By Travis Trombley
It’s a fitting focus for this series in particular. Star Wars - across nine films, three television shows, comics, novels, and video games - has constructed a modern mythology that’s now spanned and linked three generations. However, despite its popularity, the critical success of the franchise is anything but consistent, especially when it comes to the films. Yeah, we are looking at you Hayden Christensen, Ewoks, midichlorians, hyper-convenient Sarlacc sequence, and Chancellor Palpatine vs Jedi Council fight scene.
So here’s the question: what did writer-director Rian Johnson learn from the failures past of the Star Wars franchise?
We’ll start with what the nine year-old in me is interested: the action. Johnson’s leaned away from hyper-choreographed lightsaber duels in favor of more brutal encounters that showcase variety and craft. Think about it this way: I remember the fight between Darth Maul and Obi-Wan being flashy, fast and cool, but I recall very few specific moves or moments. Conversely, when I think of the street fight between the Bucky and Cap in Winter Soldier, I recall not just the overall feeling of the fight, but the actual sequence of the fight and the moves featured throughout. Last Jedi functions more like the latter example; overall, I think there’s less lightsaber action to be had, but what we get is ultimately more memorable. It seems quality trumps quantity here.
Similarly, Johnson chose to privilege the spectacle of intense, creative piloting maneuvers over more standard “I can’t shake them!” dogfights. The film opens with yet another impressive Poe Dameron dogfight in which he maneuvers his X-Wing in ways that force the audience to appreciate both his talent as a pilot and Johnson’s imagination as a director, just as J.J. Abrams did with the Jakku Falcon scene from Force Awakens.