Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★½

The Last Jedi forms an admirable attempt to reignite an antique brand, paving a way forward for a Johnson-run post-Skywalker future trilogy, but in doing so can't escape a sense of brand dilution, formula fatigue and dull revisionist reboot.

I've always raised the deflector shields whenever trilogy brood tediously sets in. I like my Star Wars fresh-eyed, bright with expectation, a self-contained adventure, spurred from stasis into a quickly expanding world. I lament the need to deepen, darken, grotesque and dilate, for the sake of cardboard inner conflict. One film with these characters and their binding formula sustains me. I like to win the battle, and skip the war. Naturally, A New Hope and The Force Awakens I find most lovable, with minimal investment in what follows.

The Last Jedi, like (the superior) Empire Strikes Back, is a sterling attempt to bypass such predilections and misgivings, maturing strikingly without forgetting to have fun. Like that forebear, it revels in environs, drives plot with rebel fleet retreat, sidesteps deceptive sheen and seeks guidance from the resident grizzled, Dersu Uzala vet recluse. It is very broody, and keeps going and going just when you think you've already seen the climactic final battle. Like The Force Awakens, the new creatures, contraptions and cast members are mildly muggy but all very welcome (and carefully considered) additions, finding a perfect balance between Lucas and Disney. The second act presence of Laura Dern and (especially) Benicio Del Toro swiftly rejuvenates flagging engagement.

The Last Jedi is predictably saddled with expectations of a middle trilogy Star Wars film, which it is keenly aware of, and deftly subverts throughout. There is plenty soul-searching, exploring, critiquing and charting new lore. You feel these characters being developed through messages didactic and sinuous. Some scenes and plot lines ultimately could have been shelved, or are rendered inconsequential, and did we really need unresolved questions knowingly established and built up over two films to be so roundly slighted (however little I care for these film-to-film fan-service flirtations, and however smoothly underhanded these are implemented in reconfiguring franchise tradition, the uniform effect is cheapening). The Last Jedi groans with growing pains, burdened with shifting the gears to a new, updated model, the connective we had to have between the old and the new, and I feel it mechanistically suffers from this grind. Still, the classy execution is often stirring even if the story obligations are toilsome.

Rian Johnson takes to Star Wars with considerable aplomb. The opening sequence is taut camp, promising a decent blockbuster ahead, albeit furthering the Disneyfication evident in The Force Awakens and veering into the porous cult neighbourhood populated by the likes of Doctor Who and Harry Potter. The final environ deserves special mention as a deliciously conceived show-stopper, rubbing salt lusciously into gaping wound and mining something ingenious from the aesthetic style and club colours that initially drew many of us into this universe in the first place.

As much as I may groan at predestined trilogies, and trilogies upon trilogies, this Disney revamp is shaping up to be something eminently likeable. The Last Jedi is a richly competent, often impressive Star Wars film. Everything that Rogue One aspired towards doing to ill-effect, The Last Jedi delivers with consummate ease. The balancing act of still being vividly Star Wars as well as more broadly reimagined proves much more assured and successful here. But there is no escaping that these characters originated in the giddy thrills of The Force Awakens and no longer feel quite so minty, and original trilogy characters linger steadfastly, holograms full of cobwebs waiting for a big ticket exit. Alas, Supreme Leader Snoke as some cut-out dark side tumour of Luke off leash fails to transpire.

I hope to cringe at this review in future. My muted enthusiasm for The Last Jedi could change drastically on second viewing (like it did with The Force Awakens), but the unwieldy size of this film will likely never sit quite so well with me. Despite strong film-making, quickly shrugged off and forgotten. At the end of the day, I’m not that invested in these characters and their far off wars among the stars to eagerly track them across films, nor a trying two and half hour run-time, and in that The Last Jedi evidently tests the limits of what a Star Wars film can demand, whilst renegotiating the ethos and skeletal structure.

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