Ifan Morgan Jones
Much has been made of the links between Wales and Star Wars, including the Millennium Falcon being built in Pembroke Dock for Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi director Richard Marquand’s Cardiff roots.
Despite this I was momentarily thrown by seeing S4C stalwart Mark Lewis Jones, who has been on our screens in Craith, Byw Celwydd and Un Bore Mercher over the past few months, pop up in the Last Jedi.
His brief scene-chewing cameo as the evil First Order veteran Captain Canady is one of the highlights of the film for me. Unfortunately for him and us, officers of the Empire never last long.
As for the rest, it’s fair to say that it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is at the same time the best and the worst Star Wars film to date.
Like the original ‘middle’ Star Wars film, Empire Strikes Back, much of the film follows two strands – the young padwan trained (or not) by a Jedi master on the one hand, and the resistance’s entanglements with the Empire/First Order on the other.
The first strand is excellent. The Force-triangle between trainee Rey and her two trainers, Luke and Kylo Ren, both attempting tug-o-war like to pull her to the light or the dark, is very entertaining.
There’s a lot of ambiguity in this relationship, too. Is Luke wholly good, and Kylo Ren wholly evil? Like the modern world, things just aren’t as simple as they were back in the 1980s.
Despite being the more ‘magical’ of the two ongoing plots this strand achieves much despite not leaving the austere, windswept Celtic island where we left Ray and Luke.
It’s all done through dialogue and facial expression by the three lead, and best, actors. It could have been done on a stage, and is all the better for it.
The second strand, unfortunately, is complete pants. So much so that it’s a real head scratcher that the same writer and director was in charge of both.
Finn’s adventures on the Resistance side of the narrative has the quality, and CGI aesthetic, of The Phantom Menace. The narrative is over-complex and doesn’t seem to lead anywhere in particular. Unlikely twists and coincidences abound.
It’s clear that the writer didn’t quite know what to do with many of the new characters left over from The Force Awakens. And he throws in a whole host of unnecessary new ones that don’t achieve much apart from sell toys, either.
Add to that a few moments that are real clunkers, as bad as anything George ‘Jar Jar Binks’ Lucas ever came up with in the prequel trilogy, and I was squirming in my seat.
This really is a Star Wars of two halves, the dark side and the light. The first seems to have been scripted and directed by Disney making a cheap kids’ film, the second by a visionary writer and director. Maybe this isn’t very far away from the truth.
Luckily, the proceeding missteps are brushed aside and the film comes together into a final act that wobbles a bit but largely works.
It’s spectacular and it hits emotional heights the other Star Wars films have seldom reached.
But even here, there are problems: The film abandons the ‘dirt under the fingernails’ Force of the Jedi Island and gives the protagonists superhero powers that wouldn’t be out of place in a Marvel film.
It leaves you scratching your head. If the Jedi could do this in the preceding six films, why didn’t they? They would have been much shorter.
Also, it goes on for too long. This was billed as the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ of the series but in truth it’s actually ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘The Return of the Jedi’ rolled into one.
It feels at times as if we’re watching a band ticking off their greatest hits. A New Hope style space battle? Check. A Return of the Jedi throne-room face-off? Check. Oops, we forgot an Empire Strikes Back style snowy/salty ground battle? Squeeze it in!
And while The Force Awakens was all about creating questions, this film closes most of them down and ends quite neatly. And as a result, it’s not entirely clear where the story goes from here.
Perhaps it shouldn’t go anywhere at all. In many ways this film is the culmination of all that came before it, good and bad. The Phantom Menace and The Empire Strikes back melded together like man and machine.
Perhaps Disney should leave it there and concentrate on the expanded universe, as they successfully did in last year’s more refreshing Rogue One.