May The Eighth Be With You: The Last Jedi

James Proclaims (4)

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Expectations were quite possibly at an all time high when this one hit the cinemas. Not only had 2015’s ‘The Force Awakens’ been generally well-received by fans and critics, but the first standalone Star Wars movie of the modern era (though not, of course, the first standalone Star Wars movie ever), ‘Rogue One’ had also enjoyed a lot of good publicity.

And then came ‘The Last Jedi’.

And depending on your point of view, this was either the moment when Star Wars movies hit an all-time high or conversely this is when they hit rock bottom.

But before we get into all of that, I should probably issue another spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: Plot details will follow. This may ruin your enjoyment of the movie if you haven’t seen it yet. And given that it’s a movie that only came out in 2017, it is perfectly reasonable for you not to have seen it. Although I’ve seen it a few times now. I don’t wish to brag or anything, but I have. Anyway, plot details probably won’t ruin this movie for you because simultaneously nothing much happens at all and also lots of things happen which seem to defy explanation. And you’re either going to love this movie or hate it and nothing I can write here will change that.

Obviously, I loved it. And not just because I love anything that is remotely linked to Star Wars but also because I did genuinely think this was a great film.

It will never topple my ‘top two’ of ‘A New Hope’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and it probably falls short of ‘Return of the Jedi’ because of my childhood investment in that one too, but out of all of the other Star Wars movies that exist, I think this is my favourite.

But I completely understand why some people hated it.

The biggest issue with it really is that this was the first time it became apparent that, although we had been promised a new trilogy, there were no over-arching plans for the story. Say what you like about George Lucas, but he always had the whole story in mind. He changed things as he went along and created some plot-holes, made them worse when he went back and re-edited the first trilogy and then created some absolute howlers when he made the prequel trilogy. But there was still a fairly strong narrative ark throughout the first six movies.

And the arrival of ‘The Last Jedi’ began to raise suspicions that this new trilogy had not been properly thought through. We began to sense that a lot of the questions that we were asking when we watched ‘The Force Awakens’ did not have answers.

And really, after all the build-up, that wasn’t good enough.

But, taken as a stand-alone movie, I still think ‘The Last Jedi’ is brilliant and I’d refute some of the other criticisms that have been levelled at it.

The main one being the depiction of Luke. I know we were all hoping that the return of Luke would be the return of the hero we imagined he would become after the original trilogy. And instead we were confronted with a bitter, cynical, downtrodden Luke who was, in many ways, the antithesis of everything we dreamed he would be. But the version of Luke we wanted could only really exist in a ‘happily ever after’ that you don’t ever get to see on screen. For there to be any kind of story to be told, there can’t have been a ‘happily ever after’ and in any case, we already know that there wasn’t because his nephew had gone over to the dark side. This version of Luke makes the most sense narratively. And it’s a great performance by Mark Hammill so, much as I loved Luke in the original trilogy, I’m perfectly happy with this version too.

Other problems appear to be linked to perceptions of ‘what the Force can do’ because we see things in this that we haven’t come across before. From Leia surviving in space, to Rey and Ren being somehow able to do a kind of Force empowered ‘Face Time’, to Luke’s ability to project himself physically to another place, it all seemed a bit far-fetched.

Then again this is Star Wars, it’s hardly meant to be realistic.

And maybe people were right to question all of those things, but I’m not a Jedi, so I don’t know what’s possible and not possible when using the Force.

So, I didn’t mind any of that stuff.

I also quite liked the big ‘reveal’ that Rey wasn’t actually the offspring of anyone important and I was quite disappointed that that was undermined in the next movie. And Snoke’s death, while leaving me with lots more questions, was quite an effective moment too.

Writer/Director, Rian Johnson, seemed to enjoy diverting expectations in this movie, and after the relative safety of ‘The Force Awakens’ and the entirely predictable narrative of the prequel trilogy (which in fairness is one aspect of the prequels it’s hard to be too annoyed about because they were always essentially telling a story that we already knew), I found ‘The Last Jedi’ to be a refreshing change.

And visually the whole thing looked spectacular, particularly the scenes on Crait at the end.

And despite the slight sense that ‘nothing much has actually happened’ and most of the movie was just one, very slow, chase, there is actually quite a lot of action throughout the running time and the finale is up there with the best of them.

There were bits I didn’t love. The whole ‘casino’ escapade just seemed like a way of giving Finn something to do, because he was not essential to the main two storylines, but he was too good a character to leave out completely. Then again, we’re introduced to Rose Tico through that sub-plot and she’s a great character too and one would imagine it would be hard to leave her out of the next one…

Really the biggest problem that I have with ‘The Last Jedi’ is not about the movie in itself, but where it sits within a trilogy. And clearly it does not sit well because we know what came next…

Best character – Luke

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I know this version of Luke didn’t please everyone and he may not have been the Luke we all wanted but I really feel he was the Luke that we needed. And in some respects, I actually like this Luke better than the Luke in the original trilogy. Certainly, in the original movies there were characters I liked more than Luke but he was head and shoulders my favourite in this one. And whether you bought into the whole ‘Force Projection’ thing or not, it’s hard to deny that he was every bit the hero we were hoping he would be at the end.

Worst Character – Snoke

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Has there ever been a character so built-up only to be so unceremoniously dispatched without us ever really knowing who he was? He was always a poor man’s Palpatine but by the time we’re done with him he’s little more than a poor man’s General Grievous. I didn’t mind that he died, but the resulting plot hole was, unfortunately, too big to fill and Supreme Leader Snoke is one of the main reasons we ended up with such an unsatisfactory trilogy.

Unsung Hero – Paige Tico

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She’s only in it briefly at the beginning but has there ever been a more compelling and utterly moving scene in the whole of Star Wars? Paige is the embodiment of heroic as she sacrifices her own life to ensure the safety of her comrades. And yes, she is mourned by her sister afterwards, but she’s not mentioned by anyone else. Ever.

 

And that’s it for the penultimate episode in the ‘Skywalker Saga’. Tune in tomorrow to discover the extent to which I was disappointed by ‘The Rise of Skywalker’.