“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.”
A preface: I’m writing this review after watching the film for the first time. I will be going to see it for a second time in the very near future, I’ll be adding any additional thoughts after round two. Upon leaving the film yesterday evening I had no idea how I felt at all – here’s how I feel 12 hours later on.
It was my friend Sam who put it best post-screening; ‘that film wasn’t the Star Wars we wanted, but it was the one we needed.’ Whilst I hate ever agreeing with Sam and am very envious of the fact he came up with a line so poetic – he’s right. The Last Jedi isn’t the film that many will expect and as a result it will be very divisive (we’re talking marmite levels of hate or love here) it’s a film that is made all the more extraordinary by this fact.
The main criticism that many had with The Force Awakens was the fact it was safe – it followed a narrative so safe and familiar that it could easily be interpreted as a rehash of A New Hope or any other hero’s journey narrative. A young hero, Rey and/or Finn, have a call to adventure that will lead them to saving the galaxy by blowing up the arsenal of the enemy. That’s not to have a pop at TFA (fyi, I loved it) but two years on – and after the very different and very dark Rogue One, well TFA seems rather familiar and comforting in comparison.
And now we have The Last Jedi. A cinema-watching experience unlike any other I can recall from this year, or any other year in all fairness. I can’t think of another film I’ve watched where I’ve experienced fleeting moments of intense loathing, followed swiftly by moments of awe-struck gasping. It would be spoilerific to outline in any more detail what the moments I struggled with were, all I will say is that there were brief moments on infrequent occasions that felt like I was watching some sort of Star Wars pastiche or tribute as opposed to an actual Star Wars. These moments, no more than a handful, either featured dialogue or moments of fan-service that evoked a cringe as opposed to a knowing laugh. At the time of watching they grated, felt clunky and attention-stealing, needless in terms of narrative momentum.
Roughly twelve hours on and they feel slightly less worrisome. Whilst I can easily recount them, and still feel some disdain for them, they’re now less burdensome. That’s because the immense strength of the rest of the film – a film which possesses a voice unlike any other Star Wars film. It takes some risks, arguably like the ones listed above and some which have a rather more successful payoff, going to some places narrative-wise that are rather unexpected in manner of storytelling & tonality that is fully its own.
Aside from the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special (a ‘must-see’ if you’ve not done so already) I wouldn’t have described any of the previous films as ‘funny’. Occasional moments of humour – for instance the charm of Han and the sass of Ledia- sure. But not packed with gags (most of which land, hard) or moments of genuine comedy. The opening scene instantly establishes this tone, as well as finally giving Domhnall Gleeson a moment to shine as opposed to having him walk around with a permanent smelling-something-bad expression a’la TFA.
He gets more to do, as do most of the cast – which seems somewhat incredible considering the size of the cast and how many familiar faces are packed within it. The screen time is split between multiple story strands which play out then tie up in ways that are most unexpected. As the film unravels there’s no sense of predictability or familiar, things will not play out in a manner you anticipate. Although the film kicks off straight after where TFA ends, you don’t instantly get answers to the questions raised within the previous film. It would have been all too easy for writer-director Rian Johnson to tick-box off those hanging threads. Instead he gives us a film with more to think upon by refusing to just simply give us all the answers.
In many ways that sums up TLJ and explains why it’ll be so divisive. To paraphrase what Sam said – it’s what was needed as opposed to what was wanted. To keep the franchise alive, to keep it going, it cannot just stay the same. Change does and has to happen – it’s the way of the force.