Friday, December 15, 2017
The Force Is Strong With Writer/Director Rian Johnson's Work On The Excellent Star Wars: The Last Jedi
No, all that was on my cranium once the house lights went up on my showing of The Last Jedi was just how the writer/director of Looper and the writer/director of some of the absolute best episodes of Breaking Bad had done something truly wonderful with The Last Jedi. He's made one of the best Star Wars movies (is it the best overall? Oh, it might get there on further contemplation....) that thrives on creating a balance between pulpy science-fiction goodness like an alien casino while also being primarily a character piece that offers up compelling new arcs for Star Wars characters both new and old. And also Porgs, there are also lots and lots of Porgs.
Following the events of The Force Awakens, things are looking mighty bleak for the various players in this galactic story. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is trying to coerce former Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to emerge from exile to lend a hand to The Resistance's fight against The First Order, while that fight itself is very much going the way of The First Order as The Resistance keeps on dwindling in numbers. Finn (John Boyega) emerges from his coma in the midst of all of this while the brave but overly confident Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is trying to hold onto as much hope in the face of potential disaster as possible under the leadership of Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher).
Be prepared to hear that word "hope" a lot in this entry of the saga as its a pivotal force for the younger characters, especially someone like newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), whose had to look towards hope as a source of comfort throughout her troubled life. Meanwhile, on the villain side of things, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is hoping himself to let go of the past once and for all so he can become as powerful of a Dark Side Jedi as his Master Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) believes he can be. Hope and the past, those are the two key components of The Last Jedi that drive both the plot and the characters themselves.
Everyone here has something from the past they're trying to either run from or towards (Poe Dameron being the exception since his major character flaw is revealed to be his inability to live beyond the present moment). If you think you know where this is going, well, something tells me ya might not since there are some really fun and exciting surprises in here in terms of where folks like Luke Skywalker or Rey end up going that feel like organic developments instead of the kind of forced "PLOT TWISTS!" that populate soap operas or weaker M. Night Shyamalan films. Luke Skywalker in particular goes down a much more nuanced and intriguing path here that deviates from internet-based pre-film expectations that he'd either be shown here as an all-powerful good guy or some sort of super duper evil force to be reckoned with, no, there's far more interesting things occuring here with this Tattooine moisture farmer, that's all I'll say here.
Rian Johnson's screenplay is absolutely masterful when it comes to all of the characters, not just Luke, in general. Despite such a sprawling cast, the story doesn't feel overstuffed, characters serve a purpose and the character arcs of our main players in the story are easily traceable and fascinating to watch unfold. There's a relatable humanity in these characters as written here that produce some truly memorable moments, whether it's humor deriving from Rey being out of her league when she starts learning from Luke or whether it's a small tender moment shared between Leia Organa and fellow Resistance Officer Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern). Those are the bits and pieces of characterization that helped make Star Wars so captivating in the first place and Johnson retaining them here is lovely to see.
Best of all, the screenplay uses its assortment of well-developed characters to create a variety of big crowdpleaser moments that just work like gangbusters, the third act is just jam-packed with big pay-off moments to certain character arcs or character dynamics that are just thrilling to watch unfold, especially since, like the rest of the movie, such moments are filtered through a visual sense that knows just how to play big bombastic moments as thrillingly larger-than-life as they should be. Big space dogfights are executed in a visually crisp and concise manner while the way The Resistance is dwarfed in size by the various ships of The First Order is realized through some memorable shots that impressively utilize the scale of the enemy ships. Looks like all of the impressive camerawork from his Breaking Bad days has stayed with Rian Johnson into his big Star Wars directing gig!
The actors, many of whom are returning from their excellent work in The Force Awakens, work like gangbusters under the direction of Rian Johnson. Especially impressive is Mark Hamill, who manages to create a performance that echoes parts of his previous turns as Luke Skywalker while adding a more broken defeated element to the character. Daisy Ridley continues to excel as Rey, I love the way she's able to keep Rey as clearly a normal person even as she begins to learn more about The Force, while John Boyega gets some really interesting places to take Finn. Best of the new cast members has gotta be Kelly Marie Tran, whose a revelation as the instantly endearing Rose while Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro also shine in new supporting performances and on the bad guy side of things, Adam Driver is able to make Kylo Ren such a fascinating antagonist. And yes, Carrie Fisher does indeed do wonders with her last on-screen performance here as Leia Organa.
When you merge well-written characters with great actors, well, magic is bound to happen and that's especially true of Star Wars: The Last Jedi which manages to take this saga to new and exciting places while making this may be the smallest and most character-focused entry in the entire franchise. No planets get blown up here, no magical objects need to be saved, instead, the stories all about individual journies the characters go on, learning what constitutes truly being heroic and the importance of maintaining hope even in the darkest of times. Even if you were already planning on seeing the newest Star Wars movie even before you read this review (and I'm sure that constitutes the majority of you!), know that what you will see is inspiring, exciting, awesome, thoughtful and all around phenomenal, I really did just love this one to the Porg, er, core.