IF SPOILERS YOU WISH TO AVOID, WARNED, YOU MUST BE.
The FIRST ORDER reigns. Having decimated the peaceful Republic, Supreme Leader Snoke now deploys his merciless legions to seize military control of the galaxy…
Before you complain, that sentence above is literally the first sentence in the traditional Star Wars crawl and appears in the first 30 seconds of the movie. The real spoilers will come further down- once you see a low-quality screen grab of a space battle, you’ll know.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (M)
When I thought of naming this series Easily Pleased, I might have subconsciously had a film like Star Wars: The Last Jedi in mind. I went in blind, and walked out of the theatre with my moviegoing companion having really enjoyed it. It seems to move along at a fair pace, didn’t linger too long in any given scene, made sense internally, and leaves an ending that wraps up the events of TLJ while setting up the inevitable Episode IX.
And then I read comments on the Internet, and I feel like my enjoyment of the films is being retroactively crippled- as if I was suddenly terribly concerned that one character’s scar is in a different place than in the previous flick, or a potentially interesting character being removed from the series without being fleshed out, or about that bit with Leia that never played a part in previous films. (You’ll know it when you see it.) The obvious lesson here being, never read comments on the Internet.
But I digress. If you’re a Star Wars fan you’ve probably already seen the film. If you’re not, it helps if you’ve seen The Force Awakens; the movie basically assumes you already know who Rey, Finn and Kylo are and launches straight into the story, picking up immediately where the previous film ended.
TLJ basically has three intertwining plots. On one side of the story, we have Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as per the events of TFA, and is trying to persuade him to train her in the ways of the Jedi. He doesn’t think this is a good idea, and we find out why.
At the same time, having sufficiently annoyed the First Order with the destruction of Starkiller Base in TFA, the Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)-led Resistance is fleeing their own base on D’Qar. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leads a risky attack that breaks the First Order blockade on the planet, but takes a terrible toll in lives and ships; this earns him a dressing-down from General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), who is then injured as the First Order captures up with the fleet. Unhappy with the Resistance brass’ plans, Poe hatches his own and arranges for former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to leave in secret, in an attempt to disable the First Order’s tracking capabilities.
The film is indeed long in order to be able to resolve the three story threads. At two and a half hours according to IMDb, it’s the longest of the mainline Star Wars series, and apparently had around 40-50 minute of additional material cut before release. For mine, though, it never felt like it was outstaying its welcome; it doesn’t linger on any scenes and keeps the story moving. There is potentially some scope for a little bit more editing, with the sequences with Finn and Rose and the final denouement on Krait possibly being a little too long, but even then a lot of that is worldbuilding as we look to Episode IX.
There aren’t any terribly annoying or obviously-here-to-sell-toys characters, either. Rose quickly establishes herself as a capable servant of the Resistance, the usual parade of hapless First Order generals come out to be abused and Force-choked by Kylo Ren, and even the much-maligned Porgs from the trailers are just there as a bit of comic relief and don’t interfere in the story.
Last chance to back out before spoilers… okay then. One very minor spoiler if you want, before we move onto the harder stuff:
- The final trailer released by Lucasfilm does try to throw you off the scent regarding particular plot points, so if you were wavering on seeing the film because “the trailer gives everything away”, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I mentioned earlier that the Finn and Rose sequences could possibly be trimmed- their voyage to pleasure planet Canto Bight is possibly a bit too long, and the codebreaker they try to recruit (played by Benicio Del Toro) seems a bit unnecessary as a character (unless they have plans for him in Episode IX). But it does give the movie an excuse for a more light-hearted chase sequence, and provides some relief from the dread of the Order bearing down on the Resistance fleet. The use of the phrase “pleasure planet” on my part suggests far more titillation and adult content than is actually present, by the way- Canto Bight’s particular vice is gambling, which basically makes it A New Hope‘s Mos Eisley but with Donald Trump doing the interior decorating.
The CGI work seemed okay- there was only one moment where I was taken out of the film to remark on the CGI work, and it was actually due to a lack of CGI, with one character being done entirely in puppetry (Yoda appearing through the Force) rather than in post-production. It’s a very obvious puppet, given the total lack of lip-synching done with Frank Oz’ dialogue, and was apparently done as a stylistic choice to make him resemble the Original Trilogy version of the character. Still, it’s a bit jarring in 2017.
TLJ also echoes Empire Strikes Back, both in being the middle film of a trilogy and in having a bit of a bleak, downer ending. Without wanting to give it away in its entirety, the Resistance is in tatters and on the run for most of the film, the only space-going vessel they had worth a damn is destroyed (although in a memorable Heroic Sacrifice) and there are only brief glimpses that suggest the First Order could eventually be defeated. But we do see, as Poe says, “the spark that will light the fire that will burn the First Order down”.
And I’ll take that. As a James Bond tragic, I know that without a credible threat and a decent antagonist, you don’t have a story. And I really want to see where this goes next… even if it’s going to take two years (and a side-story) to get there.