A note, my reviews usually have spoilers in them. I’ve tried to edge around developments here, but if you’re a particularly sensitive person about such things reading this is better left until after your viewing. You have been advised.
There’s a whole lotta movie in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It doesn’t all work, it can feel muddled and disparate at times, the wild variety of tones that it tries to capture don’t quite settle into a script that feels far more invested in being funny. If The Force Awakens was a raucous celebration of the original trilogy; The Last Jedi asks us to confront the legacy of the prequels, for better and for worse.
We pick up more or less from where we left off last time. Rey has landed on a lost planet to seek training from the old master Luke Skywalker. The resistance, despite having destroyed the Starkiller base, still do not have the firepower to face up to the First Order’s fleet. After evacuating their base in the midst of a tense and costly battle the sides are drawn into a prolonged chase. The good guys can stay outta range of the bad guys’ weapons so long as they have fuel to burn, they have a day to figure out how to escape the situation.
It’s not the setup you’d expect for a fun family blockbuster, more like one of those dad movies about Cold War submarines, a long, intractable, depressing slog. At its best moments it really feels like it, because it’s not a film about joyousness and success, it’s about failure. It’s about how the promise of Star Wars was dragged down by three shitty prequels, and how the promise of the lives of its young audience has been decimated by those who came before us.
The film spends its whole running time asking how we deal with living in a world that can no longer be unfucked. Two characters spend the running time holding a metaphorical debate over the purpose and meaning of history. Rey’s mentorship, is a grizzled treatise on the possession of power. Poe Dameron spends the running time struggling with unfocused rage towards a generation who have neither the ability nor the want to communicate. Finn gets a whistle-stop education in class-consciousness. Kylo Ren witnesses the inherent incompetence of his fascist corporate parody.
And in doing so it includes some beautiful sequences: meditations on the nature of identity, heroism and the self. And some good and exciting fights in spaceships and with laser swords. And there’s goofy shit too, one Carrie Fisher based sequence tops the list. Was it intended to be a crass memorialising moment, or was it always there, I wonder. I’ll probably never know but that scene is way so cheesy. The gags too, many of them are so well executed by a fine director and great actors but their omnipresence can be so distracting.
Every moment has so much it needs to achieve, so much going on. And who does that sound like? It’s the reason why one of the most important images in the entire film is the reappearance of Yoda. A Frank Oz puppet again, with CG enhancements: the ultimate fusion of the legacies of the two halves of Star Wars. It feels like a settling, a way to reconcile classic space opera adventure with maximalist gonzo fantasy. A rejoining of the franchise’s split soul.
So everything flows back in. After the formulaic adventure of Awakens, suddenly the political aspirations return in full force. So too does this more relaxed approach to structure as we spend time in these looping asides and tangents, adding new faces to the cast and briefly revisiting old ones for dubious reasons. Oh, and there’s some real wacky CGI mixed in there too.
Finally we get, what George wanted in the nineties, a decent examination of the philosophy of our heroes and villains. One which rejects a simplistic and reductive ‘shades of grey’ style reading; the First Order are still the bad guys, the Resistance are still loveable heroes. But we finally get a notion of what drives these people, and it’s not a spooky deformed representation of ultimate evil, it all comes down to how we view the world and our place in it.
Which is why Adam Driver is so fucking great as Kylo Ren, taking all this evil and threading into it a battered wounded humanity. Feels odd given how sweet and charming everyone else is, but if I could just be good friends with one of the people here it’d be Kylo. With all the stuff it’s piling onto him it even gives the film a chance to make sense of his relationship with Domhnall Gleeson’s Hux who finally gets some interesting material in the mix.
Also notable are the introductions of Kelly Marie Tran as Rose, resistance mechanic and woke prole, who gets to have the most fun in the film with a real caper of a sub-plot. Running with John Boyega’s charming Finn around the respectably themed bourgeois planet, she brings tenderness to this universe of characters enjoying the markers of their success. She even survives being given some of the most heavy handed technobabble in recent years. Space Laura Dern is glorious as a no nonsense admiral, she owns every moment of her screentime.
Oh, and Mark Hamill is back giving this very wounded, empathetic performance as an older, tireder Skywalker. One which is almost brought to its knees by the sheer quantity of yuks that it feels like this guy needs to get. Even when he’s opening up and being vulnerable, it’s in the context of this wild comedy island on which he lives. They also don’t give the porgs enough to do. I thought this would be a far more porg focused movie than it turned out to be.
The rest of the cast is great, by the way. I just don’t got the time to mention them all because the movie crushes them all into that two and a half hour runtime. It’s so hyperactive (is this the most wipes ever in a Star Wars film?) that it bounces everywhere, you just end wanting to have spent more time with them all because it never relaxes into the time spent with these people. There’s a joke at the end about how two central characters have never met before that point and I’m just like why? Why throw in another goof instead of letting us see these human beings connect?
So much time is spent on concepts that it’s left entirely to the actors to tie up these disparate parts down into feeling. So much of it felt detached, even clinical as the audience and the movie alike wrestle with the material and figure if all the densely woven intertext actually holds up a good story.
When I said it gets the good and bad of the prequels this is most of the shit I’m talking about. It is no doubt better than those garbage movies and for what it’s worth it looks absolutely beautiful. There’s gonna be some conflict around this one, some people might be talking about its politics, I imagine most will be talking about its aesthetics.
At last Star Wars is properly interesting again.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi in currently screening in UK cinemas