STAR WARS VIII: THE LAST JEDI (2017) is the latest film in what is arguably the most successful and influential modern film series of all time. The imaginative power of STAR WARS is thrilling and exciting. Subsequently, expectations are high for any new film, especially after the success of the previous film STAR WARS VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015), directed by J.J. Abrams.
This latest installment, written and directed by Rian Johnson, has all the right ingredients – engaging characters and thrilling action scenes, beautifully designed and filmed – and yet has attracted a certain level of disappointment. What is the reason for this? The following is my attempt to explain the possible cause in what otherwise is a very successful film. Essentially, it deals with audience expectations about heroes, and how in this case that expectation has been radically denied. Significantly, The Last Jedi doesn’t really have any heroes – not in the conventional ‘Star Wars’ form. The only exception possibly being the mighty Chewbacca who at least does something active and positive and successful in the course of the film. This is unlike his fellow original cast members, R2D2 and 3PO, who play no significant role in the film narrative and are little more than extras.
Who is ‘the last Jedi’? Well – from the build-up you would expect it to be Luke Skywalker. However, there are a number of other contenders who also have essential ‘force’ to be a Jedi warrior. Mark Hamill is terrific as the now older Luke Skywalker, and his return to the series is as welcome as was Harrison Ford’s and Carrie Fisher’s in The Force Awakens. However, all the potential heroes in this film, except for Chewbacca, have some deep-seated psychological problem that prevents them from being a hero. Everyone is flawed in one way or another; they are either naive, reckless, impotent, frustrated, deceitful and/or suffering from some form of repression/depression. They all need a good session on a psychiatrist couch. This is despite the action that is going on around them.
This film is very busy in regard to action, and some of the action sequences are truly thrilling. The final battle sequences on land and in space are terrific, but the journey to this is odd. Everyone has a problem that prevents full engagement with the action; exemplified by the brief but wonderful appearance of the character Maz Kanata, who is fighting off disgruntled union representatives about which we know nothing about.
Most of the characters are presented as passive-aggressive. They are noble, committed, but constrained by either outside forces or internal ones. It seemed at times that Luke had a touch of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in him, as for most of the film he was relatively inactive. I did like his first appearance – being offered the sacred light-sabre and the quickly tossing it over his shoulder – that made me giggle. I thought – ‘Great’ – a bit of self-effacing humour to keep us alert; but that type of gag disappeared pretty quickly. Chewbacca, however, had a couple of moments with the new furry penguin-like critters called ‘Porgs’ who plagued him and the ‘Falcon’. Chewie to the rescue – again!
I started to realize pretty quickly that this film would be different from the others. It has a frustrating element to it that is slightly annoying – at least to me and very annoying to others. For example, the rather pointless sub-plot involving the destruction of a tracking beam that dominates the middle of the film and includes a number of major characters – Finn, Poe, Rosa, and BB8, as well as a new character, the codebreaker DJ, played by Benico del Toro. It is easy to be frustrated by this sub-plot even though it does contain a couple of good action sequences, such as the chase on the casino planet Canto Bright. You feel frustrated by the ultimate failure of this mission – all that effort wasted, and you can’t help feel manipulated because it would seem the whole purpose of it all was to ensure that Finn and Rosa are on the same First Order space ship as Rey and Keylo Ren as they battle it out for Luke Skywaker’s light-sabre after Keylo Ren has killed the Supreme Leader. Again – this sequence,set in an all red set is rather exciting, but it doesn’t really go anywhere – and how does Chewie rescue Rey from all this anyway???
Carrie Fisher is, of course, wonderful as Princess Leia, and it is heartbreaking to watch her knowing that she died so soon after filming her main scenes. Like the ‘stars’ in this film, such as Benico del Toro and Laura Dern, there is a charismatic appeal. With Carrie Fisher, as well as Mark Hamill, we have a history that adds to the depth of these characters. Unfortunately, neither Luke nor Leia actually do very much – although the final light-sabre fight between Luke and Keylo Ren is terrific – with echoes of the fight between Darth Vader and Obie One in Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977).
No – the only true hero in The Last Jedi is Chewbacca. He is active from the very start – breaking down the door of Luke’s grey-brick island hovel. In the final battle sequence, he brings in the Falcon to draw off the First Order Fighters, somehow collecting Rey along the way. This also echoes the sudden reappearance of the Falcon with Hans Solo and Chewie at the climax of A New Hope. It is due to Chewie that the ineffective resistance fights manage to escape. Go – Chewie!
It should be pointed out that there are a number of new actors in these familiar roles – such as Jonas Suotamo taking over from Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca. Fair enough – this is 40 years on from the first film, and Peter Mayhew was still involved as ‘advisor’. There is also Jimmy Vee as R2D2. Only Anthony Daniels as C-3PO remains the sole actor who has appeared in all the Star Wars films.
I did enjoy this film, but I can understand the frustration and annoyance of others. Passive-aggressive heroes are always problematic as due to whatever problem they become essentially ineffective and a little tedious, constantly bemoaning their downtrodden state rather than just getting on with it – like the heroes in the original Star Wars series. However, they were the products of the Baby-Boomer generation, aimed at those (like me) who in 1977 were still teenagers and at the tale-end of the Baby-Boomers. The new 2017 heroes are far more passive-aggressive – and this is reflected in Rey, Finn and the others in this new series of films. It isn’t bad – it is just different – but does take a bit of adjusting too in regards to expectations. These characters are not the same as the original Luke, Leia and Solo et al – the only true remnant of that period is Chewbacca – Go Chewie!