‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ review: sprawling, spectacular, and commercial
If there’s one thing that Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi proves, it is that the criticism that the franchise initiated by George Lucas’ groundbreaking 1977 film is not serious sci-fi, but a sordid soap opera set in space.
Amidst the fascinating aliens, the neon-colored lasers, and planets beats an overextended tale that relies heavily on the broadest of emotions. By fully embracing this, Johnson has created a sequel that feels the most delightfully intimate in the series even if it is still unabashedly sprawling, hugely spectacular, and unapologetically commercial.
Grounding the epic
Opening with an expected space battle where the Resistance, headed by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), is outnumbered by the New Order, The Last Jedi seems like it is headed towards a generic path – and it is.
Johnson wades through the battle the same way his predecessor J.J. Abrams did, and Irvin Kershner and Lucas before him, with a mix of a little bit of witty humor, bite-sized combat strategy, curveball tension, and a whole lot of eye-popping special effects. Immediately after the ice-breaking intro, the film proceeds to lay down the very tough business of uniting the stories of the trilogy’s newly introduced protagonists.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) has just met Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in a remote island in a remote planet in a remote galaxy and is trying her best to convince the disgruntled Jedi to help the Resistance. The few Resistance survivors, now headed by icy substitute leader Holdo (Laura Dern), is being chased by an armada of New Order ships. This prompts former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), reckless pilot Poe (Oscaar Isaac), and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to make their way to a planet that’s famous for its extravagant casinos to recruit a code-breaker who will thwart the enemy ship’s tracking system, or something to that effect.
The Last Jedi struggles to weave together the disparate plotlines, and it becomes very apparent that the film is juggling too many characters and their stories all at once.
Thankfully, Johnson has the sense to ground the epic, essentially stripping the tale of any of the grandiosity that Abrams inflicted on The Force Awakens (2015). The characters of The Last Jedi are all humbled. They all reveal immaturities, stark propensities for failure, and weaknesses that really feel profound within the belatedly envisioned arc in the Star Wars canon that involves the dismantling of heroes and legends, turning them into persons defined not by their glorious pasts but by their present conflicts.
Defeats and desperate retreats
It is actually very clever of Johnson to frame the complex plot of The Last Jedi in a thread of defeats and desperate retreats.
This allows him to stage the most pleasurable of surprises when the forces of good manage to etch the littlest of victories, and in turn, to create a more tremendous emotional upheaval when that victory is suddenly uprooted. True to its soap opera roots, the film relies on grand reveals and operatic gestures.
The film’s most memorable sequences are the ones that you can see from a mile away, simply because Star Wars has always been an exploiter of twists and curveballs, but is presented in such a lurid, florid, and vivid sort of way that you can’t help but be swayed by the mix of emotional and visual pageantry. The spectacular rumble set in a crimson-walled hall is perhaps one of the franchise’s most thrilling set-pieces, one where the sentimental heft of the proceeding that led to the fight is brilliantly staggered, up to the very last reverberating light-saber swing.
There is really nothing novel about Johnson’s take, nothing that will push The Last Jedi to be anything more than an episode, thrilling and touching as it may be.
There are no illusions and no ambitions of this film of having an identity distinct from the rest. It is more a diligently crafted product of the well-oiled Hollywood machinery than a creation of an organic visionary. The film, however, makes most of the very little wiggle room that is left in a franchise that is burdened by both goodwill and enormous expectations. The result is a generally fine middle entry to a still expanding series about a war-torn galaxy far, far away. It entertains immensely, and that’s that. – Rappler.com