Star Wars: The Last Jedi review
In the film The History Boys, the sharp-tongued Mrs. Lintott contends that “History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.”
As I watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I couldn’t help but imagine Rian Johnson rewatching that 2006 film, clapping his hands in glee, and declaring that the latest film in the main Star Wars sequence would reflect just that idea.
Women take the center stage in The Last Jedi. They are the movers and shakers of this movie: the bad-ass general, the defiant princess, the determined warrior, the courageous technician. Women constantly clean up the messes that reckless men leave behind, and on more than one occasion, make the ultimate sacrifice to do so. I love this about the movie. The producers seem to have liked what last year’s Rogue One accomplished with its diverse cast of characters, and are trying to give audiences more of the same.
Except...well, Rogue One will forever be enshrined as one of my favorite Star Wars movies because it was so different. It showed us a new side of Star Wars. It preserved the beloved fictional galaxy, with its dusty outdoors, grimy interiors and crowded metropolises, and injected new stories and themes: that of war and the bloody and chaotic price it demands; that of morality and how warfare twists it; that of self-sacrifice, not because you will “become more powerful than you could possibly imagine,” but because war demands—no necessitates—sacrifice.
And while there is much to like in The Last Jedi, novel storytelling isn’t it. The major villain’s arc is once again whether or not he will renounce the dark side, or turn the Jedi Knight (this time, Rey) evil. Indeed, the new trilogy, starting with the The Force Awakens, seems to exist simply because someone decided that, “there should be a new trilogy,” and not because the story needs to move forward. I felt like the new movies undid everything the plucky heroes of the original trilogy strove for: “Oh, you rebels defeated the evil Empire led by a Sith Lord and his conflicted apprentice? Too bad, here’s the same situation all over again!” In fact, the very beginning of The Last Jedi has already positioned the First Order as a clone of the Palpatinian Empire, while the Resistance is even referred to as the Rebels. Yes, you can make an argument about cyclical history and the recurring nature of tyrants, but that argument reeks of lazy writing to me.
Similarly, the complex themes of “necessary death for the greater good” and the high cost of war that were raised in Rogue One have largely vanished in The Last Jedi. Dozens of Resistance ships containing hundreds of good people are mass-murdered, and we’re only superficially reminded of them. Of course, this isn’t new. Hollywood has a way of only mourning and reflecting upon death when it happens to (usually attractive, or at least distinguished) individuals. Still, it’s a little sad that the emotionally complex and interesting Kylo Ren serves an entity that’s simplistically smeared “bad” with globular, undefined brushstrokes.
None of this is to say that The Last Jedi is a terrible movie. If you can get past the layer of “sameold, sameold,” you’ll unearth an undeniably enjoyable film. The plot, though familiar in general structure, sports a few interesting twists. There’s the plethora of bad-ass women, including some awesome new characters (I audibly squeeeeed in the theatre because of some of them). There are the wonderful performances by old favorites Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, as well as the more recent Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac. There are cute, shade-throwing alien dwarf-monks, and even cuter avian blobs, called Porgs, that want to snuggle with Chewbacca. There are some stunning visuals, most notably a battle on a planet that reveals the brilliant red earth lying just under a surface of white salt. There’s some genuinely great comedy.
It’s hard not to recommend The Last Jedi. If you’re new to Star Wars (maybe all you’ve watched is The Force Awakens) the movie is pretty great! Longtime fans will have more to be disappointed over. But if you try, you should be able to bury those feelings, perhaps on a lonely, isolated planet, in a galaxy far, far away.