Friday 22 December 2017

The Last Jedi: Review

Yesterday I finally saw The Last Jedi. It was great fun. Thoroughly recommended.

After The Force Awakens and Rogue One, we could be pretty confident the Star Wars franchise is in safe hands at Disney. This film keeps up the trend. I agree with reviews by Mark Kermode and John Scalzi; this is a good, solid, entertaining episode.

Some things I particularly liked about it (with minimal spoilers):

It's surprisingly thoughtful in its treatment of the Star Wars cosmology. Luke Skywalker and others argue about the nature of the Force and the purpose of the Jedi. It was good to finally hear in a Star Wars film a thing I've been pointing out for some time: The Jedi aren't all that great.

The Jedi may be wise in the ways of the Force, but Obi-Wan told Luke they were "guardians of peace and justice," and in this role they leave much to be desired. Their arrogance and complacency allowed Darth Sidious to plot under their very noses, to destroy them and set himself up as Emperor.

Luke was Yoda and Obi-Wan's last desperate attempt to set things right. As we know from The Force Awakens, when Luke attempted to train a new generation of Jedi, it went terribly wrong and Kylo Ren turned to the Dark Side. Luke is wrestling with this legacy of failure, and asking himself what it means to be a Jedi.

TLJ has a definite moral centre, exemplified by the new character Rose Tico. She has seen injustice close at hand. She supports the Resistance, and risks her life for her comrades, because it offers the chance of a better life for others who still suffer.

If this doesn't sound particularly subtle, well, it isn't. Partly that's the nature of a Star Wars movie; but also, we live in unsubtle times. These are times when hatred and cruelty are embraced as virtues, at the highest levels of government in Britain and the USA. As Scalzi observes, science fiction writers may try to portray the future (or long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, as the case may be); but they live in the present, and that can't help but flavour their work.

It is bad to embrace hatred, greed and cruelty. It is good to be kind and generous to others. In this day and age, a reminder of that is welcome.

It's good too that TLJ effortlessly passes the Bechdel test. It's a notable improvement from the days of the original trilogy, a poster child for the Smurfette Principle in which Leia was the only woman in much of the galaxy.

All this may sound terribly serious, but TLJ could not be further away from the constipated self-importance of The Phantom Menace. TLJ is a very, very funny film. For example, it's great fun to watch General Hux trying to be calm and professional in the face of Kylo Ren's adolescent petulance.

More than once, TLJ sets up an expectation of a typical Star Wars escapade, only to pull the rug out from under you and do something different. It delivers a tremendous thrill ride of explosive battles, daring escapes, and crafty or not-so-crafty plans.

On that last note: I rather enjoyed the fact that young heroes like Rey, Poe, Finn and Rose are not all-wise and all-competent. They are allowed to make what turn out to be stupid mistakes, and then they have a chance to redeem themselves.

It's not a perfect film. Plenty of things in it make no goddamned sense. But it's Star Wars, and I'm willing to make some allowances. The Star Wars mythology looms so large, it's almost become meaningless to ask how a new film compares to other works of cinema; instead, we ask how it compares to its predecessors in the series.

That's a relatively hard question to answer, because TLJ departs a little in tone and content from the others. It's still very much a Star Wars film; but much like Rogue One, it is willing to play around with the setting and try to do something different with it. On the whole, it pulls it off in style.

I still think The Empire Strikes Back is the one to beat, but TLJ holds up well against any other film in the Star Wars saga. Once again, I'm looking forward to the next installment.

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