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The Last Jedi: initial thoughts

16 December, 2017 (13:37) | Star Wars | By: Ian Burdon

Note: the post below was written after my first viewing of The Last Jedi. I have now seen it a second time and my opinion has changed. You’ll find my updated thoughts at the end of this.

This is written the day after watching The Last Jedi. If you haven’t seen it yet, look away now as you will find spoilers ahead.

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In the early seventies, East Kilbride Cinema used to do children’s matinees on a Saturday morning. My routine was always much the same: go to the cinema, enjoy sugary sweets and drinks, then drop into a shop to buy something from Airfix.

The children’s matinee followed a standard format: Tom and Jerry cartoons (hooray! especially directed by Fred Quimby), sometimes a Disney cartoon (boo! never as good as Hanna Barbera/Warner Brothers), something from the Children’s Film Foundation, and an instalment of an old serial, sometimes Robin Hood, most memorably Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

It was in that same cinema in 1978 I first saw Star Wars, and thrilled to the edge-of-your-seat rush when Gold Squadron dived into the trench of the Death Star for the first attack run. I recognised the film straight away as the production of someone who had seen and loved those same 1930s serials and was trying to distil the same pure pulp spirit.

40 years on, I still think of Star Wars in that same way, as the heir of Flash and Buck and Dale Arden and Princess Aura, Ming the Merciless, Robin and Marion and the Sheriff of Nottingham and all the rest; my touchstone for a Star Wars movieĀ  is still: does it transport me back to being 10/11 years old at the children’s matinees? It’s why I was never bothered too much by the trade dispute backdrop to The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, I was fine with all of that narrative so long as the movies remained pulp space opera with a hint of noir.

I enjoyed The Last Jedi, but it was a qualified enjoyment. I wrote on Twitter that my first reaction to The Force Awakens was Holy Crap! I have to see that again! whereas The Last Jedi was wait, what? I think I’ll need to watch that again to process it.

The things The Last Jedi gets right, it gets very right indeed. I like Luke’s story and also how Rey develops. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is well done; John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran impress in their sub plot. But I’m not convinced the whole exceeds the sum of its parts; there was so much going on that the narrative got muddied. In part this might be because it is the meat in the sandwich of a trilogy and we need the final part to make it whole.

Some things niggle at me 24 hours later; some is detail–in the opening battle there’s a bunch of First Order cruisers hanging around in space doing nothing while their comrades get blasted, for example. I found the whole Canto Bight sequence entertaining, but redundant, serving only to give Finn and Rose something to do, and Benicio Del Toro’s character is underdeveloped and unnecessary. The least said about Leia in space the better.

More substantially, I’m not keen on the psychic connection that apparently now comes with the Force. To be sure this has always been present in some sense (“I sense a great disturbance in the Force”) but not the full-on communication. I can almost accept it with Luke and Leia, brother and sister, but not for Rey and Kylo/Ben; it’s an innovation for no better reason than as a plot device (a device that suggests a family connection between Rey and Ben, although we are being directed away from that?)

The same is true for the conclusion of Luke’s story: when did he get to beĀ that powerful? (answer = when the script required it). But, dramatically, overcoming limitation and hardship is always more interesting as a denouement than deployment of suddenly acquired powers.

Also, although I see the psychological drama, I’m not sure that Kylo Ren has enough narrative heft as a character to be a convincing principle villain, if that is what he is, in the next movie. The late Supreme Leader Snoke was correct that Kylo is just a boy in a mask.

Samira Ahmed has a good post on The Last Jedi (spoilers) that I mostly agree with. In the end, though, what niggles me most is the sense that, amongst all the spectacle, something of the spirit of the saga is lost, the spirit of Flash and Buck and Robin. If you think I’m over-analysing, that’s kind of my point; it’s Star Wars, I shouldn’t feel it necessary.

Roll on the next viewing (iMax, 26 December), when some of this may click into place.