Review of The Last Jedi: a finely manufactured product!

Summary: The Last Jedi is easily the most fascinating film of 2017, rich with insights about who we are and what we have become. This is the first of the reviews to be run here, each giving a different perspective on the film. You can use these to better understand what you have seen — or to decide if you want to see it. No spoilers!

The Last Jedi

 

“The Last Jedi: Originality strictly forbidden in directed-by-committee blockbuster.

Review by Luke Buckmaster at the Daily Review.

Posted with his generous permission. Images added.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – technically written and directed by Rian Johnson, but really, micromanaged every step of the way by committee at Disney – pretends to contemplate the end of an empire. That much is evident in the title, as in scenes where a grizzled and hermetic Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is so bothered by the arrival of potential protégé Rey (Daisy Ridley) to his tiny island home that he considers throwing in the towel on this whole Force thing.

That isn’t the whole story, of course, and nor is it even necessarily accurate. I’m being deliberately coy with details, such are these hysterical spoiler-paranoid times. The great irony, when it comes to spoiler paranoia and The Last Jedi, is that (like The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) the film doesn’t have an original bone in its body. If you’ve seen any previous Star Wars movies, most of the (recycled) story details have already been ruined.

There was great opportunity to explore in The Last Jedi – a bombastic blockbuster best appreciated as a coat hanger for impressive space duels and special effects – interesting questions about the potential end of religion. But The Big Mouse, which owns Lucasfilm, would never allow it. The studio has made it abundantly clear that, when it comes to new iterations of the universe first filled out by George Lucas in the ‘70s, bold ideas are forbidden – enforced by a strict ‘dance the way we tell you to or don’t dance at all’ policy.

Carrie Fisher in Star Wars

If this wasn’t clear by the risk averse nature with which the current crop of Star Wars films have obviously been constructed, Lucasfilm has so far fired four directors from three separate galaxy-far-far-way projects, in addition to ordering reshoots and a new edit of Rogue One. Johnson never had a chance of putting his directorial stamp on the material. The price you pay for the cheque from Disney, and an audience this size, is relinquishing even the slimmest notions of auteurism.

I read, with my mouth agape, reviews of the recent – and enjoyable – Thor: Ragnarok, which informed me that the New Zealand director Taika Waititi had ‘overhauled’ the franchise, moulding it in his image (or worse: that he ‘rejuvenated the franchise’ – an accolade more befitting of a CEO than an artist). What nonsense.

Waititi helmed a more party-like movie than Ragnarok’s predecessors, certainly, and made peripheral changes including inserting himself as the voice of a comedic supporting character. But to say he fundamentally changed Thor, or came remotely close to doing so, is flat-out fallacy. The same can be said of Johnson, whose authorship of The Last Jedi is even less tangible. The impersonal nature of the new Star Wars movies is starting to give me the creeps.

At no point is the shareholder-approved, asset-managed nature of this new instalment more apparent than during the introduction of tiny, adorably cute creatures called porgs. These are chubby, big-eyed, sea bird-like things who pop up in a few scenes and have absolutely nothing to do with anything. You can practically see the head of Big Mouse merch in the background, Kodak grin on their face, thumb in the air. Ewoks were Happy Meal critters too, of course – though they at least played a part in Return of the Jedi’s storyline.

Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars
Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars – a sex symbol for 21st C America.

Despite being overlong and drenched in déjà vu (replete with conversations about one’s parents, whether or not one will ‘turn’, whether one is the last hope or the new hope, etcetera etcetera) I appreciated a lot of The Last Jedi, in the same way I appreciate re-reading a decent book – respecting the structure and craft of it, and feeling no sense of surprise. Dramatic story moments either involve the alignment of a cosmic equilibrium (i.e. a strange event justified by the hokum-pokum of the Star Wars religion) or interpersonal soap opera dynamics.

This is the genre to which Star Wars ultimately belongs, though I cannot recall any other soap opera this addicted to cloning characters – and believing that audiences won’t notice their favourite personalities have been photocopied. Rey is the new Luke; Luke is the new Yoda (or Obi-Wan Kenobi); Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is the new Han Solo; Kylo (Adam Driver) is the new Anakin; BB-8 is the new R2-D2; and on we go. The first of the current series, The Force Awakens, got away with a lot because it so cleverly manipulated our sense of nostalgia. The more the series continues, the more the writing feels self-plagiarised.

That terrible, wretched, galling Jar Jar Binks character created by Lucas for his prequels may have deserved to die a thousand tortuous deaths, though nobody can say he/she/it was an obvious rehash of a pre-existing character: for better or worse, a bold creation. So too were the poorly received prequels themselves, which have never looked more courageous than now.

Turn of the century Star Wars is nothing if not a story of extremes. Just as the characters tend to be really good or really bad, the films are either really stupid (prequels) or so safe and sensible they feel directed by computer (current crop). Because the franchise has been around for so long, it’s easy to forget the original movie was a terrifically bold, innovative, industry-realigning blockbuster. Lucas dreamed big and took massive risks. In that sense, The Last Jedi could not be more different to the Star Wars created four decades ago.

———————————–

Other perspectives on the Star Wars saga

  1. A philosopher reviews “The Phantom Menace”, a great film with hidden depths.
  2. The Force Awakens is a film for Boomers. It’s about us.
  3. The Last Jedi is a finely manufactured product!
  4. My review — Part One: passing the torch between screw-up Boomers and great Millennials.
  5. My review — Part Two: girls rule, giving a New Hope to the galaxy!
  6. Last thoughts: Last Jedi’s darkness mirrors the darkness in us, today’s America.
    Luke Buckmaster

About Luke Buckmaster

Luke Buckmaster is a writer, film and TV critic and public speaker. He began writing about cinema and TV in 1997. Back then Tamagotchis were all the rage, Scottish scientists cloned a sheep named Dolly and the word “Google” sounded like something you did with binoculars.

He is currently writer and film critic for The Guardian Australia and the Daily Review.  He has and a contributor to many publications, including BBC online, VICE, The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, Senses of Cinema, Arts Hub, Screen Hub, Filmink and The Big Issue.

Luke has lectured about cinema for LaTrobe University and in 2010 won an Australian Film Critics Association writing award for his review of “I’m Still Here.” In 2014 and 2015 he presented digital literacy workshops on the topic of film and TV in social media for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

See his other film and TV reviews at the Daily Review. his articles and reviews about the arts at The Guardian. See his website, and his tweets at @lukebuckmaster.

For More Information

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Trailer for The Last Jedi

 

5 thoughts on “Review of The Last Jedi: a finely manufactured product!

  1. Oddly, I’m reminded of a review of Toy Story I read in ‘Interzone’ (Sci Fi short story magazine published in the UK – by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Lowe_(classicist)) many years ago.

    The core point of the review was that the film was really a marketing trojan horse expertly engineered for maximum franchise after sales. The ‘hero’ toys were all shop purchased, and owned by a well adjusted child from a ‘nice’ family, whereas the ‘evil’ toys were old, battered, repaired and ‘traditional’ items, and certainly unsuitable for any child that anyone ever cared about. So an expert double whammy, play on the guilt of parents *and* the want of the children.

    As for the hope of originality in a franchise like this, there is none, and there will be none until sales fall off a cliff and there’s a reboot movie to re-prime the pumps. No-one messes with a brand that’s making money hand over fist in the way Star Wars does.

    But then Team Rodent got where they are today by being cynical, expert exploiters while remaining, somehow, cuddly and ‘for the children’. A bit like Bambi turning out to be a serial killer but somehow, people still go ‘ahhhh bless’ when it crimes are talked about.

    1. PAT,

      Me, too. But it is a manufactured product, hence designed for a specific target audience. Are you in it?

    2. Apparently not! I have this strange belief that they should have built upon the original trilogy, instead of wiping their feet on it. To me, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are heroes, not whiny quitters who slink away and hide when faced with difficulty.

      And it’s interesting to me reading comments from people who loved this new movie. Some people have low standards, I guess.

    3. PAT,

      “this strange belief that they should have built upon the original trilogy, instead of wiping their feet on it.”

      Every generation reinterprets its myths. Over time the originals become unintelligible. Look at Robin Hood. For a more extreme example, the King Arthur stories. Our society is evolving with extraordinary speed, so too this process has accelerated.

      “Some people have low standards, I guess.”

      A good friend was a musicologists and fundamentalist Christian. He used to lecture about the great spirituality of “traditional” protestant songs (many based on 16th C German drinking songs) vs. modern Christian songs.

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