George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand and Rian Johnson direct Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Frank Oz, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver in this epic space opera set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away – one in a perpetual state of war and rebellion, overseen by people with mystical powers.
Just to be absolutely clear. I love Star Wars. But more like the love one has for an Aunt or Uncle it is nice to see annually at Christmas rather than the zealot’s lust most movie fans have for the franchise. The merchandise dominated my childhood (especially the obscure five seconds of screen time action figures who were heavily discounted at the local curtain and bedding shop which bizarrely had an extensive kid’s toy section on the floor above it). The imagery defines how I think about fantasy and adventure. The action and sweep is what I compare all blockbuster cinema to. I love others far more (upcoming Bonds, Indy’s, Aliens, Batmans and Bill Murrays will always get me more excited than lightsabers, Landos and Loth-cats) but there is something universal about Star Wars that even my Mum or people who never go to the cinema know that a new one genuinely is an event. And this in an age where we get an “event” movie every fortnight.
At 5 years old I was aware of Star Wars, and this was before Darth Vader opened my street corner videoshop. Even though I saw a five foot four man get out of his Ford Fiesta, open the boot and get dressed into a latex black uniform on the curb side, I still wiggled and pushed to the front of Selecta Video crowd to be the first to get his autograph. That slip of paper, branded with the distinctive electric ITC Serif Gothic font and scribbled on by a random man in a plastic helmet became a cherished possession. It sat neatly folded in a drawer well into my teens, next to a battery drained C3-PO digital watch (my first watch). I have a scar on my forehead from falling on the jagged edges of my Millennium Falcon toy, an accident that occurred while playing a particularly tense game of hide and seek that resulted in six stitches. I remember the first two big box videos The Carrolls ever rented being Gobots The Movie and Return of the Jedi. When we got our first computer, an Amstrad CPC 464, my cousin taped copies of all the 8 bit Star Wars Games onto one cassette tape. Autistically, I don’t really have many clear memories of actual people from my childhood, but most of them involve playing with Hoth Costume Han and Speeder Bike Leia toys on the cold hard granite step of the back garden door (the grating near it looked like a Death Star reactor).
As I got more and more into cinema, Empire magazine became my glossy bible. And they had a hard-on for the trilogy the size of a Star Destroyer. It was unavoidable to grow out of Star Wars with them devotedly blaring its successes into my eyes on a monthly basis. But when I finally got to see the films on the big screen they had been… “Special Edition”ed. I completely agree with Lucas sprucing them up, taking out a duff visual join here and there. In fact, when you watch even the 1997 version of A New Hope you can still see telltale discoloured squares around the TIE fighters as spacescapes and dogfight models match up. And I’m fine with that too. The additional scenes, off humour, overly busied shots and comedy sound effects, less so. This tinkering was a dire warning of what was to come with the Prequel trilogy – early evidence of an approach that was tonally uncertain, nostalgia stifling and almost obtusely unsatisfactory to the loyal fan base.
Maybe it was young adult pretentiousness or just sensibly realising it was always going to be a disappointment but 19 year old me did not rush to see The Phantom Menace on its opening weekend. We had tickets for a night the next week when all my mates were available, and they were booked at the historic Odeon in Leicester Square. I went to see a rerelease of the brilliant The Third Man that Friday night instead. Both about trade embargoes and loss of innocence, The Third Man was fantastic, The Phantom Menace wasn’t. I’m not going to bother with fully reviewing Episode I and II now. It’d be a dampening chore to rewatch them. I’ll save their revisitation / evisceration / potential redemption for a few years time. I left the screenings of both Menace and Clones bewildered by the lack of fun and the lack of relevant consequence to the characters and stories I grew up with. My attitude hasn’t changed on them but Lucas’ Revenge of the Sith has grown on me over a few cautious return visits. Ingratiated itself enough with me over a decade that it is now begrudgingly part of my Star Wars Saga viewing ritual.
Now, Revenge of the Sith is still not perfect. The first half contains a lot of the fatal flaws of its stablemates. It is often uncharismatic actors chewing through unwieldy dialogue in cannily fake environments. Hayden Christensen is perhaps the wettest blanket to carry a major blockbuster of the modern age, gormless during the adventure aspects, dead during his moments of dramatic turmoil. Then again it is hard to judge him too harshly when the usually excellent Natalie Portman is equally vapid and unconnected. There is a 45 minutes long second act of people sitting around completely CGI’d offices, dining rooms and lobbies having dry conversations. If anything Revenge of the Sith is the worst for this. And there are those clunky moments where a beloved character from the Legacy Trilogy betrays an ability that would be equally as useful 20 years down the line. Yoda’s spinning Kung Fu or R2-D2’s rocket legs jarringly vanish in the near future set instalments. Hell, they don’t even recognise each other when Luke accidentally reunites them on the Dagobah system in Empire Strikes Back. This shit matters, especially when you’ve been raised to consider the first three films as sacred texts.
Yet there is overwhelming good as well. The opening sequence is an elongated rescue mission. A jaunty romp that crams in banter, cliffhangers, visual wit, perilous threat and kinetic invention. Carried by Ewan McGregor’s Obi Wan it is tons of fun. While most other actors seem drowned out by the 7 years of greenscreen hell, McGregor finds his rhythm in his last instalment. Channelling 2 parts Sir Alec pastiche, 3 parts grown up kid getting to live out his childhood dream, he enlivens the whole proceedings. He always has a twinkle in his eye and a wry smile that suggest he is approaching every take with the attitude “Yeah but fuck it, I’m in a Star Wars Movie.” His is not the only spirited performance; Jimmy Smits is all dignified regalness as Bail Organa, while McDiarmid brings a panache and relish to his Shakespearean Palpatine.
About an hour in, the movie seems to snap into focus and become something else entirely. Crafted from the same clumsy CGI tools as its stablemates but possessing a primordial drive and baroque import that banishes all traces of wooden child performances and Jar-Jar Binks shaped errors. The movie becomes a vicious, wailing tragedy played out with a violent, callous inevitability. Mace Windu’s death, Palpatine’s disfiguration, Anakin’s massacre of the younglings, the genocide of the Jedis, Padme and Obi-Wan’s futile attempts to forgive the fallen hero. This is EXACTLY what should have been the cut and thrust of the new seven hours worth of prequel. Instead we get it crammed into 65 volcanic minutes. And the fall and corruption is exhilarating.
It may lack nuance, but nuance has never been a Lucasfilm forte. What it does is make the transformation of Skywalker into Vader, Jedi into Sith, apprentice into antagonist, lover into killer, hero into villain, man into cyborg monster… a glorious digital art film. From the thrilling lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin, to the cruel surgery of what is left of the loser, we move away from clunky child’s entertainment and into a surreal optical motion installation that parallels David Lynch’s recent artier moments in Twin Peaks: The Return. Is it all that appropriate for a family entertainment? Not one little bit. But does it bring winsome Anakin screaming and howling into the iconic Vader’s terrifying body armour with a convincing thud. Yes. “NOOOOO!” indeed.
Why not start watching the saga with Revenge of the Sith? You start with The Phantom Menace and you come in midway through political upheaval with unresolved questions about Anakin’s parentage, come in at A New Hope and you once again are adrift midstream following an in-progress rebellion and a teenager of mysterious origins. With the exception of the perfect and supreme Rogue One, any Star Wars movie starts in media res. Revenge of the Sith kicks off with all the elements you need in place to be a decent, effective introduction to the Legacy Trilogy. Maybe a few scenes of Anakin and Padme’s secret marriage (allowing Portman a little space to be more than a delicate doomed meat womb for the Jedi twins)… A bit more obvious focus that Obi-Wan’s lone manhunt of General Greivous leaves Anakin under prepared for life caught between manipulative Palpatine and the cold sneering mistrust of the Jedi Council… Bing Bang Bong… The prequel trilogy is salvaged into one effective 170 minute film which acts as a gripping, tragic prologue for the Skywalker saga.
Anyway, onto better things. Onto Star Wars: A New Hope.
The original. The daddy. Pure entertainment. It would take a lesser man than me not get caught up in its giddy sweep. Having said that… one does have to wonder what unconvinced Fox executives thought when they initially sat through the first act at the test screening (especially if it lacked all the post production special effects). Baffled I’m guessing. Two robots taking us away from the action and tootling around a bleak desert. One a effete coward like David Niven in Guns of the Navarone, the other a plucky dustbin that can only communicate in uninterpreted beeps and whirs. Then they meet a whiny teenager who doesn’t want to do his chores. Then an old hermit dude who wants to take him on an adventure.
Lucas leans into the world building and the mythology in those first 30 minutes, and while the series is stronger for this, it would be easy for the uninitiated viewer to puzzle over what all the fuss was about. What works in this slow opening is the droids. Their bickering interplay feels organic. Charming, even. They clearly have a relationship, a desire to survive that ascends basic programming, even a robo-religion is hinted at; “Thank the maker!” Why is any of this important? It creates depth and intricate detail to what is basically a straightforward, utilitarian adventure story.
In the same way the spaceships are covered in convincing greebles, the locations are dotted with dog-eared tech, unexplained nomenclature litters the earnest dialogue, and unnamed or unremarked on aliens go about their day in the background, why shouldn’t two robots have their own thoughts and feelings and hopes about their mission? This is the careful and caring heft and weave that elevates Star Wars from a bog standard space actioner up to its own culturally unique phenomenon. Instead of making those robots a pair of automaton Rosencrantz and Guildensterns, Lucas imbues essentially throwaway characters (macguffins even) with more personality than most of his human cast. They become the backbone of the saga, as unlike the orphans and chosen ones, they have no choice but to be caught up in this galactic civil war and their partnership (though catty and bitchy) is long fostered and cherished. You fear for them as they get carried along in the rivalries and politics of the space battles. And this superfluous detailing is evocative of an entire galaxy existing far far away. In a time long ago. One busy and thought-out enough that you are conned into believing in it fully.
The droids are fantastic companions in this expansive conceived universe. The same unfortunately cannot be said for Luke. Hamill the actor seems like a lovely guy but throughout the series Luke Skywalker is an avatar, filled with whatever personality and skills the scene needs with little conflict or continuity with what has occurred before or after. He is a character whose only constant is his inability to focus on the now, always desperate to rush off to the next adventure without applying himself to earn what the task at hand offers.
We first meet him staring at two suns with a dream of following his friends to join the IMPERIAL!!! academy. The fucking bad guys, Luke!? Any adventure will do for this lad, who cares if he ends up cleaning toilets on the Death Star as it blows up innocent planets as long as he gets away from the moisture farm? Once on his quest with Ben Kenobi, he brushes off his adoptive parents’ brutal deaths within a screenwipe. But when Ben dies, a man he met barely 24 hours ago, he is broken and grieving. He abandons the rebellion at a point of dire crisis to find Yoda, can’t concentrate on his training as it takes more than a few days, then rushes off to save his friends all of whom are more battle hardened than him, even C3-PO. He then dangerously uses his allies’ last ditch secret assault on the new Death Star’s shield generator to try and convince his evil father not to be evil. Even though Darth Vader has been a Jedi and a Sith far longer and with more guidance and conviction than Luke ever has. The Last Jedi we meet in the most recent movie is untrained, impulsive, a self pitying quitter. Any other interpretation of the saga’s “hero” doesn’t bare much evidential scrutiny.
But the saga does have likeable proactive heroes. I talked at length in my Force Awakens review of the star power and much needed rascality Harrison Ford brings to the franchise. The adventure and the entertainment truly begins once Han Solo and Chewbacca arrive, mythology is put on the back burner and a louche gallantry dominates. Han shoots first, Chewie is not to be messed with, and from this point onwards the whomping set pieces tumble like dominoes. The excitement takes over… hyperspace… rescue missions… laser shoot-outs… trash compactors… dogfights in the abyss… the final raid on the surface of the Death Star. “YAHOOOOO! You’re all clear, kid. Now let’s blow this thing and go home.”
I’m getting ahead of myself. We are forgetting who they rescued. Plucky, sarcy, squarejawed, bra-less Leia. You capture her. She gives you sass. You torture her. She gives you sass. You rescue her. She gives you sass. You fall in love with her. She gives you sass. She’ll grab a blaster off you and find an escape route in a dead end. She’ll insult Chewie and get away with it. The perfect mixture of tomboy rebel and gorgeous regal beauty, Princess Leia was a rare beast in mainstream cinema… a female action badass. Carrie Fisher. And in the overly optimistic, triumphant medal ceremony at the end her unguarded smile reveals what makes A New Hope an eternal classic. The sweet camaraderie that forms effortlessly between it key players. A band of brothers who have palpable chemistry together and win in the most jubilant way possible. John Williams’ iconic score kicks in and our grins are as wide as the winners on screen. An unparalleled upbeat end note that pops like cocaine meeting your dopamine receptors.
As always with this blog it is always easier to list the flaws than define the successes. You might read what I have just written about A New Hope and think I don’t love it. I do, in spite of (and in many ways because of) its imperfections. But equally most movie fans will rank Empire Strikes Back as their best Star Wars entry. Yet for me it is a very good blockbuster that tries my patience as a Star Wars movie. Still a wonderful entertainment; the Hoth battle sequences, the Leigh Brackett written screwball banter, the introduction of that glamorously suave Lando Calrissian, Vader’s running joke of killing and then promoting his incompetent seconds. All good business. Yet it treads water way too much. The Dagobah scenes are trudges, the escape of the Falcon through asteroid fields and destroyer garbage purges, though visually spectacular, lack an end game. It is plotless and episodic. The definition of a cash-in sequel.
Sorry if Empire is your favourite but for me it lacks the daring trend-setting invention of A New Hope, the monster mash pandemonium of Return and the grim intensity of Rogue One. If I were watching the series in a marathon, it is the one I wouldn’t feel too guilty about having a cheeky midway nap during. It doesn’t really further the plot and only leads to anti-climaxes. Sure, Luke learns Vader is his father, loses a hand, Leia and Han declare their love, Solo is taken away in carbonite, the emperor returns, and we get to meet Lando. But not in an overwhelmingly vital way.
What Empire Strikes Back does succeed in achieving is setting the George Lucas prescribed pattern of each act having its own visually distinct location. The snowy wastes we open in, give way to the murky swamps, until everyone reunites in the shiny manmade sheen of Bespin. The visual demarcation of sub-chapters adds to the expansive air that elevates Star Wars. If we can go from the icy tundra of the prologue to the glowing indigo mechanised throb of the finale so effortlessly where else is there to explore in this galaxy?
Lucas allegedly took a back seat, producing his sequels but you feel his hand on the tiller, keeping form and pushing for his vision to be purely maintained. I wouldn’t want to be the journeyman director trying to put my personal stamp on his macro controlled baby. You can understand why both David Lynch and David Cronenberg turned down the chance to direct Return of the Jedi. I doubt Lucas’ tight recipe would be easy to deviate from, even the most talented director might feel like more a First Assistant Director to the Lucasfilm machine?
Whatever the division of power when we get to Return of the Jedi, the recipe has been perfected. It helps that Empire Strikes Back left a fertile cliffhanger to be resolved. Han needs rescuing from intergalactic gangster Jabba the Hut. And that this was the last planned film of the trilogy… meaning a Bang was the only way to go out with. So we open with an elaborate rescue caper and end with all out, three theatres of battle, war. Both bookending elongated set pieces weave disparate elements together perfectly and create truly gripping half hour chunks of cinema. They are also done with humorous elan and find time for well loved, and by this point, strongly defined characters to have their moments. Proper proper Star Wars, pet.
What I love about Return is the sheer amount of species and alien races we encounter. Sure, the speeder bike chase is also fantastic… one of cinema’s best action sequences. But what always makes Return the pudding of the Legacy Trilogy is that it is an absolute freak fest of Pig Guards, Bib Fortunas, Admiral Ackbars and Ewoks. Yeah, boy, I like the Ewoks. The half pint fuzzies kick ass and take names. They’ll flirt with the ladies, cook you a Han Solo, take Speeder bikes for distracting joyrides, pelt mechanised death machines with rocks, suffer casualties, team up with Chewie and still find time to sing you the Yub Nub song so you can celebrate your victory. Bring back the Yub Nub song.
Return genuinely feels like a spectacular promise delivered on. It is a broad accessible family action film told with a distinct peppering of adult risqué. With Vader slightly neutered by his own internal conflicts about his children, both the evil Emperor and dirty Jabba take up the foreground. Both are powerful, nasty men and Luke’s encounters with them bristle with fatal risk and corruption. As it is the closing episode (for then) anyone could die… We also get the undeniable sexual thrill of Leia in a bondage bikini and the horror inspired design work of the various henchbeasts that lurk on Jabba’s pleasure barge. Most of the grotesque extras wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of Fangoria rather than as the population of a U rated kid’s movie. It is fair to say Return keeps its maturing fanbase on side while being somehow equally accessible to the new toddlers (which I would have been). No boring holding patterns in the desert, no treading swamp water with Yoda. Just creature… action… creature… action… creature… action…. creature… action… and then glorious Yub Nub celebration, matching that cheering hit that the final group victory shot of A New Hope gave us. Sending us off into adulthood feeling we could take on the Empire with nothing more than pluck, a lightsaber, a Millennium Falcon and some good friends.
Which brings us to The Last Jedi. It has its moments but equally often feels wasteful and contrary. More interested in subverting expectations than exceeding them. A perfectly fine movie… but a disappointment as a Star Wars movie. Star Wars movies, events by their very nature, can not withstand being merely “fine”. There’s nothing worse than leaving a Star Wars movie feeling it was just alright. Why? It is hard to defend against the rabid fanboys who only deal in the absolutes of Heaven or hate crime. Equally, to casually resign such an epic production that continues a beloved rich mythology with a “meh” makes me feel like a grinch. I don’t go to Star Wars on opening day to leave feeling like a whiny Skywalker.
In hindsight I should have guessed Rian Johnson’s take on Star Wars would be troubling. All his previous films, including the very good Brick and Looper, were concepts that promised the world but swerved off piste midway through and ended up delivering something unexpected. Not disappointing per se, but equally more convoluted end products than what you bought your ticket for. The Last Jedi suffers from this issue but on an exacerbated scale. It doesn’t help that JJ Abrams did such a ‘safe hands’ faithful job of resurrecting the franchise with the energetic and easy going Episode VII. Episode VIII really didn’t have room to be anything but an absolute crowd pleaser.
And at times it is… but moreover it is a long, long messy film that fails to find a balance between serious and silly. In fact neither tone comes across naturally, let alone coincides successfully. You can divide the various moving parts up into three categories; Amazing stuff; I’m not sure how I feel about that; System errors. So in reverse order…
Daisy Ridley – Great in The Force Awakens, she has noticably aged, lost a lot of her puppyish charm, has very little chemistry with any of her co-stars (apart from Adam Driver with whom she mainly communicates via a psychic link). Her line readings often come across as clunky am-dram warm ups. Shame as she showed great promise previously.
Finn and Rose subplot – John Boyega gets pushed into being a subplot sidekick for a new character. She is spunky enough but it feels wasteful both of an established talent and the mammoth running time to have side missions that are eventually dead ends. He starts the movie with a nice James Garner-ish (coward who has to play the hero) charm but ends it as just another overly earnest cypher. Boyega is better than this. And the visit to Casinoworld feels like the most excisable sequence since all of Attack of the Clones. It really, really feels like Attack of the Clones.
Pranky humour – Some of this raises a smile but the sarcy banter is overused and takes you out of the timeless fantasy.
The First Order – There could still be some value in an infighting, immature, leaderless team of villians but they rarely come across as a threat rather than a comedy inconvenience. Storm Troopers might be terrible shots but you still would never laugh at them to their helmets.
The running time – There is lots of good stuff in the finale but each time you reach the 40 minute home stretch (I’ve seen it three times now) you are a bit too exhausted and disconnected to enjoy it. The multi strand plots needed to be either tightened, jettisoned or spread over another movie. Some of the intercutting that occurs to keep all the plates spinning is unforgivable. Taking us away from the amazing battle in Snoke’s throne room lessens the impact of such a distinctively grand scene. This is Exhibit A for the case against an ultimately overbloated experience.
Chewbacca: One brilliant visual joke aside, Chewie might as well have sat this one out. Maybe he wanted a lighter load in his grief?
“I’m not sure how I feel about that”:
Luke Skywalker: Comedy Luke Skywalker I can live with. Let him squeeze blue milk out of a beached aliens tits and wink at us as he gulps it down. Uncertain Skywalker I can live with, plagued by doubts, what else is new? Heroic send-off Skywalker I can live with. A far better final tribute than he really deserves. Just why do I have to live with Luke Skywalker? I was expecting him to be the villian of the piece. Silly me for having expectations. Everything that occurs with him is fine (that word again… ugh!) but he often is the Nexus Point of where the silly stuff that doesn’t make you laugh, and the serious stuff doesn’t make you care, meet.
Snoke’s Death: I think I can survive without knowing Snoke’s backstory. He’s just evil. No one obsessed over the details of who that old lady with the chimpanzee eyes in the cloak was back in 1980. She was just Darth Vader’s master, evil as fuck, and as the internet didn’t exist to create wild theories so you just accepted it. What we do see of Snoke is actually rather hiss-worthy. Andy Serkis gives him an oilyness and spitefulness that chiggered under my skin. So to kill him off might be important for Kylo Ren’s growth but we lose a grand and convincingly threatening villian just when the saga needs one. Which is a shame. Still his cauterised, severed in three, body lolls about in the background hilariously for a few extra later scenes. Johnson’s certainly not precious and he seems quite happy to prune a branch once the fruit he needs has fallen from it. Characters die and are left dead once their purpose is served in his take on the series. Which is refreshing. On that note, shout out to my fallen homie Ackbar. I see you, Phasma, I see you.
The slow escape plot: The main narrative thrust of The Last Jedi centres around a Rebel Cruiser only just being able to stay out of range of a First Order Star Destroyer’s canon blasts. Unable to refuel and somehow being able to be tracked if they use that remaining fuel to jump into hyperspace, they find themselves in a very temporary stalemate. It is actually the basis for a really gripping plot… bizarrely not very different from many of the practical dilemmas in 2017’s brilliant Dunkirk. But the storytelling is slapdash. Letting most of the leads escape away elsewhere on fool’s errands while never spelling out the stakes in an exciting way. Instead of having a character occasionally tell us “we have six hours left”, would a ticking clock or fuel gauge be so hard to visualise? Instead of constantly rewriting the rules of what can or can’t be done in hyperspace (tracking, fuel use) with exposition, why not repeat the old visual trick of the ship refusing to do what everyone expected it to do à la the Millenium Falcon’s similar struggles in Empire Strikes Back?
Oh, now there’s “rules” suddenly: I guess the issue with imposing imaginary rules of physics to a fantasy universe is it creates limits and evidences when we don’t want to care. Anything can happen when things are left vague, once we start being given specific exposition on what these hulking space cruisers can and cannot do, we can pick the whole thing apart too much. Either way… the ticking clock to annihilation should be far more gripping than it is… AND we all know Hux must be tracking them via his former employee Finn’s presence on board. We all guessed that right? Even if they never bother to make it clear, it makes sense the First Order can track a conscript. He leaves the doomed ship within minutes so they could then jump away. And the issue isn’t resolved. And with JJ coming back to direct Episode 9, it probably never will be. Signs that some subplots got lost in the pre or post production process, methinks?
Leia goes magic: Obviously with Carrie Fisher’s recent real death this would have been the ideal time to give her iconic role a graceful exit stage left. It feels like it is going to happen early on. A genuine first act closing gut punch. Her ship’s bridge windscreen shatters. She is sucked out in a vortex. Brutal but a fitting death for a great character… But then she flies through space back onto the bridge… USING… THE… FORCE!!! Yeah, brilliant. I actually loved this unbelievable switcheroo. We still have no idea of the full extent of the Jedis’ mystical powers… That’s a exciting place to still be in 40 years in.
Snoke’s Throne Room: Kylo Ren and Rey’s various battles in this stark crimson nightmare dome are the highlights of the movie entire. Snoke’s pose striking guards are stunningly imposing, the primary colour overwhelming, the sexual frisson delicious. Just do it already.
Space Bombers: Poe’s crazy raid on the baddie’s dreadnought and the dangerous giant rebel bombers slow approach over it makes for an intense and eye popping introduction. A grand scale opening salvo to an Episode that rarely aims for that ambitious, clever, vertically intergrated level of set piece again.
Luke’s Last Stand: Luke stepping out and facing all the firepower the First Order can muster is cool as fuck. Stealing quite a bit visually from the Preacher comics War in the Sun sequence but we’ll forgive that. Sure, the fact the no dust settles on him after they blast up the horizon is a slight give away to the twist… But it is a direct, involving finale for a movie sorely lacking in engagement.
The use of red: There’s a lot of red. It is a great colour. I liked it.
The Dark Side: The visualisation of Rey’s trip down into the dark side is imaginatively spooky. Throwing up metaphors for the cyclical nature of this story and the fact that people define their destines rather than ‘fate’, it subtly recalibrates the series into a more open sandbox.
The revelation about Rey’s parents: Makes perfect sense. A rare twist that is perfectly played.
So there we have it. The Last Jedi dilutes too many of its strengths trying to be different and by trying to do too much. Star Wars fans don’t want subversion. That’s not to say there isn’t room for it. But keep it for the spin-offs. A Jabba rise to power gangster prequel. An Obi Wan Western. An R2-D2 / C3-PO / K2-SO gay love triangle wedding day farce. The wider saga can house any of these intertextual treats. But when it comes to the central story we want the leads we love and the heroics and the purpose and the camaraderie and the pageantry and the magic… And for it all to move at an effortless rather than a stunted pace.
6 / 9 / 8 / 10 / 6