I could hear the fanboys (and some girls) wailing from across the globe as I left the cinema. Absolute garbage! The worst Star Wars movie ever! Such a joke! I quite liked it and perhaps for all the reasons they didn’t.
Scan through the seemingly endless one-star reviews on IMDb and you’ll get the gist. Judging by how many were disgusted at the ‘rampant political correctness’ and ‘diversity’, I would hazard a guess that most reviewers are white and male. One reviewer even detailed the “24 reasons why it’s a terrible movie.” I won’t detail them all but most felt let down by the characterisation of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who makes a much anticipated return, and the sporadically comedic tone that borders on parody.
This last quality is what won me over. The Star Wars franchise has a tendency to take itself a bit too seriously of late, forgetting the light-heartedness of the original three films and burying itself under self-righteous story lines and misguided humour (Jar Jar Binks anyone?). The Last Jedi has its over the top and self-important moments but it seems to unashamedly lampoon itself. Leia in deep space. Kylo Ren’s tantrums. Poe’s flyboy machismo. You’ll know what I mean when you watch it. I hope it’s deliberate.
The story is interesting enough to keep you engaged with some great action scenes amidst the humour. I like the development of Kylo Ren’s character (Adam Driver) and there is a particularly suspenseful scene with Rey (Daisy Ridley) that seems to add depth to his story. There are multiple characters and narratives interweaving and overlapping which, in a shorter movie, could mean not enough time for character development but, at two and a half hours long, The Last Jedi doesn’t have this problem.
I didn’t mind the Skywalker story line. He has gained some gravitas since his young, whining days but really he’s there as a catalyst for Rey and Kylo Ren. Leia (Carrie Fisher) made me laugh just about every time she came on screen, with her immobile face and almost saintly aura. The laughter was partly mocking, as there is much that is ludicrous about her part in the story, but also loving as its impossible not to feel sadness at Carrie Fisher’s death. Knowing how funny and irreverent Fisher always was off-screen, I choose to believe that she was in on the joke.
There are some pretty big plot holes. If you love Star Wars, you’ll probably ignore them and just go along for the ride. Like with Blade Runner 2049, they were more apparent afterwards, away from the shiny cinematography and SFX when you muse on the plausability of the narrative. It’s as if the director designed the story for maximum impact and filled any gaps in credibility with fuzzy scifi logic.
Back to the ‘diversity’. There are a few more women with speaking parts in this one but don’t expect anything close to gender parity. There’s Rey and Leia of course. We also meet Rose (Kellie Marie Tran) who is a feisty no nonsense warrior and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) who Poe (Oscar Isaacs) butts heads with because, you know, she’s not a bloke. It still only just passes the Bechdel Test with small exchanges that can barely be called conversations between a few of the women. I have had a few friends talk about the improved representation of women in this instalment as if we should be grateful that there are any women at all. The same goes for cultural diversity. Of the top twenty listed characters, only three are played by people of colour.
Of more concern is the racist vitriol directed at Tran, an American actor, born in San Diego, whose cultural background is Vietnamese. I read reviews that call her ‘Asian’ and speak in a derogatory way about her body shape and she has been trolled mercilessly online. It makes me think of a line I heard recently, “If you live with privilege, equity feels like oppression.” If all the films you see are full of white men and their stories, any kind of diversity – people of colour, women, people with different body shapes, sizes and abilities – handled in a positive way feels uncomfortable. Come on Star Wars fandom, open your eyes and hearts and minds.
Have you seen this film? Is it “a disgrace to every Star wars film that came before it”? Did you love or hate Poe pranking Hux? Let me know in the comments below.