Rian Johnson’s latest film, a Star Wars film for the matter – isn’t the sort that one would expect him to pull off, but even for those who have stuck so closely with the Star Wars franchise, they didn’t get the same story that they would have wanted. If The Force Awakens only was the welcoming return for the franchise to the big screen after George Lucas’s prequel trilogy has come to an end, through the reintroduction of nostalgia – then what Rian Johnson has set his audience in store for is more possibility, all from the fact that he of all people had went behind what we would want to recognize on the surface as a Star Wars film. But nevertheless if this film were proof of anything, it would be that Star Wars finds its way of speaking to many generations over the years.
Perhaps the most mystifying thing that The Last Jedi would present is the fact that it presents itself as a tragedy: first coming with the loss of Carrie Fisher last year. But with what The Force Awakens has set up through a welcome return of familiar characters, Rian Johnson’s approach also signifies that a new sort of Star Wars is set to come forth. It’s the sort of challenge that the Star Wars franchise has needed all these years because of the fact that we have already recognized it as an important name in popular culture. It calls back to The Empire Strikes Back in the sense that it is indeed toppling another empire on its own, by functioning against the formula it has already made for itself. Johnson doesn’t care to answer directly to fans, and it’s astonishing that the studios would have allowed him to do as he will – but I’m glad nonetheless, because it alludes back to why the original Star Wars became as huge as it did.
To say the least, it plays out like a perfect rebuttal to the fan service that The Force Awakens was and a whole lot more life seems present on all counts. It takes the universe that The Force Awakens welcomed its fans back into its nostalgic narrative, then soon weaves out at a free form. The most creative freedom that a Star Wars film has shown us since the original trilogy is back for good, because every character doesn’t feel present to construct a narrative – because Johnson’s directorial choices make clear the lack of interest on just a singular story to be told. As the subtitle “The Last Jedi” would imply, it is a story of the last Jedi wandering to find their own fate – at which it already makes clear the thematic influence of Akira Kurosawa on the Star Wars franchise, stretching far beyond just a similar narrative from one film.
But how well does it work as a new entry for the Star Wars franchise? Something so alien to expectation would only be set to polarize but it fits in the same way that The Empire Strikes Back had done so with the original trilogy. It still carries everything that we love about the Star Wars films and thus allows the audience to wander freely within the universe like the actors are as the characters they’ve come to love over time. Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill are great as expected, but at this point, a more mature form to their arcs is present. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are given far more work as expected, too – but now it becomes easier to feel a connection with them. But perhaps the greatest of Johnson’s contributions regarding character work all point towards Rey. As we watch Rey’s arc form throughout the film, we soon see where her greatest strengths lie – and it all adds up to form a great character, one who doesn’t need a guiding figure anymore but one who accepts their own fate and is up for a new challenge.
Am I going to say that all of it works? I don’t think so, because it’s still bogged down by indulgent pacing – so much so that the film’s near three hour length can be felt at a distance. But as far as modern day blockbusters can go, this is one of the most intriguing experiments that can be performed on the repetition of expectation. It’s a blockbuster that seems interested in experimenting with the shallow perception of good and evil, and grows beyond the nostalgia that this world would it has created would be living within. We already know what we want, but will we always get it? We can’t always be pleased, but knowing that Rian Johnson wants us to come to terms with that – I think it’s all very admirable on his end.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Directed by Rian Johnson
Screenplay by Rian Johnson, from characters created by George Lucas
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Ram Bergman
Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 152 minutes