This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Brian’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Rian Johnson's STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is easily the most original and innovative film in the Star Wars saga since at least 1980. It is designed from top to bottom to obliterate fan expectations in pursuit of a very simple question: "What is Star Wars?" The answer may surprise you.
**** WARNING: THIS IS A FULL SPOILER REVIEW ****
If Star Wars, to you, is superficial stuff like lightsabers and spaceships and mythology-informed family drama--in other words, the things that THE FORCE AWAKENS dwelled upon to spectacular success just two years ago--then you're in for a shock. Because writer-director Rian Johnson really doesn't give a shit about that stuff at all. Oh, sure, he thinks lightsabers and X-Wings are cool, but having been given a platform to tell the world what Star Wars really means to him, he's done the unthinkable--he's tossed it all in the trash.
Across its 150 minute runtime, Johnson goes on a tear, reducing the usual Star Wars tropes to rubble. You want lightsaber battles? Tough shit. The principal hero and villain never fight each other (they fight together, briefly) and the climactic showdown is a total fake-out. You want grand spaceship battles? Nope--you'll get Pyrrhic slaughters and the hotshot pilot will be grounded for the whole movie. You want Luke being a wise old Jedi master? Joke's on you, because Luke has totally lost his way and he's not going to train Rey at all. Dying to find out more about Snoke and his evil plan? Won't happen, because he's dead now. Think Johnson will at least give you some cool Jedi lore? Bitch please. He literally burns it to the ground.
And yet despite all this, THE LAST JEDI is somehow still very much a Star Wars movie. Because at the same time as he's depriving the audience (and himself) of its usual crutches, Johnson zeroes in on what really matters...
Yeah, you read that right. Every sniveling anti-corporatist who backhanded Star Wars as a glorified merchandise machine was right. It really was, and is, all about those goddamn toys. Rian Johnson agrees with them.
Except those sniveling anti-corporatists were wrong about one thing: toys are good. THE LAST JEDI is Rian Johnson's love letter to his Star Wars toys and what they meant to him.
You see, in stripping away all the surface level stuff, Johnson shows that the real value of Star Wars is in the storytelling. It's not just the story, itself. The optimistic, soapy stuff is good, sure, but it's the value of those stories in the telling. It's all about the effects that creating and telling stories can have on us. They can make a legendary Jedi master believe his own hype, to tragic consequences. They can make a troubled kid lose his moral compass. But most importantly, they can take us away from a dreary existence, give us a spark of hope to hang onto, and maybe provide us with lasting inspiration.
The movie ends with a little slave boy, probably very reminiscent of Rian Johnson at that age, telling the story of THE LAST JEDI to his fellow slaves... with what is essentially a Luke Skywalker action figure. After his master breaks up the performance, the little boy goes outside. He grabs a broom with a little help from the Force, then gazes up at the stars as the Force theme plays. He sweeps and dreams of the adventure he's just imagined with the help of his toy. He's been liberated by playing with his toy.
So, yeah, Star Wars is about the toys. But that doesn't mean its some shallow, cynical cash-grab. The opposite, in fact. Toys aren't just hunks of plastic, not to the kids who play with them. Toys are a conduit through which children dream, telling themselves stories that thrill them, give them hope, and help them to deal with life in a universe that is often cruel and unfair. They're a key aid in human emotional development. The Star Wars mythos is a toy, something for new artists to come in and play with, to spin yarn that thrills and inspires, and then pass on to the next in line.
The passing of the baton to a new generation of Star Wars storytellers didn't happen in 2012, when George Lucas sold his empire to Disney.
It happened in 1977, when Lucas gave millions of kids the tools to tell their own stories, using the language he dreamed up.
And now one of them has grown up and made a movie about it. Incredible.