Contrary to many, I believe Episode IV (not Empire) to be the high water mark in the Starwars galaxy. Rian Johnson has created a divisive and flawed masterpiece that I believe is its most accomplished companion to date.
Starwars started out in becoming stratospherically huge and almost sacred, reaching and bewitching huge swathes of different film-goers a long, long time ago. This was in fact a maverick feature born out of an era of a new wave of exciting and extraordinary directors. A young Lucas, Spielberg, Scorcese and DePalma to name a few. This has become a Disney acquisition monetised for a new generation. It has also been knowingly nostalgified for the faithful, vicariously sharing it with their young Padwans.
For me JJ played it too safe with Force Awakens, holding the new baby effectively but cautiously. He hit a sweeter spot with his Star Trek reboot which carried a slightly lessened level of pressure and studio interference. Gareth Edwards hit some arguably more rough and raw beats with Rogue One, but without the same level of polish, emotional depth and gravitas as JJ.
Enter Rian Johnson, another newer indie director with a deep love and reverence for the cornerstones of the cinematic art. I’ve followed Rian’s work and established he’s a hugely cine-literate director and a childlike fan of this universe. He almost turned down this gig, daunted by the opportunity of helming this latest instalment. Rian has nurtured his learning and talent to deliver full scale action and adventure that does not necessarily require the latest in technology, although this is delivered in spades.
Our director has been gutsy in making a film that draws on many of his influences in taking on this Jedi juggernaut.
There are some moments that may not initially feel right to you. Moments that you may not think are very “Starwars”, but I think when you let this run out its epic running time, it is huge in its endeavour. He gets the best out of being given free reign to create life his own narrative with turns taken in deftly developing characters new and old. There is a natural cadence with what has gone before, while freshening up the fantastical.
I think where there is so much vision and passion from such a film-maker, there will be inevitable quirks and blind spots. Think here of an analogy of buying a Ferrari. It is a thing of beauty and genius, but with vulnerabilities and quirks that can never make for the perfect driving machine.
Being the longest Starwars yet, I first checked my watch 2 hours in, thinking how the heck can there be another half hour to wade through. It was like having to take a breath, and to get up and go again.
But boy was it worth it. The film finds a new gear just when you think it’s going to take it’s foot off the gas.
I’ve chosen to avoid too much here on plot and detail, but the old and new guard cast both get the time and space to breathe and grow into their roles and story, wonderfully weaved together by Mr Johnson.
So far I am painstakingly aware of the difference in opinions out there on this film. I think it will necessitate a second viewing.
But… I have been won over by a sense of something masterful I haven’t sensed since that first feeling of awe watching A New Hope. I think there is more in common tonally and experimentally than some may initially realise. The risks that are taken, I believe are in keeping with what that young George Lucas all those years ago would have wanted from another devoted and maverick director. 9/10