Movie Review: Is “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” a Subtly Regressive Movie?

By | December 18, 2017

“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.”–That the major villain of this movie (referring to both the Jedi and the Sith) says this is actually coded language against the small minority of viewers that would probably rather see something original than one more “greatest hits” version of 1978’s original “Stars Wars,” the surprise smash of the century that now seems to be practically holding science-fiction hostage.

2017 is notable for not featuring a large-scale, original sci-fi hit like “Gravity” or “Interstellar” (the best sections of “Blade Runner 2049” have almost nothing to do with the original film) and we may be facing a future where it’s hard for those movies to get made without slapping “Star” something (Trek or Wars or something Marvel-esque) to their title in some way and tying themselves to existing franchises. “The Last Jedi” mostly goes through the motions, both re-living the original trilogy (“Oh my God! Luke Skywalker! A Yoda cameo!”) and trying to be a commentary on it in some ways—Kylo Ren’s arc looks to be following Darth Vader’s before deviating wildly from it. Still, those hoping for a fresh take on “Star Wars” will be happier rewatching last year’s “Rogue One,” whose only real weakness was shoehorning in cameos of original trilogy characters.

What Works: There’s a spectacular sequence involving red-armored storm trooper bodyguards that really is the highlight of this film (it’s one of its few truly original touches), and a cool trick where Rey is multipied by several dozen versions of her in a mirror. There’s also some cute creatures on the island Luke spends his self-imposed exile on, and Benicio Del Toro is a welcome addition as one of “Star Wars” few morally ambiguous characters.

What Doesn’t: Damon Poe is no Han Solo, and Finn is no Lando Calrissian. There’s just a severe charisma deficit by most of the younger stars, and it’s telling that “The Force Awakens” most compelling screen presence was Han Solo, who–obviously–isn’t featured here. What is featured is Mark Hamill, who’s never been the best actor in the world and Carrie Fisher’s final screen work, which may have been completed with the assistance of CGI. Even though the original “Star Wars” trilogy isn’t perfect, there’s just been something missing from the new trilogy, a mythic quality that fills most scenes with child-like wonder. That may in part be because of the overzealous hand of Kathleen Kennedy, a producer that seems hell-bent on being a director, firing Josh Trank from a standalone “Star Wars” film, Colin Trevorrow from the final film in this trilogy, and Phil Lord/Christopher Miller mid-production on the Han Solo prequel. The somewhat generic, depersonalized, Marvel-ization of a world that once felt wondrous is probably what we can expect from more studio franchises that shift the focus from director to producer.

What I Would Have Done Differently: “Like we give a shit, these films are printing money and the public is content to gobble up mediocrity, why mess with success? We’re not trying to win Oscars or make long-lasting experiences, DVD is dead and people will stream something else in a month or two.”–What I imagine a Star Wars executive’s official response would be.

But it’s my opinion that even though the execution was horrible, the loathed George Lucas prequels actually had a better plot foundation than this new trilogy does. Again, the acting, directing, staging, etc. left a lot to be desired, but the core idea (Anakin’s Darth Vader arc from Jedi to Sith Lord) was about the seductive clarity and force of fascism (“the dark side”) in an age when the democratic good guys can’t stop fighting and squabbling amongst each other. That’s an interesting and uncomfortable idea for a mega-budget franchise—Lucas supposedly based the original “Star Wars” trilogy off WWII or storm troopers=nazis, specifically, so the prequels are really about WWI and the Treaty of Versailles that led to Hitler’s rise—and there’s just nothing half as good in this trilogy, hellbent on being a cover band version of the originals.

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