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New Release Review - STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI review
Episode eight of the ultimate blockbuster franchise.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Rian Johnson

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Lupita Nyong'o, Warwick Davis, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI poster


As early as its customary opening crawl, I began to have a bad feeling about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In what plays like a dig at the current leader of the free world (who was pictured earlier this year watching Rogue One on Air Force One), the word 'RESISTANCE' appears in upper-case letters, an early worrying sign that real world, outside forces may be intruding on this most endearingly innocent of escapist worlds.

This is nothing new of course with Star Wars, as key words have been capitalised in the opening crawls of previous entries, though without the baggage the word 'Resistance' now inevitably carries (remember such innocent times?). And let's not forget that as long ago as Return of the Jedi we collectively groaned when George Lucas dubbed a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan call over a shot of Chewbacca swinging on a vine, and later Lucas would add E.T. into the background of one of his much derided prequels. Much as we like to think Star Wars is some sort of hermetically sealed saga free of outside influences, that really hasn't been the case for a long time.


STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

One of the commendable aspects of the rebooted franchise is how prior to this latest installment it avoided any sort of postmodern referencing. For all their faults, both The Force Awakens and Rogue One take place 100% in the Star Wars universe without any unwanted intrusion from the popular culture of the real world. Sadly, that's not the case with Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi. Taking a pop at Trump is but one borderline anachronistic moment in a film that seems restless and unhappy to be confined in Lucas's sandbox. Later, noir fan Johnson has John Williams reprise his theme from Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye as muzak in a casino setting. It's a double nod, as Altman's film was scripted by Leigh Brackett, who would later lend her talents to The Empire Strikes Back, and as much of a Long Goodbye fan as I am, such an explicit reference really irked me. The true jump the shark moment however comes during the X-Men inspired climax when a character makes a very modern, very American gesture. There's a time and place for such postmodernism, but a long time ago isn't the time, and a galaxy far, far away isn't the place. If you're wondering how Tarantino's rumoured Star Trek movie might turn out, there are some clues to be found here.

A New Hope (or Star Wars for folks of my generation) announces itself with arguably cinema's greatest opening shot, and subsequent sequels have found ways to top it in scale, if not awe. I honestly can't remember the opening shot of The Last Jedi, possibly because it's quickly followed by the worst moment in the movie, an overplayed gag that wouldn't be out of place in Spaceballs, one which features Domhnall Gleeson delivering a shockingly awful performance as General Hux, the franchise's most annoying character since he whose name shall not be spoken. As if the actor had read criticism of his ineffectual role in The Force Awakens, he amps up his performance here to ridiculously over the top levels, his face clad in pasty white make-up, which may be employed to disguise the distinctive shade of scarlet we Irish folks tend to turn when placed in embarrassing positions.

Much like The Force Awakens riffed on A New Hope, The Last Jedi borrows heavily from The Empire Strikes Back. Rey and Luke's adventures on Jedi island (in terms of promoting tourism, this movie could do for Ireland what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand; my homeland scrubs up very well on screen) are essentially a retread of those of Luke and Yoda. There's a visit to a Monte Carlo inspired location that plays out a lot like Han and co.'s trip to Cloud City. And of course there's a battle involving AT-ATs on a planet with a white surface (salt covering red clay gives the film one of its few moments of visual audacity).


STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

As the middle chapter of a trilogy, Empire played very much like a second act, allowing us to spend time with the characters we grew to love in A New Hope. Because the characters were so endearing, and their interactions were penned by such talented scribes as Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, that sequel's relative lack of action never made the film drag. The same can't be said of The Last Jedi. Once again we spend most of the movie simply hanging out with characters (this is the least action-oriented entry of the franchise to date), but this bunch simply aren't interesting enough to justify the dearth of set-pieces. Too much of the movie consists of conversations, and Johnson's dialogue is flat and functional when it's not mocking how silly it thinks the whole set-up is or speechifying with trite inspirational quotes of the sort you'll find on the Facebook feed of a soccer Mom. Two characters engage in what amounts to a series of psychic phone calls, Johnson shooting his actors standing awkwardly talking into thin air. Such visually misjudged moments abound, none more unintentionally laughable than a scene involving a character floating through space like Mary Poppins.

Since Disney acquired the rights to the franchise, their reboots have at times felt like Marvel movies in Star Wars drag, none more so than The Last Jedi. It shares the Marvel universe's issue of offering us pathetic villains. Gleeson's Hux has all the menace of a wet mop, Andy Serkis's Snoke is given no agency here, and Adam Driver's spoilt brat Kylo Ren too often recalls that episode of The Next Generation where Wesley Crusher turned evil - this in the series that gave us Darth freaking Vader!!!

To be fair to The First Order - which seems to have instigated affirmative action since The Force Awakens, no longer dominated by white men, making it now convenient for an Asian girl to pose as one of their number - the Resistance don't exactly offer compelling heroes. Like The Force Awakens - which introduced a charming dynamic between Daisy Ridley's Ren and John Boyega's Finn, only to unwisely separate them - The Last Jedi gives us new characters that initially grab our attention (Laura Dern's Amilyn Holdo, enjoying a brief bit of sexual tension with Oscar Isaac's Poe; and Kelly Marie Tran's Rose, a loveable young resistance fighter), but the film can't find anything interesting for them to do.

While this new reboot of Lucas's franchise commendably reflects the diversity of its audience, it doesn't remotely reflect the diversity of its own universe. Three movies in and we still haven't gotten a major new character who isn't a human. If the Resistance are all about building an inclusive galaxy for all, why are they overwhelmingly human in their makeup? It seems the execs are so terrified of accidentally creating a new Jar Jar that they simply refuse to give us an alien protagonist. Fearing an Ewok style backlash against the Porgs (think a pigeon crossed with Shrek's Puss 'n Boots), the movie begins to mock their cuteness almost as soon as they appear.


STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Such mocking dogs Johnson's film, as it constantly reminds us that it knows how silly Star Wars is. What's wrong with being silly? Rather than smug, self-awareness, silliness is what we need from Hollywood right now. Famously, while shooting the original masterpiece in Pinewood Studios, the grizzled British crew constantly mocked the silliness of the odd film they were working on. Thankfully, Lucas believed in his vision, silly as it may have been. The Last Jedi is the movie Lucas's scoffing 1977 crew members might have made if they took over the production of his film.

Maybe the modern world is just too cynical for the escapist thrills of Star Wars. Could The Last Jedi be the film our snarky, smartass age deserves? Say what you will about Lucas; he may have made some bad Star Wars movies, but he never made one as dull as The Last Jedi, a movie with pacing so glacial it makes Solaris play like a Flash Gordon serial.

Three movies in and this new Star Wars franchise has become the cinematic equivalent of city centre Christmas lights - soulless, cynical and obligatory, it simply hangs there, making you wish the money had been spent more wisely.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in UK/ROI cinemas December 14th.




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