After watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I’m not particularly surprised by the mixed response that has come with it. There was a similar response to the releases of Alien: Covenant/Prometheus. There are aspects so fixed inside viewers minds that to play with them in any way is sacrilege. People fear change and they are damned if you go and try anything different with Star Wars.
A quick scan of social media feeds has had reactions to the film claiming it’s director is inexperienced, the film’s full of plot holes or that the film has a political agenda. Amusingly, Rian Johnson has made more films than George Lucas before he embarked on Star Wars. People happily glossed over the manic re-editing that plagued Rogue One and as for political agenda? It’s clear there was one from A New Hope onwards. This can all be googled. Please do not @ me.
The main issue with The Last Jedi isn’t really an issue at all (depending on your view of the monolithic franchise). What your seeing is a film series trying to break forth from the shackles of rigid formula and nostalgic wankery. It’s no surprise that The Force Awakens is so beloved, it’s subversions are kept at a low level in comparison to The Last Jedi, which nods at its foundations a lot less. It’s not a good “Star Wars” film in that it doesn’t lean as heavily on the same one-note references that were seen in Rogue One and The Force Awakens. However, as a film writer who is not a massive fan of the Lucasfilm empire, I’m not too bothered.
The Last Jedi is interesting in that in a world full of tentpole event movies which are built only to plicate the expectations of fandom, it tries to squeeze human emotion in a way that many larger features have stopped trying. It’s plot turns can frustrate because they quite simply not expected of a film of this nature these days. At so many points even the film’s dialogue spells out its intentions. One character has a demise so out of left-field that I could only admire balls. Its reasoning is truly revealing. It’s a film which is asking on whether it can do away with some of this stuff. The thought that this Star Wars wants it’s audience to look at things in a different way is rather appealing.
What Johnson brings to the table may not be something that the core audience feel they want, but parts of it may be what they need in a long run. Johnson’s film strives for human intimacy in a cinematic era which nostalgic tick boxing will get you a thumbs up from fans. It’s a film that is far from perfect. The film is far too long, plagued with the kind naff dialogue that fills most Star Wars films and is strange feels uninterested in the much of lavish world building and vistas that set Star Wars apart from so many blockbusters.
However, it seems from the many notable close-ups and exchanges, Johnson is clearly looking to bathe the characters in a particular kind of reverence. There’s a love for what these characters represent which Johnson makes far more interesting than the cheap winks to the camera which litter event movies now. One wordless exchange is remarkable on just how touching Johnson and his editors make the cross-cutting of faces. It’s interesting that people will, unfortunately, take more stock in the silly bit of plotting that occurs afterwards than the vital silent character building before it.
Such moments make The Last Jedi fascinating just to see how much the film is willing to risk. It feels more indebted to Spielberg than Lucas, more engaged in setting new dynamics than resetting the more obvious ones. The rhythms of the humour certainly have a feel more in tune with movies we watch now than what filmmakers found amusing in the original trilogy. To say it feels fresh would be wrong, but it brings a markedly different tone to proceedings in the same way The Phantom Menace did. Although while that film becomes bogged down with its politics and technical advancements, this becomes a film in which characters are very busy in teaching each other the right way to fail.
While the film lacks any set-pieces that pack the same punch as Gareth Edwards kinetic finale in Rogue One, the cast both old and new again make the film enjoyable as they did with The Force Awakens. The film’s jewel, of course, is the performance of the late Carrie Fisher. The film very markedly makes sure that her moments hold the deepest resonance. Mark Hamill gets the strongest lines, while the so call new guard of Adam Driver, Daisy Walker, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega again show and prove that while their characters don’t appear to develop, (many unfortunately expecting far more depth from a film is essentially a large-scale chase flick), they are the cast worthy of bringing the franchise to the next generation. Their energy cascades over the film’s flaws.
However, somewhere in the middle of this is the crux of the mixed reactions. This is a film which hints at so many moments that a tide is turning and what is wanted from a Star Wars movie just may not be found here. It’s not surprising that the flaws that inhabit previous entries (the prequels in particular) are view with rose tinted glasses here. Mostly because those films are shielded by nostalgia and the Skywalker lineage. For two years, since The Force Awakens, fan theories and hype have buzzed around the series by people who were hungry for what comes next. The Last Jedi does much to negate certain expectations. This is good for those who are not as tied too tightly to what has come before, however, to those who seek the comfortable crawl space of certain expectation may have been dealt a culture shock by a film which is looking t clear out some skeletons.
The Last Jedi makes reference to the likes of The Empire Strikes Back but does well not climb into nostalgic regard, doing what it can to sow seeds for an uncertain, but financially lucrative future. The times the film feels disjointed is often when it realises it can’t hold on to the past. Complaints about characterisations cheerfully forget how Lucas shuffled characters and plot to what he felt worked. I’d love to see the Venn diagram of issues of character in this and people who find Boba Fett to be a “badass”. The Last Jedi doesn’t clutch onto the many novels and side quests and so-called deep lore because those who follow that are more in the minority than they think. The film is also (unknowingly) highlighting that said minority do not hold ownership of a franchise that has captivated millions. It’s a tough break but one that was clearly forthcoming.
For a viewer like me, the writing was never on the wall, because I’ve never used such films to define me in the way fans have and in my opinion, that’s certainly saying something. Because of this I hold fewer expectations but gain more reward. My issues with The Last Jedi are no different from previous entries. Things such as the pacing and dialogue have never really hit the mark. If people viewed Star Wars from a different viewpoint than childhood nostalgia, one wonders if they’d see how stiff the films can be at points for the uninitiated. Johnson’s film while eschewing some of the more rigid aspects of the franchise has allowed fresh ideas and influences into the fray, which will importantly add more fans to the saga in the long run.
Even more sceptical folk may be interested in what new directions the likes of Johnson will take things. As for this reactionary “backlash” that has seemed to have taken hold of people, who may have possibly spent too much time clinging to their own expectations of the franchise. I feel they should be calm. There’s a ninth film coming. With a director willing to do things a little differently. Plus, they should always remember, they got over Jar Jar.
What did you think of Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Let us know.