Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars has always, at least in part, been about itself.  Even the first film nodded to 1930s movie serials, World War II aerial combat scenes, tough guy detectives, and so on.  The 2015 film Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. J. J. Abrams) was so busy paying tribute to its 1977 predecessor (especially in the first scenes on the Millennium Falcon) that the film nearly lost track of itself.   Intertextual references have been part of the fun of the series.  They continue in the most recent installment, Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017; dir. Rian Johnson), where Luke Skywalker returns, after a fashion, as a Jedi knight, remembering or refusing to remember his old friends and his former Jedi self. The new film makes a few self-conscious references to the death of Carrie Fisher, especially in the final scenes, in her role as Leia Organa.  The film is dedicated to her, and in the final scene, after Leia comments that there will be others to take the place of rebellion members who have died, the film quickly switches to the face of a young boy on a distant planet gazing up into the stars.  The sense is that these references were fashioned in post-production, after Fisher’s death, which is entirely appropriate.
Of all the films in the series, this most recent one brims over with hooey.  By hooey, I mean the Force and all attendant mythic religiosity.  Nearly all of the Skywalker scenes take place at a Jedi temple, where Luke once trained aspiring Jedi knights and where he now hides out, shamed that one of his former students turned against the rebellion and fully embraced the Dark Side as Kylo Ren (who is himself the intertextual product of Leia and Solo). The powers of the Force and the Jedi are much more in play here.  Crucial plot points depend on them: especially in the final battle between Skywalker and Ren.  The ability of the rebellion to survive, barely, the events in the film is much more the result of Force hokum and magic than it is of the heroism or skills or ingenuity of any of the characters.  Which is not to say that heroism isn’t in evidence: it definitely is, in characters who risk or sacrifice their lives in support of the effort. But there are more instances of deus ex machina in this film than there are in all surviving works of Greek drama.
This film is more fantasy than science fiction.  Too much happens that is not based on, or supported by, principles of science. It is space romance infused with mysticism that is, after all the hokum is pulled aside, not especially well camouflaged Christian mysticism, which is not really a problem since the film’s embrace of the virtues of good over evil, of heroism, of freedom, and so on, are commonplace (though some might argue that freedom hasn’t been especially well served by the Faith).
Was it entertaining? Yes, without a doubt. Was it the best film in the series since The Empire Strikes Back, as one reviewer argued?[i] Both Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Force Awakens were better and more satisfying, in my opinion.

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