Wednesday, 3 January 2018

I SAW THE LAST JEDI

The Last Jedi is an enjoyable space film that also feels like confirmation that the ‘new’ Star Wars films are not going to continue the series in any genuinely meaningful story sense. 

As with predecessor The Force Awakens, it gets members of the original cast to play with, one of whom is sacrificed to underscore how Important the events depicted are (SPOILER: it’s Luke, though the strong inference is less than he’s dead, more that he’s found some sort of cosmic zen or something).

I enjoyed it, but there's a lingering air of inconsequence: if in a decade or two a new episode VII and VIII were made, either replacing these two films or telling a different story set before or after, it’s difficult to imagine much fuss. To all intents and purposes The Last Jedi is another film in which Some Cool Starwarsy Stuff happens within the vague, reconstituted Empire vs Rebel Alliance scenario that is the First Order vs the Resistance.

From people who've loved it there's lots of praise for writer-director Rhian Johnson's iconoclasm in subverting traditional Star Wars tropes, but I'm not sure that's a great virtue purely on its own; I find most of its subversions quite pleasing, but they don't really add up to something of great meaning. Worse, it feels that as with TFA and Rogue One, it can't exist without the old films as reference. There’s a scene at the end where the original sacred texts of the Jedi order are destroyed, but whatever symbolism may lie there, the original trilogy of films remains the touchstone of the new trilogy and surrounding films. It’s increasingly fascinating to look back at the prequels - the first two of which were definitely not good - and see George Lucas just blithely writing a new story in a way that has completely eluded the new directors. 

It’s definitely easier to be hard on it, because its failures feel Star Wars-specific, whereas its successes largely lie in cinematography, design and direction of its action sequences. The bookending action sequences are incredibly gripping, and the blood red soil under snow of the final showdown is just gorgeous stuff. 

But also Mark Hamill is excellent as embittered old Luke, even if it’s a slight frustration that the film isn’t really ‘about’ him. Oscar Isaacs is by far the best of the ‘new’ heroes - he kind of manages to be a dickhead in a very sincere, alpha male hero way that doesn’t feel like it’s Han Solo redux. Laura Dern is good as Holdo the haughty head of the Resistance fleet. There is nothing as bang-head-on-wall stupid as Starkiller Base, and most of the really dumb stuff feels like an inheritance of The Force Awakens. A learned Twitter colleague had suggested to me that he sees the new trilogy is a sort of elaborate lit crit type thing to subvert and end the original story so that the NEXT trilogy of films can tell an original story. Which seems pretty psychotic  but not entirely implausible. Anyway, it’s fine, but doesn’t alter my basic contention that there are only really six Star Wars films at this point.


Seven vaguely annoying things
  1. I don’t really ‘get’ the First Order
    An inheritance of TFA, but it remains maddeningly unclear who the First Order are; terrorists? A mercenary army? They clearly have a quasi-imperial air to them, but I don’t think they’re running the galaxy.  They’re just, like, some guys? 
  2. I don’t really ‘get’ the Resistance
    It just seems mad that there’s so few of them, even accepting the mortality rate, the idea that only 400 people IN AN ENTIRE GALAXY can be arsed to fight the First Order is imbrobable (more Westerners than that probably signed up to fight Isis).
  3. What did Holdo do to the First Order fleet?
    The web descriptions just say she rammed them at lightspeed but that seems like a bit of a bald description, was there some reason why she or one of the other ships was unable to do that much earlier? (Other annoying science - heavily implication the ships were burning fuel to travel, but in space that’s surely not the case? And what the hell was the nonsense with the tracking device?)
  4. Rey is a terrible character
    She’s occasionally mildly amusing but mostly she’s just dull and bland. This feels MASSIVELY compounded by the fact she’s so posh, which just completely undermines the idea of her having ‘umble origins. She’s basically a virtuous posh person being effortlessly brilliant at things.
  5. Finn is a bit of a waste
    I think I said this around TFA, but a traumatised ex-Stormtrooper is kind of interesting, but they never really explore this, he’s just the slightly comic relief-y character. His sub plot just shows him to be A Nice Guy, and it’s the most pointless part of the film (it tries to show you a little about how the galaxy works, but the maddening vagueness of the First Order/Resistance thing just totally undermines it).
  6. I don't really 'get' the map to Luke
    Why was there a map to Luke? Given he didn't want anybody to find him it seems really unlikely he'd have left it, but who else would have done? And why is nobody bothered by this? ALSO I know he was in a mard but he seemed totally unbothered by Chewie and R2 being on his island – they all basically ignore each other.
  7. There's no cliffhanger
    Nothing feels particularly unresolved: the rebels have escaped, the First Order – whose scale as an outfit remains opaque – don't seem to be in the best of shape. Clearly the last film will end in a reckoning for Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. But with the universe seemingly curiously unarsed about any of this, it doesn't feel particularly important, while Ren's redemption is of questionable interest – clearly he has done such bad things that he's unlikely to be let off the hook. Presumably good will win out in the end, but the fact the reset button was pressed so airily with The Force Awakens suggests perhaps it doesn't really matter.
ANYWAY. It’s fundamentally an enjoyable film. I dug the Porgs.


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