Watched: 17 December
(Some spoilers below.)
I have mixed feelings about this latest Star Wars film, though as per usual I do wonder whether any negative thoughts I have with regard to Rian Johnson’s franchise entry have partly been caused by unrealistic expectations (I’ve said this umpteen times before on this blog, but a cinema could show a steaming pile of dung on screen for two hours and I’d happily sit there if they ran a John Williams score and an opening crawl at the start, which is my way of saying I like Star Wars very much indeed). In short, I enjoyed the usual space battle derring-do, as well as the slow, incessant chase that played out across the entire movie (a storyline used to better effect and more concisely in the remake of Battlestar Galactica). I also liked the moments of sly humour contained within, from Luke tossing away his lightsaber and brushing imaginary dust off his shoulder to the snivelling antics of Hux and his officers in the face of their Sith companions, plus it was nice to once again spend time with the older characters, even if lots of them seem to hang around offscreen doing next to nothing for two and a half hours (eg C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca and all of the stormtroopers).
However, it’s a shame that Johnson didn’t seem to know what to do with a couple of the newer faces, either. John Boyega’s Finn and Daisy Ridley’s Rey are kept apart for most of the film, which means The Last Jedi misses much of the dynamic that was such an integral, successful part of The Force Awakens, and the extended sequence in which Finn is off at a casino for well-to-do aliens with new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) reminded me of the very worst excesses of George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, though I do wonder whether kids will be entertained more by that bit (which is, of course, the point). Elsewhere, Johnson cannot seem to find an answer to the now-established question ‘what’s the point of Captain Phasma?’, and in his hands BB-8 becomes just another droid, as opposed to the comic strong point that JJ Abrams created.
Sadly, the film loses much of its momentum every time that Rey or Adam Driver’s complicated emo villain Kylo Ren disappear from the screen, and though the pair get to enjoy a battle side-by-side as we move into the final act it’s a shame that Rey subsequently becomes such a passive figure during the main finale, when it should have been her turn to shine. Like many other viewers I’m not sure what to make of the late Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia suddenly being able to fly through space, either; even in a series that asks its audience to believe in a concept such as the Force, and all the other things that can be achieved by learning to make use of it… that did seem a little incongruous. I’m hardly angry about it, though, and I do fear for those out there who get so riled up by such things that they commission petitions for the movie to be remade or argue the toss with the director on social media for several weeks on end. Anyway, The Last Jedi is just about entertaining enough overall, and notable for some memorable riffs on old images (the twin suns appearing as Luke dies, the re-shown Princess Leia hologram, the big spacecraft crash) as well as a couple of newly-minted moments designed to elicit collective gasps. Johnson manages to provide a fresh take on old themes, too, and asks questions of these heroes and their causes in much the same way Gareth Edwards tried with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; both films attempt to dispense with the simplicity of ‘good versus evil’, recognising that it was still a lot of fun in the late 1970s but doesn’t play quite as well today. That seems like a good idea to me, but oddly enough I can’t quite shake the feeling that I’m happy Abrams – a director more at home with simpler tales in which heroes are heroic and villians are villainous – is about to take over the reins again. (***)