Star Wars: The Last Jedi
In hockey terms, the return of “Star Wars” feels like a line change, with the old guard, out of breath, skating slowly to the bench while the new cast leaps over the boards to assume control of the puck.
In the language of space exploration, “Star Wars” feels like an interstellar docking mission with the new crew arriving to replace the ones who blasted off from Cape Canaveral a half century ago.
In either case, the stakes are high as the series seeks to honor its heritage while simultaneously taking us somewhere we’ve never been before.
In “The Force Awakens” director JJ Abrams seemed to have his eyes on the rearview mirror tilting the balance toward tradition. Fans were treated to a parade of curtain calls by their favorite characters. Some old friends just waved, and retreated. Others bathed in the spotlight, once again.
But “Jedi,” under the helm of Rian Johnson, seems to tilt toward the future, daring to redefine some characters and even to alter the arc of the story.
Johnson states his intent bluntly in the new script: “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.”
As a result, while the general verdict of this latest installment is positive, some hardcore fans do have reservations.
Critic Paul Tassi of “Forbes” captured the tension between old and new.
“In ‘The Force Awakens’ Abrams was doing ‘Star Wars’ fan service to the point where it often felt like a clone of the originals. Johnson has done something wildly different to the point where it feels nothing like what came before.”
Tassi concludes by saying he “understands” why some fans are mad, but he ultimately embraces the new directions, while worrying a bit about the next installment, which will again be directed by Abrams.
What he’s describing is a cinematic identity crisis for this franchise.
I enjoyed both films, but “Awakens” much more than “Jedi.”
In “Jedi” I loved the stories revolving around Rey and Leia, but I felt like they were almost drowned out by intergalactic fury of subplots designed to please devoted fans. I also felt like the first half, despite its manic pace, was slow-to-boring before Rey appeared to supercharge the eighth installment of the franchise.
And, yes, I was deeply invested in learning the fate of Luke Skywalker. And, knowing Carrie Fisher has died, I was also sentimental when watching Princess Leia complete her reign.
One decision embraced by both directors was to elevate Rey to the center of the galaxy. She’s full of mystery including, of course, suspicions about her who her parents might be.
“Jedi” offers an answer to that question, but personally I’ve learned not to trust such “reveals” until the saga is done. Rey’s parents may just be one big MacGuffin, drawing our attention away from something more sinister in the shadows.
The “Star Wars” redux also boasts an unqualified commitment to cultural and gender diversity.
The next Jedi is a young lady named Rey. And, providing a model for Rey, Princess Leia is present for the coronation. When the credits paid tribute to Carrie Fisher the crowd with me roared with approval.
There are so many characters of color, that it’s fair to say that “Jedi” has achieved the balance society lacks. In ‘Jedi” we focus on the characters, not on their color.
So what happens, exactly, in “Jedi”?
I’ll borrow from David Drezner, a Tuft professor who reviews films.
“A central theme to all ‘Star Wars’ trilogies: an obscure, powerless individual on an impoverished planet is suddenly thrust into the most important and pivotal political struggles of the galaxy. First Anakin, then Luke, and now Rey.”
We also must note the battle between the Resistance and First Order. Rey is sent to Ahch-To (affectionately called Gesundheit by some critics) to recruit Luke Skywalker. Ben Solo known as Skylo Ren and his mom Leia eagerly await Luke’s return.
In short, the Resistance and the evil empire shall battle once again – and, at the start, it doesn’t look good for the Resistance.
That simple version good-versus-evil storyline has a host of subplots and minor characters that will entertain the fanatics, while likely confusing the masses.
So what to make of all this?
Like a church buffet, no one is going to go home hungry – there’s something for everybody here.
Too much, in fact.
For those fans able focus on the best and ignore the rest, “Last Jedi” will be highly entertaining. But for those who become overwhelmed by 150 minutes of unrelenting action and more characters than a Russian novel, the evening will likely seem long.
As for the hardcore fans, I suspect they will mostly be pleased.
I attended the IMAX screening with Jon Men, who knows too much about the series.
“‘The Last Jedi’ is a fine film, but it makes for a poor companion piece to ‘The Force Awakens,’ said Jon. “‘Force Awakens’ did a spectacular job of recapturing the awe and feelings of the original trilogy, but this latest installment feels like it specifically had plot points in place for no other reason than to defy fan expectations.”
We started with hockey and space stations, so let’s end with Churchill, who probably had “Jedi” in mind when he reflected on the tension between tradition and innovation.
“Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd,” said Churchill. “Without innovation, it is a corpse.”
“Jedi” is full of innovation while also honoring its shepherds. I expect Winston would approve.