Monday, December 18, 2017

Ambitious, Maddening, Confusing, Genius - Reappraising The Last Jedi.

So - you know a film has gotten under your skin when, after seeing it that first time, you can't stop thinking about it.

This is no less true for me with Star Wars The Last Jedi. It hasn't left my mind since I saw it on Saturday. I posted my initial thoughts about the film, at a time when I'd had such a visceral reaction to it. I wasn't sure how to feel about it. I knew that, in terms of Star Wars, it was unlike any Star Wars story I'd seen before - both on screen and in literature. You have to remember that, for die hard fans of the franchise, there has been a forty year catalog of Expanded Universe stories for us to digest. I initially called The Last Jedi ambitious, maddening and confusing.

Since Saturday, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has percolated in me. It has boiled and bubbled around in my gut. It has lead me through such a spectrum of emotions, I still can't even process them.

It was inevitable that I was going to see it again.

The bulk of this post was written in the first few hours after I left the cinema, having had that second viewing.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was an infinitely better viewing experience the second time around. Free from the hype of expectation, I was able to settle in and appraise the story on its own terms. I'd already credited writer/director Rian Johnson's approach to some aspects of the film narrative in my previous post, but I'd found them difficult to take in. 

Kylo Ren's arc remains brilliant. It is probably the most compelling story arc of a dark side character in Star Wars history. He comes to us from The Force Awakens as a quintessentially character, having struck down his own father and accepted the Dark Side of the Force over the Light. All of that is turned on its head in The Last Jedi. Adam Driver's Ren - or Ben Solo - walks a tight rope, balancing over a chasm of the Force. One has to wonder whether there are moments where even he is not sure of his true destiny. 

The subsequent trajectory Ren takes, through his interaction with Rey through the Force, is an exercise in minimalist genius. It is ballet. I had problems with this new characteristic of the Force but I now question why I should have at all. The Force is as much a character in the Star Wars universe than any other character. It can evolve and change just as human, animal or alien. 

I think Kylo Ren's die was cast from the moment he shatters his mask in the elevator at the beginning of the film - following his confrontation with Snoke. Ren is on a search for ultimate power, ultimate control, in much the same way that Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were. Ren sees Rey as a threat to that control. Thus he must control her too. The way Kylo Ren manipulates Rey and, by extension, us throughout the story is nothing short of exquisite. 

I still can't quite accept the murder of Snoke, so early in the piece. Part of that shock has been influenced by my buying into the fan speculation surrounding who Snoke may or may not be and part of it is my belief that Snoke is a compelling enough character that he should have remained in the saga until the third film. In light of the brilliance of Kylo Ren's trajectory I'm not as angered by it as I was after my first viewing.

Luke Skywalkers's arc is even more brilliant on second viewing. I knew there was something special in this narrative but I was able to take it in more thoroughly. It is superb. I experienced moments of real emotion throughout both viewings of the film. Mark Hamill's acting is superb. Johnson's writing, his flipping of the script in terms of who Luke Skywalker is, is superb.

Writer Joseph Campbell defined the hero's journey in his 1949 book "The Hero With A Thousand Faces" and it served as a template for popular story telling throughout the 20th century, influencing none other than George Lucas himself. Lucas resolved his particular Hero's Journey with Luke Skywalker at the end of Return of The Jedi and gave the character a happily ever after. Rian Johnson opens the window beyond that happily ever after and reveals the hero in a completely new light. Middle aged, scarred by the subsequent years, guilt ridden by subsequent failure and closed off from everything that defined his heroism. 

I still have problems with Luke Skywalker "dialing" into Crait through the Force at the emotion charged climax of the film. Again, this is coloured by my own perceptions of what the Force should be. But again, it is not for me to define what the Force is. The thing is, Skywalker was there. He was there when the, Resistance and Leia and Rey and the Galaxy needed him most. He'd opened himself back up to the Force. He accepted his failure with Kylo Ren and he accepted that the Jedi will not end. He became the hero he always was. It was perfect.

Rey. Dear sweet Rey. I said in my previous blog post that her arc reminded me of (Ryan Gosling) K's arc in Blade Runner 2049, in that - even when he realizes that he is not the missing child of Deckard and Rachel, that he is no-one, he still decides to do the right thing - *because it is the right thing to do*. Well, I am definitely more accepting of the truth of Rey. That she is no-one - and yet she chooses to do the right thing. She chooses the right path. She does so because she is inherently good and she is just as open to receiving and interacting with the Force as anyone. The Force is an energy field that moves through all living things - all living things. I like that a lot.

I think I can accept that Rey's parentage matters less now than it did. And maybe it never mattered. Again, fan speculation and a subtle manipulation by Lucasfilm - in that they deliberately conflated her parentage to wind us all up - contributed to so much of my initial shock at this reveal. Rey is now presented to us as a character who exists completely on her own terms, unburdened by a family legacy a'la a Skywalker or a Kenobi or even a Palpatine 

There remains problematic aspects to this film. Canto Bight still feels out of place and I don't think it should have been in the story. In fact, at times it doesn't feel like it exists in the same film. I think it contributed to Last Jedi's unacceptably long runtime and Rian could have gone with a more condensed thread that would have kept the action on the Raddus - ie. there's a compromised Droid on the ship that the Mega Star Destroyer is communicating with and thus able to track the ship the light speed. Our heroes have to find it. I dunno - it's just an idea.

Admiral Holdo seemed to make more sense to me but I'm not quite there with her yet. I think that, in the story arc dealing with Canto Bight and the Resistance Cruiser, her arc got confused. I'm still trying to work that whole thread out in my head.

I never had a problem with Leia surviving that first attack on her ship. In the 30 years since Return of the Jedi, I've come to accept and appreciate that Leia can wield the Force. She may not do so in the same way that Luke or Rey can but her pedigree cannot be denied. Again, it illustrates a new interpretation on the Force and who is able to use it. Princess Leia has to be in 9. She has to be! They didn't conclude Leia's story in any way like I thought they would, and to just not have her in there for the final film - if just to resolve her character with a fitting death - It would be wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

So - second time around - I'm emotionally exhausted. In a much better way than I was after my first viewing of the film. 

Rian Johnson has sold me. The Last Jedi is the most ambitious Star Wars storytelling - ever. It remains maddening and confusing but that is actually the genius of it. The Last Jedi is not a story for lazy consumers of story telling. I made that mistake in my initial reaction to it. It is a story to unpack and consider in different ways. Rian Johnson has challenged my perceptions of what a Star Wars narrative should be. 

I'm grateful for that. 


P.S. - For a comprehensive, engaging and entertaining reaction to The Last Jedi, listen to the latest episode of the Richie & Ollie Show. Available where ever good podcasts are down-loadable (Click Image). 

1 comment:

  1. This is wonderful! 'Not a story for lazy consumers of storytelling.' Perfect -Din