, , , , , , , , , , ,

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson (Based on characters by George Lucas)

Luke Skywalker: Mark Hamill

Carrie Fischer: Leia Organa

Rey: Daisy Ridley

Finn: John Boyega

Poe Dameron: Oscar Isaac

Kylo Ren: Adam Driver

Rose Tico: Kelly Marie Tran

Vice Admiral Holdo: Laura Dern

Supreme Leader Snoke: Andy Sirkus

DJ: Benecio Del Toro

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the 8th episode in the three trilogy Star Wars saga. Its primary purpose is obviously to set up the climactic battle for control of the galaxy in the final episode, not that Episode IX is likely to be the last Star Wars film. It almost certainly will not; a new trilogy is in the works, but making it to the screen is never a sure thing.

It begins as Episode IV, A New Hope, began in 1977, 40 years ago, with the stirring theme, the Star Wars logo, and scrolling prologue text. The initial trilogy was amazingly popular, and not just because of the special effects, which were a revelation in 1977, but because the trilogy is a literary epic–The Odyssey–told visually. All of the elements of the literary epic, such as beginning in media res–in the middle of things, thus Episode IV–a hero of great, even mystical power, who must discover his origins and strengths, a vast landscape of nations, a titanic struggle of good and evil, love, death, action, adventure, and more, appealed to audiences, because those elements have always appealed to audiences. They evoke archetypal images. The remind us of the evil which always calls to us, and of the good we can attain to overcome it. The characters are endearing, for good or ill, and we care about them, and as each episode builds on the last, there is reason to keep caring. For every man and woman, there is at least one character worth emulating, one character about who we can say “I could do that; I could be like him/her.” These are characters we want to see again, that we want in our lives.

That’s why the second trilogy almost sunk the entire enterprise. Anikin Skywalker, the little boy virtually devoid of emotion apart from a blank stare and the occasional grimace, and the adolescent Anikin virtually devoid of emotion apart from a perpetual scowl framed by the occasional grimace, were anything but loveable, and the only thing one can reasonably say about Jar Jar Binks is: “What the hell could George Lucas have been thinking?” The Anikin of Attack of the Clones, was little better, except in the intensity of his scowls, and when he became Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith, many fans were likely thankful he would finally produce some facial expression.

The trilogy had its moments to be sure. Yoda’s lightsaber duel with Count Dooku evoked delighted cheers from audiences, and evolving computer graphics technology made possible some neat tricks, but there was so little character development, and so little interesting dialogue, that would have been the end of the saga without Disney’s interest and rescue.

With The Force Awakens, and the introduction of Rey, various feminists, social justice warriors, and other destructive types did their best to brand Rey as anything but what she was: heroic. I took exception to their loathing in a review at the time. 

Rey is back, and is pivotal to the rest of the trilogy. Daisy Ridley is a bright and engaging actress who commands the screen. Her physical presence in the many battle scenes is commanding. While actual swordsmen will not be impressed with the technique in any of the movies, Ridley is a better than average movie swordswoman, and her rage-filled cries are believable. She carries the movie, and her Rey is a worthy cinematic creation. Young girls can safely emulate her, and she drives Leftists crazy–a good in itself. I remain unconvinced, however, about the odd bandage-like coverings of her arms. Does she have a skin condition?

In most respects, The Last Jedi is a chase movie. The evil First Order is chasing what’s left of the Rebel fleet across the Galaxy, exterminating them piecemeal as they flee. Along the way, Rey struggles to discover the truth about her parents, and to understand her place in the galactic struggle. John Boyega’s Finn gets in contact with his inner hero, Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron plays a stereotypical hot-head, hot-shot pilot with style, and Laura Dern grabs a substantial portion of heroism for herself while upholding the honor of women.

Kelly Marie Tran as Rose

Of note is the performance of Kelly Marie Tran as Rose. She is tiny, but a large screen presence. She is the kind of character that makes Star Wars effective: kind, loving, generous, willing, courageous. resourceful, even eager to sacrifice herself for others and for a cause greater than herself, loyal, daring, the kind of friend anyone would count themselves lucky to have. People will return for Episode IX to see more of her, if for no other reason.

Benicio Del Toro plays a sort of Han Soloish rogue who sort of helps the Rebellion, but maybe not, and who is maybe on the side of good, but maybe more on his own side, but not in a good, Han Soloish sort of way. His character, DJ, mumbles, slouches, and may or may not return, and most won’t much care if he does. Some critics are comparing him to Billy Dee William’s Lando Calrissian, but DJ lacks the class and style of that character.

Kylo Ren (L) and Rey (R)

And then there is Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo and Leia who went over to the dark side of The Force, and is the Supreme Leader’s Darth Vader mini me–for awhile. I found Driver’s character in The Force Awakens weak. He seemed little more than a petulant, angst-ridden adolescent in a mask, which, in a bit of perhaps intentional irony, is what Director Johnson has the Supreme Leader call him. He is perhaps a little less the petulant teenaged dullard in this movie, but still can’t seem to muster the inherent evil that is supposed to embody his character. He does get one brief shirtless scene, but female fans will have to report on the appeal of that, or whether it’s evil.

Some will surely argue that’s the point; his evil is evolving, and some day–you just wait and see–he’ll be really evil, a new Vader, as the Supreme Leader taunts Ren. But for now, I find Driver wrong for the part, a casting error.

Luke Skywalker, 40 years later

Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker is a difficult character. The script demands he be reluctant to engage evil, but the audience knows he will, and that climactic scene is effective and interesting, but his reasons don’t seem to make much sense, and seem unlikely to have turned him into a hermit for decades. Even so, his performance is capable, and of course, much anticipated.

The Supreme Leader, entirely a computer creation, is state of the art, but doesn’t capture the depth of evil and menace of the master of Darth Vader. The CGI Supreme Leader is more life-like than any before, but the eyes are never quite right, and when he moves, it’s hard to tell if Johnson wanted him to have a slightly lurching gait, as though he had been wounded and never quite recovered, or if it’s just an artifact of our inability to make such characters move naturally.

Carrie Fischer’s Leia is an old friend, and a welcome presence. Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral is a necessary foil for Poe Dameron, and is well played. Chewie is back, as are R2D2 and C3PO, though their roles are small. There are, as always, cute and interesting animal characters introduced, and this time, none are remotely cringe-worthy. The humor present in the series is also present here, but it did not seem as frequent, nor quite as funny as in previous films, particularly the first trilogy, there are, however, some comic moments.

Production values are excellent, though in the theater where I viewed the movie, some of the character’s voices were occasionally hard to understand.  It’s difficult to know if that was a problem with the soundtrack, or the theater.

This movie, like The Force Awakens, returns to the archetypal imagery we crave. Despite its 2.5-hour length, dialogue that is often only a millimeter deep, and occasional lurches in scene transitions, it’s an exciting and solidly entertaining movie. There are, as always, rational lapses, such as Rebellion space bombers that drop bombs, as in dropping them downward on the top of enemy ships, which, considering there is no gravity in space, no up or down, is a neat trick. Most first order blasters are still painted and slightly disguised Stirling submachine guns, and storm troopers still wear white plastic armor that doesn’t seem to protect them from anything.

The Last Jedi continues a welcome return toward epic movie making. It is an entertaining movie, worth seeing in a theater, and certainly worth owning on DVD.