Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The first scene of this latest Star Wars franchise picture reveals the first great surprise. And that is the decision to make this a comedy. How else to interpret the fact that Adrian Edmondson (Adrian Edmondson!) plays one of the fascist dudes opposite Domnhall Gleason. And that this very first scene revolves around a sit-com style gag involving a seeming failure to connect a telephone call? Alas, Rian Johnson does not have the courage of his convictions and subsequently falls back on all that stuff about the force.

Still, there does remain a strong strand of laughs in The Last Jedi that marks this out from the other films in the series (which had a few wry one-liners but didn't go for it on this scale). Other than that, however, there is nothing new in the universe, seemingly. It might play with the plot of Empire Strikes Back but this is still to a large extent, the plot to The Empire Strikes Back. Not as ridiculously slavish as The Force awakens in following its esteemed predecessor but still...

If there is one main reason why this was not a more successful film, it is the failure to really create a mythic edge. When it tried, such as the brain-meltingly ridiculous bit with Carrie Fisher flying in the vacuum of space, it failed. The film looks OK (although for all the money thrown at the screen, you couldn't really make a case for it being better than The Force Awakens) and is well constructed but it fails to make the jump from craft to something more captivating and involving.

It does have some good stuff. The best parts involve Oscar Isaac (by far the superior and most charismatic actor in the film) pitting his fly-boy code cracking plan against Laura Dern's more considered long-term strategy. They could have done more with this dynamic and perhaps excised entirely the sub plot to find Benicio Del Toro (playing a part that sets a new bar for pointlessness), trimming the bloated running time by 30 minutes into the bargain.

Mark Hamill, playing Yoda, has gravitas which plays well against the eagerness of Daisy Ridley on their remote Irish island base. Probably could have done without those Puffin-like creatures, though. And the monster with the massive udders. I know this is space, but I still don;t want to see Luke Skywalker drink a flask of milk after milking an uglier version of a seal lion.

So, already, we have two bits of ridiculousness: Leia flying, and sea lion milk drinking. The third part of this triumvirate of craziness was BB8 helming the controls of a gun vehicle to save John Boyega on the burning remains of a star cruiser. The 10 year olds in the audience would have been rolling their eyes at that one.

The end is pretty good. The red salt plains contribute to the most visually arresting part of the movie. This is the best set piece, along with the encounter between Kylo Ren, Rey and Snork. When Ren and Rey join forces to fight the red-armoured goons, there is real excitement.

Couple more random observations. Wht do the bad guys always play up how evil they are? It would be more interesting to show how evil cloaks itself in seeming reasonableness (you know, like the tories) to attract support. Or have a charismatic, handsome leader rather than some scarred monstrosity? The suggestion in the pub afterwards was a set of policies on labour relations. Perhaps the ninth film could be Star Wars - it's the economy, stupid?

Secondly, Laura Dern really should have got that idea about smashing into the baddie spaceship earlier. I mean, it was pretty obvious. Given she was going to die anyway.

All this is a deeper assessment than is probably necessary. But it's Star Wars and it has a place in modern culture that makes it interesting. The Last Jedi is expensive, handsome, fun and sometimes exciting. It is not as good as The Force Awakens which looked better, had more thrills and was a much trimmer piece of work. But it's OK.

Happy Christmas.

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