Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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The war continues. Both the Resistance and the First Order are reeling after the destruction of the Starkiller Base, and General Leia leads the retreat as Kylo Ren continues his relentless pursuit.  Meanwhile, Rey seeks out Jedi Master Luke Skywalker hoping to understand more about the power that's awakened inside her, and finding out the truth of the Jedi is more complicated than mere light and dark.  Rian Johnson wrote the screenplay for and directs The Last Jedi, and stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is the audience surrogate who speaks to me.  While other characters in Star Wars: The Last Jedi  (just The Last Jedi from here on) spin their wheels in diversionary plots and meandering dialogue, Kylo openly vents his frustration at a lack of forward momentum.  It's his psychic communion with Rey (Daisy Ridley) which drives her to be the teensiest bit curious about why the powerful Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) cut himself off from the universe to stare at vegetation for thirty years.  Kylo is as tired of the wheel-spinning inside The Last Jedi's universe as I am watching it from the outside.

There is nothing new in The Last Jedi, written and directed by the usually phenomenal Rian Johnson, and what few advances in diversity were in The Force Awakens are revealed as the hollowest form of tokenism.  Rey, Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) are all pawns in a proxy war between the entrenched old white guard and the less snappily dressed opposition.  Never has the distinction between good and bad mattered so little, now it's just about who survives plot points repeated from earlier Star Wars films to be shoved into the same cycle for the upcoming ninth episode.

The Last Jedi shows none of the ideological or creative bravery that punctuated Gareth Edwards' Rogue One.  Of course the films serve separate purposes with The Last Jedi an obvious stop-gap between the seventh to ninth episodes and Rogue One afforded a bit more freedom.   But sacrifices in The Last Jedi are emotional beats and little more, with one phenomenally shot moment showing the weight of pilot Paige Tico's (Veronica Ngo) responsibility weighing her down against a metallic grid.  This is a mere setup to give Paige's sister Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) a reason to join Finn on a mission of dubious result and occasionally broad slapstick.  No reason to think about, or even mention, Paige when Johnson can get to the shot of spherical droid pal BB-8 shooting poker chips.

I'm not so switched off I can't enjoy an adorable creature, and the terrified porg provided some fine nervous chuckles.

It's less amusing in retrospect, especially when General Leia (Carrie Fisher) nobly intones that all the Resistance needs is right there with a cut to a shot of her diverse crew.  The moment is played straight, right up to the slight uplift in the soundtrack, and gradually the realization sets in that Leia sees the diversity as little more than a tool set.  George Lucas might have utilized the satirical potential of the moment to show how privileged Leia's position is.  Instead Johnson keeps playing it straight and jumps to a child laborer sweeping up the floor wearing what for all the world looks to be a toy ring, bearing the Resistance symbol, scavenged from a cereal box.  No weight or acknowledgement of the sacrifice - no, "Many Resistance members died to bring you this Cracker Jack ring" - just a straight message of, "You will all die for my ideals so others might die for my ideals."

The cumulative affect of The Last Jedi is as dramatically inert as The Force Awakens' was enticing.  All those sacrifices and setbacks get pushed aside with a line of dialogue that amounts to, "They're happy they died."  Maybe episode IX will recontextualize moments like Finn and Rose's journey into a gambling hall, where Johnson's camera dollys forward lustily to take in the decadence of the room while the score jauntily recalls early Hollywood, and I'll discuss this sequel trilogy with the same subversive glee as the prequels.  I have little faith that will be the case, and Johnson plays almost everything involving the Resistance so straight that episode IX can pick whatever tone Disney sees fit and it'll be just fine.

I say almost, because there's one scene with Leia that stunned me.  Leia's the victim of a surprise attack and Johnson, tapping into Lucas' visual scope and despair for this universe, presents her as an abominable star child, willing herself back into existence with scant light against the void of space and mechanically drifting back toward her rightful place.  The moment cuts straight to the horrible unknown about the Force and, by extension, our existence. No one questions it because of the folly of forcing rational thought on what is essentially the dead coming back to life.  It's chilling and, while I wish it had more bearing on what happens in the Resistance ships, her irrational return from non-existence provides a queasy parallel to Luke's crisis of faith.

Everything that happens between Luke, Rey, and Kylo confronts uncomfortable subtext that's been with Star Wars from the beginning.  Gone are the vague Scientologist rantings of the Old Republic, so too are the New Age spiritual maxims of Yoda or Obi-Wan, and in their place is Luke as a lapsed Catholic.  The religious signifiers are overwhelming with Luke tended to by habit-wearing aliens called Caretakers, and there's a sexual undercurrent to the tension between the three Force users that culminates in differing testimonies about a night soaked with imagery of sexual assault by a priest.  It's in Luke's dialogue about touching the evil inside Kylo, no matter the version Luke wields his lightsaber like a man needing a release, and Kylo gradually displays more sex appeal in his appearance.

Of all the disappointments of The Last Jedi, Finn being turned into a buffoonish background character popping in for one nice moment is right near the top.

It's disturbing to see the libidinous drive of faith and power visualized so directly, and I want to be clear that this is not a negative in The Last Jedi's corner.  Star Wars has long dabbled in incestuous undertones, and Lucas' prequels brought the brainwashing potency of the Jedi along with the sexual repression to the forefront.  Johnson hits haunting highs in these sections with Rey drowning in the collective darkness of Luke and Kylo's trauma, or becoming so disassociated in her identity she breaks into multiple reflections of herself.  Even Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) has his role, looking like a shriveled hairless scrotum wearing a flimsy robe while actively seducing Rey and Kylo. Now if Rey was more of an agent in the tug-of-war between Luke and Kylo I'd have no complaints at all about this section. But she's now the only remaining woman in the lead of Star Wars and it is disheartening to see her reduced to a pawn for The Last Jedi.

Which is what makes two-thirds of The Last Jedi a frustrating exercise in wheel-spinning.  The ice planet Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back was already revisited visually with the snow battle at the end of The Force Awakens.  Instead of culminating the tension between Luke and Kylo, Johnson uses it to return Star Wars to the status quo once again with a back pat to the Resistance for retrieving their most effective piece of propaganda.  Even the most striking fight scene, which utilizes Kylo's black-clad armor as a sign of actual - not token - resistance to pierce against the deep red seduction of Snoke, becomes a bland affair of grounded semi-acrobatics lacking the spectacular physicality of The Phantom Menace's climactic fight.

At this point, the only reason I'm curious about episode IX is because a combination of real-world and narrative tragedies have forced Disney into a creative corner.  They'll finally have to use the new characters they've introduced over the course of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.  But I can't shake the sensation that Disney will take Star Wars to the Marvel well, craft a third film of half-committed conclusions and vague allusions to what's coming next, and pass it off as though something has happened.  This is exactly why I stopped watching Marvel films and it's disappointing to see something with the rich satirical potential of Star Wars turned into yet another cash crop.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Screenplay written and directed by Rian Johnson.
Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (4) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Have not seen it yet but have read a lot of the spoilers and reviews. After doing that I can’t help but reconsider my want to see it even with free tickets.
    We had only begun to form a connection with the new main characters from TFA whether it was from familiarity​, drawing parallels with ANH, or the intrigue that surrounded them and their possible significance/connection to past or current characters. All of the hopes for greater things seem​to have been dashed in one smooth stroke.
    It would appear as if Rian has managed to marginalize everything audiences and fans were looking forward to and the characters in which we had grown to love and hoped to see in action. As well as trying to develop a character without putting in any effort. Kylo was bested by Rey in TFA with little to no saber skills and almost no control of the force and I’m supposed to go along with Smoke being this big bad dude who wields the dark side strongly enough to strike fear into enough to gain respect and dominance from the first order but cannot best his pupil who so far shown his best trick to be stopping a blaster shot mid air.
    Smoke being dispatched so easily and becoming just another character who’s back story was so promising to have it snuffed out and ignored or made inconsequential.
    I could go on but I will get to Luke. He was our man. The kid who believed he could stop the empire on his own and with some help did just that and redeemed not only his father but Yoda (personal opinion) as well. It is natural to question ones devotion after all Luke had been through but to just make him a crazed, paranoid like, angry old man on an island with seemingly no way off was a bit much. Like gets no real redemption but more or less a brush off and good riddance by Rian. Myself included, would have rather seen a bit of a redemption for Skywalker leading Rey and restoring the Jedi order as he saw it should be.
    But I understand he does to a degree when he saves 20 in a cave with his astrial projecting Jedi self. I think in that moment he restores to Jedi to their original purpose as he sees it. Not as a political party that is somewhat controlled by the Senate, think having a pet bear. It’s great if he listens but could dispatch you in a heartbeat if he wished., But as a protector of the innocent without any other motivation or motive other than to protect.
    I might support the petition to get this removed from cannon. The main characters we love were used to lure us to the theater then uncerimoniously dispatched. Next episode will have issues drawing the same crowds.

    • Thank you for the read and for your detailed thoughts! I love the, “think of having a pet bear,” idea – it lines up with what Lucas said about the Jedi going after the Trade Federation in The Phantom Menace. This idea of the Jedi being used as Godzilla in order to swat down the flies of the TF.

  2. I thought this was by far the greatest Star Wars yet and a lot of your criticisms seem misinterpreted and misplaced.

    • I appreciate you taking the time to comment all the same. Discussion around TLJ has been interesting, I understand why some folks love it but it’s the least fulfilling or interesting Star Wars to-date.

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