Star Wars: The Last Jedi proves that comic-book divide between good-and-bad can be complex, that the middle ground can be filled with doubt and pain: Adam Driver makes a great bad guy who can be good.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita N’yong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Benicio Del Toro
Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie director: Rian Johnson
Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie rating: 3 stars
This film comes forty years after that original one, directed by a young director called George Lucas, which took us to a galaxy far far away. Which is pretty darn remarkable, given that most films die in their opening weekends.
Those opening credits, as they rolled across the screen, took our breath away. And led to a whole phalanx of characters: the pretty princess who sported oversized jalebi-like braids over her ears, the wise Yoda who was not above a few cackles, the sabers that used light to rattle, the white-metal-clad menacing army of Storm-troopers, the cute robots, one tall, the other dumpy, the Jedi Masters who upheld all that was noble, pitted against the lord of darkness, called, most appropriately, Darth Vader.
In that first iteration, Lucas had discovered the secret to everlasting stickiness: you could place your story and characters as far into the future as you liked, but feelings had to shine through all the machinery, and the characters had to be, well, characters, dicing and slicing and advancing.
Between that 1977 Star Wars and this week’s The Last Jedi, the franchise has changed helmers, and dropped and added several principal characters, while staying true to the spirit of the enterprise in its best parts. But some of its middle passages have been saggy and exhausting, only coming back to some of its old energy in the past two ‘episodes’ (The Force Awakens and Rogue One)
The Last Jedi picks up from where the last one had left off, giving Mark Hamill as the ageing, grizzled Luke Skywalker his due, finally. Rey (Ridley) fetches up on the island he has sequestered himself, with a demand we know is coming: that he shows up, and do what is required to save, yes, the galaxy. And the Rebellion.
That is the central conflict, and Rian Johnson has a lot of fun setting it up. As a first timer let loose upon a much-storied franchise which has as many myths around it as there are fans, you can either be all reverential and referential and deadly dull (just like those terrible movies from 2002 to 2008). Or you can nod briskly, wear the weight lightly, and get going. One of the good things about The Last Jedi is that it behaves like a movie: it moves.
The other, of course, are the performers. Hamill is solid. And his portions with Ridley are amongst the most spectacularly shot in this busy film, which scoots briskly between the evil Snoke and his storm-troopers, the harried rebels and its leaders. There’s a pang as you watch Carrie Fisher, who passed away too early. She and Hamill share a great vibe, and a great comment about a change in hair-style. You smile, in memoriam.
The young ‘uns keep it going. Ridley is as good as she was in her previous turn: in fact, she is, I think, the reason why these latest films have turned out the way they have—a strong female character who learns to be brave, is not afraid to be foolish, and works her way to wisdom. She has a worthy opponent in Adam Driver. He is beautiful, and fully alive, and human: The Last Jedi proves that comic-book divide between good-and-bad can be complex, that the middle ground can be filled with doubt and pain: Driver makes a great bad guy who can be good.
I still wish it was shorter, though. The blazing guns, and blowing up of an assortment of spacecraft may be what fans thirst for, but are eye-glazingly same-old for the rest of us. The digressions are annoying, and stretch our patience, even as the ships go whizzing through space, a clunky Benicio Del Toro cracks codes, Domhnall Gleeson grinds his teeth, and Oscar Isaac hops around obligingly as chief-helper-of-the- rebels.
In 1977, the only people in space, if you went by Star Wars, were White. It’s taken 40 years, and the franchise has been picking up Asian and Black faces, but this one is most multi-culti of them all. Before I go, I have to tell you that I saw a flash of an Indian face in there. A blink-of-the-eye, but there. The word used over and over again in The Last Jedi is ‘hope’: so, here’s hoping for even more inclusion. I’ll be happy to sit through the next if that flash becomes a scene, or three.