Thursday, 21 December 2017

There are enough spoiler-free reviews on the internet already. Here's my very spoiler-ridden list of things I thought during and after watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi:

  • Back in 2015, I really enjoyed The Force Awakens at the time I was watching it, but over time, it dropped in my estimations, largely due to the realisation that it does share a few too many plot points with A New Hope. It's a hit of Star Wars nostalgia, which is perhaps what the brand needed, but fails to add much truly new to that nostalgia. Its main strength, which still holds up, is in the characters of Rey, Finn and Poe, and what Episode VIII needed to do was push those characters, and the series, in new directions. The Last Jedi certainly does that. I feel that, like The Force Awakens, my opinion on it will change over time, but already, it’s going the opposite way to that film - reflecting on it is revealing depths and strengths that can’t be appreciated in a first-watch hit. Ultimately, The Last Jedi is likely to be looked back on as the better film.
  • That said, there are things I’m uncertain on. The storyline of the Resistance fleet being chased across space by the First Order allows for some nice tension, in a manner reminiscent of the brilliant Battlestar Galactica episode 33, but highlights how the two sequel films so far are really unclear about what state the galaxy as a whole is meant to be in. How can the Resistance fleet be so small and unsupported when just a couple of weeks ago in story time, they were linked to a galaxy-wide Republic? What does life on the average planet look like right now? If the FO do hold control, how’d they do that so quick? The small scale of this war jars compared to the presentation of a vast, multicultural galaxy as seen in the rest of the saga, particularly the prequels.
  • But I can forgive flaws in this greater story because it's a narrative that is - unlike the prequels - built on top of strong character arcs. The moment when The Last Jedi completely swept me away was the three-way confrontation in Snoke’s throne room. There are so many good moments in that scene: the genuine uncertainty as to which way Kylo’s going to turn; the punch-the-air moment when he kills Snoke; the ballsiness of killing off the main villain halfway through a trilogy; the gorgeous cinematography of the shot where Rey and Kylo fight the guards back-to-back; wondering who the villain will be now Kylo’s apparently turned good; the heartbreaking realisation that he hasn’t. From that point on, the film really began to surprise and enthrall me.
  • And then there’s the reveal about Rey’s parents, which I'm so glad turned out the way it did. All these silly fanboy theories about her being a Skywalker, Palpatine’s genetic creation, the reincarnation of Boss Nass, etc. are just so inward-looking and naff. Making the story about her overcoming that disappointment and realising that the daughter of junk traders, a true underdog, can be the hero of the galaxy is so much more poignant than any of that. And Adam Driver delivers it in such a beautifully nasty way.
  • Kylo, by the way, is such a good character. Too many blockbusters these days put all the work into their heroes and leave the villains with no characterisation other than a cape and a desire to kill everything. It’s so good to have a villain with psychological depth and tangible motivation, who grows in parallel with the heroes.
  • Going back to that point about underdogs, the final scene is magnificent. It really got to me. (So, who do we reckon Broom Kid’s parents are?)
  • I notice that the people who were angry about Rey being too perfect are now angry about Luke Skywalker not being perfect. And sure, it’s never easy to find out your heroes aren’t, and that we have to hold everyone to account for their mistakes. That brave twist is the heart of the thematic depth which The Last Jedi has and which The Force Awakens does not, and is perhaps the element of The Last Jedi which will, in the long term, see it remembered as one of the greater Star Wars movies.
  • I heard from a couple of people before I saw the film that they felt it has too many jokes. Having seen the film, I cannot begin to understand that criticism. No, it doesn’t. The humour never overshadows the serious dramatic scenes, and when it is there, it’s funny.
  • My favourite laugh out loud moments were the ironing droid and Chewie eating Porg BBQ. The Porgs are reasonably funny, and not in it enough to become annoying.
  • The script is careful to give all of the minor players something both characteristic and useful to do. Like how, near the beginning, Chewie helps Rey get to Luke physically by bashing the door down, while R2 also helps out by playing to Luke's emotions with the Leia hologram. No character is wasted.
  • Except maybe Phasma, who doesn't do much at all.
  • The shot from the Battle of Crait where Poe slides across the salt and smoothly lands in the trench is my new favourite image of Oscar Isaac. And I have a lot of images of Oscar Isaac in my head.
  • I’m not sure about Luke declaring near the end that Rey is a Jedi. Surely the point of all this was that she can move on and create something better than the Jedi?
  • Luke’s death reminded me of the War Doctor’s from Doctor Who. They’ve won the enormous battle and all come out unscathed! Oh, he’s dead now.
  • A point I also made with Rogue One - I want more alien characters with speaking parts. The galaxy feels very human-centric. 
  • The much more important counter-point to that is, as with Rogue One, the human cast is wonderfully diverse.
  • I’m nervous about Episode IX. Partly due to the director’s chair returning to JJ Abrams, who made a good film with The Force Awakens, but one that played it safe, when IX needs to continue the boundary-pushing of this film. And partly because I have no idea how they’ll deal with the Carrie Fisher problem, given that Last Jedi’s ending sets Leia up as a big part of the story to come.
  • Of all the characters who could have had a topless scene, why did it have to be Kylo?