It's no surprise that Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a divisive movie. Some of the criticism (the criticism that does not come from racist and/or sexist internet trolls) is centered around the film's use of humor. It works wonderfully for some, but for others, it takes them out of the film.
I'll make this plain right now — I absolutely love The Last Jedi. I love everything about it, and that love grows with every viewing. I've read plenty of complaints about it (in real life, everyone I've talked to about it has been positive, by the way), but for me, the film is a mythically perfect Swiss watch, and the humor within it contributes to that a great deal.
If I wrote about all of my favorite comedic moments in this movie, this article would go on forever. Instead, let's take a look at four moments that really stand out.
"TOOLING WITH YOU"
Right from the start, The Last Jedi gives you a comedic moment featuring Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and the First Order's General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). Poe is racing toward one of the First Order's dreadnoughts by himself and he prank calls the very haughty General.
While using the phrases "holding" and "on hold" here may put some people off, it's in line with the more modern way Poe talks — later in the film, he'll utter the words "big-ass door." It's not so much what he says that's funny, it's the very calm, cool, and collected way in which he says it. Isaac delivers the "holding for General Hugs" lines like he has all the time in the world, which only serves to irritate Hux further and further.
Hux's reactions are where the real fun begins, however. Hux and the rest of the First Order are a bunch of young, angry tiki torch-bearing regressives — they cannot stand to be mocked, and like a group of bad magicians, they demand to be taken seriously. That a lone pilot would even consider mocking Hux in such a way is unfathomable to them. You can see the disbelief on Gleeson's face and hear it in his voice. It's priceless.
It takes a nudge from the Imperial veteran Edrison Peavey (Adrian Edmondson) to make Hux aware of what Poe is doing. Peavey tells him "I believe he's tooling with you, sir," in a manner that tells us he was fully aware of how Poe was just stalling for time. Hux fell for it because of his ego, and this is why the older, more experienced officers (Peavey, as well as Captain Canady) are frustrated. As members of the First Order, they're now being bossed around by inexperienced, rage-fueled kids (aka, Hux and Kylo Ren, who we'll get to in a bit).
The First Order is great at creating huge weapons and brainwashing soldiers, but it's also, as I've already said, high and mighty. They are entitled little twerps, and that's how Poe is able to manipulate the situation to his advantage. The moment is funny, but it serves the story at the same time.
In terms of the audience, however, we're about to watch a giant, thought-provoking, legend-reaffirming epic. Starting with an unexpected moment of levity — one that almost evokes Han Solo's breezy "We're all fine here, now, thank you... How are you?" from Star Wars: A New Hope — is not a bad way to begin.
CANTANKEROUS OLD MAN LUKE
Luke Skywalker's limited training with Rey (Daisy Ridley) is full of cantankerous "just deal with it" moments, from Luke (Mark Hamill, of course) relishing in some freshly squeezed green milk to his "every word you just said was wrong." Contrary to popular belief, though, his opening toss of the lightsaber does not fall into this category — that moment mirrors his saber toss at the end of Return of the Jedi, and it introduces his rejection of anything Jedi related. It's the last thing we expect, but it's not a gag.
One of Luke's funniest moments on Ahch-To comes when he tools with Rey about her sensing the Force. Tickling her hand with a long blade of grass, he makes her think that it's really strong with her. Part of the reason it works is the very excited reaction that Daisy Ridley plays as Rey, but another part is that it evokes how nutty and rude Yoda was when we first met him in The Empire Strikes Back.
Luke's brand of battiness is different from Yoda's, but, ultimately, they are both grounded in the fact that these two Jedi have been on their own for way too long. The friendly chemistry between Hamill and Ridley doesn't hurt things, either.
Kylo "Ben Solo" Ren may be a lethal death machine, but he's not devoid of his own set of comedic moments. Adam Driver is tremendous at selling many of Kylo's deadpan line readings, with one of the more memorable ones coming at the start of his second "ForceTime" session with Rey. She makes it clear that she would rather not have this chat right there and then, and Driver responds with a dry "Yeah, me too" right before the camera pans to him, shirtless. It's funny and it humanizes our lead villain at the same time. He's more complex than the brooding, screaming madman we first met in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, though he does still partake in more brooding and screaming in The Last Jedi, as well.
Kylo is a First Order guy, so he's not averse to some tantrums. He throws multiple fits about Luke in the last act, even screaming out an incredibly petty "I'm sure you are" when Luke tells him that he's sorry. He also makes it pretty clear that he is very close to being done with Hux — after the General repeats an order Kylo just gave (only louder), Driver gives him a look that could kill that also just so happens to be made of pure comedic gold.
These moments do not take the drama away, though. They make Kylo fascinating to watch. So, while Kylo and Hux might be entertaining, their positions as antagonists aren't threatened.
THE SUBVERSIVE IRON OF DOOM
Our heroes have just stowed aboard the First Order flagship Supremacy and we see a huge, black object begin to descend. The music is frightening, steam is billowing everywhere, and Star Wars fans think of everything from Han being frozen in carbonite to the exhaust from Emperor Palpatine's shuttle. This must be a new weapon of doom, and it's coming right for us!
Except it's not. It's just a space iron, and it's not even giant, we were seeing it in close-up. With perspective, the little iron is lowered and robotically starts pressing some First Order uniforms... because galactic neo-fascists have to be tidy and crisp.
The bit works so well because it takes every expectation we have about Star Wars movies and completely subverts them. It makes us rethink everything, and lets us know that things aren't going to be as predictable as we may have thought. Sure, this is just an iron, but that other small thing over there may turn out to be a bomb. You never really know, so stay on your toes.
This subversion of our expectations is something that The Last Jedi is rife with. Personally, this subversive approach works much better for me than Jar Jar Binks stepping in poop.
I say this with love: C-3PO's double-punch of jokes in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones ("This is such a drag" and "I am quite beside myself") are real groaners. I enjoy them because it's still Star Wars and, c'mon, not because they really fit the scene or provoke any kind of real laughter. The humor in the prequels (and even the original films, to be honest) occasionally felt tacked on — the story would progress, and then an Eopie would fart or Wicket would hit himself with a rock. The story would then resume.
The much-derided Jar Jar first introduced in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace actually has more story-related humor. He plays out the living Force equivalent of the divine fool, and yes, I went there. I'm a fan of all kinds of Star Wars humor, but the comedic moments of The Last Jedi almost always flow from the story, the themes, or both — including the subversive iron of doom. The humor fits Star Wars like a glove.
Whether it is turning familiar tropes on their ear, mocking those who cannot stand to be mocked (and enjoying the ensuing outrage), or tooling around with an idealistic would-be Jedi out of loneliness, the humor of The Last Jedi makes it eccentric and exciting. Without the film's humor, much of its lustrous light would be dimmed.
Dimmed, but not gone. Is there a more joyful ending to any Star Wars film than the one here? A young boy hears a legend, looks to the stars, and holds his broom up like a lightsaber, ready to fight the darkness. The Last Jedi has its fun (as all Star Wars films do, and should) but when it wants to go for the heart, well, it does so with just as much precision. Johnson knows when and when not to subvert.
If you've made it this far, you may have some takes of your own. By all means, share them in the comments below. As Kylo might say, I want every gun you have to fire on this article. In the meantime, I'll be holding for General Hugs.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.