Playing Clean-Up: A Review Of Star Wars VIII, The Last Jedi
When the Star Wars juggernaut comes into town in December, it's hard to escape the magnitude of its reach. It's become that big a cultural phenomenon, such that whether you're an adult or a kid, you're eagerly anticipating the next chapter - praying it delivers. Force Awakens was more about how great it was to have the franchise back, saying Hello to old friends (and one tearful goodbye) and meeting new ones; while Rogue One was a great tight story, but essentially a sidebar. So anticipation was high on what The Last Jedi would bring, and how Director Rian Johnson would stamp the franchise with his own brand of storytelling.
No spoilers here as we all know how Force ended, with Ray (Daisy Ridley) handing a light saber to the hermit Luke (Mark Hamill) on top of a desolate mountain; but the great thing with Johnson is how he's ready to pull surprises and defy our expectations. He teases, he cajoles, he surprises, and references with respect - but with a sly gin. He opens the film with a dogfight in space, knowing that at one level, this is what Star Wars was about; so it's action from the starter gun! And so he prolongs our agony of what is to happen between Ray & Luke, and the saber - which when he gets to it, turns into a throwaway line, figuratively and literally! Right there, you're grinning in your seat, the pearly whites of the audience flashing back at the 3D IMAX screen. The Director is playing with us, and we love it!
Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) registers much stronger here than in Force; and that's great, as we know he's a central character in the unfolding saga. Finn (John Boyega) has his moments, clearly having fun and being playful. There's a great new character introduced - Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a maintenance worker who joins Finn in the mission to dismantle the First Order's tracking device. There is a middle part that one could say should have been streamlined - the sequence in Canto Bright, a Montecarlo for aliens, feels too much like this film's version of the Cantina. And Benicio Del Toro's space rogue seems too shallow.
But you have to love the character arcs of Ray and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in this film, as their stories really converge in this outing. Hamill does an outstanding job in giving depth to this iteration of Skywalker; and the love they shower on Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is a joy to behold - especially the respect they afford in the passing of golden dice. BB-8 is more than just squawks and tweets here, coming into his own as an action hero,
There's expansive storytelling here, deft juggling of narratives, and enough twists and turns to keep us wrong-footed. Here is the Star Wars we were truly waiting for; one that tries to answer most of the questions and issues left hanging, while cleaning up the slate and paving the way for IX.