Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★

As early as its customary opening crawl, I began to have a bad feeling about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In what plays like a dig at the current leader of the free world (who was pictured earlier this year watching Rogue One on Air Force One), the word 'RESISTANCE' appears in upper-case letters, an early worrying sign that real world, outside forces may be intruding on this most endearingly innocent of escapist worlds.

This is nothing new of course with Star Wars, as key words have been capitalised in the opening crawls of previous entries, though without the baggage the word 'Resistance' now inevitably carries (remember such innocent times?). And let's not forget that as long ago as Return of the Jedi we collectively groaned when George Lucas dubbed a Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan call over a shot of Chewbacca swinging on a vine, and later Lucas would add E.T. into the background of one of his much derided prequels. Much as we like to think Star Wars is some sort of hermetically sealed saga free of outside influences, that really hasn't been the case for a long time.

One of the commendable aspects of the rebooted franchise is how prior to this latest installment it avoided any sort of postmodern referencing. For all their faults, both The Force Awakens and Rogue One take place 100% in the Star Wars universe without any unwanted intrusion from the popular culture of the real world. Sadly, that's not the case with Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi. Taking a pop at Trump is but one borderline anachronistic moment in a film that seems restless and unhappy to be confined in Lucas's sandbox. Later, noir fan Johnson has John Williams reprise his theme from Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye as muzak in a casino setting. It's a double nod, as Altman's film was scripted by Leigh Brackett, who would later lend her talents to The Empire Strikes Back, and as much of a Long Goodbye fan as I am, such an explicit reference really irked me. The true jump the shark moment however comes during the X-Men inspired climax when a character makes a very modern, very American gesture. There's a time and place for such postmodernism, but a long time ago isn't the time, and a galaxy far, far away isn't the place. If you're wondering how Tarantino's rumoured Star Trek movie might turn out, there are some clues to be found here.

A New Hope (or Star Wars for folks of my generation) announces itself with arguably cinema's greatest opening shot, and subsequent sequels have found ways to top it in scale, if not awe. I honestly can't remember the opening shot of The Last Jedi, possibly because it's quickly followed by the worst moment in the movie, an overplayed gag that wouldn't be out of place in Spaceballs, one which features Domhnall Gleeson delivering a shockingly awful performance as General Hux, the franchise's most annoying character since he whose name shall not be spoken. As if the actor had read criticism of his ineffectual role in The Force Awakens, he amps up his performance here to ridiculously over the top levels, his face clad in pasty white make-up, which may be employed to disguise the distinctive shade of scarlet we Irish folks tend to turn when placed in embarrassing positions.

Much like The Force Awakens riffed on A New Hope, The Last Jedi borrows heavily from The Empire Strikes Back. Rey and Luke's adventures on Jedi island (in terms of promoting tourism, this movie could do for Ireland what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand; my homeland scrubs up very well on screen) are essentially a retread of those of Luke and Yoda. There's a visit to a Monte Carlo inspired location that plays out a lot like Han and co.'s trip to Cloud City. And of course there's a battle involving AT-ATs on a planet with a white surface (salt covering red clay gives the film one of its few moments of visual audacity).

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