Star Wars: The Last Jedi

©2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. L to R: Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Photo: Jonathan Olley.

Certainly, we have hardly ever faced a world in worse shape or in greater need of the lyrical, mystical, and common-sensical. There seem to be large and perpetual pockets where fair and sustaining values are more pale than they should be. But when we consider Plato, Strabbo, and the apostles Paul and John, and many others over the centuries, we see that they also wrote about their times as being likewise devoid of proper “management and meaning.” It appears that “culture at edge of utter corruption” and “world at the edge of utter destruction” are two of the oldest themes to be found in stories of the human race.

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., from the Introduction to Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero With A Thousand Faces”

In my editorial, “Frank Herbert’s Star Wars,” I posited that STAR WARS, as contemporary monomyth, might reach the same conclusion that Campbell did in that final chapter of his treatise, in which the Hero transcends the temporary objects of good and evil in deference to the cosmic perspective.

Where THE FORCE AWAKENS cribs from STAR WARS (1977), director Rian Johnson repeats the Rebel evacuation plot of the THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.  A tonally-inconsistent mess, it tries to balance callbacks to THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK—Rebels backed into a corner, Jedi training, bad omens—with some truly brilliant ideas, particularly involving Luke, Leia (Carrie Fisher), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the Force.

While the central story concept of THE LAST JEDI, Luke’s Dharmic apotheosis and Rey’s Gnostic enlightenment, is an inspired one, it’s hounded by lopsided execution and a ham-fisted subplot involving Stormtrooper-turned-Rebel Finn (John Boyega) and a maintenance worker, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). They must disable a tracking system aboard Supreme Leader Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) ship to evade the Imperial forces and the only man in the galaxy who can help them turns out to be Fenster from THE USUAL SUSPECTS (Benicio Del Toro).  That, I can buy.  What I can’t abide is the sloppy, last-minute romance that emerges out of this unnecessary thirty-five minute digression as if the studio executives decided at the eleventh hour to retain a sequence, otherwise extraneous were it not for the need to make something out of nothing—and the kiss still feels horribly misplaced and selfish, endangering the entire Rebellion because of a crush.

Adding insult to injury are two clumsily-doled moments:  A drab, overtly topical pep talk about #TheResistance from Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) and a subtext about war profiteers in an elaborate set piece (going for Bespin by way of the STAR WARS prequels) festooned with champagne goblets—you might call it the One Percent Planet (apologies to Nicholas Meyer).  Maybe if you look hard enough, you might see a monocle-wearing peanut?  The entire bit is unnecessary as it can be slashed down to a single shot in which Fenster, I mean DJ, flips through a catalogue of Rebel and Imperial arms.

While the second and third installments of the original STAR WARS trilogy also hopped back and forth across different subplots to bridge the complex and epic span of the Rebellion’s fight against the Empire set in the backdrop of Luke’s personal journey culminating in Darth Vader’s redemption, you always knew where you were in the story and had a chance to breathe before a major shift, like the conductor resting his baton between movements of a symphony.

It’s not that Rian Johnson can’t function as a director.  BRICK was an intelligently made film, but his inexperience is overshadowed by the looming weight of the STAR WARS saga and the monocle-wearing peanuts at Disney who might have picked him for the same reason Lucas replaced Irvin Kershner with Richard Marquand for RETURN OF THE JEDI.  A seasoned director and film professor at USC, Irvin Kershner relied on his own wisdom and that of his actors to drive EMPIRE into the densely-packed chapter that cements the whole story together.  This being Johnson’s fourth feature, he’s not teaching classes at USC any time soon.

In fairness, and without spoiling anything, I’ll call out two parts that worked well: 1. An ingenious sequence that personifies the Dark Side of the Force as a duality-within-duality of independence and solitude in contrast to the Light’s unity/conformity, and 2. Mark Hamill.

Probably one of the most underrated actors of our time, beset by typecasting, a disfiguring injury, and the tendency of fans to misguidedly credit George Lucas with Luke Skywalker’s gravitas, Hamill gracefully balances out the atonality with an acting style informed by Meisner technique, never stretching so far in either direction (the dialogue often vacillates between drama and weirdly-timed wisecracks) as to give the viewer emotional whiplash in spite of Johnson’s best efforts.  Yet even the Moptop Jedi can’t save a plot in which his greatest revelation—that balance lies beyond dogma, institutions, and the very constructs of good and evil—is undermined at the last minute by a walk-back so baffling its logic is almost Trumpian.

It’s rather tragicomic that a movie whose themes revolve around lessons from failure and the social cost of colonial imperialism would be helmed by Disney, for whom owning the Marvel and STAR WARS franchises isn’t enough; they’re mulling a bid to buy Fox.  A more experienced director might have followed his or her own instincts and expertise, expanding upon the parallels between Rey and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), connecting two of the most thrilling moments in the entire saga and the inexorable bond between Luke and Leia—together besting Lucas’ own muddled (and retconned) explanations of the Force with one which Campbell himself would approve:

I am the cleverness in the gambler’s dice.  I am the radiance of all things beautiful.  I am the victory and the struggle for victory.  I am the goodness of those who are good.  I am the scepter of the rulers of men.  I am the wise policy of those who seek victory.  I am the silence of hidden mysteries; and I am the knowledge of those who know.  And know Arjuna that I am the seed of all things that are; and that no being that moves or moves not can ever be without me.  Know that whatever is beautiful and good, whatever has glory and power is only a portion of my own radiance.  But of what help is it to know this diversity?  Know that with one single fraction of my Being I pervade and support the universe.  And know that I AM.

– Bhagavad Gita 10:36-41

 

 

 

  • I agree that Mark Hamill is a very underrated actor, however, I largely disagree with many of the conclusions of this review. I think the most prominent point of this movie, which is still based on a blend of science fiction, fantasy, drama and thrill is that it is still a fairy tale. This feels like it was written by someone with a grudge for the franchise. We might be looking into parallels a little too deeply at this point. While I get that there are some mirrored parallels to Empire Strikes Back, which is still considered probably one of the best sequels of all time that set the bar for many movies – is that it was a proven formula to which future Star Wars sequels will be compared to. After watching Rian explain the complexity of this new story and where its going, I don’t think it should be directly compared to ESB and I don’t think that the 3rd movie will be anything like Return of the Jedi.

    • “This feels like it was written by someone with a grudge for the franchise.”

      I’ve never written a review where my intent was to make you not see the film. That isn’t the purpose of film criticism… in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Every review I write should make you want to take in more movies, not fewer. It’s the only way you can gain a broader understanding and appreciation for the difference between good and bad… and that, too, is Luke’s message in this movie.

  • mickrrussom

    The new start wars movies are garbage. People like it. People like McDonalds which the garbage of food, too. Nothing beats new hope/ESB. and the main reason is Marcia Lucas. Once her steady hand was gone, we got ROTJ, crystal skull, etc.

  • Fundamentalist Daleks

    Can we stop pretending Rian Johnson is the messiah now instead of a mediocrity?

  • Mike

    The moment I walked out of the theater, I felt a disturbance in the force.
    That being – despite the inherent flaws that are the prequels – this was the first Star Wars movie that underwhelmed me immediately after viewing. The giddiness that comes after witnessing Star Wars canon being expanded upon wasn’t so evident this time round. But rather the uncomfortable feeling of too many missed opportunities, misplaced gags and unnecessary arcs.

  • Adam Selene

    The “romance” is only on Rose’s side. It’s her crush on the hero of Starkiller base. It doesn’t come out of nowhere.

    I didn’t care for the particular scene, but the idea that her unilateral kiss constituted a “romance” tacked on to the end of the movie is a bit much.

    Overall I thought the movie was terrific fun. Not the best Star Wars movie. Not the worst. But a worthy addition to the franchise.