Review: 'The Last Jedi' Is Not a Film of Tragedy But a Film of Hope
When TK told me I was reviewing Last Jedi, I told him, well that’s fine as long as you realize that regardless of what the movie ends up being, my review is going to be “Saw a Star War, it was awesome.”
Having seen the movie, that indeed remains my review. You should go see it too, but I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that, because half of America saw it last night along with me, and the other half will see it by Monday. There are few universalities left to us as a culture, but a new Star Wars movie is one of them.
And in this case, it’s earned. So earned. Rian Johnson created something truly wonderful in this movie, packing it to the brim with action and chaos and character. There are callbacks by the dozen, but not intrusive so much as the natural consequence of the details of a universe we’ve visited over and over through the years. And it’s a huge universe, a dense one, that feels vast again after Force Awakens lost that strand and felt small and vacant even as the character beats and story pulled us back in.
This density allows Johnson to populate his film with a cacophony of new characters, each feeling like fully formed protagonists in their own stories in the midst of the larger one. The bomber pilot who manages more character and pathos in five minutes of screen time than Anakin did in three prequels. Laura Dern, purpled-haired, regal, and the admiral to Fisher’s general. Benecio del Toro stealing scenes as a scoundrel. Billie Lourd anchoring every scene aboard the fleet. And Rose, incredible badass and poignant Rose, engineer extraordinaire with all the idealism borne of suffering.
The film is overflowing with characters like this, characters who do not crowd out the main characters but enrich the world every moment they’re on the screen. And so many of them are women. From main characters all the way down to the bit roles on the sides of the angels or demons, women are front and center.
There’s a freshness to the story here, with a lack of predictability and easy resolutions. It treads new ground as a story, pushing this universe and its characters into new directions without just being content to go through the motions that we’ve come to appreciate. Yes, there are light sabers humming and tie fighters screeching and the Millennium Falcon roaring to save the day, but it’s also a deliciously non-straightforward story all the same. Every plan begets disaster saved only by sacrifice that allows another plan.
It’s natural to compare the film to Empire, that dark and tragic middle chapter of the original trilogy. And there is something to it: the middle chapter of a trilogy cannot help but end with the heroes on the ropes on some level, else what is the third act for? But it manages to add its own flavor to that. This is not a film of tragedy but a film of hope. It channels that core conceit of Rogue One and makes it its own. Hope is what rebellions are made of after all.
Most of all it is a film about symbols though, about how we need to see legends walking among us to become greater than we are. And about how the bottom drops out of our stomach in awe when new legends are made before our eyes.
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