I’M SURE MY second (not to mention third and fourth) viewing of this swooningly reviewed eighth episode of the Star Wars franchise will endear me more to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It certainly contains all the requisite elements (or, “winning formula”) of the series: endless aerial battles, brave heroes, swashbuckling light-saber duels, storm troopers (two of whom were the Royal princes, William and Harry), John Williams’ stirring music, stunningly well realized CGI and of course The Force.
Star Wars fans will not be disappointed.
But I’m a fan and I wasn’t as “whelmed” as I thought I would be.
Director (and writer) Rian Johnson (Looper) clearly decided that the “less is more” philosophy just wasn’t working for him. So he’s given us more of more. For some (my wife), this was a brilliant creative decision as it ensured a multifaceted and unflagging narrative drive. It also ensured that his audience would never get bored with any one story.
The result is that The Last Jedi is a dizzying knit of multiple storylines and themes.
The umbrella idea of the Force, this otherworldly energy, is spelt out in far more detail…and there are several nice touches in the way said Force can act almost like a telepathy Skype between people. There’s a strong father/child theme, seen via the evolving Jedi education of Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the last Jedi, Luke, pain in the arse, Skywalker (Mark Hamill); and (on the dark side) via the evolution of Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) relationship with Snoke (Andy Serkis). Meanwhile the meaning of heroism v leadership is explored via the tension between headstrong top gun, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) with his flashing eyes and gritted teeth and the level headed Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) along with the multiple battles of the bold, heroic, but, staggeringly incompetent rebel forces. These rebel stories are balanced with stories from the First Order as the various officers, led by General Hux (Domhall Gleeson) glower at each other, suck up to Snoke and mow down the rebels. As expected, the mythos of the hero’s quest is continued via Finn (John Boyega) – whose presence (compared with his first outing ) is severely curtailed – in his searches for First Order weak spots as well as his search for Rey. But the story’s arc demands the retention of core characters such as Maz Kanata (Luita Nyong’o) and also for those familiar Star Wars tropes, such as the alien cantina. They’re all shoe-horned into the plot. Add to all this the generous shower of new characters, perhaps seeding further Episode IX story lines, and what you’re left with is two and a half hours of dizzying “stuff”.
Or, put it another way, two and a half pounds of stuff in a one pound bag.
And whilst it’s an entertaining, often frenzied, two and a half pounds of stuff, none of the multiple storylines had those hold-your-breath cliffhangers that keep you on the edge of your seats waiting to see what happens next.
Moreover, the absence of Harrison Ford’s older, but still rakish charm was missed. The presence of Han Solo not only buoyed up Episode VII, but nicely balanced the youthful energies of Rey and Finn. In Episode VIII, the focus falls far more on the two bearers of the Force: Rey and Kylo. As the one wavering between the yearning to be the good son he once was and the malignant pull of the dark force, Adam Driver is outstanding. You believe in his pain. Less so Daisy Ridley whose spunk seems to have gone AWOL.
Mark Hamill never had Harrison Ford’s charisma, but he harrumphs along entertainingly, generally pissed off that his secret retreat has been discovered. Rogue-ish Benicio del Toro is a great new character, D.J. He certainly stands out amidst the running and strutting of the others. But Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo, yet another newbie, seems at a loss. Perhaps it was the terrible costume she was consigned to wear.
And finally…if these big ticket pop cultural phenomena are any indication of the mood of the world, oh how it has darkened. Ten years ago, a few hobbits along with some elves and an ageing magician bumbled along in a place of paradisical beauty as they sought to save the world. Now, we’re witnessing the destruction of whole worlds, literally millions of people are being eviscerated and the gestalt is one of all war all the time. Paradise has been supplanted by a bombed out war zone
Are these new episodes of Star Wars a clear-eyed reflection of our “out of joint” world, or merely a prescient harbinger of the shit that’s yet to come?
And a Merry Christmas to you too
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. Dir/writer: Rian Johnson. With: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhall Gleeson. Cinematographer: Steve Yedlin (San Andreas, Looper), Composer: John Williams, Production Designer: Rick Heinrichs (Big Eyes, Captain America, Pirates of the Caribbean), Special Effects Director: Vince Abbott (Star Wars Episode VII, Spectre)