Star Wars: The Last Jedi
review by paul dunne
In a world of remixes, remediation, and remakes Star Wars throws its own contender into the ring. There are plenty of nods to pay homage to Empire Strikes Back but The Last Jedi also exceeds its comparisons. Establishing itself as a continuation of, and new story within, the Star Wars universe. The film picks up almost immediately after the ending of The Force Awakens with the familiar title scroll catching us up to speed with the events of the interim.
Similar to Empire, various divergent narratives branch across the film. These all work individually, albeit with one of the storylines having little overlap with the others. The multiple perspectives come together in the film’s climactic action set piece as we get a final, focused ending. However, rather than mixing smoothly together, some of the narratives feel forced together, clashing and colliding to serve the film’s finale rather than their own resolution.
There is a surprising dose of deus ex machina, although many of those "hands of God" are revealed in turn to be good planning. Planning prevails over fate, except when it doesn’t. Certain moments verge on the improbable and frustratingly convenient, these moments are few and far between which leaves the plots satisfying. There are several twists that are unforeseen and genuinely shocking.
There is a welcome return to the philosophy and mysticism of the Jedi order, particularly in the second act of the film. Some would consider these sections slow and that may be warranted. However, I was glad to finally be shedding the nonsense of blood science bullshit that are midi-chlorians and delving deeper into the ambiguity of "the force".
There is one major problem with The Last Jedi, it is one that has been carried over from The Force Awakens, and it is Rey. Now hear me out, Rey is likeable and Daisy Ridley is a fantastic actress, but the writing isn’t all there. Rey is perfect, invincible, infallible and, as a result, uninteresting. Every other character the new trilogy has introduced has recognizable flaws and struggles that make them human and relatable but Rey does not. She conquers all challenges and conflicts with ease, she is destined to succeed no matter what. Her "struggles" amount to no scars or lessons learned, every moment for her seems to check the box of "hero" with little consequence. Her character is flat and devoid of depth or texture.
This film introduces a problem for her character, it is visualized amazingly but is never truly solved. A single line of dialogue seemingly washes the problem away in an underwhelming fashion. Whereas when other characters experience similar problems, they take action against (or to avoid) their problems, and are rewarded or punished, growing and developing in front of our eyes. From her introduction in The Force Awakens Rey was our hero, and that never changes and is rarely challenged.
Kylo Ren steals the show, his character arc and Adam Driver’s acting craft one of the best antagonists I’ve ever seen on screen. Kylo is complicated and made of many textures that craft a deep, fascinating character. He is an amazing blend of Anakin Skywalker’s emotional instability and Darth Vader’s powerful presence. He is not simply the villain of the series. He is his own character, inducing fear, sympathy, admiration, and loathing all at the same time.
Overall The Last Jedi is a fantastic film, an entertaining blend of action and philosophical set pieces. While it may still bear issues from its predecessor, it is refreshing to see a blockbuster film take such thoughtful twists when it could have reverted to Hollywood’s current default remaking model. Unlike The Force Awakens, this is a film you haven’t seen before and it is worth seeing.