CREDIT: Lucasfilm

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2017.

Spoiler Alert: This article discusses details from specific scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

In the opening scene of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) makes contact with a First Order ship and uses the opportunity to mess with General Hux’s (Domhnall Gleeson) head. Their tele-connection is fine, but Poe pretends that he cannot hear anything Hux is saying, driving the general to spiral out in frustration. This is a classic crank call routine, which begs the question: has even Star Wars adopted the Marvel penchant for overly practiced humor? Ultimately the moment is wrapped up with diction that assures us this is still a sufficiently lived-in Star Wars setting, as a First Order fleet member explains to Hux, “I believe he’s tooling with you, sir.”

This scene sticks out less when the remaining 2-plus hours of Last Jedi prove to be just as filled chock-a-block with so much humor. (Not to mention it fits Poe’s impish spirit.) Just about every scene is punctuated or punched up with a joke, a physical gag, character-based humor, or just plain weirdness. Which leads me to wonder: is this the funniest Star Wars movie yet? It is not like this series has hitherto been devoid of humor, far from it. But it is surprising when the hype of this middle entry was that it would be all Empire Strikes Back-style, dark-night-of-the-soul middle edition, but instead there is so much hilarity.

Here are just a few of the many memorable gags and laugh lines: BB-8 informs Poe that Finn is “naked” and “leaking,” Luke concurs with Rey that Jakku is “pretty much nowhere,” Poe is told to get his head out of his cockpit, Chewbacca attempts to eat roast porg while distraught porgs beseech him otherwise, an alien gambler at Canto Bight slots some coins into BB-8, Luke wipes metaphorical dirt off his shoulder. Honestly, this article could just be a list of every moment that made me laugh and it would be long enough to merit publishing.

I could worry that Last Jedi overdoes it with the humor, but that would miss the inherently subversive point of this film. Poe’s punking of Hux gives us our first taste of the chuckles, but it is a particularly anticlimactic moment a little bit later that really sets the tone. The Force Awakens ended with a lovingly shot tableau of promise, as Rey held out Luke’s lightsaber to summon him back to his Jedi/Rebel destiny. The Last Jedi returns us to that moment by having him callously toss his his iconic weapon over his shoulder like a stinky old sneaker. Yes, it’s funny, but the laughter co-exists with a despair that the hope that has held this universe up is dissipating.

What makes this particular humor successful is that it is not a distraction from the scene’s dramatic and thematic significance, but rather part and parcel of it. And that is why the comedy works as well as it does throughout the film. Just consider: while Rey is on Ahch-To training with Luke, she blows a hole through a cave with her blaster and later carelessly knocks down a structure, and on both occasions we see the amphibious Caretakers forced to deal with the fallout, plowing on with bemused frustration. Or when Rey faces Snoke, he utilizes his Force powers by boomeranging a lightsaber to hit her in the head with it. Dressed like a ’70s glam rock god, his vanity is just as, if not more, important than his thirst for power. And then you have Snoke castigating Kylo Ren for his Darth Vader-style helmet, inimitably demanding, “Take that ridiculous thing off.”

It is not as if the previous Star Wars movies have completely lacked humor. Indeed, who can forget C-3PO’s famously bad timing, or Yoda rummaging through Luke’s belongings, or BB-8 zapping anyone who crosses him with an electric shock? But what is uniquely notable with The Last Jedi is that the most consistently funny characters – the droids, the puppets, and the furries – have relatively less time than in earlier films. The traditionally flesh-and-blood folks carry a greater share of the comedic weight, whether by narrative fate or by design of characterization. Now, it is not as if the droids are completely absent from Last Jedi, and when they do appear, they make the most of it, as when C-3PO calculates the very specific unlikely odds of escape, or when BB-8 rolls around under cover of a (trash?) can, or when BB-8 blows the “smoke” off his “gun,” or when Poe scratches BB-8’s “belly” (so basically anything with BB-8).

I would argue that Star Wars loses its way when it loses its humor. I am of the (apparently minority) opinion that the prequel trilogy get progressively worse with each successive entry. The much-maligned Phantom Menace wins out over the relatively better-regarded Revenge of the Sith because I think it is better to err on the side of dorkiness than to go all in on overly deathly seriousness. Or at least if you’re going to be deathly serious, be weird about it. Several elements of The Last Jedi do not necessarily count as comedy, but they are so strange and unprecedented that all I can do is laugh. What to make of Benicio del Toro’s scoundrel DJ, who speaks with a whimsical, practically Seussian stutter and drops zingers like “blip-bloppity-bloop”? And of course how can we forget Luke squirting and drinking green milk out of the bosom of an alien creature lounging by the sea?

To answer this article’s question, I would need to thoroughly re-watch every Star War and make a detailed inventory of every bit of humor. The Last Jedi may or may not be the funniest of the franchise. It is certainly near the top. But a better and more readily declared conclusion is that it is the Star Wars film with the most important humor. This is the most democratic of the series, making it clear that anyone can be one with the Force, no matter what their origins. The Last Jedi sticks its nose at the slavish devotion to format that preceded it, not because there is anything wrong with the old way, but because there is a whole variety of alternatives that are also worth exploring, and as we get to them, it only makes sense to have as much fun as possible.

Advertisements