“It’s like poetry, they rhyme” George Lucas famously said about the (for the most part) infamous prequels. The prequels do in fact rhyme, loudly and proudly. How can it not? It is, after all, the origin story of one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history, created of course, in the originals. Just like the prequels, the beginning of the new trilogy, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” also rhymes with its predecessors. Many have issues with this. I for one love it. Sweet Jesus, it is a mighty good poetry. “The Force Awakens” reignited a flame in me — a flame that was slowly but surely vanishing.
“The Force Awakens” needed to accomplish a couple of things. It needed to bridge the gap between the fans of the original and the fans of the prequels. It needed to bring in a whole new generation of Star Wars fans. And it also had to make Star Wars once again, shake the landscape of pop culture. By dancing to familiar beats (while telling a fresh story) and relying on nostalgia, “The Force Awakens” managed to accomplish all of its goals. But “The Last Jedi” couldn’t just be a retread or a throwback. It had to break new ground. Well, Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” doesn’t just break new ground. It obliterates it.
When the end credits rolled, I thought to myself, what in the world? I was floored; overwhelmed by a barrage of emotions. But I also felt confused. More like perplexed. Somewhere in between dazed and unsure. It reminded me of the first time I had sex.
Damn, I didn’t know Rian Johnson’s balls are this huge. This is the funniest Star Wars movie. Period. But don’t spit out your drink. It isn’t a comedy, nor is it a Joss Whedon film. It is funny, though. Funnier than you expect a Star Wars movie to be. But none of the jokes feel out of place. They’re all organic and stay true to the characters and the situations they find themselves in. Well, all except one. We’re reintroduced to Luke in a comedic bit that feels unnecessary. I get the idea behind the joke, but the joke itself would be a better fit in a Taika Waititi film.
But humour isn’t the only reason why this movie is so different. “The Last Jedi” is a character study, more than any other Star Wars film. Rian Johnson is obsessed with his characters and for the most part seems unconcerned with big moments. The Star Wars movies have always been traditional in their approach to fantasy storytelling. This isn’t a bad thing. All the movies have very memorable epic moments with everything in between leading up to those moments — moments that will get you to cheer loudly or be at the edge of your seats.
Like blowing up the Death Star in “A New Hope” or “I am your father” in “The Empire Strikes Back” or Rey closing her eyes as John William’s classic Jedi theme swells. Even in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, an unorthodox Star Wars movie where everyone dies, we have THAT Darth Vader scene and well, everyone dies. Star Wars has always had interesting characters, but it also has always been less about the characters and more about the EPICNESS. Similar to “The Lord of the Rings”.
But “The Last Jedi” is all about the characters. Every step of the way. But this isn’t to say the movie is lacking in epicness. It isn’t. There are plenty of those moments too. At two hours and 32 minutes, this is the longest Star Wars movie yet. And you feel it. The entire second act is slow. And it’s easy to just point your finger and blame it on pacing issues. Usually, that would be the case. But here it’s different. We’re just not used to seeing a Star Wars movie like this. I’m not used to it too and there are some major decisions Rian Johnson makes I do not necessarily agree with.
We walk into a Star Wars movie ready to cheer and clap and be excited, but Rian Johnson puts his hand on your shoulders and says sit down buddy. Let’s explore these characters in depth. You would assume the first/second act would come with at least one epic “Rocky” style training sequence, but surprisingly, you don’t get that here. Instead, the second act of the movie is mostly characters just being.
Characters are slowly beginning to understand each other and more importantly, understand themselves. The layers are slowly peeled as we meticulously examine the conflict within our favourite heroes and villains. ‘Finding one’s self’ and ‘internal conflict’ is the underlying theme in “The Last Jedi”. It is about the choices each and every one of them has to make.
In “The Force Awakens” Poe (Oscar Isaac) was written as a straightforward, straight-laced Captain America type figure. But here he has to make tough decisions. Even a character like Poe has an ego, just like anyone from the real world. What will Poe do if he faces a situation where he has to choose between listening to the superiors whom he trusts and doing what he thinks is right? This provides an interesting dynamic between Princess (she will always be royalty to me) Leia and Poe. Watching Carrie Fisher on screen brought a tear to my eye. She is truly missed. I am curious to see how they write off her character in “Episode IX”. There is no “Fast and Furious” moment here.
Finn (John Boyega) is noble but scared as he’s ever been in “The Force Awakens”. He isn’t force-sensitive, nor is he particularly skilled at anything — he was the First Order’s janitor — but he is relentless; willing to march straight into a dangerous situation even when the odds are stacked against him. Here he goes on a side adventure with a new Asian character named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). This adventure they embark on may seem like fluff, but it isn’t, though it could have been shorter. It is about two individuals who are trying to prove their worth to themselves.
It is also on this journey where we see an ugly reflection of our society on the big screen. In a galaxy far, far away, just like in our world, war and political turmoil only affect the middle class and the poor, while the rich sit on their high horse, unmoved and unconcerned. In a gut-punching line, Benicio Del Toro (who Finn and Rose stumble into) tell them that the dark side and the light are all made up bullshit. The rich — who are largely weapons dealers — supply their weapons to both sides. The only side they care about is money.
Everyone who complained about Rey (Daisy Ridley) being overpowered in “The Force Awakens” will eat shit now. Rey understanding the force at an incredibly rapid pace isn’t a byproduct of poor, convenient writing, but rather, just the first chapter of her story. Always give the creators the benefit of the doubt and trust that the arc will play out.
In this second chapter, we learn that she is inconceivably powerful. It isn’t normal to possess raw power of that magnitude. Luke says: “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then… it does now!” But even with all the power in the world, Rey is lost. She’s in search of her identity and parentage (which has become Star Wars’ biggest mystery). There’s something inside of her. Something that she’s denying. She needs Luke Skywalker’s help, but he isn’t willing. Rey is conflicted. She is a good person, but the dark side tickles her curiosity.
Another character who is conflicted, is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), my personal favourite Star Wars character, not just of this new trilogy, but of all time. He’s another one that many people complained about after watching “The Force Awakens”.
Kylo has one of the coolest character introductions but as soon as he takes his mask off for the first time my immediate response was “ewe…no…put the mask back on.” He lost all of his intimidation factor for me. pic.twitter.com/GQ4xPAsXf3
— April Dawn (@April13Dawn) December 11, 2017
That is the whole point, though. Kylo is an intriguing character because underneath the mask, the menacing digitally altered voice and the Vader-esque theatrics, he’s just a young man trying to find his place in this world. The feral sparks of his lightsaber reflect his personality. The psychological underpinnings of Ben Solo is riveting to watch.
Here, Kylo is slowly becoming his own man. One who stops worshipping Vader. He is desperately trying to extinguish the light in him, but even at the end, I’m still not convinced. Not 100% anyway. Whether you like his face or not, he is the most complex character in all of Star Wars.
The relationship between Kylo and Rey are almost sibling-like (and no, I did not just reveal Rey’s parentage) They are two sides of the same coin. The chemistry between Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver is as good as you’ll ever see in a major motion picture. In fact, the chemistry between every single character here is unprecedented.
This is the most unpredictable Star Wars movie. Every time you think a character is going to do something, they do something else. It is also realistic. I know, how can a movie called Star Wars be labeled realistic? I’m not referring to lightsabers and the ability to lift rocks without touching them. I’m talking about the directions these characters move in or the decisions they make. Rian Johnson isn’t afraid to sacrifice what could’ve been rousing moments, for realistic character choices. The consequences of those character choices are also surprising and realistic.
“The Last Jedi” is an important movie. One that unabashedly celebrates unity and diversity, without shouting into a microphone that it is celebrating unity and diversity. It normalizes it. You cannot imagine the feeling of watching an Asian, front and centre doing something important in a STAR WARS movie. Representation matters.
But what about the laser swords dude?!
Don’t worry, I’m getting there. The Lightsaber duels in this new trilogy have thus far, been amazing. A lot of people put the duel between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon and Darth Maul on a pedestal. I’m not a fan. Is it fun to watch? Sure. But that duel is overly choreographed and emotionless. It is a hollow martial arts display — a circus act.
The lightsaber duels in the new trilogy remind me of the originals, only better. Much, much better. The lightsaber battles in “The Last Jedi” are psychological and overflowing with emotion. It is not about how fancy you spin your saber or about doing flips. Sometimes, when characters are angry, they just hack at each other wildly. There are stories being told within the duels. There are two here. Both are spectacular and heart pounding.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” doesn’t just swing for the fences. Imagine a peasant walking into a casino and going all in, betting his entire life savings, along with his small house and shabby car. Nine out of 10 times, this story ends with the peasant, now homeless, sitting on a dusty pavement, full of regret. “The Last Jedi” is the anomaly. The peasant walks out a billionaire. The movie is a masterpiece. And as for Rey’s parentage? Holy. F**king. Shit.
*Note: I am still processing and digesting this out of left field film My rating may increase or decrease after a second viewing.
UPDATE: I bumped up my rating from 4.5 stars to 5 stars after a second viewing. Also changed the word ‘great’ to ‘masterpiece’. Loads of things to talk about in my spoiler-heavy discussion that will be published in a couple of days.