Saturday, December 23, 2017
The Last Jedi
A long time ago a director-writer by the name of Rian Johnson created an indie film called Brick. It's one of the most brilliant films I'll probably ever see in my life. The dialogue, the visual repetitions and puns, and the unnerving apathy about letting you have any closure, of any kind, are practically a song to me. It's a deliciously uncomfortable movie, not pulling any punches, emotional or otherwise. However, this was the only movie of Johnson's that left us in the lurch like this. The Brothers' Bloom and Looper, while incredible, felt much safer than Brick. Something in the visceral bite of this film had caught my attention and I missed it in Johnson's further movies. And while it appeared again in Breaking Bad I wondered if I would ever see a movie that presented us with the problem of the human heart in even a similar way to Brick.
Welcome to The Last Jedi, the most divisive movie of 2017. And what a wonderful surprise it is. Not only does Johnson have his bite back, but he unloaded it on the franchise that inarguably needed it the most: Star Wars. The iron focus on the central conflict and the refusal to focus on anything we might think is important has been divisive. And that can only be a good thing and, historically speaking, par for the course. The middle acts of Star Wars have always been about overturning what came before and intentionally making people uncomfortable, the actors included; James Earl Jones thought Vader was lying when he recorded the famous line, after all. So the fact that Last Jedi has created the same controversy right down to the plummeting second week sales of its previous installments can only mean the movie did its job. But that's not what's really important, is it? People complaining about Star Wars, horribly missing its point, and feeling instead of thinking about what's been presented them is nothing new.
SPOILERS START HERE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
When I wrote my last post about Luke, I was fairly certain I had it right. And I did, right up until a point. But there was something incredibly important that I'd missed: Luke doubted his way. Him staring down at his lightsaber, trying to figure out if it's worth it to kill a sleeping boy? For just that one moment he almost gave into something lesser. But that doubt destroyed his temple. He faltered and lost everything.
Yeah, I'd wanna die too.
There's something ironic about Luke, the person who everyone thinks of as "the hero", managing to do something none of us could, making him all the more heroic for staying his hand, even against what he must have thought to be his better judgment. But that's a level of subtlety I suppose most people didn't catch. And that level of deftness in handling the characters is the hallmark of this movie. These are people, not your idols. The movie knows it and handles them. There is never a moment where someone has been dropped, where they have a neutral reaction to anything. Everyone is always moving, going after their agenda, regardless of whether you see it or not. There is so much packed into this movie it will, not can, take multiple viewings to catch it all.
Each character is given an arc. Note that I didn't say main characters, but anyone who is on the screen at any given point in time is going through some form of an arc: Rose is trying to understand Finn, who is learning that some things are worth fighting for, while Luke is fighting his richly-deserved nihilism while Rey is learning to accept herself without her parents while Ben is refusing to let his be... you get the idea. You could go on and on. As a Luke fanboy I of course glomped onto Luke's the fastest, although subsequent viewings will unpeel the layers from everyone else for me.
By the time I got to the end of the movie I was overwhelmed. Luke's passing on was so beautifully done I could hardly believe Johnson had done it. In peace Luke finally became one with everything and passed on, similarly to how Obi-Wan and Yoda had moved on when they realized that they were not necessary corporeally anymore. I could hardly process it, honestly. I'm barely doing it now. So, as time progresses, I'll continue to unpack what I saw and, after a few viewings, y'all will be hearing a lot more. But that ending fight with Luke was, by far and away, the best part of a genius movie.
Before I end this post, I'll draw my line in the sand. The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie, period. The characters, the plot, the intricacy, the foreshadowing, it's as close to perfect as we're going to get before the next Rian Johnson trilogy. Cause that's what we'll be getting, and for that I can't be grateful enough. I understand people disagree, and quite viscerally at that. But, again, par for the course. Twenty years from now this movie will be in the slot that Empire currently is in for most people: the best Star Wars movie, the one that redefined the franchise.
Or it'll be the Rian Johnson trilogy instead. Either way the people who hate this movie are wrong.
Now excuse me while I go and think about this a ton more.