SPOILERS AHEAD Star Wars: The Last Jedi is writer/director Rian Johnson’s singular vision of Star Wars and it’s a vision that isn’t quite lining up with a lot of fans and for reasons I’ll hopefully figure out while writing this review, I’m one of them. There’s actually a lot to like in this film; mostly the way in which the film embraces diversity and undermines the traditional masculine roles in the franchise. Visually, the film is spectacular and brings to the screen some of the most beautiful images in the history of the series. Johnson has a demonstrated history of quality filmmaking and a clear love of the franchise (which has been validated by the news that he’s now in charge of a new independent trilogy). But at the same time, he has a history of not being concerned with the detail work when it comes to science fiction storytelling once he comes up with a snazzy central concept (Looper was very popular, but its internal logic was fucked, and he couldn’t care less). But this is Star Wars, which has always been science fantasy, at best. Magical thinking is in its blood, so someone who doesn’t really give a shit about the ‘science’ in ‘science fiction’ might be exactly what a new phase of the franchise needs. As far as The Last Jedi goes, your enjoyment might be dependent on not being invested in any of the mysteries, themes, or plotlines from the opening chapter, because I can pretty much guarantee that Johnson doesn’t give a shit about any of the things you loved and obsessed over in The Force Awakens. His interpretation of the Star Wars universe is one where the central question being asked is what if all our heroes are just lucky fuck-ups, after all, and there’s no such thing as destiny. He strips the mythology away from the story to recast the concept of heroism as being, as one character puts it, about saving what we love rather than fighting what we hate, then doesn’t really do much with the concept. The film overall is a noble effort and serves to deconstruct a lot of what makes Star Wars Star Wars while still managing to hit some familiar beats that parallel the original trilogy’s middle chapter, especially the downbeat ending. This is really where it risks pushing some of the more traditional fans away (and I’m not talking about those Men’s Rights douchebags). Star Wars has always been about destiny and magic, about mysterious forces and secret bloodlines, about that heroic journey and the discovery of a “chosen one” who will balance the universe. Even Star Wars: Rebels follows this sort of path. That black and white nature of its morality has been both the strength and weakness of Star Wars. It’s always been a children’s story at heart, but a children’s story where millions can die in the blink of an eye and war has no emotional or psychological repercussions. With the release of Rogue One last year, this changed. We were given flawed anti-heroes who despite being fuck-ups, did the right thing at the right time, sacrificing themselves for the greater good with just the slightest hints of magic. It worked because of this. Because these weren’t characters with greater destinies. They were cast-offs and killers who came together for a noble cause. The Last Jedi takes this same, more realistic approach to the morality and the costs of war, but applies it to mythological heroes, recasting larger-than-life heroes destined to save the universe as impulsive, egotistical, tired, and emotionally broken human beings. This causes a kind of cognitive dissonance that would probably resonate better outside of the framework of Star Wars (much like Man of Steel would be a much stronger film if it wasn’t actually about Superman). This might be where my problems lie. It’s an attempt to make Star Wars for grown-ups but in doing so, it crashes head-on into the magical children’s story aspects and undoes them. Until it is convenient for the plot, that is. Then its magical as fuck (see: Leia’s miraculous survival and Luke’s miraculous new powers). Performance-wise, Mark Hamill and Adam Driver carry the film. Hamill’s tired sadness is a stark contrast to Driver’s explosive rage and helps to stake out the thematic ground The Last Jedi is working in. Both characters (and the director?) want to bury the past, but for decidedly different reasons. Whenever the story veers away from them, though, we’re squarely in the realm of boredom and disinterest. It’s Hamill, though, who is the revelation. Despite his own misgivings about Johnson’s approach to Luke, this is a bravura performance and perhaps the most complexly layered character in the history of the series. Hamill ends up playing Luke as both a broken character and as a commentary on the character. Luke has become a symbol, an ideal that represents hope to the other characters – and to the audience. He’s been that symbol since that shot of him looking out over the desert of Tatooine as the suns set in 1977. There’s a weight to that symbolism that in Johnson’s approach to the character, just can’t be maintained. He has to have feet of clay to represent the demystification of heroism. Until he doesn’t, of course. John Boyega’s Finn isn’t given much to do overall, and his big side trip to the Galactic Casino turns out to be a devastating failure (where we are introduced to the twitchy thief, DJ, played with a casual nihilism by Benicio Del Toro), but he finally gets a chance to fight good old Captain Phasma (a wasted Gwendoline Christie). And then, when he’s ready to sacrifice himself in what is already the worst Rebel plan in the history of bad Rebel plans, he’s saved thanks to a contrived love story. At least Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose is a ray of sunshine throughout as she miraculously knows how to sabotage a magical new tracking device and fly a ship in that final suicide attack. Oscar Isaac is hotheaded and impulsive as Poe Dameron, paralleling Han Solo’s classic bad boy rogue who risks all and who, mostly through luck, comes out on top. In this case, however, Poe’s recklessness, while achieving his goals, comes at the cost of dozens, if not hundreds of lives and ships. His brand of adrenaline-fueled masculinity is contrasted with the wisdom and patience of the elder women of the Rebellion: Carrie Fisher and Laura Dern. Fisher’s final role is a good turn, although she’s mostly relegated to standing around saying inspiring things before being blown out into space. After Han Solo’s inglorious death in the last film, I was fully expecting this to be the end of Leia, but then she suddenly has magical Force powers that we’ve never seen her manifest before and flies through space like a Guardian of the Galaxy. As for Dern, Vice-Admiral Holdo has purple hair and we’re told she’s a badass, but mostly we just get her standing around being imperious and refusing to share her plans with Poe. Which is perfectly understandable as Poe is a hotheaded fuck-up who gets people killed. Holdo’s final sacrifice, the only traditional heroic sacrifice in the film, comes at the end of the most boring space chase I’ve ever seen, but it’s a gloriously beautiful moment – one of the most striking in the history of the franchise. Daisy Ridley remains as uninteresting an actress as ever. Rey is all righteous indignation and pouting, demanding to be taught about the Force but continuously ignoring anything Luke tells her. I found myself siding with those weird Force Nuns (WTF?) who just wanted her gone. And while I really like the idea that the final film will be a conflict between Kylo Ren’s darkness and Rey’s light, I find myself wondering if she has it in her to headline. The big reveal that her parents were drunken nobodies who sold her for booze money demystifies the character (though this seems at odds with her innate psychic connection to Kylo) and serves Johnson’s thematic point that anyone can rise up and become a hero (an idea that is again referenced in the film’s inspiring final shot). It’s just a muddy thematic point when most of the anybodies who try to become heroes end up killing scores of people in the process. Rey is just magically heroic and could quite possibly be retconned next time out into another “chosen one” from the Skywalker bloodline. I suppose that ultimately, what kept me from really enjoying The Last Jedi very much was the fact that it felt more like a movie about deconstructing Star Wars instead of being a Star Wars movie. Johnson’s pathological rejection of every expectation left me feeling the same way Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla and Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman did, frustrated and annoyed. 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