Sunday, 31 December 2017

Star Wars sees Leia remind us to keep on fighting

Star Wars is Star Wars is Star Wars. Some may deride such a suggestion, but while it’s an oversimplification, it also contains more than a grain of truth. After all, the second trilogy pushed many of the original fans away from the initial trio of movies precisely because, however much George Lucas wanted to explore trade wars in those outings, that was not what fans felt was ‘real’ Star Wars. Jar Jar Binks was simply the sickly icing on an unappetising cake.

Two years ago, I came out of a cinema and said – after I’d stopped shaking – that JJ Abrams had ‘given us back Star Wars’.

However much The Force Awakens was effectively a remake of 1977’s A New Hope, the utterly vital thing was that it contained the spirit of Star Wars that fans recognised from the first movies, wanted again and instantly warmed to, as opposed to soul-sapping tedium of the second trilogy. It really was a ‘new hope’.

Last year’s Rogue One was still recognisably Star Wars, but with added grittiness.

And so we arrive at at the tail end of 2017 and The Last Jedi – the sequel to The Force Awakens.

If I don’t feel as overtly euphoric as I did when exiting the Waterloo IMAX two years ago, it’s because my expectations have already moved way beyond fearing the worst.

As Rey seeks the help of Luke Skywalker, the Resistance is close to being wiped out by the First Order.

But Luke, who has been in self-imposed exile on the craggy island of Ahch-To, has no intention of returning or of helping Rey learn how to use the Force that has stirred in her.

Writer and director Rian Johnson has done a top job here, creating a tense roller-coaster of a cinematic ride that allows for many things.

It all has an added gravity – and poignancy – with every sight of the late Carrie Fisher, to whom the film is dedicated.

But while it absolutely has the ‘feel’ of true Star Wars, there are also differences.

There is a darker mood and even a (slightly) more philosophical one, with many of the actors having the opportunity to explore more nuanced aspects of their characters.

Of course, while the Empire has always been fascistic, current events give this aspect of the films a certain increased power. 

But have no fear, there are lighter moments.

These include Chewbacca and the porgs – small birds on Ahch-To. If they remind you a tad of puffins, that’s because they are. Filming on Skellig Michael, the crew was faced with a plethora of the birds and, since it’s a World Heritage Site and they’re protected, it was decided that the best way to deal with this was to use CGI to turn them into part of the film.

I really do want a vulptex – a crystal snow fox (Swarovski could make billions) and the space horses (fathiers) manage to be cute without that being a distraction.

It hit me, while watching, that I cannot recall an action film with so many female characters. But what’s important here is that, in general, these are not specifically male or female roles, so it really makes no difference.

Points are suggested about gender – the macho approach of Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) versus Leia and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s more considered one – but this is just divas on the right side of being overplayed.

And besides, it has triggered further fits in those whose very sense of masculinity is so fragile that it shatters at the mere sight of a few more women in a few more roles in a few more films.

Of the cast, Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn grow further into their roles, while Mark Hamill’s acting range seems to have broadened. 

Supreme Leader Snoke gives Andy Serkis, Hollywood’s go-to performance capture expert, another chance to strut his stuff.

Adam Driver is definitely making Kylo Ren more interesting and slightly less than a spoilt brat, while Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico, a Resistance maintenance worker, and Laura Dern as Holdo give solid supporting performances.

Make no mistake – this is Star Wars. And this is Leia’s film. It was a shock last year when she died and it was a surprise to realise how much it upset me personally. Seeing her on screen here is particularly moving.

This is not the greatest film ever made. But in this final performance, Fisher reminds us to leave the sentiment until after the enemy is defeated.

How very apt that feels. And it packs a powerful punch too.

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