Written and Directed by Rian Johnson | 152 min
By now we’re all amongst the initiates, if not the disciples, of Star Wars. And while these movies were the base mythology of my childhood, I can’t overlook how these fan-fiction sequels absent George Lucas bend over backward to echo the early trilogy—with frequent and direct callbacks—while introducing new characters in vaguely new situations. But too much newness would be upsetting to most fans, right? The Last Jedi brings a hefty dose of humour and a few genuine surprises, but it’s also repetitive, more of the same blue milk.
You’ll also find a breathless, ass-over-ankles space action picture that barely finds time for characters to manifest. What happened to the simple charm of people hanging out in a hive of scum and villainy while they get to know each other? And yet, in places, despite this constant narrative rush, the movie can’t help but feel like a bit of a slog.
To avoid spoilers, I won’t say much beyond the character basics: Rey (Daisy Ridley) is on some Force-forsaken rocky outcrop having found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who, it turns out, is a lot more recalcitrant and curmudgeonly in old age than we might have expected. The First Order remains a massive, fascistic pustule on the cosmos, led by Hux (Domnhall Gleeson, a lot more comedic this time than in The Force Awakens) and none-more-intense Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver), with Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) pulling strings somewhere up above.
The First Order is hot on the trail of the rag-tag rebellion, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher, much missed), with hotheaded pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), and newcomers Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) offering support.
Other Star Wars stalwarts such as Chewbacca, R2D2, and C3P0 cede the stage to the new characters and creatures, offering little more than a haunting. Their appearances are cameos, so slight it makes you wonder why they even bothered. (This push and pull between fresh and fusty, with neither entirely satisfying, explains why the self-contained connector between movies, Rogue One, is the cleverest and best of the new batch of movies so far.)
It’s a strange thing to shunt aside beloved characters, though Kelly Marie Tran as Rose is a welcome addition. For a second it looks like a roguish Benicio Del Toro might save the day with a compelling new Han Solo-esque character, but he shows up long enough to offer a strangely percussive stutter, and then vanishes.
A psychic connection between Rey and Kylo Ren across space provides the first sign of genuine chemistry. Their shared weirdness forms the most potent and interesting relationship in the film. The themes of the series manifest most strongly here, the division of good and evil and the attraction between them, along with the actual or implied importance of destiny and inheritance. There’s also room in the picture’s bedrock for the considerations of age and forgiveness, while a wonderfully grizzled Hamill delivers a series-best performance, offering a wry humour and embittered mentorship behind his bushy beard. “Be that which they grow beyond, that is the true burden of all masters,’ says one wise voice.
The echoes of The Empire Strikes Back are also plain—with the appearance of at least one familiar face, Rey’s training and impulsivity echoing Young Skywalker, and a plethora of fresh-faced heroes failing again and again in the face of a resurgent evil until all they succeed in is battered and bruised survival.
The strength of these performances helps sustain the interest, while an awkward plot mechanism keeps one group of spaceships from speeding up and destroying another group running out of fuel? It’s a clumsy blueprint. What does a visit to an interstellar Monaco offer the story aside from a dull 15 minutes of screen time and the revelation of ill-gotten commerce in the galaxy?
There’s an interesting thread of discord within the Resistance itself, where one cocky flyboy thinks he has all the answers, and he clearly doesn’t. With these sparks of inspiration that diverge from the norm, it’s too bad we have to put up with enormous plot holes you could park a galactic cruiser in.
The third act, one that takes way too long to get to, finally delivers emotional impact. The disposition of certain characters is cleared up and a few solid turns keep things jumping to a satisfying, concussive conclusion.
The Last Jedi is overstuffed, overlong, and confusingly plotted, but the character work, humour, and a few inspired set-pieces carry the day. It is the rare blockbuster that improves past the half-way point, but whether there’s enough here that’s genuinely new or this is just another attack of the clones, well, your midichlorians may vary.