FILM REVIEW

The Last Jedi

 the newest installment in the Star Wars franchise hit theaters last week but, unlike its predecessor The Force Awakens, it is a far cry from the magic and allure of the original trilogy. Even when compared to the often criticized prequels, The Last Jedi still can’t quite measure up, nor does it even feel like it has a place in the actual saga itself. It isn’t about what the film did that made it a disappointment; it’s what it didn’t do that left fans feeling slighted. The special effects, space battles and visual spectacles that one expects from a Star Wars film were certainly present and stunning as ever, but the decision to stray so far from the core of what Star Wars really is—a family saga that is set against the backdrop of a war in space—was uncomfortable, contrived and in many ways felt like a different experience entirely.

     Anakin Skywalker, the young slave boy from Tatooine who eventually rises to power and becomes Darth Vader, is the driving force behind this story. It doesn’t matter which film you’re watching; the presence of Anakin Skywalker, whether he’s still a Jedi in training or fully transformed into the half-man, half-machine Sith Lord has always been a pervading force in this epic tale. Without his fall from grace to the dark side of The Force and subsequent leadership of The Empire under Palpatine, the entire story is effectively meaningless. 

     Yet, The Last Jedi makes about three references to this critical figure through all 159 minutes of its runtime. Fans of the original trilogy know that in the final scenes of Return of the Jedi, Anakin Skywalker is seen standing alongside his master Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Yoda as a force ghost. He has been redeemed by his son, Luke Skywalker, and has communed with the light side of The Force so that this third of the story is complete. The Last Jedi neglects that this character still has an active role in the events that are unfolding in the Star Wars timeline. After all, the film’s dark side antagonist, Kylo Ren, is Anakin Skywalker’s grandson. 

     While some fans may have been delighted at the prospect of seeing the hero of the franchise, Luke Skywalker, return to the screen, his character arc was ultimately a letdown. In the film, the Skywalker character rode on more of a flat-line than a full arc, which is a massive departure from the journey he goes on in Episodes 4, 5 and 6. Rey, the new hero of the franchise, finds the legendary Skywalker in “the most unfindable place in the galaxy,” alone, crabby, without much to do and pretty damn happy about it. Instead of the wise Jedi realizing the importance of defeating

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LETTING OLD THINGS DIE

       STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

by Chris Gramuglia

The First Order a la Obi Wan Kenobi and reconciling with his fallen nephew, he claims that he has come to this island to die, and that the Jedi need to end. While there is a moment of redemption for the hero, his overall attitude toward the fate of the galaxy is, frankly, inconsistent with the brazen, adventure seeking do-gooder we saw forty or so years ago. From Beowulf to The Wolverine, every hero degrades with age, but most still seek a last chance at valor before calling it a life. Skywalker appears broken, weak and unwilling to help because of fear—an emotion that the Jedi are taught to avoid. Even his moment of redemption in which he appears as an apparition to distract Kylo Ren from the resistance fighter’s escape, is not particularly heroic. Director Rian Johnson cuts back to the real Skywalker sitting on a rock on his island meditating while his apparition engages Kylo Ren in a stand-off. If Disney wants to jettison the old generation of heroes in this franchise, they’ll have to do a better job than depicting Luke Skywalker as a hero who doesn’t care enough about saving the galaxy to put on pants.  

      The overarching theme of the film is to let old things die and, in a way that nearly breaks the fourth wall, is practically forced on the audience through various pieces of dialogue. Kylo Ren literally says this a few times on screen. One nearly expects Adam Driver to look directly at camera with a Mickey Mouse thumbs up, a wink and an, “Am I right?” As if the poor handling of the previous generation of heroes like Luke and Leia didn’t hurt the film enough, the new cast is equally as stagnant in their roles. Rey, whose biggest goal has been finding her parents, discovers that they are a couple of junk traders who sold her for drinking money, while Kylo Ren simply continues to teeter back and forth on whether or not he’s a good guy or a bad guy. Compared to Darth Vader, Kylo Ren’s rage is campy and hard to take seriously in The Last Jedi. Even his betrayal of Supreme Leader Snoke—a moment that feels like it could be a Vader-esque moment of redemption—ends up carrying no weight. Kylo Ren starts the film evil and he ends up just as evil at its end, while Rey ends up discovering almost nothing about her place in the story.

     In the classic, but often annoying Disney way, there are various other parts of the film that are so obvious and irritating that it begs the question: why make this movie nearly three hours long? Finn and a new character, Rose, end up traveling to a planet where the most wealthy in the galaxy reside. Their goal is to find a master codebreaker who they believe can help them disable a tracking device on a First Order ship. At first, it seems like a cool, engaging subplot, until the whole thing falls apart faster than Sebulba’s podracer in The Phantom Menace. Not only do Rose and Finn fail in finding the right guy, but the whole mission ends up being a vessel for criticizing war profiteers. Certainly, this is a worthy thing to explore in a film, but thematic elements tend to work best in a story when they are woven into the plot, not hastily dumped on top of it like too much butter on popcorn. 

     Perhaps the film is right about letting old things die, but not in the way that it thinks. Kathleen Kennedy and the rest of the Disney execs who now control the direction of the worldwide phenomenon are the ones who need to let Star Wars die. Not because there isn’t more story to tell, but because telling it the Disney way, so far, has not done that story justice.