Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the eighth core instalment of the Lucasfilm juggernaut and the third entry to the fictional universe of Force users since Disney opened their chequebook in 2012. It’s broken more records and collected more dollars than anybody dares to count but to the legions of superfans – the more than 70,000 people that identified as Jedi on the Australian Census – it is more than a tentatively anticipated tentpole blockbuster. It is more.
Rian Johnson jumps in the director’s seat for his first time and all the prerequisites are ticked: the scrolling titles, epic score, lots and wipes and such all carry across seamlessly. The more original moments come from the story point of view, and just how much the director of a middle chapter has to do with such things are anybody’s guess. Yet The Last Jedi can stand on its own story confidently without endless backwards referencing or foreshadowing to future instalments. It is one whole chapter of an epic.
The mystery of Rey’s parents is solved. It was deliberately toyed with by Disney since before the first trailer and now we are at the end of the road. As great sci-fi twists go it was no shock, but in a world of mass forums putting every scenario on the table it was always going to be one of them. The delivery was a little reductive but it was satisfying in the moment. Here’s wondering if the ninth episode may renege on that reveal after luring the audiences into a false sense of security. Doubt it, but perhaps…
The more interesting development was the connection between Rey and Kylo Ren. Not the literal psychic connection – that’s an ages old means to an end to have estranged characters communicate – but the way the script fosters their relationship as more than hero against villain. The tease of Ren turning good and Rey turning bad were both played beautifully – playing into the ‘grey’ shades of the film as a whole – before throwing the characters back to extremes of their respective sides.
The best narrative choice this sequel series has made was the fall of Snoke. His deliberate allusions to Darth Sidious teased a deeper history and wider purpose so to kill him before any of these things could be extrapolated sets the scene for a more daring finale. The Force Awakens was criticised for mirroring A New Hope closely – it is the classic hero template after all – and while The Last Jedi clearly reflects on Empire Strikes Back there is also a lot of Return of the Jedi in there too. Rey trains with Luke and tries to sway Kylo Ren back to the light and ultimately fails where Luke succeeded with Vader. When Rey arrives for the final act at the Resistance outpost she and Kylo Ren’s mirroring of Luke/Vader is beyond Return of the Jedi. And while there was originality aplenty throughout the film pushing beyond the previous finale allows for a bold chapter with no guidelines.
Kylo Ren has completed his ascension to Star Wars villain. The series knew nothing could come close to the iconic Darth Vader and wrote that into the fabric of the character. The aspiration and the conflict were vital parts of understanding Kylo Ren and now he is no imitation of Vader – as Snoke so clearly was for Darth Sidious – he is his own thing. And adding both Han Solo and Luke Skywalker to his kill list is as impressive of a villain the Star Wars universe may ever know.
But aside from the bigger picture stuff there is a largely entertaining movie to be found filled with fleshed out characters, mixed motivations and epic battles. The movie existed in three parts – Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren in one corner, Finn and Rose in a second and the rest of the gang in another. Most people think they bought the ticket for the first patch but it’s all three unified – the mythos, the childlike spirit and the battles – that keep them coming back for more.
All the cast are a dream, naturally. Daisy Ridley is a phenomenon. Adam Driver blurs the line between character and actor beautifully. Mark Hamill resembles nothing of the kid from A New Hope and that’s entirely the point. The late Carrie Fischer is inarguably epic.
For all the money for special effects and world class actors it comes back to story. Star Wars is a compelling story of a young man turned bad and a son that would thwart him, only for that son to go on and nurture an evil even more sinister. Lucasfilm is sidestepping with an ordinary girl and a reformed Storm Trooper but something tells me that the company will round things back to the Skywalker family tree sooner rather than later.
A lot of careful hands guided this film to be a two billion dollar baby on ticket sales alone, before DVD sales or apparel licensing or piñatas or action figures or Lego Death Stars or theme parks or any of that jazz. It seems too big to fail, but 2017 has shown a good intellectual property improperly handled can still reap failure.
The Last Jedi is a great story.
The Yoda cameo helped.