The First Jedi

The latest movie in the Star Wars saga could bring in a lot of new fans

15th December 2017

I’ve been in a relationship with a hardcore Star Wars fan for nearly a decade but I never understood the appeal. I’d watched most, if not all, of what I think of as the “original six” films as a child but I’d look at wrapping paper rolls and never felt the desire to swing them around making “jzzzooom” noises, like other kids. It’s not that I didn’t like sci-fi or films with lots of action but Star Wars felt dull, uninspiring and simply not for me. My only memories when I think about watching those films are of a mute Princess Amidala (odd because she did have lines but they must have bored me so much that I simply don’t remember them) and Princess Leia being perved on by that giant dribbling blob.

Convinced that I’d missed something, I tried again with those movies as an adult and still didn’t really get it. I’d resigned myself to the thought that Star Wars was simply one of those franchises that I couldn’t get attached to, like Transformers or Indiana Jones, which I would pay not to have to watch again. That was until 2012 when Disney bought Star Wars studio Lucasfilm for $4.05bn and the new iteration of films began.

I think I can probably now go as far as calling myself a fan. It’s an enormous U-turn for someone who was dreading going to The Force Awakens a few years ago, having seen on the trailers that there was yet more desert and another bleeping robot that every character seems to inexplicably be able to hold a conversation with.

It feels years before its time – and not only because the visual effects are good

But 2015’s The Force Awakens undid the damage of the previous films in my eyes (even if I did have to have the in-jokes explained to me), especially killing off sex pest Han Solo (sorry!), who I still maintain, if he wasn’t hot, would never have been a popular character in the original movies.

Last year, Rogue One then helped me to understand the scope and flexibility of the Star Wars universe, and its ability to tell stories that, though they’re told on fictional planets with made-up creatures, are happening to somebody somewhere in the real world.

And now The Last Jedi, which admittedly, I still wouldn’t have chosen to see at the cinema, has completed the transition from hater to fan.

stormtroopers
Women can be stormtroopers too. Photo: Lucasfilm Ltd

Somehow, a movie about spaceships and people who can move things with their minds is one of the most realistic films a studio has put out this year.

All that hammy crap from previous movies is gone, replaced with delicate characterisations and complex emotions. The dark vs light trope, which is arguably the main point of Star Wars, is now much more nuanced and in keeping with our modern world – where people have reasons for their actions, and where good people do bad things and the other way around.

It feels years before its time – and not only because the visual effects are good. The diverse cast, real-world emotions and almost complete absence of cliches make it feel like a film we’ve never seen before.

I mean, there are still lightsaber battles and the spaceships and planets all have different names – but this time the fights are woven delicately into the plot so that you don’t spend 25 minutes fighting the urge to check Facebook, and you can still follow it if you can’t remember which spaceship is which, or what that planet full of Tories is really called.

Rian Johnson’s script is funny but some of the jokes absolutely bomb

There are plenty of Star Wars traditions in there for purists, too. It still opens with that big chunk of text flying through space that nobody properly reads. And old favourite characters are seamlessly paired with new ones as if that’s how they’ve always been.

It’s certainly not perfect – Rian Johnson’s script is funny but some of the jokes absolutely bomb because the cast was hired for their ability to scream and cry, and not for their comic timing. Daisy Ridley, in particular, seems to suffer from what I think of as Keira Knightley Syndrome – being too posh to throw away a line, leaving every joke feeling stilted and out of character.

While I won’t go into detail for those who haven’t seen it, having two older women in main roles in a blockbuster has basically never been done before. In fact, women and people of colour are incredibly well-represented in speaking and non-speaking parts. They exist as independent characters – particularly Captain Phasma and new ensemble member Rose – and not just as a prop for the white male characters. Though in the case of Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, I suspect that had the character gone ahead being played Benedict Cumberbatch as originally planned, we would have seen more of them.

The new critters of different shapes and sizes are very “Disney” – I can see kids going crazy for porgs over Christmas – but they’re well-designed and not overused.

It might be the middle film in the third trilogy of a 30-year-old multi-billion dollar franchise, but The Last Jedi will definitely be the first Jedi for a lot of new fans.

15th December 2017