Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Directed by Rian Johnson
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is beautiful to look at, is thrilling and intense and breathtaking and rousing and daring and funny and may make you cry. It is also overstuffed and bloated, but only in the way that it tries to do too much, tries to tell too much story, tries to show too much. Even at two and half hours there are moments that feel shortened in the editing. It's almost as if Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed The Last Jedi, felt that this was going to be his one chance to play with these toys, his one chance in this sandbox, his one chance to leave his mark on these modern myths and dammit, he was going to leave a mark. And leave a mark, he has. The Last Jedi may turn out to be the single most decisive chapter in the Skywalker family saga.
Rian Johnson and his team have crafted a film that not just upsets the table that was set over forty years ago, he flips the table upside down, smash some of it into kindling and throws it on a bonfire. Where The Force Awakens used the familiar to tell a new story, a big thing in space can blow up planets and needs to be destroyed, a desert orphan finds a robot that leads them on an adventure, a cocky pilot wins the day, The Last Jedi starts out with the familiar and the expected and flips the audience's expectations up in the air. Much like The Empire Strikes Back thirty seven years ago, audiences can only expect the unexpected. Only some of us of a certain age know that sense of "what the hell just happened?" that we all felt walking away from our first viewing of Empire. In fact, I can tell you honestly and truly, a young me shuffled out of the theatre after Empire's credits rolled disappointed and disbelieving. Good guys were supposed to win, heroes were not supposed to be frozen and shipped off, and Darth Vader was nobody's dad. There are moments of the familiar in The Last Jedi, moments and characters that recall the original trilogy, but, really, The Last Jedi is the anti-nostalgic road trip movie.
The Last Jedi is intense, very intense. It starts at about an eleven and just keeps the foot mashed on the pedal, streaking across the Bonneville Salt Flats like some kind of mutation of the new and the old, a 1968 Camaro with some crazed Bugatti upgrades. It never lets up. Dialogue heavy scenes, action scenes, the intensity is always at eleven. The rush of emotions this film evokes, eyeballs trying to take in everything they can, The Last Jedi is a Star Wars movie on some trailer park speed, peaking as a full moon rises, grabbing your hand and telling you to hold on tight, things might get a little crazy. That level of intensity may of have been the only solution to the problem of cramming so, so, so much story into one film, the only way to juggle so many stories and plots and characters. But the movie never stops to breathe for a moment or two, never stops to just relax for even a second. And the problem with that kind of never ending intensity, with keeping the movie at eleven for two and half hours, is that emotional moments, the moments of payoff for characters and the audience, can be diminished, minimized or even sometimes lost.
The Last Jedi seems like Rian Johnson's love letter to all the pieces that have made Rian Johnson who he is today. A lot of the humour draws from the same well that Chuck Jones would draw from, the same gag book that Mel Brooks reaches for. Sometimes the humour doesn't work. Some of its corny and has some vaudeville dust on it. And sometimes it's too slapstick, sometimes it threatens to kill a scene dead. But when it works, it really works, like laugh out loud funny works. And many of the film's aesthetics come from the great Kurosawa. George Lucas was never shy about the debt his original film owes to Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. The influence of Japanese culture can be found throughout the original trilogy, in Darth Vader's design to the presence of names like Yoda and Kenobi. But where Mr Lucas drew from the older, the more traditional hero journey stories, Rian Johnson tosses them all into a blender with Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, some later Kurosawa films, a copy of Casablanca, and Yimou Zhang's Hero and flips the switch. The use of colour, in a throne room, in the way a monochromatic landscape becomes scarred red when disturbed, the way battle scenes are laid out, show a debt to Ran and Kagemusha. Rashomon inspires flashbacks. Someone much, much, much smarter than I am, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky over at AV Club, has already pointed out that The Last Jedi is part Kurosawa, part Looney Tunes, so I'm not breaking completely new ground here. Just don't go looking for that article until after you've seen the movie. First, it is spoilerific. And, second, none of it will make any sense to you until you've seen The Last Jedi. Consider yourself warned.
The performances, nearly every single one of them, is top shelf. Daisy Ridley, Domhnall Gleeson, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver all continue to prove they really are among the best of their generation. Andy Serkis is completely and utterly unrecognizable and gives his second great performance of 2017. Benicio Del Toro channels Peter Lorre and as always is pretty darned entertaining. In her last film performance, Carrie Fisher gives one of the most multi-layered performances of her career. The Last Jedi is pretty great tribute to one of the great ladies of ever. However, the MVP of The Last Jedi is Mark Hamill, who gives the performance of his career. It really is like seeing an old friend achieve the greatness you always knew was inside of them.
The Last Jedi may be flawed, it has some issues, it may sag at times, it may get weird and crazy, but I really enjoyed it. I found it daring and exhilarating and exciting. And I love the weirdness. There are two themes at play in The Last Jedi. One is that we learn more from failure than from success. The other is that the only way to move forward is to burn the past. I really do like Rian Johnson and his team's attempts to balance those two views, to find a new way to make a Star Wars movie. The Force Awakens was a solid re-introduction to this universe. The Last Jedi is not just a continuation of the story. It's as unexpected and surprising as a chapter in a multi-billion dollar enterprise can be. And, oh my, the stuff I can't talk about here. That stuff is among some of the best of the franchise, some of it is among the best of the year. That stuff, that stuff is the good stuff.