Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Last Jedi is . . .

. . . good. The Last Jedi is very good. People have been saying it's not your father’s Star Wars. Well, my Dad was never into Star Wars. So I guess I am the father in this scenario. And I really liked The Last Jedi, but with some caveats. The movie gets a lot right, especially compared to the pleasantly fan-servicing but ultimately unadventurous The Force Awakens. It helps that this movie doesn’t feel like a greatest hits compilation. While there are some familiar elements – a young Jedi seeks out an old hermit to be their mentor, there’s a battle on a snowy (actually salt this time) world – for the first time in decades a new Star Wars movie goes to some genuinely surprising places. The opening crawl is kept for nostalgic reasons, but it could easily have been done away with since, unlike the other episodes, nothing has really happened off screen since the last movie.

The opening space battle (one of the best in the saga) sets the tone. Spectacular action is mixed with human drama and some amusing (if perhaps tonally out of place) banter. When we cut back to Luke and Rey on the island, Luke casually tosses his father’s lightsaber over his shoulder, which demonstrates how the movie has a healthy irreverence for what came before. Indeed, there is very little training Luke offer Rey in the traditional sense, but there is an enjoyably testy relationship between them, and Mark Hamill gives perhaps his best performance of the saga. It’s just a shame we don’t get to see more of them together before Rey leaves to confront Kylo Ren and Luke gets a visit from an old friend. A muppet friend, might you say. But the highlight of this part of the movie has to be the delightful, and highly merchandisable, porgs. R2-D2 and C-3PO pretty much get neglected this time, but Chewie's interactions with these little creatures are delightful.

Of the new characters, Vice Admiral Holdo (a purple-haired Laura Dern) makes the biggest impact, even showing up fan favourite Poe Dameron to be something of a clueless flyboy when he starts an ill-advised mutiny. It’s a shame her character doesn’t stick around, but she goes out in the kind of spectacular sacrifice that many expected Leia to have after the tragic death of Carrie Fisher shortly after filming. The character of Rose is also very likable, though her adventure with Finn on a casino world is something of a distraction from the main plot. We also get to meet DJ, an entertaining scoundrel played by Benicio del Toro, but that does draw attention to the fact that there's still no cameo from old school scoundrel Lando!

The best scene in the movie is where Snoke (sorry, he’s not Darth Plagueis, Palpatine’s master) gets smoked and Rey and Kylo (briefly) team up for a nifty lightsaber battle against the guards before Kylo pulls the old join me and rule the galaxy routine. Rey's having none of that. From there it’s a short hop to that salt world and the final battle. It’s pretty spectacular, though the highlight has to be Luke finally deciding to get off his Ahch-To and challenge Kylo. But - surprise! - Luke was just force projecting and becomes one with the Force on another planet while our other heroes escape. Yeah, not everyone’s going to be happy with that twist but it sorta works for me.

The ending leaves us with a genuine new hope, with Rey the last Jedi. Except for that broom boy on casino world who may help save the galaxy. Overall, this is definitely one of the better Star Wars movies. I'd rank only The Empire Strikes Back, A New Hope, and possibly Revenge of the Sith above it. It's more visually imaginative and less reliant on nostalgia than Episode VII. Rian Johnson does a fine job directing and while the movie is a little overlong, it seldom drags.

My only concern is that it doesn't really end in a way that leaves the audience with lots of questions for the next part, the way Empire and even Attack of the Clones did. Snoke is dead, Luke is dead, Rey has discovered her parents are nobodies and most of the Resistance is dead. Aside from Kylo's possible redemption (which is looking less and less likely), and the fate of Leia, there's nothing major that really needs answering. Maybe Lucasfilm and JJ Abrams have a wowser of a conclusion already planned, but it seems like they have their work cut out for them, regardless of the high quality of The Last Jedi.


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