You know I don’t particularly like the whole Star Wars thing, never have. But I liked The Last Jedi quite a bit, and there’s quite a lot of it (two and a half hours), which is one of the things I didn’t like…
It’s got at least one interplanetary sub-plot too many and veers into Luc Besson Valerian territory when John Boyega goes off on an adventure to find a code breaker on a planet that’s turned into a casino.
Boyega, otherwise, is great, a pleasure to watch – cool, handsome, funny, strong. I’m so impressed with his film star maturity, how he carries his strut from scene to scene.
Also great is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, a petulant villain played like a teenager who’s been in his room gaming all night. Yet he also brings some of that dangerous sexuality of his character in Girls right into the biggest family franchise of them all, and it’s delicious to watch.
I liked Daisy Ridley’s Rey – physical, determined, passionate. But this isn’t really her movie and she was too sidelined for me, off on Skerrig trying to learn at the priestly feet of Mark Hamill’s Luke. Hamill’s the main problem for me – this might be the biggest amount of “acting” Hamill’s ever had to do, playing a sort of mystic monk in a cowl, akin to Obi Won but far from Alec Guiness. He’s not quite up to it: he could have given us a Prospero figure, alone on his island commanding the very air, but he lacks soulful depth.
Carrie Fisher meanwhile brings a payload of poignancy to her last role, as the rebel leader on the run , trying to fend off the pantomime-ish baddies of the First Order and its moody General Hux, (a neatly childish Domnhall Gleeson) and dastardly, disfigured General Snoke, played unrecognisably by Andy Serkis in a suit of CGI way too rubbery for me and therefore not nearly as scary as it should have been, and needed to be.
So what made me like this eighth episode where most other Star Wars’ leave me bored and unmoved? We have here wit, humour, pathos and a sense of knowing. It’s a film aware of its own grand gestures and of its failings. It knows the dialogue’s bad (“recharge the auto-cannons”, “disable the tracker,” and lots of natter about the “allies at the outer rim”) and it knows that we know.
But the action is spectacular and very well choreographed and signposted by director Rian Johnson who brings a real sense of fun to his work, like a kid doing the blowing up noises with figurines, a Millennium Falcon and an X-Wing in his bedroom. For all the epic scale of the budget and the epic responsibility of the franchise, it’s this intimate playfulness that I’m delighted to finally feel come through.
Design-wise, shot-wise, it also looks pretty cool in places, too, like a Daft Punk video when the Sith red ninja things come to life (my Star Wars universe and mythos knowledge isn’t the best, so don’t sue me if I go astray- is this the first time the Jedi refers to itself as a “religion”, with its own ancient texts?), and the new creatures, such as the puffin-like birds on Skerrig and the Crystal Critters in the mine, were pretty cute, even giving rise to a conflicted Chewbacca “veggie” moment.
All the other usual Star Wars stuff is still silly and annoying, just how most people like it – C3 PO has nothing to do, R2D2 the same while the new best-selling toy droid thing BB-8 is given far too much importance, and I can’t believe that after all these years, the way to blow up one of the baddies’ biggest ships is still to fire into a massive hole on the top deck. You’d have thought they’d have invented an impregnable lid by now?
Lots of stuff blows up (all that fire and smoke in space surely not good for the ozone layer – why aren’t they running on clean fuel?) and while the plot potters about filling time and tiresomely throwing forward storylines and character points to be dealt with in further episodes, the film also gets lost in its own backstory, the knotty, soap opera of inter-relations and bad parenting, rather than examining its own themes about the true nature of good and evil.
For all the talk of religion and rebels, it’s not a deeply philosophical or political experience and it drags on and on forever (and of course, it’s still going on) but Johnson deserves admiration for sticking to a now over-familiar template yet breathing oodles of new life and wit into it. There’s a really funny gag involving a clothes iron which totally won me over. If all the Star Wars were as smart and enjoyable as The Last Jedi, I might have loved them from the beginning.