glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | jan. 2018
Editor's Note: This review contains no major spoilers.
It's been increasingly hard to get excited about most of the films that make up the blockbuster line-up these days. Between a deeply disappointing DC universe, a growing sense of exhaustion with comic book titles in general, not to mention the overall “Bayization" (new word, make a note people) of the most mainstream commercial cinema, it's hard to get excited about a shockingly large percentage of the big films that hit the screens these days. For me, Star Wars still has that feel of what a blockbuster meant to me as a child, it still makes me excited to hit the cinema, though the commitment to that feeling was touch and go after the prequels (No, I haven't forgiven Lucas yet).
After what was largely a great success in my eyes with The Force Awakens I was left with just a few concerns about where this new Disney-helmed addition to the Star Wars universe was going. Having seen The Last Jedi, I must be honest and say there are a few things that were confirmed in my concerns, most notably that this new series of sequels is still “borrowing" more than a little direct inspiration for its storyline from the classic trilogy, and it knows it, and it's a little glib about it. There is an outright knowing joke about the similarities between a set piece battle here and the battle on Hoth, which as cute a move as it is, is also a little smug in my opinion. I want these movies to be standing on their own two feet by now, they need to avoid borrowing from the originals and be their own thing. That's important for the future perception of what these films are, ditch the neo-remake stuff and be your own thing, movie.
But panic not dear reader, I'm not going to go on a long diatribe on this movie because, actually, I really enjoyed it. One thing that's becoming very clear about this new series of sequels is a much stronger focus on the nature of good and evil. We occasionally see the rebels doing bad things for the greater good and our current big bad guy has good reasons to be where he is. This is a story where the Jedi are not without fault or flaw, the assumption that they are the guardians of justice is challenged, in this respect, it's better written than even the original trilogy. The characters are becoming nicely fleshed out and new and interesting ones are turning up and I'm beyond relieved to say that I really like and care about these characters, including Kylo Ren, the bad guy. He's a very interesting and very seductive portrayal of the dark side, he can convince and persuade and this takes the audience down the road of temptation that the characters in the film are traveling. This is exactly how Anakin Skywalker should have been pitched and in Rey we have a perfect counterpart.
Between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi it's heartening that they have pitched a nice balance in tone between the frivolous humor and serious story elements. This does occasionally get very dark but it's not DC dark, it's not pain and violence being played as being in and of itself “adult." When it does “cute" it doesn't obsess over it, it's brief, and in fact there is at least one occasion where it throws that back in your face, which was hugely entertaining. There is also a feeling of consequence to what's going on. In the battles people get hurt and killed, there is self-sacrifice and heroism and characters get to be seen in a constantly shifting light. For what could have easily been a child-friendly piece of tat (garbage), thrown out on the strength on the Star Wars name alone, I can't help but applaud the fortitude of the writers and producers for making this a very full story.
However, I would be remiss to not point out that it is a bit too ambitious when it comes to story threads. We're following a few groups of people in this story who are all taking their own unique journeys and as much as I enjoyed so much story, I'd have to say there were a few too many things going on which do bog the film down. It's not that it's complicated; it's more that it's just a bit too busy for its own good. The painfully slow sequence of the Rebels being chased by Imperial Destroyers was possibly the most awkward and broken part of the film, the time scale seemed to make no sense and indeed the situation was clearly contrived to create a “ticking clock." When there is so much that's good about the film's writing and such great character development it's things like this and the heavy borrowing from both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi that just knock this whole thing back a notch or two.
Overall though, The Last Jedi is a very worthy addition to the Star Wars story. It feels like it's Star Wars, it has that sense of epic scale and fairytale wonder of the original trilogy and it has all the passion the prequels were lacking. There is plenty under the surface of space battles and sword fights that raise it far above being merely audience pleasing nonsense and I'm positively giddy about that, thank you for that, director Rian Johnson; you've shown some consideration towards the audience and it is very much appreciated. Like I say, it has its flaws but they don't break the movie for me by any means, I just wish I were seeing this as a young boy, like I did with A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. You lucky, lucky millennials; enjoy yourselves as the story that dominated my childhood goes forward with renewed vigor and new blood.
He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.
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