Last Jedi Strikes Back

The lightsabers are on, futuristic guns are blazing and starships are travelling through the cosmos at light speed. It could only mean one thing, the most famous franchise has struck again. The much expected The Last Jedi is out, and it continues the story of the struggle for the heart of the galaxy. Christian Tesfaye liked it, awarding 8 out of 10 stars, and not just out of nostalgia, he claims.

It is that time of the year again.

These past three years, we have come to expect Disney Studios to drop a Star Wars movie in the Christmas festive season. The year before, it was the spinoff, Rogue One – a film that explained how Luke Skywalker was able to destroy the infamous Death Star in one shot. And in 2015, it was Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a film that was far better than I had feared, for it was a triumphant excursion into a legendary franchise, which even its creator, George Lucas, could not claim to have successfully braved with the awful prequel trilogy’s entry The Phantom Menace.

But The Force Awakens had warmth, and an unfettered desire to impress the fans of the original. I liked the movie and even gave it eight stars on a scale of one to 10. But I remember feeling a little disappointed for it was too much imitation and little innovation. Much like A New Hope, The Force Awakens seemed to have started in the middle of a story, with another death star, a villain too similar to Darth Vader and a powerful young Jedi that gets tangled up in the plot.

The Last Jedi fails to follow the same path its predecessor took, correctly. It sets itself apart by being more sophisticated, more psychological and less noisy. True to the original trilogy’s form, it is the sequel equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) now finds herself on a remote planet with Chewbacca and R2D2, one to recruit the secluded Skywalker (Mark Hamill) back into the resistance, and two to learn more Jedi skills. Unfortunately, Skywalker has forsaken the Jedi, having closed himself to the Force.

And as Rey attempts to reason with the famous Jedi, light years away, the whole of the Resistance force has been cornered by the First Order. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) goes into a comma, and the Resistance’s support team are obliterated. The only hope for the rebels then is Finn (John Boyega), a former stormtrooper that grew a conscience, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a hot-headed pilot, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), from maintenance, and their crackpot plan to disable the First Order’s tracking mechanism.

There is much in this move to remind one of The Empire Strikes Back. Likewise, Skywalker travelled to an off-the-grid planet to learn skills from a retired Jedi, Yoda. And much in the same manner, he never finishes his training. On another side of the universe, meanwhile, continued the struggle to defeat the Galactic Empire, where romance, much like the one that brews here, between Han Solo and Princess Leia blossoms.

But The Empire Strikes Back is more famous for its final reveal, where Darth Vader tells Skywalker they are father and son (this is not a plot spoiler since no movie fan worth his salt is unfamiliar with this). Fans were expecting something along those lines in The Last Jedi. The Force Awakens never let slip who Rey is, whether she is of the Skywalker clan for she has immense Jedi powers. The film also never disclosed who exactly Kylo Ren’s master, Snoke, is.

I will refrain from divulging just which mysteries this film unknots, but I was glad to find that The Last Jedi rises above mere instincts of “gotcha”. There are self-sustained stories here, not inherited from prequels, and unravel within the timeframe of this movie. Likewise, there are themes too big for the shoes of The Force Awakens, or A New Hope, such as the pull of the Dark Force.

For that, we have Rian Johnson to thank. It would have been woefully uncharacteristic of him if it was the prequel he was involved in. If there ever was a Star Wars movie that would have been his niche, it is one that resembles The Empire Strikes Back in character and plot strength. Although, there is a form and structure he would inevitably be mandated to follow – for this is a mega-franchise worth billions in merchandising and theatre ticket sales, and most shareholders of Disney will not appreciate too many surprises – Johnson’s particular touch is evident.

One scene that stands out is an underground cave on the same planet Skywalker resides in. Rey enters only to find an infinite number of Reys, but each one a past or future version of her. I am not sure if that scene was a jab at predestination, but it was stunning to look at, and an indicator of Johnson’s preoccupation with time.

Johnson’s debut was the delightful, preternaturally complicated, imaginatively directed film noir, with great dialogue and many funny moments, Brick. His second, The Brothers Bloom, was not much of a success, but his third, Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, also in Brick, was a knockout. Few times has time travel been successfully turned into an exciting plot device.

With The Last Jedi, he is not giving us anything new. He has not strayed too far away from the franchise, except some moments where he reminds the audience that he exists. Instead, what we find in this film is a good-old galactic adventure. Johnson’s purpose is to build the bridge towards the as of yet unnamed final episode of the trilogy. This he does with humour, heart and certain plot-twists.

Indeed, like most of its predecessors, The Last Jedi and its characters remain endearing. It is unlikely that this trilogy will come to define a particular filmgoing generation (superhero movies have filled that spot), but it is good that it strives to show that good, however less of it there may remain, will defeat evil, however overwhelming it may seem.

Published on Dec 23,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 921]



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