Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I watched The Force Awakens again on Netflix before going to see the new one, and thought it was pretty awful, far worse than I remembered. Perhaps that's why The Last Jedi feels so great. It's like Rian Johnson got handed a shiny but badly-made new car by J.J. Abrams and managed to rewire it into something roadworthy. The new trilogy was never going to be brilliant (cough, neither was the original trilogy, and given the benchmark it set the prequels weren't that bad either). But I got the sense that Johnson finally made a Star Wars film that was worth re-watching.

It's still a bit of a mess, obviously. There are plenty of internal contradictions in the plot that have riled people up. Thankfully I don't give a hoot about such things, so long as the unlikely situations build to satisfying emotional or narrative payoffs. There were a couple of bait-and-switches in The Last Jedi that I was suckered into, and subsequently appreciated.

One was Poe Dameron’s arc, which is a rather straightforward one about the need for leaders to learn about humility and co-operation. The Admiral Holdo stuff was a bit forced, but in the age of Trump it was interesting to have not one but two heroic Hilary substitutes who earn the respect of impulsive hot-shots. The film could have been subtitled "the return of the centrist mums".

The other was Rey’s arc. Have to say I foolishly expected the revelation that there was some sort of family relationship between her and Kylo Ren, given their telepathic link. Turns out that was a ploy by Snoke, and that Rey has no distinguished parentage. The rather confusing sequence in the dark hole under the Jedi temple may have been an arty way to foreshadow this. Rey tries to see her parents in the mirror, but instead just ends up looking at her own reflection. Hoping your horrible parents were other people is no solution. At some point you have to grow up and rely on yourself.

There is a contrast here with Kylo Ren, who has a distinguished parentage, and like many a pampered prince becomes slightly unhinged when close to power. Being sent away to Jedi boarding school with your weird uncle would be enough to set anyone on edge, and then you have betrayals (by Luke) upon betrayals (by Snoke). Ren's way of coping is to lash out, and long to amass enough strength to prove his disappointed elders wrong. There's a touching moment with Rey when the loneliness of such a position is revealed. We owe a debt to Adam Driver for supplying a Star Wars villain who is actually interesting. Let's hope Episode IX in 2019 doesn't ruin all that good work.

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