The Last Jedi is a good movie. No, it’s not perfect (few films are… coughAGhostStorycough) but in terms of the franchise that spawned it, it’s objectively successful at what it sets out to do. Any Star Wars movie has a mandate to entertain: it’s not a documentary, it’s not designed as a cerebral think-piece, and it’s certainly not the weird allegory on trade and politics that George Lucas appears to have focused on with his inane prequels. Directed by Rian Johnson, The Last Jedi sees the return of Luke Skywalker to the Star Wars franchise with actual dialogue, builds on the dynamic relationship between Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and provides an exceptional screen swansong for franchise stalwart Carrie Fisher, as Leia.
At the time of writing, The Last Jedi has been savaged by a segment of outraged fanboys who have decried the film as “franchise ruining” shite, even going so far as to start a misguided petition to have the film struck from the canon and remade (lolz). The sad thing is, there’s almost no argument you could throw out about The Last Jedi that couldn’t also be directed at the other films in the Star Wars franchise. Where The Force Awakens came in for some stick because it essentially copied the plot from Lucas’ original 1977 film, Johnson and Disney appear to have found some backlash in the fact that many butthurt fanboys didn’t get the film they seemed to want. In fact, nobody who’s critical of any of the Disney Star Wars films can explain to me why these films seem to be “bad” (hint, that’s because they aren’t, but it’s cool to hate on established pop-culture like this much like we all jagged on Britney Spears back when she attacked a car with a baseball bat or something) other than to suggest they’re annoyed that either Disney bought the franchise in the first place (to sell toys, which is so against what Lucas wanted back in the….wait… what? Well, shit.) or they find the new stories and characters “weak” or “poor”. This loose definition of critical analysis defies understanding (if you know of somebody who can actually explain the problems with nu-Star Wars with conviction and solid reasoning other than just “I didn’t like the colours” then please, link them in the comments below).
Look, I can admit that The Last Jedi has some story issues, as convoluted as an argument about an outer-space flying-wizard science fiction film for kids can be a testament to the seriousness of adult “fans”, but do these flaws or issues in any way mitigate a person’s enjoyment of the film? To those who view Star Wars as a holy text or vaguely religious experience, I say pish-posh to your criticisms that this film is “bad” rather than having a mixture of solid character work and occasionally sloppy narrative infrastructure.
All good internet clickbait seems to use lists to generate views. So I’ve decided that to combat the rising tide of negativity surrounding The Last Jedi in the social media landscape, here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head list of ten things about The Last Jedi that make it a great film. Suffice to say, this article contains spoilers.
One of my chief complaints about The Force Awakens was that John Williams’ evocative musical approach to Star Wars seemed to be half-assed. Michael Giacchino’s work on Rogue One hinted at these same themes but never caved to convention. However, The Last Jedi sees Williams and his iconic Star Wars themes return in full force (ha!), particularly the “Binary Sunset” cue that is instantly memorable. I’d go a long way to hear Williams live with this stuff, but sitting in the cinema hearing all his famous themes for this franchise once again, forceful and appropriate, I was taken back to my childhood and that alone is testament to give The Last Jedi a pass mark.
Okay, we all know Star Wars is a franchise that works on merchandise as much as it does its various cinematic and television outlets. Yoda and Vader merch continues to remain among the saga’s most popular selling points (it’s little wonder both characters, who died in the Original Trilogy, have found their way back into the Disney films in one form or another). Well, where Jar Jar Binks failed with adult audiences, the Porgs have succeeded. Tiny, chicken-sized endemic lifeforms on Luke’s hideaway planet in the film, the Porgs are cute, large-eyed animals who provide several moments of great Lucas-ian humour, with a clutch of them nesting in the wiring of the Millennium Falcon as well as being possible food for a hungry Chewbacca. Some may say they’re too juvenile for Star Wars (I dare not speak of Ewoks right now, hey?) but the Porgs are the new meme-tastic addition to the franchise that one hopes we’ll see pop up elsewhere from time to time.
To be honest, the hubbub following The Force Awakens as to the identity of Rey’s parents, who abandoned her on Jakku as a child and whom she spent a large portion of that film emotionally tethered to, was lost on me. The Last Jedi effectively nullifies a lot of the theories and arguments fans have had in the two years since Awakens and maybe that’s part of their annoyed backlash – they can’t handle not only not being wrong, but not being right. The revelation that Rey’s parents aren’t anybody special, that she has to forge her own identity irrespective of her bloodline, strikes a different tangent for the franchise, which has until now built itself on the Skywalker name and the generationally challenged menfolk within it. The previous films dealt with father-son wrangling; The Last Jedi jettisons that almost as a middle-finger to fans. Personally, I loved this touch.
The squee of delight that trilled through the cinema I was in when Yoda’s iconic silhouette appeared behind Luke cannot be faked. It also can’t be “hate”. Audiences I saw this film with loved that scene, with a palpable sense of energy directed at the character from viewers who nearly whooped and hollered at his small cameo. Some might say fan service is a poor man’s storytelling but when it’s done in a context that suits the story, it works. The emotional link between Yoda and Luke remains among the strongest in the saga and their scene in The Last Jedi was the kick in the pants needed to get the embittered Skywalker back into the game.
The Force Awakens established Supreme Leader Snoke (a mo-capped Andy Serkis, who reprises the role here) as the new trilogy’s Emperor-type, and the fan conversation around his past and true identity was again subverted by Johnson who basically ripped him down mid-monologue and sliced deep into the theory-loving fanbase’s sense of purpose. The sudden death of Snoke, a major player who was strong in the Force, was a gasp-worthy shock and a moment for the audience to ask “well… what now?”. This was Star Wars‘ Game of Thrones moment, where we realised that any character could die suddenly and, frankly, it was thrilling. All bets were off, basically. It also makes us wonder who’ll be left by the time JJ Abrams’ Episode IX arrives in cinemas.
Occupying a space in this list is an action sequence, rather than a specific character or set of characters. The battle between Rey and Kylo Ren and the suddenly deceased Snoke’s Praetorian Guard (the guys in red who guard the Supreme Leader) is one of the franchise’s best moments, alongside the Obi Wan/Qui-Gon/Darth Maul lightsabre battle in The Phantom Menace and the final trench-run in the original film, showcasing not only the Force-strength of Rey and Kylo but also the work they have to do to defeat the guards. Whereas the Prequel Trilogy made foes of the Jedi cut down like daisies, here the Force-powered heroes have to actually use guile and skill to defeat their foes. Technically brilliant, thrilling and altogether breathtaking, Snoke’s defeat and the ensuring battle will take it’s rightful place as a highlight of any Star Wars discussion.
Despite only really being in the film for a few moments in total, Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo has been an established character in canon and non-canon fiction for ages. With her purple hair causing snarky fans to label her “Captain Hunger Games”, Dern’s performance as the strong-willed leader and her combative relationship with Poe aboard the fleeing Resistance vessels gives rise to one of the most skin-tingling moments not only in Star Wars but perhaps in cinema this year. Holdo’s lightspeed collision with the First Order flagship, her sacrifice giving the Resistance time to escape, is a stunning achievement in sound and visual effects design, the eerie silence accompanying the event (to say nothing of the editorial choices made here, which are sublime) compounding the sense of loss at a character we’ve only really just met.
For all the fanboys bleating, no other relationship in Star Wars comes with as much complexity as that between Rey and Kylo Ren. Luke and Vader’s arc was purely “good versus evil”, while Obi Wan and Annakins in the prequels felt like a fraternal misfire. Han and Leia’s romance developed across two films, but even that was primarily a cliched antagonistic love born out of camaraderie. Rey, who spent the majority of the film “training” with Luke on Ahch-To, communicates with Kylo via a Force “Skype” call instigated unknowingly between them by Snoke, and through these vignettes of character-driven emotional interplays, we come to appreciate the viewpoints of both characters a lot more than we did in Force Awakens. Kylo Ren is, in my view, among the most morally complex characters in the franchise to-date, his hatred of Luke Skywalker (misplaced as it is) and desire for acceptance by literally anyone, before deciding just to “burn it all down”, one of the strongest character arcs written for the series. Rey, for her part, isn’t a Mary Sue (as much as fans would clamour otherwise) any more than Luke was in the original film. Her ability with the Force was seen as unjustified or overly simple by many, but Johnson gives her a stronger, less pedestrian arc than she had in JJ Abrams’ film and The Last Jedi is the better for it. Of all elements to juggle in The Last Jedi, the dynamic between Rey and Kylo is where the film shines, and remains at its most memorable.
As iconic as Luke Skywalker is, Rian Johnson seemed intent on tearing down our expectations of the character. Hell, even Mark Hamill himself wasn’t impressed with where Luke was going in this film (he stated as such really early on) but as a character arc it absolutely fascinated me. Luke’s hermit-like existence stemmed from the ruination of his teaching a new breed of Jedi – and his conflict with Ben Solo, who would become Kylo Ren – is a far different storyline than I would have expected (again, Johnson subverting expectations and delivering competent character writing that brings with it a natural unease in not knowing what’s coming for the audience) and I think it’s not only the strongest stuff Mark Hamill has had to work with in the franchise but also one of the darker heroes journey we’ve witnessed in Star Wars yet. Although Luke Skywalker is a revered figure within the context of his actions in the original trilogy, and sliding deep into myth at the opening of The Force Awakens, by the time we see him in The Last Jedi he’s embittered, sour and utterly refuses to engage in the world he’s left behind. I suspect this darker subplot for Luke is what has caused a lot of consternation among fans, many of who believe Luke would never agree to fail in such a manner (after all, this was a guy who saw the good in one of the galaxy’s most reviled and evil figures, Vader, and refused to accept otherwise) but it works to the character’s humanity. With Luke’s sense of self-worth evaporated, maybe ours did too for a while. Of course, Luke’s Force projection finale, in which he owns the First Order army and Kylo Ren both, followed by his “death” watching a binary sunset, is totally kickass and in keeping with the circular sense of visual poetry the franchise was established on.
The tragic passing of Carrie Fisher was felt keenly by all people, not the least of whom would be her Star Wars family. As Princess-turned-General Leia Organa, sister to Luke and daughter to Annakin Skywalker, Fisher’s sense of strength and screen presence were going to be significantly enhanced in The Last Jedi, her final appearance on film. Given a larger role here than in any of the previous films to-date, at least a more emotional one, Fisher’s work as Leia effectively handed the baton of leadership to Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron following the Resistance’s escape from the First Order’s attack on Crait, making her “sudden” absence in Episode IX a little less problematic. The moment Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher appear on-screen together in the same frame is a moment of catharsis for franchise fans, and a moment not too dissimilar from the entrance of Han Solo and Chewbacca into the Millennium Falcon in The Force Awakens.
What do you think? Think we missed something? Of course you do. Let us know what it is in the comments below!
© 2017, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.