away too much, this world has become so well-known and beloved that there is a short hand to everything. You feel a discussion about one side character’s fate speaks volumes in a way no other franchise would inspire discussion.
So let’s say this, Rian Johnson has told his own story and opened up a lot of new possibilities. J.J. Abrams was seen as a safe choice for Episode IX, now his stocks might just rise because of some of the developments here and the hope he can salvage some of The Force Awakens vibes. There’s wriggle room to ret-con too but I’m not sure how much he will. This makes it sound as if the film is horrible when it is a lot more complicated than that! The film is a series of subplots or developments that will prove divisive, it is trying something new which should be applauded but that can’t be used as an excuse for some poor choices both narratively and execution wise. The production values are incredible with for the most part a real attempt to do effects in camera and take us to new exciting worlds. Some sequences are too CGI heavy and tedious, other set pieces are bound to become some of the most iconic in the franchise. The humour in the film is a mixed bag and the pacing is off, you feel the length of this film and there are essentially two climatic finales and a subplot that fails to engage or even ultimately serve much of a purpose.
This feels like a Star Wars movie that was necessary for breaking formula and expectations. Some fans will cite it as a watershed moment in the franchise; others will hang their heads and never forgive for some of what happens here. The rest of us will probably feel torn, this is not the greatest movie in the series but it may be an important one. It also proves a painful one too in its limiting of fan pleasing moments but it is a good movie and brave one. But not a great movie, doing something new is great but you have been great at doing it if you want that praise.