Dienstag, 19. Dezember 2017


Title: Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi
Running Time: 153 min
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher (†), Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Andy Serkis

'Tis that time of the year again. No, not Christmas. Star Wars! There is no need to explain this movie franchise's significance in pop culture. In the night from Wednesday to Thurday many Star Wars fans (myself included) waited in line for the midnight premiere. Gatherings like this have a magical atmosphere, and yet there is this saying "Nobody hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans" and it is somewhat true. The people who debate the quality of these movies most passionately and fiercely with each other are people whose common ground is their love for the original trilogy. "The Force Awakens" was a critical an financial success, but that didn't keep it from starting brisk discussions. The same applies to "Rogue One". So is the eighth episode of this saga the movie to unite the fans?
Probably not. "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi" is a cinematic event that in order to take this franchise in a few completely new directions, takes a few risks. Some might not be pleased by this, others might love it, and some others might be torn. The film can basically be divided into three story-lines that of course cross paths and come together in the end, but stay separate for most of the movie. One revolves around Poe Dameron, Leia and the other members of the resistance fighting (or rather running from) Generl Hux and his ruthless First Order fleet. One sends Finn and a new character, Rose, on a mission to a different part of the galaxy. And the final one follows Rey and Luke on the very same Island on which we last saw them.
The latter story-line could be seen as the main plot, and it is here that the movie works best. Mark Hamill is joyfully excellent as this older version of Luke and his performance was definitely worth the wait. In it, you can see the young Jedi we saw in the original trilogy, but also how he has grown and his worldview has changed. At points it even felt like Hamill was channeling Yoda, another Jedi master whom we met long after he went into exile. Everything concerning him, Rey and also Kylo Ren is absolutely absorbing. It is here where Rian Johnson takes most liberties with the source material, deepens the lore and pushes the boundaries of what is possible in this universe. On the other side is the resistance's story (benefiting from a charismatic performance by Oscar Isaac, as well as Carrie Fisher and Lara Dern as graceful leaders) that cranks up the tension through the entire film. Doom is imminent and Johnson really manages to make you feel like the stakes are high.You also certainly can find shades of  "Rogue One" in this.
The Finn and Rose story-line is the one where the movie stumbles. The place they travel to is something audiences haven't seen before in a Star Wars film. While I respect the film makers for trying something new and expanding the universe, this particular sequence was too close to our own world to me. Instead of being transformed to a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, it felt like I was watching my own planet a hundred years from now, which didn't work for me. In general, that plot thread felt a little disjointed from the film, like it was just tagged on to give characters something to do. As an in-universe short film it would have probably worked much better.
Thematically however, all these three stories fit perfectly together as they all explore the grey areas in this tale about the Dark Side and the Light. In that sense, Rian Johnson deconstructs the Star Wars saga, in which the bad guys have always been all very bad and the good guys all exemplary human beings. Yes, there have always transitions from one side to another, but no one ever stayed in between for long. It's an immensely interesting field to explore and the film dives into it head first. If after "The Force Awakens" you thought this story was going to go in a certain direction, Johnson will surprise you with more then one unexpected turn. On the one hand it makes this movie feel absolutely fresh and it fills it with multiple awesome "Holy Shit!"-character-moments. On the other hand it becomes clear that Rian Johnson wasn't interested in every mystery J.J. Abrahams put out there and cherry picked the parts he thought to be relevant. As a result, some big questions from the previous film stay unanswered and some eager theorists will be left frustrated.
Another thing that might put some people off is the humor. It is the first time that you can feel Disney's influence a little bit, as they have created a formula in which they put in unexpected jokes to break the tension. It doesn't work every time and even feels misplaced at points. But since this film builds up so many strong and emotionally charged moments, these missteps are not nearly big enough to tear them down.
The one big thing that is probably indisputable however is that this is one of the most beautiful Star Wars films ever made. The images are gorgeous. Rian Johnson treats Jedi in this film like the Japanese cinema treated Samurai. Staging them in a heroic and dignified way. The colors, the contrasts - everything works. He opens with one of the best space battles seen on film and then graduates to giving us maybe the best and most creative lightsaber fight in Star Wars history. In the end he tops it of with an action sequence that, thanks to its setting, is worthy of being put on a canvas. He definitely knows what he is doing.
In the end, "Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi" might not be without its lows, but its highs are so high that that doesn't really matter. It is a nonconformist blockbuster that subverts expectations and puts twists and turns on a lot of things you thought you knew about this franchise. Controversy between fans is inevitable, but even if you don't agree with Johnson's ideas, this film is worth watching just to explore them and be part of the vivid discussion. And of course for the ass-kicking visuals!

Since I had a hard time writing this review while pussyfooting around potential spoilers, you will find a Spoiler-Review on this blog soon.

For Fans Of:
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Looper (2013)
Hero (2002)
Films by Akira Kurosawa

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