Sunday, 24 December 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi



Despite all the critical acclaim, my expectations for Star Wars: The Last Jedi were quite low (after all, the critics liked The Force Awakens much more than I did). Given those low expectations, The Last Jedi was a very pleasant surprise. It’s still not as good as the critics (or general viewers) seem to think it is (IMHO), but it’s a huge improvement over The Force Awakens (and Rogue One, which is best forgotten). 

Plot: The Resistance, led by General Leia, is fighting the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke and General Hux, but the Resistance is losing and about to get wiped out entirely. Their only hope seems to be Luke Skywalker, whom Rey tracked down at the end of The Force Awakens. Can Rey talk Luke into helping them, especially while she’s dealing with a mysterious long-distance connection to Kylo Ren?

My biggest complaints about The Force Awakens were the utter lack of originality, Rey needing to be a violent female lead and the horrifying destruction of the Republic without any appropriate response from Resistance members. The Last Jedi, which was written and directed by Rian Johnson (a smart move), has no such upsetting moments, is far more original (while still borrowing pieces from the original trilogy, especially The Return of the Jedi) and Rey at least never uses a gun (only a light-sabre, which makes a big difference to me). Not to say that The Last Jedi doesn’t have its  share of flaws. The worst scene in the film, which is completely unnecessary, is the fight involving Snoke’s red guards. Pathetic! And there is far too much action for a film that has been praised for having so little action (compared to Rogue One or what?).

But let’s focus on the good stuff for once, because while the magic of the first trilogy, and even parts of the second trilogy, is in short supply in this third trilogy, The Last Jedi does have its moments. Of particular interest are most of the scenes involving Rey (Daisy Ridley). Rey is a fascinating character, Ridley is a fine actor, and the scenes involving Rey are (in general) much more thoughtful than the rest of the film. These scenes also generally involve Luke (Mark Hamill) or Ren (Adam Driver), making for some riveting conversations (as Rey’s conversations with Han Solo and Maz were two key highlights of The Force Awakens). In general, I enjoyed the scenes on the island (where Rey found Luke) much more than the rest of the film.

I did like the introduction of two new female characters (Kelly Marie Tren as Rose and Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo), both of whom have key roles and are involved in some of the more engaging pieces of dialogue. Then there is Benicio del Toro in a quirky role that is fun to watch. John Boyega returns as Finn, who’s a likeable well-played character. Oscar Isaac’s Poe is less likeable (though he often has the adorable BB-8 at his side). Poe is an arrogant pilot who thinks he’s always right. I appreciated how he was put in his place a couple of times (by women). Speaking of which, Carrie Fisher returns in her last role as Leia and does a fine job. Representing the dark side, we also have Domhnall Gleeson as Hux and Andy Serkis as Snoke. Everyone performed quite well. Missing, sadly, was Harrison Ford as Han Solo, who was killed by his son (Ren) in The Force Awakens, but Chewbacca has a prominent role.

Politically, it's not as easy to associate the First Order (not much depth provided for the First Order) with the evil empire of our day as some of the previous films, but there were some strong anti-wealth comments (ironic for a film that will make a billion dollars), including linking wealth and capitalism to the weapons trade. 

The best thing about The Last Jedi (for me) was the way it felt like an epic space opera with an intricate plot and engaging, flawed well-drawn characters. The last two Star Wars films, despite having strong female leads, failed to do that. Indeed, they both made me sigh with disappointment when the credits started to role. This time I was nodding with satisfaction. The original magic still isn’t there, but it certainly felt like I got my money’s worth at the cinema (needless to say, I didn’t watch the 3D version). Star Wars: The Last Jedi gets a solid ***+. My mug is up. 

4 comments:

  1. Just saw this last night and I was also pleasantly surprised. In fact, I think I liked it more than you did. It many ways it had everything that The Force Awakens lacked - especially creativity. There were many quotable moments and much food for thought to contribute to relevant issues of our day. Especially, I thought that the attitude in general to religion was very timely: do we or don't we need Jedi? Exactly what we need to be talking about. And the Canto Bright scenes! How is this not a huge and positive addition to the Star Wars approach?
    Rian Johnson deserves many kudos for his subversion of earlier approaches without undermining the franchise (including the role of women and the corrections of Poe as you mention).
    Then add interesting psychological thoughts about separating from parents (of course, not new to Star Wars) and the perfect island setting for the Jedi talks and you have by far the best Star Wars film since early days.
    Yes, there were still weak points, but I'm still going with **** and a mug raised high for this one.

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  2. A little late to the game, but I wanted to toss in a couple points. I think what killed that last two SW movies (R1 and TLJ) is the inappropriate use of humor to kill any scene that might make you care about the characters. It felt like Edwards and Johnson were afraid to take their stories seriously and let dramatic moments stand unscathed. TLJ didn't do this to Ren's and Rey's story arc which, in my opinion, is why that was the only plot line that had any weight at the end.

    I do disagree that the fight scene with Snoke's guards being pointless. It was flashy and over-stylized for sure, but it was necessary. The DNA of Luke and Vader's relationship is all throughout their arc and Star Wars has always been a space drama about a complicated relationship. Rey now feels compassion for Ren to the point that she risks everything to save him and Ren seems to need her approval and wants her by his side. The Snoke encounter and guard fight were the "shared trauma" that tightly bound two disconnected characters together.

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    1. Thanks, Jeremy. Yes, I understand your argument about Snoke's guards, and I would not have said it was pointless. It certainly had the point you mentioned. I just think that point could have been made without having a fight scene that lacked credibility (why would guards fight them in that situation?) and that felt indecently violent (we can put a light-sabre through the guard's eye, because it's not REALLY a living creature, just a suit???).

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