Film: 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'; Director: Rian Johnson; Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill; Rating: ** ½
The good news about the latest instalment in the 40-year old franchise is that it is far superior to the the last dreadful droll and disembodied film in the series "The Force Awakens".
The writing in "The Last Jedi" is far more coiled and compelling than the last film. But still not invigorating enough to justify the rapturous reviews which go into superlatives as though they were going out of fashion.
Much of the contemporizing processes involved in making "The Last Jedi" a face-saving triumph is founded on principle of diminishing returns. All the beloved characters are brought back but as relics of a fading civilization clinging to a reality bequeathed by a fast-changing world of impatient audiences who are no more responsive to the conflicts that George Lucas in all his spaced-out wisdom, created four decades ago.
"The Last Jedi" is curiously suspended between being a parable of nostalgia and a fable of our times. The "Force" has now passed on to a new generation of outerspace warriors represented by Rey, played with sustained energy and aloof intensity by Daisy Ridley.
At the start we see Rey trying to convince the autumnal Luke Skywalker(Mark Hamill) to return to fight with the Resistance. The guru-shishya equation of these early scenes echo the pseudo-solemnity of The Karate Kid, with dollops of the Shaolin culture shining through the galactic battle ground.
Unmistakably, this instalment of the franchise derives its persuasive powers from the conflict between Rey and her soul-sibling Kylo Ren played with remarkable layering by Adam Driver. Their equation gives a ferocious fillip to what would otherwise have been one more effort to infuse new life into a weather-worn series.I want to know where the Rey-Ren equation goes after this film. But I am not sure if I want to re-visit all the other characters who come with the territory.
Director Roan Johnson knows his Star Wars only too well. He picks out the juiciest most joyful elements from the series and milks them for emotional succour and dramatic sustenance.
The space battles are staged with enormous gusto. The characters seem to derive a sense of measured pleasure in their lofty mission. But there is that sinking sense of the game being stretched beyond its basic premise of primeval enjoyment, specially when the characters are projected into the rites of enforced tokenism.
So we have a Black Deserter of the 'Cause' played by John Boyega being befriended and 'adventurized'(to coin a Star War-ism) by a space worker played by Kellie Marie Tran who is, incidentally, an actress of Vietnamese origin. Their growing fondness culminates in a love story of near-epic proportions. Maybe more of that next time? For now, there is a plethora of engaging preoccupations on The Last Jedi brought into a rarefied and vivacious range of perceptions by a narrative that is terse and tactile.
The final battle between Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren are the stuff yogic orgies are made of. The narrative virtually ODs on the flashing sabres and the combustive life-force.
This segment of the Star Wars saga doesn't break too many rules. It celebrates outer-space heroism with a tug of the heart and a shrug of the shoulder, projecting an appealing nonchalance in the way the characters battle it out in the spatial splendor.
My favourite character and performance are Poe played a Oscar Isaac, a rebel soldier whose unorthodox methods of warfare drive Princess Leia up the wall. Does Carrie Fisher's character go into a coma in protest against Poe's insubordination? Poe's skirmish with his senior officer, coincidentally a woman played rather squeamishly by Laura Dern, is the closest the film gets to subverting the genre that it other celebrates with undying reverence.
"The Last Jedi" is a large lavish homage to the fading charms of a genre that outran its serviceability many years ago. Why do people still love the Star Wars series? It is more than nostalgia. It's a religion.