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Luke back in anger
Glimpsed at the tail end of The Force Awakens, Luke Skywalker now comes into his own. THE LAST JEDI is great fun with some lovely surprises, humour that works and a few genuine moments of "Nice..." Camus would love to say that he enjoyed every minute...
 
  'And I bought that "All You Need is Love." I said, by the time I get to be… our generation is in power they'll be no more wars. They'll be no more racial discrimination. They'll be peace and harmony. We failed. Arguably the world is worse now than it was in the '60s and early '70s. So I drew upon that to try and figure out why Luke was so disillusioned. Why he so tragically failed. He did fail. Obviously, he thought Ben Solo was the Chosen One and he was wrong. Now he's almost responsible for the rise of the next Darth Vader.'
  Mark Hamill coming to terms with a characterisation at first he didn't warm to.*

 

How's this for a moral dilemma the right side of which is almost impossible to be. The experience of watching The Last Jedi was one of almost constant frustration and anger. One in our audience was a disabled young man (not sure what the nature of his disability was) who had to be told, unreasonably loudly, what was happening on screen every single minute. Everyone in the audience knew he was disabled so of course no one asked his companion to either shut up or at least whisper. Complaining to the cinema staff afterwards just to let off steam, I suddenly got that glimpse of how extraordinarily difficult it is for some people to participate in society. I felt like a class-one bastard actually vocalising my issue and then flashed on the German woman in Shoah whose house was next door to one of the death camps who complained that the screams of the children were keeping her up at night. OK, I've gone large there but morally it is a tricky one. I do not want a running commentary on a movie while I'm watching it nor do I want to deny someone the joy of experiencing it even if they can't take it in without disrupting the pleasure of others. If I'd been able to immerse myself in the film, I probably would have been more enthusiastic but I'm working on an Outsider article at the moment in which David Fincher has basically said that mainstream cinema now is just a series of bonfires that iPhone-armed kids gather around and that if you want character drama, you should look to TV. I agree to a point but when the bonfire is this much fun, I cannot find anything really to complain about. A noisy commentator is not exactly in director Rian Johnson's power to control so let's take a look at the plus points without the cinematic commentary. The Last Jedi is a blast.

Star Wars: The Last jedi

Pixar's greatest strength (have not seen Coco but John Lassiter's political exile makes me feel very sad) used to be unforeseeable narrative direction. If there were eighty-seven ways for a narrative to play out that a million people would have seen coming, their movies employed number eighty-eight. Their narrative structures always went where no structures had gone before. I don't think it's unfair to say that The Force Awakens was a soft reboot of the original Star Wars. While I enjoyed it, I was aware that Abrams was not exactly treading new ground. In The Last Jedi, I got the very strong impression that Rian Johnson was going where no Star Wars had gone before. Like its Marvel contemporaries, the franchise is aware of its own popularity and nods and winks can become distracting. But what's at stake (the Rebellion itself) and the inherent dramatic conflicts between characters earnestly acted with delicacy and nuance put this chapter into a new league. A few times, despite the running commentary from the left, I couldn't wipe a grin off my face and there is a moment, a very definite moment of "Yes!" which is well worth anyone's time.

The plot, in short; General Hux's big ass Empire fleet is being given the run around by fighter Jock, Poe in his X-Wing to enable the Rebels to escape. Nascent Jedi Rey is trying to get Luke back into the Rebellion fold to act as a spark to light the philosophical fires. The Empire can now track ships through hyperspace (a hitherto safe haven for intergalactic travellers) and before they are all wiped out, Fin and mechanic Rose have to find the one person who can crack Empire security to disable the tracking device. Johnson gleefully sets up narrative strands and consistently sucker punches us but this is really refreshing. Nothing goes to plan which is a constant delight. If someone planned to make a cup of tea in Johnson's universe, the kettle would explode, the tea bags would start their own union and the milk would form an alliance with a bottle of Kahlúa. In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking but heaven knows, anything goes.

Rian Johnson's gleeful subversion of where we think we're going to go and where we end up gives Jedi its confidence and drive and it earns its long running time by allowing the different strands to be told with some weight. And every so often, he delights. The image of a creature bearing our heroes on a moonlit beach was so quintessentially 'Star Warsy', you could feel even George Lucas giving a thumbs up. As you would expect and perhaps these days as you would have the right to expect, the visual effects are startlingly good. Inventive writers and directors will always strive to give us something we've not seen before. Space is space so space ships for my money are "Yeah, OK," but when the rebels break out some old tech on what seems like an ice planet - but the white is actually salt covering a scorched red earth beneath - the trails left by the craft's yacht-like blades are artistically gorgeous. Another jaw dropper is the result of an act of sacrifice. The consequent visuals and sound are stunning to take in unless you have someone loudly saying "The big ship just exploded!" a few seats to your left. When you see it, a part of your brain will go "Ah, yes, I see what you mean…"

Mark Hamill as Luke Sjywalker

Mark Hamill is superb as Luke being reluctantly eased into Obi Wanhood by an insistent Rey. Daisy Ridley convinces with her steely determination and both John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Issac as Poe continue to have way too much fun with their roles. What a bittersweet experience it is to see Carrie Fisher's strong leader knowing that (wait, that's a spoiler). Newcomer Kelly Marie Tran is hugely entertaining as Fin's partner at the universe's most outrageous casino. Domhnall Gleeson is channelling his inner Nazi. The first dialogue exchange between rebel and Empire is very funny and what a shock to see 'Vyvyan Basterd' from The Young Ones (Adrian Edmondson) as Gleeson's second in command. Mo-capped Andy Serkis impresses as the big bad Snoke but we're still not there in terms of absolute believability (partially because of his disfigurements I suppose). But for my money, the stand out performance of the movie has to be Adam Driver as Ben Solo or Kylo Ren. His physical presence and that strapped down rage which in less accomplished hands could be tiresome, is a huge asset in Jedi. We learn a little of his background but his motivation and responses to situations are never less than utterly believable and that's as a Star Wars bad guy. You've got to be really good to be convincing in that role or wear a mask, something he petulantly discards after being taunted. Rey and Ren find they have a force-based psychic link (which someone christened Force-Time, cute if you are a Mac user) and their antagonistic relationship is broadened and deepened this time around. Nice to see Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro in strong supporting roles, each of which deliver lovely surprises.

The Last Jedi is far more inventive than its predecessor by not being too similar to anything that has come before it and dare I say it, the characters (even and especially the new ones) come across as rounded individuals, which can only strengthen the drama. Rian Johnson is to be commended for his superlative writing and directing talent. If the massive 'official' franchise was mired in J.J. Abrams' overwhelming reverence to Lucas' original, then Johnson has grabbed the toys off him, and recreated within the Star Wars universe a strong sense of drama, a sense of something at stake and most of all, a sense of fun.

 


* http://www.slashfilm.com/mark-hamill-interview/

Star Wars: The Last jedi poster
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

USA 2017
152 mins
directed by
Rian Johnson
produced by
Ram Bergman
Kathleen Kennedy
written by
Rian Johnson
based on chacters created by
George Lucas
cinematography
Steve Yedlin
editing
Bob Ducsay
music
John Williams
production design
Rick Heinrichs
starring
Daisy Ridley
Mark Hamill
Adam Driver
Gwendoline Christie
Domhnall Gleeson
Carrie Fisher
Billie Lourd
Andy Serkis
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Laura Dern
Oscar Isaac
Benicio Del Toro\

UK distributor
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
UK release date
14 December 2017
review posted

17 December 2017


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Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

See all of Camus' reviews