Over the years, fans of the Star Wars franchise have built certain expectations of the films; expectations that haven’t always been fulfilled, leading to a lot of disappointment for some of these fans. In trailer for The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren tells someone “To let the past die”, and this theme of “letting go” that recurs throughout the movie seems like a message from the movie’s director, Rian Johnson. It really is time to let go of the past. The Star Wars franchise cannot progress if we keep comparing it to the original trilogy, and what the new movies are “supposed” to be like. For the record, I think Johnson got The Last Jedi absolutely right, and here’s why.
When I first caught wind of news that JJ Abrams was directing The Force Awakens, I could barely contain my excitement because I enjoyed what he did for the Star Trek reboot in 2009. However, while I did end up enjoying Episode VII, I felt as if Abrams and writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt made it a little too much of an ode to A New Hope than I would’ve liked. There was a new Empire and Rebellion at war with each other, there was essentially a new Death Star, and not to mention a new Luke Skywalker-esque character from a forsaken planet.
There are many other parallels you can draw but we won’t be getting into that. That being said, Abrams breathed new life into the franchise and laid the foundation for a better trilogy by reintroducing the element emotional connection that was sorely missed in George Lucas’ prequels. The overemphasis placed on digitisation stripped episodes I to III of a sense of heart and soul, failing to move audiences.
With The Last Jedi, Johnson was presented with a choice to follow the path Abrams had laid out i.e., make it a reupholstery of Empire Strikes Back, or make it completely his own, like what Taika Waititi did with Thor: Ragnarok. Instead, the Looper director chose to placate hardcore fans with nods to the old movies, but take the trilogy into completely uncharted territory. Where the end of The Force Awakens almost seems familiar, the end of The Last Jedi is open, and refreshingly unpredictable – just the way an epic space opera is supposed to be.
Johnson unapologetically shuts down some storylines introduced in The Force Awakens, and while some of it made me uncomfortable, it kept me intrigued and guessing. The main characters from the last movie (Rei, Finn and Poe) spend most of this one apart from each other, casting light on their individual personas. New characters like Laura Dern’s steely Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, and Kelly Marie Tran’s hopefully earnest Rose Tico provide depth to the cast and gives audiences a different perspective of the battle, at times, away from the main trio.
This movie is darker than I expected, and deals with a lot of mourning and loss – similar to Rogue One. There are particularly moving scenes involving Leia that serves as a poignant reminder of the loss of actress Carrie Fischer. It isn’t all bleak though. Just like the Jedi’s belief of balance in the force, Johnson injects humour into the movie to lighten things up a bit. It won’t sit well with some people, but those sticklers need to remember even the original movies had some comedic relief between C3P0/R2D2 and Chewie/Han.
The Last Jedi, is a great analogy about letting go of the past. Johnson coaxes you to leave your preconceived expectations of the Star Wars narrative behind. Let go of the Jedi, the Sith, the Empire and the Rebellion. It’s time to look forward. Through a character in the movie, he tells us he knows letting go will be tough, but we will come away better. I left the cinema feeling a little uncertain about where the franchise is headed, but I trust that Johnson knows what he’s doing. I would even go so far as to say I have a very good feeling about this.
The Last Jedi is in cinemas islandwide now.