I finally saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi last night.
I am not going to provide any spoilers for those of you who still want to see it, but I want to tell you what I thought about what I did see last night.
As a young boy, aged seven, I went to see Star Wars EP4 at the Gaumont Cinema in Birmingham, which was the largest cinema in Europe at the time. For anyone seeing the original Star Wars at a young age, his or her film-going experiences changed for life. But EP8, now firmly under the grip of Disney, has reduced my Star Wars universe to a ridiculously overblown, puffed-up, convoluted mess, rendering the film a mishmash of nothing and everything. I started to fall asleep during the middle section of the The Last Jedi, largely because I probably had too many sweets, but also because I was simply bored senseless by a ridiculous plot twist that had nothing to do with the beginning or the end of the film. Key characters are introduced and eliminated without any sense of their belonging or otherwise to the Star Wars universe. The crass, ridiculous, senseless and utterly unavoidable comedy is targeting a younger audience, but it does not work, especially when is inserted into quite dramatic and (seemingly) important dialogue or moments of tension. Of course, the battle sequences are outstanding, and the music hits all the right notes at the right time, bringing back long memories of previous incarnations of heroism and bravery in the Star Wars universe, but these are small redeeming features for what is going to be seen by the discerning Star Wars cinemagoer as a disaster movie of sorts.
I speak these words not with joy or glee of any kind but in a dire state of disappointment and a feeling of being underwhelmed beyond my imagination. On the plus side, many are reading into the firm a pro-feminist perspective, with the leading characters all women while most of the failings are at the hands of all of the men. In fact, not a single male character comes out looking good, with the explicit exception of Chewbacca who rightly kicks some butt for the good of the many when required. It reminds me of the feelings I had when I first saw the Return of the Jedi – a film clearly meant to appeal to a younger audience after what was a worthy sequel in the form of The Empire Strikes Back. It was too late for me as I was into my teens by then – and I wanted depth and meaning, not the promotion of a fluffy toy concept. I really do not know what JJ Abrahams is going to do with Episode Nine, but I am not going to be holding my breath, this is for sure.
The fascination with the Star Wars universe is that in 1977 there was nothing like it, and of course, it made a heap of money, which meant that many films would subsequently borrow some of the ideas even more than Star Wars had borrowed its ideas from films of the past. I also think that people of a certain generation watching the original Star Wars films, and of course now their children and their children’s children, have passed on a certain sentimentality in relation to what was obviously just a film. But films can be more than films, especially when they offer heroism, escapism and (an imaginary or real) window into a world beyond one’s own dreary existence. Star Wars in 1977 did exactly that, and for an entire generation of children for whom great films were television replays of Spartacus, The Wizard of Oz, The Ten Commandments or The Towering Inferno. For me, Star Wars was also this fusion of outstanding British actors such as Alec Guinness and Peter Crushing, saving the galaxy or destroying it, with American youngsters having a ball. I also think that EP4 needs to be set in social context, as the late 1970s were somewhat grim experiences. The US had its problems over the Vietnam War. Britain was soon to be on its knees over a crumbling economy. The film hit the right tone at a time when culturally and politically there were major challenges to the world. And, undoubtedly, it introduced visual special effects never seen before, thrilling an entire generation of filmgoers…
Having understood that much of this copying, transforming and mixing approach is not new to the cinema at all, I am still somewhat flummoxed by how messed up EP8 got. Basically, they went for the ‘safe’ option of abandoning storyline altogether in the hope of securing as many bums on seats of the older and younger SW fans as possible – playing for all the sentimental gestures, tokens and gimmicks they could pack into 2hrs and 30 mins. It reflects the world of Hollywood that is the copying/repackaging industry and the lack of any interest in original/novel ideas today – which is why Netflix and Amazon are capturing a lot of people’s attention. They are simply offering something else when the big studio players bowed down to King Ker-ching a long time ago. And there are not enough writers able to achieve the balance between the old and the new – which means that there are either no talented people out there or that big money has shut them out, or both… Who cares about script, content, drama, character, message even – when King Ker-ching is ruling the roost. I am disappointed that the youngsters of today are denied vision, imagination, principle, grit – and turned into lazy, bored, consumers through mediums such as this. I suppose it reflects life today per se… So sad, sad, sad.
This film is a betrayal at so many levels. EP7 was a reboot/remix of EP4. I might have forgiven it somewhat, as it re-enlivened a dormant universe, but EP8 takes what could have been an opportunity and turns it into a disaster of immense proportions.
May the force be with the light and fluffy, it now seems.