Star Wars – The Last Jedi: No Light without Darkness?

By Kai-Arne Zimny

Pho­to Cred­it: NEPA Scene

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

The bright blue let­ters appear on the big black screen. Rev­er­ent silence fills the movie the­ater. Maybe you’ll hear the sound of cheer­ing some­where in the back, but most­ly you can feel the tense thrill of antic­i­pa­tion. After two years of wait­ing, STAR WARS – THE LAST JEDI, the eighth episode of the most beloved sci-fi fairy tale of all time and the sec­ond movie of the new tril­o­gy, is only sec­onds away … 

The neo-impe­r­i­al First Order is hunt­ing Gen­er­al Leia Organa’s (Car­rie Fish­er) remain­ing ships of the Resis­tance, the last rem­nants of hope and democ­ra­cy in a galaxy head­ing towards dark­ness once again. The First Order’s dark prince Kylo Ren (Adam Dri­ver) oscil­lates between light and dark. In the mean­time Rey (Daisy Rid­ley), a young woman “from nowhere,” walks a rocky road towards becom­ing a Jedi Knight to help fight dark­ness and learn the ways of the force – the mys­ti­cal pow­er that con­nects every­thing. At the same time, the leg­endary, now aged Jedi Mas­ter Luke Sky­walk­er (Mark Hamill), refus­es to take part in any­thing any­more and ques­tions everything.

Two-and-a-half-hours lat­er, the lights go back on. Peo­ple rise from their seats. Some stay to lis­ten to John William’s force­ful and famil­iar sig­na­ture tunes while oth­ers storm out imme­di­ate­ly. Some have tears in their eyes, and it’s already safe to say: Not all for the same reason.

Bare­ly out of my seat, I feel direct­ly drawn back into the Star Wars uni­verse, into the skin of Kylo Ren. “I’m being torn apart,” he moaned in the pre­vi­ous film, The Force Awak­ens. And I, too, am being torn apart by this new Star Wars film …

“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to,” says Kylo Ren in this film, and that’s what writer-direc­tor Rian John­son must have thought when cre­at­ing it. He cuts off many sto­ry­lines and ideas set up by writer-direc­tor J.J. Abrams in the pre­vi­ous film. The feel­ing of a con­nect­ed tril­o­gy is thus bro­ken; mali­cious gos­sip has it that John­son was lack­ing ideas to build upon the sto­ry line he was giv­en. John­son coun­tered that reproach on Twit­ter, stat­ing he want­ed Star Wars to “grow, move for­ward and stay vital.” Either way, the film makes it obvi­ous that John­son loves to sur­prise the audi­ence and, of course, Star Wars can ben­e­fit from a breath of fresh air. But it needs to be done prop­er­ly, with­in a con­text that doesn’t devi­ate too far from what fans know and love about Star Wars. This movie breaks a few Star Wars tra­di­tions; unfor­tu­nate­ly, it doesn’t work too well on most occa­sions. Fans and crit­ics take offense to the film’s awk­ward comedic moments (the movie basi­cal­ly starts with a phone prank, for exam­ple) that are sup­posed to be there for com­ic relief but feel dis­placed for the most part. Well, for me per­son­al­ly, this is a minor issue, and I did chuck­le here and there.

The real prob­lem is the over­all plot and pac­ing of the film. It feels too much like an arrange­ment of sub-plots that don’t go any­where. Addi­tion­al­ly, too many pas­sages of the film are just bad­ly writ­ten. Some­times they’re bizarre fillers that obvi­ous­ly need to be there to get from A to B, but they don’t feel cred­i­ble, nat­ur­al, or focused. Also, they don’t con­tribute to the big­ger pic­ture. The fact that these seri­ous flaws could have been avoid­ed rel­a­tive­ly eas­i­ly (I don’t mean to brag, but I quick­ly came up with a few ideas) make this all the way more trag­ic, espe­cial­ly since beneath that dark mess there is a lot of light to be found.

Yet, this movie con­tains some of the most beau­ti­ful scenes I have ever seen in a Star Wars film. And I don’t only mean visu­al­ly, but also emo­tion­al­ly. Any­one invest­ed in the orig­i­nal Star Wars films will be moved to tears (in a good way!) by intense scenes, some play­ing with nos­tal­gia, some offer­ing a deep­er, rich­er insight into the spir­i­tu­al in-uni­verse con­cept of the force.

The actors’ per­for­mances range from sol­id to very good. Kylo Ren’s con­flict and tur­moil can be intense­ly felt in each scene he’s in, thanks to Adam Driver’s superbly sub­tle per­for­mance. His antag­o­nis­tic inter­ac­tion with Daisy Ridley’s char­ac­ter Rey is beau­ti­ful, both chem­istry-wise on screen and also in-uni­verse, promis­ing a very inter­est­ing devel­op­ment between the two in the next and last movie of the recent trilogy.

“Best Star Wars ever!” is a com­ment that could be read en masse on social media plat­forms in the days fol­low­ing the pre­miere of Star Wars – The Last Jedi, right next to equal­ly numer­ous state­ments of the oppo­site spec­trum: “Star Wars is dead!” The film polar­izes heav­i­ly, like so many things right now. For me, it is a spe­cial feel­ing to be on both sides at the same time. To be dis­ap­point­ed but to also enjoy the film. Sure­ly, no view­ing expe­ri­ence is “objec­tive.” I do real­ize that I went into the the­ater with high and very spe­cif­ic expec­ta­tions. And this is the time to men­tion that Star Wars, like any pop­u­lar movie fran­chise, isn’t the same for every­one. We have the die-hard fans who work on elab­o­rate Star Wars the­o­ries on their own. Count­less YouTube chan­nels attest to this. We have the occa­sion­al fan who’s informed enough about the over­all sto­ry but doesn’t spend much time think­ing about Star Wars. And we have those movie­go­ers who want to see an enter­tain­ing movie with space­ships and explo­sions with­out hav­ing to remem­ber too much to enjoy the film.

To have to please all of those view­ers is a dilem­ma for sure. Die-hard fans, like me, dri­ve expec­ta­tions sky-high. Addi­tion­al­ly, a nos­tal­gia-induced false mem­o­ry syn­drome has turned the orig­i­nal Star Wars films into untouch­able, per­fect mas­ter­pieces beyond all human crit­i­cism which, of course, they are not. How­ev­er, as a result of that delu­sion, every new Star Wars film is mea­sured against an imag­i­nary and impos­si­ble lev­el of per­fec­tion – and is thus des­tined to fail.

Nev­er­the­less, the prob­lems men­tioned are grave enough to be con­sid­ered. But maybe it’s all a stroke of genius. Maybe the feel­ing many peo­ple get while see­ing the film was intend­ed to draw them into the movie’s cen­tral theme, to feel both sides of some­thing, to lit­er­al­ly feel torn apart and ques­tion everything.

I guess that would mean … well done?

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