OK so “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi”.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” did not go the way I thought. I couldn’t be more thrilled. Episode VIII features very little in the way of callback to “The Empire Strikes Back”: Luke is the voice of cynicism, sensibly dressed women call all the shots, and the big, mouthbreathing baddie gets it before the end of the first act. These changes alone are enough to spin a certain type of “Star Wars” fan into apoplexy, and indeed they have; the net is awash with indignant alt-right types who insist that the presence of women and people of color means that casting slots owed to white males have been unfairly redistributed to lesser models of humanity. We can safely ignore these guys, at least until they get their hands on the technology to build a Death Star, which shouldn’t be until at least July.
In the meanwhile, the rest of us can welcome the return of John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac as Resistance heroes Finn, Rey and Poe, along with outstanding additions Laura Dern (as Leia’s unreadable second-in-command Vice Admiral Holdo) and Benicio Del Toro (as a twitchy thief with a compelling worldview). Less effective additions include Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico, a nebulously defined Swiss Army character alternately used to lend gravity to losses, provide moral guidance, function as Finn’s sidekick in Rey’s absence, and (in one particularly unearned scene) sacrifice herself physically while providing moral guidance and kissing a surprised Finn all at once. One suspects the screenwriters were so desperate to distract from the faint hint of flirtation in Poe’s first interactions with Finn (“The Force Awakens”, indeed) that they’ve invented a “no homo” girlfriend out of whole cloth. Wisely, she’s been assigned to Finn; perhaps the writers sensed the futility of attempting to place any limits whatsoever on Oscar Isaac’s smoulder. The more likely explanation has to do with the growing chemistry between Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, who—unbelievably—maintains his character’s knife-edge balance between depravity and pathos throughout the entire second chapter. Just as Rey does, we sense the good in Kylo Ren, but the movie constantly pushes back against that sense, reminding us at every turn that he is a bad person who does worse things.
The reminders are necessary because Driver, as an actor, has a gravitational field rivalling Jupiter’s: a fight scene involving him, Daisy Ridley, and a number of Empirical warriors, all bristling with alarming light-based weaponry, reads as pure sex. Watching Ridley and Driver’s choreography, their exquisitely attuned awareness of each other, you are struck by the same urge to look away that Nureyev and Fonteyn could elicit: you are witnessing something raw, something blushworthy, something unmistakably private. The Empire may as well not even be in the room. The magnetic pull Ren exerts keeps both Rey and us in delicious, terrible limbo; once we’re stuck there, the movie asks us a number of uncomfortable questions. For starters:
How early is too early to determine that someone has become irredeemably dangerous?
Once we’ve identified a mass murderer, are we obligated to kill them at the first available opportunity, lest they do more damage?
What if they have not yet committed a mass murder?
If not then, when?
What if we find them really, really compelling? Mesmeric, even? What if millions of people feel the same way? What then?
Let’s hope we all live to find out.