In Rian Johnson’s Star Wars The Last Jedi – the best-directed Star Wars film – there are a few attempts to go against expectations. It’s revealed that heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) was abandoned by parents who were ‘nobodies’, not another lost princess. Returning JJ Abrams scraps that with a disappointing about-face as it turns out that she’s someone important after all. The affecting coda of Johnson’s film, which genuinely made me see the whole saga and its pop culture position in a different light, is set aside and we’re essentially in the business of fan-service with a few tiny ticks in the SJW column (a brief lesbian kiss in the hugathon finale) and a lot of cameos from the long-lost likes of Wicket the Fucking Ewok (Warwick Davis), Wedge Antilles (Denis Lawson) and every voice-over Jedi who ever was (including Hayden Christensen). Oh, and the big bad of the universe is the same Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid – who comes across like Davros played by Rowan Atkinson) who sneered through his hood the last two times a Star Wars series wrapped up a trilogy.
Otherwise, it’s a long, choppy, zippy ride from one chase/fight/peril/action scene to the next, with old dead friends showing up as CGI manips or glowing hologhosts and Billy Dee Williams yet again given a big entrance as Lando and then required to sit on the subs bench for most of the film. Threads – like the identity of the spy in the First Order – are picked up and tied off, even if most folk won’t remember they were left dangling (if they were) and the few newcomers, like Richard E. Grant as the latest stern imperial git, don’t make much of an impression even if they are due to show up as action figures or be listed as ‘fan favourites’.
It’s nothing new that a Star Wars film is careless and inconsistent – here, Rey has Marvel Girl-level powers of telekinesis and levitation except when the demands of an action sequence limit them so she has to struggle in a boat through a storm or take on hordes of baddies in single combat – and almost everything feels like a riff on something George Lucas did, which was already a riff on something Lucas saw in a movie when he was a kid. Never has a Star Wars movie felt more like the odd experience of watching all thirteen chapters of a 1930s serial back to back to the point when cliffhangers become meaningless, all characters are reduced to tokens/avatars, join-the-dots plot (find the doodad to locate the map to the hidden planet where the new-old villains are massing in an underground stadium of evil) and there’s precious little time for the moments of calm wonder and amazement that sold this whole thing in the first place …
… until the end when — after way too much hugging and celebration, beard-like potential femme partners (Naomie Ackle, Keri Russell) for Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac), and a Vaderlike arc of redemption for Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – it finally taps into the well of magic and story and myth (let’s call it – I don’t know – ‘the Force’) and even the sceptical will be swept up for a moment. Everything’s changed since 1977, but those two red moons over Tattooine and John Williams’ yearning theme still earn their frisson in the stalls.