Star Wars…is a cultural phenomenon, to say the least. It’s a franchise whose vision and image has proved pivotal to the current pop-cultural landscape and the state of the mainstream Hollywood blockbuster. It’s wild, imaginative, thrilling and, perhaps most importantly, a film brought about by one man’s vision for blockbuster genre cinema. Or, at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be. Star Wars, that reverential, sacred series of films, talked about in careful, tender tones by any self-respecting human being on the internet. As a consequence of this artistic zeitgeist, back before The Force Awakens was about to come out, I became a self-proclaimed Star Wars fan, and tasked myself with rewatching the original films, which I’d only seen sporadic bits and pieces of while growing up. I saw A New Hope, and, to my disappointment, didn’t get what all the hype was about. The story was weirdly paced, the performances seemed sort of wooden, and Darth Vader was no where near as powerfully intimidating a presence as the fanbase had made him out to be.
“Well, this is disappointing,” I thought. “This is Star Wars?”
“Well, these are the old ones,” my reflection continued, “Maybe the new ones are the good ones,”
The new ones were not the good ones.
So I was slightly dismayed. It seems I had not taken to Star Wars as much as the rest of the world had. Oh well.
When I saw The Force Awakens, my faith was partially restored. I came out of the theater really happy that I’d finally enjoyed a Star Wars movie. But as time passed and I saw the film again on TV, I realized Episode VII was a just-okay movie with a great ending. In fact, the story leading up to Rey and Kylo Ren’s climactic battle was really quite boring.
“Oh well,” I thought. “There’s always the next one.”
So when Rogue One came out, I was excited. Gareth Edwards was a pretty cool director. Rogue One looked like a war film. It was going to be good.
I found Rogue One to be terrible. It started with a horribly paced selection of scenes that played out like an expensive power point presentation and ended with a melodramatic sacrifice that held no weight. I was utterly disappointed, and began to agree with my family-members who said that Star Wars was now a corporate controlled machine designed to churn out fan servicing movies with no merit to them whatsoever.
In the build up to The Last Jedi, I kept my anticipation in check, even though I was intrigued by the prospect of seeing this movie directed by the guy who made Looper, which was a very, very cool film. I knew I was going to see it in the cinema, but I had come to the decision that if this one disappointed me too, I wouldn’t buy a ticket for the next one (though who am I kidding, I’d probably have planned to see Episode IX anyway).
I saw the movie.
And it blew me away. The character, the set pieces, the energy, the surprise factor of the film all contributed to what was a breath-taking experience for me. Halfway through it, I was holding back, expecting the ending to comply to conventions. The set up had been promising, but could still be wasted.
The ending was one of the most thrilling filmic affairs I’d witnessed all year.
*SPOILER ZONE. GO NO FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE. I MEAN IT.*
The moment Kylo Ren cut Snoke in half, my body ceased all respirational functions. The line, the line of convention, had been crossed, and it felt like literally anything could happen after that point. I was genuinely worried if Rey and Kylo would survive the fight. It was awe inspiring, revelatory. Adam Driver instantly became one of my favorite actors working today. I had my heart in my throat the entire time.
If TFA was an okay movie with a great ending, TLJ was a great movie with a brilliant beginning to it’s final third. The killing of Snoke, the hype around Rey’s parentage, and all expectations that came with the movie in one swift stroke was brutal and absolutely a necessary shot in the arm for the story.
There were a few problems I felt were present, though they didn’t include the litany of plotholes everyone’s been talking about (give Rian Johnson a break guys). It felt like the film wrapped everything up too well, like Johnson had had his fun then put everything back in the box. It doesn’t feel like the second film in a trilogy, it feels like the end of a duology, which means it’s left a veritable blank slate for Episode IX. There are no more surprises left to look forward to; this movie addressed all of them. And as a result, it’s left my excitement for the next one on the down low (I thought they planned everything in advance, not that they developed the story on a movie-to-movie basis. It actually looks Rian Johnson got to write this one and then the next guys can do whatever they want)
When I walked out of the cinema, I was confounded by the fact that almost everyone who’d seen it with me hadn’t enjoyed it. When I got home, and saw the fanbase’s reaction to the film, I was even more stupefied. And that was because The Last Jedi was for me, the film that made me truly appreciate the phenomenon of Star Wars. It was my first ever true Star Wars film, in a way. It made Star Wars for me what it already was for everyone else. A spectacular, big-budgeted extravaganza of visionary cinema. And for that reason, I’m indelibly grateful to have seen it.