Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★½

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has already been deemed the most decisive Star Wars picture to date and for good reason. Though most audiences will likely enjoy it, myself included, upon reflection they will find themselves at a loss. This loss is not an endless list of questions rising from masterful ambiguity. It stems instead from the insinuation that The Force Awakens was not, in fact, our introduction to this new trilogy, but that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is.

Taking off directly where Force Awakens left us The Last Jedi pulses into overdrive with more action and more of The Resistance. General Organa (Carrie Fisher) are evacuating when a First Order fleet attacks them. They flee but are somehow tracked and their seems to be no escape. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) attempts to save The Resistance fleet despite it seeming to be a suicide mission.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) has been taken to a far-off island by Chewie to see Luke to start her Jedi training. He reluctantly agrees but, even when he does, seems to suggest each step they take together towards discovering her power is a mistake. This ambiguity is intensified by a seemingly telekinetic-force power between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey who can see and speak to one another at certain times.

Back at the fleet Finn, possessing a tracker connected to Rey, tries to abandon ship so that Rey won’t end up coming back to a death trap. However, his mission is instantly thwarted by Resistant mechanic, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) who tazes him. Together, they are sent to a far away planet by Poe to get a codebreaker so they can break onto the First Order ship and dismantle their shields.

There’s a lot of character juggling which is handled adeptly with distinct characterization, biting humor--though often misplaced--and compassion. However, the plots that bind these characters together and their overall effect are seemingly unimportant. That is to say almost nothing that happens in this film matters. Most of the ground it covers seemingly undoes itself. Character go back and forth with no pay off. It amounts to nothing but an elaborate game of chess that Rian Johnson seems to be playing all by himself.

And yet it’s fun. It has humor--though as I said it is often misplaced. It is intense beyond belief. Most of this comes from the commitment of the cast who, like most of the audience, were as sold on The Force Awakens and it’s power and manipulation of neo-nostlogia as anyone. Mark Hamill is tortured, charming and scruffy. Daisy Ridley is as screen-worthy as ever and the film lacks when she is not there. Oscar Isaac finally gets something to do though his character is a bit of a one-note, Gryffindor war-hero with a martyr complex. Boyega Kelly Marie Tran have the most pointless of plots--the one with the littlest payoff. Luckily Boyega’s charm still carries and Tran’s matches. Carrie Fisher, who I presumed would be dead and gone quickly, is in a majority of this film and provides its soul where Johnson forgot it.

Considering the tangled web of missteps the story at least has a thematic through-line. Many have discussed the theme of failure. Failure is important and learning from mistakes is just as important. The reason none of these plot-lines come to any coherence is that there are too many failures but the biggest failure is simply Johnson’s inability to write a successful character arc. To show failure you do not have to fail.

Perhaps the only interesting theme this film sets up is a grey area--an ambiguity. A balance in the force where there is no black and white, no good and bad. Rey has to go into the dark to get Kylo to hopefully see the light. This is the only compelling thing Johnson brings to the film and hopefully we seem more of this in the battle the rages on.

The Last Jedi’s strongest feature is it’s cinematography. It’s action is shot in gorgeously controlled 360 degree camera angles. It’s often wide-shot fight sequences show the audience everything like it’s a ballet. The colors are minimal but stark with streaks of red and background of black and white. Chrome contrasts the dark, rich land of the island giving a balance between the real and CGI, the dark and the light, the past and the future.

The sound whizzes by giving chills in the way only a Star Wars film can. All the usual lightsaber zips and pops. The lightspeed zooms. The deafening silence of space. There’s a particular mirroring magic trick where the sound echoes all around that feels like pure magic.

The end seemingly indicates that our four lovely, diverse heroes will pair off into heterosexual relationships. It’s just a nod but, personally, a disappointing one. Especially since LucasFilm head Kathleen Kennedy has said: “There should be many, many more faces of color, many more women, many more gay people.” They have done well by their other diversity promises--but their LGBTQ one is lacking. My fear is that they will play to trope and perhaps reveal Kylo to be gay. This would be a terrible mistake and a step backwards for the LGBTQ community. As Kylo and Luke mutter time and time again throughout the film to the point where it feels like Johnson himself is whispering in your ear in the seat next to you, “Let the past die.” And so we must. At this point The Force Awakens is that past too. Whatever hopes or dreams you had attached to that film, forget them. This is a new trilogy--that film basically stands on its own.

As for Johnson’s future Star Wars films the future looks...grey? Hopefully the themes that were barely touched here are developed further and the characters have real arcs and real challenges to face. Until then, everything that was awakened within in audiences in Episode Seven has been put to bed. We won’t know if this is for better or worse until our yet-to-be-named Johnson Star Wars sequel comes to us.

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