A lot can happen in a fictional universe in two and half hours, and director Rian Johnson took the opportunity to subvert a lot of the established narrative rules of the Star Wars franchise. Monumental things happen in interpersonal relationships, while large-scale events are drawn out with explicit detail. Granted, this happened in previous Star Wars installments before—the three-way between Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine, while the Endor shield generator and Death Star II space battles raged on in Return of the Jedi comes to mind—The Last Jedi turned the idea into a best practice. Scenes where solemnity is expected, Johnson hands you flippancy; where you expect easy answers to questions raised by The Force Awakens, Johnson generates another question while mostly dodging the original. Whether this is a desirable turn of events is in the eye of the viewer, but it’s clear that Johnson steered the franchise’s narrative style in a different direction.
Cinematically, Johnson’s style and design vocabulary is top notch and his camera shots were impeccable, and he really shined at expressing the impact of large-scale scenes (the hyperspace destruction of the pursuing First Order fleet was an awe-striking tableau). In congruence with the meta-theme of subversion, there’s lots of unorthodox angular shots and upside-down or reverse-lateral perspectives—techniques not found easily in standard issue sci-fi/fantasy films. I found it a smidge more preferable to J.J. Abrams’ lens flares and trucks-and-pans. The action moves too fast for some of these techniques to be admired, so while Johnson’s aesthetic could be on the level of Denis Villeneuve’s, we’re not allotted much time to breathe it in.
Much could be said, and probably is being said, about the shoehorning of women leaders into the franchise. Johnson’s view of the role of women in power is rather narrow, and though it’s not nearly on the scale of George Lucas’ blatant sexism against men in using millions and millions of male clones specifically as obedient cannon fodder for the Clone Wars story arc, it’s still just as egregious. The two Resistance female protagonists in power, Princess/General Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo, both come off as annoyed mothers-in-law than effective leaders. Leia slaps Poe Dameron for disobeying orders, in front of the entire crew, instead of something less humiliating like a one-on-one chastisement in private. Granted, Dameron was open and unapologetic in his rebellion, but the impetus is on Leia, as his superior, to handle the situation properly. Holdo is so terrible as a substitute captain, both professionally and in her personality, that she inspires a successful mutiny against her and her commanding officers—though she more than redeems herself later on. Rose Tico, though just a mechanic and not a commanding officer, henpecks and finger-wags Finn, and is at the helm of a goody two-shoes, baffling “rich people are mean and hurt animals” narrative subplot that consumes about 20 minutes of screen time. The message is implied but rather clear: women, especially women in power, are tactless bitches*.
J.J. Abrams was listed as a producer in The Last Jedi‘s credits, and is slated to direct the next Star Wars episode, number 9. It remains to be seen how Abrams will tie together Johnson’s unraveling threads of the Star Wars franchise.
* Perhaps ironically, the best woman leader in the most recent two Star Wars films is Captain Phasma. Though she had to uphold some pretty nasty First Order protocols, she never did anything reckless or inappropriate to her position. Her dealing with Finn’s disobedience was more in line with effective leadership that what was seen in the Resistance leaders.