The loudest grumblers in the horde are probably those who expected the most boring, conventional developments coming off The Force Awakens — those who lost themselves in Reddit rabbit holes and bullshit-clickbait articles in which the creative team’s gracious consideration of absurdly insistent questions about parents or provenance became confused for “They told us it was important, but it wasn’t!”
While they were busy bitching, Rian Johnson went and made what is easily the best visual representation of any Star Wars story in the last 34 years. To boot, it renders the ragged edges of The Force Awakens smoother, too (although not enough to bump that movie’s rating up any higher). That film rode on the whimsy of nostalgia. The Last Jedi is about the weight of time, from milliseconds to millennia, and the if and how of whether characters buckle and break under it.
It’s also one exhilarating cliffhanger after another, dovetailing stories that tuck into each other at different times with action often rooted in character development. Poe must learn that blowing shit up without regard for strategy is a fool’s errand. Rey must understand her embrace of the past and how it plagues her is worth holding only to a point — which plays out in a profoundly trippy, Lynchian scene in which we seem to see every millisecond’s iteration of herself up to that moment in time and stretching out into infinity. What is down there in the island’s pit – tempting her, tempting us, tempting the world?
Finn must move past the naive belief of good and bad in wartime, nudged there by the great Benicio Del Toro, doing what can best be described as Tom Waits’ Jack Sparrow and marvelously so. Even Kylo Ren has much to learn about himself and the perils of clinging to symbolic costumes and small dreams. (People complaining about him trashing the mask – which is in the trailers, so shush – also overlook that it’s a way for Kylo to manipulate Rey into seeing precisely what she did to him during that lightsaber battle in the forest.) Luke must not only come to understand his failures of tutelage and trust but recognize, and reconcile, them in a way that helps him find the peace he seeks — namely to say killing that which you fear will not necessarily save you.
The Last Jedi is not a film about easy answers. It shouldn’t be about easy answers. It is about letting the scars show and that solidarity matters, morals matter, kindness matters. Hubris has consequences. So does heroism. God forbid you get something more complex and challenging than another lollipop-licking sugar rush.
Here’s a film of majestic wonders built up, torn down and not necessarily rebuilt. A thing of beauty. A work of art. A marvel of moviemaking. Let it come to a perfunctorily boring conclusion if it must under J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio. We have Johnson’s fresh-slate trilogy to which we can now most definitely look forward.
Some spare thoughts:
- The assault on the Dreadnought might be the most artful and intense opening ever to a Star Wars film.
- I appreciate that it’s funny without being goofy and, in many ways, tethered to a theme. For example, Poe’s cockiness is good for a chuckle, but it also comes back to haunt him, and it’s amusing when Rey’s training destroys the caretakers’ belongings on the island, but it also represents the notion of balance … in that after years of peace, someone was bound to show up and disrupt it.
- There are any number of sterling moments for Carrie Fisher in this one, including her right there blasting at the front lines of war, but an early scene in which the cosmos appears to bend around her particularly gave me chills. Complain if you want about it seeming unlikely, but here is a character with Force powers who rarely uses them. She understands – as do the many other female leaders in this film – that it’s more effective to lead by example and accomplishment rather than ordainment and flourishes. My only quibble: A certain moment where she’s named as “Princess,” not “General.”
- Yeah, keep on complaining … this time about the Porgs being there only for merchandise. Did you want them to be Minions? Sing a little Gilbert & Sullivan in gibberish. Can it, haters. They’re funny and judiciously used. Seriously, if there are more than two solid minutes of featured Porgs onscreen, I’ll buy you a plush toy.*
- Even as the wobbliest side trip, Canto Bight is an utter delight – from the person playing the master code breaker to the Eisley-gone-Gatsby design and the new character Rose finally getting her wish to put her “fist through this whole lousy, beautiful town.” It lets you marvel at the production design and then, like a Mad Hatter, utterly destroys it in a sequence that feels like Besson and Spielberg combined.
- So what if Rey and Luke spend a lot of time on the island? It feels like the nexus of the universe, and why wouldn’t you want to hang out there?
- “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” That might be one of the most beautifully written lines in the entire saga so far, and it underscores what is definitely among the most jaw-dropping shots.
- While we’re at it, throw in: “Good guys. Bad guys. Made-up words. It’s all machine, partner. Live free? Don’t join.”
- Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne-room set is the best Argento red Argento never deployed, and the battle that takes place there one of the most thrilling bits of swordcraft I’ve ever seen.
- That one character’s hyperdrive bit is so baller, I can’t believe we haven’t seen it in one of the movies before.
- That climactic battle on Crait is some big-swinging David Lean business and I drank up every second of it.
- You absolutely owe it to yourself to see it in 70mm at the Indiana State Museum IMAX Theatre — not just for the splendor but the frown lines.
- Kudos, Rian Johnson, for fooling me at about two or three levels in that ultimate climactic moment … but you never betrayed your own rules.
* Offer subject to change. In other words, buy your own damn Porg plush. Don’t @ me.