“Something inside me has always been there, but now it’s awake and I need help”
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Another year, another chapter in the Skywalker Family Drama. Despite what some fans are saying, it’s a really good one.
Currently I have seen The Last Jedi twice, planning on a few more. Due to the fact that whilst The Force Awakens was a very comfortable film, The Last Jedi feels like what Force Awakens needed to be, a proper shake up of the status quo and a detraction from its extremely well worn but functional foundations. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy The Force Awakens because I did, but it felt a bit too comfortable, comfort done very well there’s no doubt about that, because that film is a lot of fun to sit through. But The Last Jedi tops it in almost every regard.
There are three distinct stories being told throughout The Last Jedi. A war of attrition aboard the last Resistance cruiser attempting to outrun The First Order, Rey being tutored by Luke Skywalker as well as Rey attempting to convince Luke to return and aid the Resistance and finally Finn, Poe and new character Rose, working to cripple The First Order against the orders of Resistance Command. Each of these threads throughout the film contribute something that Star Wars always has been whilst at the same time adding some very needed variety into the formula. Particularly in response to both what fans expected (or didn’t expect) and certain aspects of The Force Awakens that were left unanswered.
That last point is where the films biggest strength, at the end of The Force Awakens, there were questions;
- Who is Supreme Leader Snoke?
- Who are the Knights of Ren?
- Why did Luke retreat into seclusion?
- Who are Rey’s parents?
These all seemed to fall under the umbrella of J.J Abrams “Mystery Box” storytelling and whilst fan speculation has stoked the flames of these questions to an insane degree, Rian Johnson as Director of The Last Jedi has answered these questions in an intensely satisfying way, because as much as I like J.J Abrams, I do not care for the Mystery Box. I thought it was fairly obvious who Snoke is, he’s Snoke. He was never Darth Plaugueis or Darth Bane or any other fan favourite character from the old expended universe books or comics, Kylo Ren was never going to be Darth Revan and Luke was never going to be Rey’s father. Johnson has put the hammer to these questions in the best way, the answers we wanted are not going to be some cult favourite character that the general public hasn’t heard of. As much as I love callbacks and easter eggs and such, they aren’t necessary in the grand scheme of things. I’m perfectly happy with new characters made for a new generation of fans, if I feel the need to read through the Expanded Universe again, I’ll do so. They’re still there and they’re still good.
I can understand why The Last Jedi seems to have polarised so many people, the general theme of this film seems to be “Acceptance”. Acceptance in a rather blunt fashion. But that doesn’t stop the film itself from being everything Star Wars always has been, this is where the three story threads truly come into play. Finn and Rose in their mission to fight back against the First Order supply no small amount of optimism, derring-do and classic swashbuckling fun when they’re on screen. Travelling to a brand new planet and meeting Benecio Del Toros Codebreaker character (who I would absolutely love to know more about), going temporarily undercover on the Flagship of the First Order, Finn has an excellent one on one fight with Captain Phasma and there’s no short amount of fun in that particular strand of the film.
Rey and Luke on the other hand focus solidly on character building, with no short of input from Kylo Ren, whilst this thread in the film is centered around Rey learning about her abilities, it’s balanced with her learning the exact reason why Luke went into seclusion after failing to rebuild the Jedi Order and that plays out very naturally over the course of the film, we learn snippets of what happened from both Luke and Kylo Ren and Daisy Ridley shows off her terrific range as an actress as Rey puts together the different pieces of the puzzle. Mark Hamill shines as a very different Luke Skywalker than what we’ve seen in the past, riddled with gilt and shame about his failure to save Ben Solo from falling to the Dark Side and unwilling (for a time) to teach Rey anything about her abilities but underneath all that self-loathing we do get some very funny moments from Luke, adding some wonderful levity to a very dour character.
Thirdly is the thread set on the last Resistance cruiser, any time the film returns to this setting, there is always a lingering sense of dread, futility and stress. Which comes out in Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, who absolutely oozes charisma and charm in the role. Throughout this thread, Poe is attempting to figure out how to escape The First Order, against the order of his commanding officers, whilst the higher ups are remaining silent on the plan they don’t seem to have Poe gets continuously agitated and aggravated with the absolute lack of information he is given on top of the ever looming threat of the First Order. That atmosphere of dread and fear coupled with Isaac’s performance states in no uncertain terms, that the Resistance is strung out, tired and above all, scared.
That’s three distinct stories each with their own flavour to contribute to The Last Jedi overall, each one is as entertaining as it is equal parts sad, inspiring and action packed.
Performance wise, there is not a single bad actor in The Last Jedi. Not one. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are on even better form than in The Force Awakens and I cannot wait to see more of them. Newcomers to the franchise Kelly Marie Tran and Benecio Del Toro are the MVPs here, Tran’s enthusiasm and passion for the role is infectious and Del Toros stuttering, neutral codebreaker DJ is as interesting as he is mysterious. Adam Driver continues to knock it out of the park as Kylo Ren, equal parts furious rage coupled with quiet contemplation in the moments when he’s alone or conversing with Rey, Domhall Gleeson as General Hux actually supplies more laughs than I thought he would as well as a large sense of authority, Gwendoline Christie whilst given a very reduced part in the film still remains the role I want to see more of, having her in a single (albeit brilliant) fight scene is not a good use of her as an actress. Andy Serkis as Snoke continues to prove him as the king of anything mo-cap related and most surprising of all is Adrian Edmonson of The Young Ones and Bottom in a very minor role as Captain Peavey, hardly an integral part of the film but just seeing him brought a smile to my face. Carrie Fisher as General Leia is both a sad and inspiring sight, Fishers untimely passing will probably be felt as long as Star Wars exists and it’s good to see that her final film was great as The Last Jedi is, the snark and light that Fisher brings as Leia will always be remembered.
Action wise, The Last Jedi is a treat, space battles with Poe and his X-Wing are exhilaration personified, Finn and Rose lead a frantic charge through a Casino planet whilst being pursued by security forces and fighters and any time Rey or Kylo pick up a Lightsaber you’re guaranteed poetry in motion. The quality of the duelling scenes has picked up by such a large amount since the prequels ended, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi treat the sabre scenes as if the characters are hefting around medieval blades and its a welcome change from the fast paced martial arts of Episodes One through 3. Whilst those were entertaining in their own right, there didn’t feel like there was any power behind each hit. Whereas in Episodes Seven and 8, the characters grunt and heave as they clash swords with one another, each hit resonates and has a wonderfully large impact behind it.
As for flaws, there aren’t many and there certainly isn’t anything game breaking. It feels like there are scenes missing here and there, particularly on the Resistance Cruiser, Captain Phasma is oddly absent until the start of the final act and the pacing feels just a touch slow at times. These flaws however are hardly worth losing sleep over.
As far as I’m concerned we are living in a golden age for Star Wars. The Last Jedi is a thematically interesting, visually brilliant, brilliantly acted, swashbuckling ride from start to finish. Watch it, then watch it again.
Summation: Near perfect
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, John Boyega, Benecio Del Toro, Laura Dern
Running Time: 152 Minutes