[Spoiler Alert] Which Stars Shine Bright in The Last Jedi?

18 Dec

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By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

After the events from The Force Awakens, both sides are in disarray. The First Order lost their planet destroyer (technically a new Death Star). The trailers and opening scroll in The Last Jedi reveal the Resistance will have to start running for their lives as the bad guys are hot on their heels.

As mentioned in my review of the previous film J.J. Abrams crafted a love letter to the fans. He offered plenty of nostalgia to enjoy and made sure the digital technology got exercised to its fullest to make those moments count. Watch it too much, and everyone will agree it’s basically A New Hope.

There’s no denying that Star Wars, in all its other iterations in the animated front, comic books and novels, are built on a lot of tropes George Lucas created and improved upon from Episode IV to VI.  They range from classic one-liners and visual moments we always get excited by. From exhilarating trench sequences, varied variations of a ‘speeder bike’ chase to crazy aerial dog fights, is it even possible to add anything new? Writer/Director Rian Johnson offers a bit of the same old thing with a great new look and injects some fantastic narrative spins not everyone saw coming.

In what I loved after a second viewing (I bought tickets for Thurs and Friday) is with how actor Benicio Del Toro chewed up the scenery. To say more and to read ahead contains major spoilers.

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Johnson created a tale which includes a greatest hits package of moments inspired from either Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. The past films never had a proper scoundrel and that’s where Benicio wonderfully shines. As a thief and a master lock-picker, not even Han Solo and Lando Calrissian together can outdo what he did. I just hope his role is not a one-time thing. Technically listed as “DJ” at the end credit roll, we never heard his name. This director certainly wanted to have new characters involved in the fight. Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) is a beautiful add. Not everyone get instantly elevated to instant heroes in this film. She’s like a side-kick who earns her chops by teaching Finn in doing what’s right. Her message highlights an aspect of how the downtrodden can rise.

Not everyone has to follow every bit of new Star Wars lore; we will always get reminded of the material that has been redefined. While Johnson skipped a beat with Clone Wars in how The Force divided the Allfather from Daughter and Son, this history is exactly just that and the future is much different. The huge selling point in this film is in explaining The Force in proper mystical terms (there’s no more hokey midichlorians to get in the way) and going back to basics before letting viewers know The Jedi and Sith are history. They have no place in this galaxy far, far away.

Fans were given this idea during season three of the animated series Star Wars: Rebels where Kanan Jarrus learns about how The Force interacts in Nature, between flora and fauna by Bendu, a rock like creature as smart as a sphinx and has a brevity of a minotaur. Hearing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) talk about the balance in a similar way only shows that this new canon is perfect to lead in to future where the war is not about old-world orders.

In summary, within The Force exists death and rebirth / creation and destruction — it is the cycle of life. The cosmic yin and yang symbols are neatly visible in short moments as Rey (Daisy Ridley) is trying to convince Master Skywalker to train her. As the Chinese symbol shows, within each half, there’s a spec of the opposite colour within to show there is no purity. As Ray was easy to succumb to the temptation of the seaweed pit, she never got any answers when she fell. She never figured out her legacy.

Johnson’s own quest to strike a universal balance within this movie is to offer moments with important character development and putting in his own brand of cheer in the action and dialogue. Those moments made this film stand out than the added bits which felt out of place.

If George Lucas’ tinkering of A New Hope to give it some laughable moments was not bad enough, whoever was in charge making sure Johnson fulfilled his obligation with Disney may have pushed too far. The Porgs are adorable but they had too much screen time. As background filler, they are fine. Sadly, when in front of the screen they served no function other than to be cute and have children asking parents to buy one at the toy store. I much prefer Marvel Comic’s Hoojibs; at least they allied with the Rebels, were highly intelligent (they communicate by telepathy) and were able to help in the fight than be a distraction. The crystal foxes are truly cool looking, but I am guessing someone obsessed with Pokémon decided to call them Vulptex. The hope here is that Hasbro will do justice to the action figure. I rather have that in my collection over the bird.

At least the art direction throughout the film is a marvel to behold. The big lightsaber fight sequence in this latest film deserves praise for the same intense rawness as when Rey and Ren fought in The Force Awakens. To witness this generation of the Royal Guard actually fight is exciting. To see them wield weapons to deal with light saber welding antagonists makes sense and none of the designs are far fetched. The fact it takes place in a chamber with a specific colour design has me believing this entire sequence, along with the climatic battle, has its inspiration from Japanese Samurai films. Perhaps there’s some art history theory buried in these moments where Johnson, cinematographer Steve Yedlin and the team of artist designers involved in bringing this movie to life.

Sadly, with the passing of Carrie Fisher, the tale planned to conclude this trilogy will never happen. Revisions are being made. The meaning of why this film is named “The Last Jedi” is made clear by the end of the film and the question of what the title card will be for the conclusion of this trilogy has me guessing it may go along the lines of A New World. I think the single word Pendulum (to break from past naming traditions for the franchise) is better given the fact the Skywalker lineage hinges on what Ben Skywalker aka Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) decides to do for the remainder of his life.

4 Stars out of 5

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