Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★★

We have a series at a crossroads and throughout you see Rian Johnson grappling with the tightrope between nerd expectations and creating something that isn't just an echo chamber of past glories. It's still a millennial fest, but where FORCE AWAKENS was about how everyone is special, overpowered, and existing under the safety net of their elders, this one tackles some more sobering issues that makes it current, and dare I say, brave.

The whole film feels like a riff on the social issues we all read about today - it's about battling powerful white dudes who refuse to let go; it's about a generation of success who refuses to cede to a capable youth; it's about Princess Leia stepping up and saying "you know what, my story isn't about how I changed my hair, Han, it's about how I led an entire resistance without a man to make those decisions for me"; it's about Rey realizing that she isn't defined by her parents and can pave her own path; it's about youth detachment, with Rey and Kylo Force chatting like it's Snapchat; it's about parents and teachers abandoning the next generation, calling them pariahs before they're given a chance to succeed; it's about the Porgs reminding Chewie that the food you eat doesn't have to come from a sentient being; it's about the possessive, consumption-era of capitalism finally making way to a new generation that values living rather than owning, the scrolls burned because knowledge now is ephemeral and always evolving - the days of idol worship of a singular holy text have thankfully made way to new stories that finally feel current. And finally it's about letting go, Leia asking Poe why he's looking at her for guidance when it's clear he's capable enough to lead without the crutch of the olde guard.

My issue with the franchise universe of all movies and entertainment is that all these products, I hesitate to call them films, are manufactured by committee and lacking any palpable opinion or soul. FORCE AWAKENS, as fun of a ride as part of it may have been, was still a total J.J. reach around, written by three people and surely puppeted by a dozen more in suits. THE LAST JEDI returns us to the new hope of a singer-songwriter, Johnson the sole creative force in moving forward a story that by this point has so much responsibility to a spoiled audience it can seem near impossible to navigate the waters. With reservations, Johnson steers the ship into some uncharted territory, and while the outcomes still remain largely the same - it's still chosen ones, pew pew spaceships, evil emperor dudes and the leads caught between light and dark that rule the day, but at least this time it feels like the series is finally beating to its own drum. Cutting ties with the propped up heroes of the past, the series promises to finally write its own history and not one owed to George or Buck Rogers or some persnickety collector who disagrees with the color of Rey's light saber choice because it goes against Clone Wars canon.

And yet, through the daring journey into the unknown for the franchise, we end up in that cavernous hall of mirrors that Rey finds midway through the film. She asks new questions, but ultimately the answers still come out the same - endless recapitulations of the same thing. Even with all the twists and subversions, it's still Yoda wisdom giving he is, still a Skywalker defining the outcome of the end, still the Force and evil dudes projected on screens, still the formula. I'll give the slog of a first hour to having to undo all the cliches J.J. pandered into motion, but there's still no reason that this needs to end as the Luke & Leia show. I admire the effort though, and for the first time in, probably forever, it feels like a story told by someone who has human stories to tell rather than just someone, or some corporation, so infatuated with the past. If only the mainstream fans could appreciate anything other than fan service than maybe there'd still be a new hope for Hollywood and the pandering franchise mess it's dug itself into. Trailers for more Avengers, Maze Runners and Jurassic Worlds suggest the resistance still has a lot of work to do to save the bright flickering star we call cinema.

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