From the off there’s going to be SPOILERS, so you’ve been warned…
The Last Jedi has been getting some strange reactions from hardcore fans (this entitled rant sums up much of the negative response from some fans) as if the film they saw was not what they expected, which seems to have been a sort of retread of Empire Strikes Back with lots of lightsabre fights which is sort of is but it also does something different. It’s also about giving up on things and creating fresh beginnings from nothing.
Set just after the events of The Force Awakens, we find the resistance under threat of being wiped out by the First Order, while Rey has found Luke Skywalker in the hope of getting him to return to the resistance and help fight the First Order. At this point what you expect to happen, doesn’t as the First Order virtually wipe out the resistance, and Luke is unwilling to return as he’s wracked with guilt in regards what happened with Leia and Han Solo’s son, Ben, better known as Kylo Ren. In the first third of the film there’s a lot of Chekhov’s guns being cocked and they all go off in the second and third act and its how they go off that’ll shape how much you like this film.
A large chunk of The Last Jedi is about telling you that what you want in life isn’t what you’ll get so Luke doesn’t come sweeping back heroically (initially) but is tired, old and bitter about one fatal flaw he made that let down his sister, his best friend and their son while at the same time helped create a monster that threatens the weak and vulnerable across the galaxy. Luke’s redemption comes because he lets things go, destroys the things he’s collected (the remnants of the Jedi religion) and decides to sacrifice himself to spark people’s imagination to do something off their own back. The arc of Finn and new character, Rose, is essentially telling you the war is being fed by big business and there will always be people there to exploit as long as the war continues.Essentially he big thrust of the film is telling you hard truths about the world that you do have to move on, and that big corporations will exploit you and give you what you want if you let them. It is quite odd especially to see the latter in a Disney film and in the week where they’ve bought 20th Century Fox to become the sort of mega-corp Philip K Dick would have written about.
Problem is in the second act director Rian Johnson drifts. Scenes become overlong, tiresome and boring. There’s too many meaningful stares, padding and exposition not to mention at times one wonders just how crap the First Order are if they can’t work out how to destroy three resistance ships moving in what seems like first gear. The middle of the film is flabby and bloated, and really, 10-15 minutes could be lost from the film and it’ll be a better film.
Here’s a great video to show how the first Star Wars benefited from sharp editing.
Some hard decisions about cutting and rearranging scenes was needed to stop the middle from deflating because the film suffers. It isn’t til we get to Snoke’s death (and gloriously teased to be fair) that the film kicks back into gear and all the threads set up in the first act play out to ends in the third. Not all of them tidily (as after all, another film is coming after this in 2019 to wrap everything up) but that’s ow life sometimes is.
For a film that had to provide a weight to this new trilogy, set up the third film and add some character to the new characters, it pretty much succeeds. Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron is equal parts brave and heroic pilot crossed with a lunatic who should be shot out an airlock. John Boyaga’s Finn doesn’t really do much and he feels underused in the film as his character is the only one of the new characters who isn’t that changed by the end of the film like Rey, Poe and Kylo are.. Daisy Ridley’s Rey comes into her own as she realises her place in the universe, and the fact she’s come from nothing rather than be the offspring of noble or ‘special’ blood makes her a more proletarian hero to lead a rebellion than a princess or the son of a lord…
Adam Driver steals the film though. His Kylo Ren is a mix of emotions and motivations as we realise it was Luke that pushed him towards Snoke with that shameful act that pushed Luke into hiding. We’re taken to think he’s turned back from the dark before realising he’s fully embracing it and becoming what looks like the grand villain of the films.His big showdown with Luke is gloriously shot and is an example of how to edit a film brilliantly.
The legacy cast do what they need to do, Mark Hamill does a fine job as a broken Luke who gradually becomes more like the Luke we know as he’s exposed to what’s familiar to us (the Millennium Falcon, Chewie, R2D2, Rey), and as for Carrie Fisher’s final (?) performance as Leia she has a weight of poignancy in some scenes that comes from not just her early death in 2016. Her meeting with Luke isn’t going to leave many dry eyes.
Overall The Last Jedi works. It needs to lose some of its running time, for sure but as a film that could have lazily just had Rey and Luke turn up, fight Snoke and Kylo as the resistance held on against the First Order before having everything wrap up in a big fight in the last film of this trilogy. Instead Rian Johnson pushed things out of the comfort zone while maintaining a familiar enough structure to not break the diehard fan’s head too much. As a film it also looks amazingly lush, with an eye for flair, colour & light that sets it apart from increasingly homogeneous blockbusters like the Marvel films.
The next test for the film is how it works as part of a trilogy overall and we won’t know that til 2019, so we’ll meet up back here in 2019 to see the final part of this set of films before Rian Johnson embarks on a new trilogy as Star Wars will never, ever end while there’s people out there like us to exploit…