After suffering a setback at the conclusion of The Force Awakens, the First Order has regrouped and they’re back on the attack against the Resistance. However, the defiant band of heroes, led by General Leia Organa, will never give up their fight for the Republic while still holding out hope that Luke Skywalker will return from obscurity to help them in the war against the Dark Side.
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro
Run Time: 152 Minutes
Release Date: Out Now
Once the initial reactions to 2015’s The Force Awakens died down and people – after their second, third or fourth viewings – thought more about it, there were more than a few criticisms of J.J. Abrams’ movie. Many believed it mirrored A New Hope too much, so when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and it’s much darker tones came twelve months later, fans believed that it showed Disney and LucasFilm were willing to deviate from the norm when it came to the beloved franchise. As the spotlight turned to Rian Johnson, the hope remained that he would take The Last Jedi and break from tradition and deliver something new, a different kind of Star Wars.
That is exactly what he has done; The Last Jedi totally deviates from the norm and may well not be like any other Star Wars film that has come before it. It is a movie not afraid to take risks, not afraid to be different and most importantly, a movie determined to put focus on every single person involved.
Of course, the immediate focus on the movie coming in was all on the late, great Carrie Fisher, who sadly passed away after competing her work on this film, with many wondering how her iconic Princess/General Leia would be treated, honoured, represented. So let’s start there, as it is as good as place as any. Quite simply, this is perfect. Fisher didn’t have an awful lot to do in The Force Awakens, aside from the inevitable reunion with Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, whereas here she is front and centre of the action, involved in everything, and you can tell Fisher is enjoying herself while doing it. Her enthusiasm in her scenes is engaging, and this really is a perfect sendoff for both her and the character; Johnson deserves credit when, with so much going on elsewhere, he dedicates so much time and attention to honouring such an iconic character in the series.
And speaking of iconic Star Wars characters, that brings us to the Last Jedi himself; Mark Hamill’s long-awaited return in Episode VII may have left many underwhelmed, but this time out he wouldn’t be standing silently on a cliff edge.
Almost immediately, Hamill is a joy to watch, and this is absolutely the best Luke Skywalker has ever been. While it may be allowing nostalgia to creep in, watching Hamill play his most famous role with verve, energy and magnetism is sheer delight. His exchanges with Daisy Ridley’s Rey hold more than a passing resemblance to his scenes with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, likely not a coincidence given that was also the second in a trilogy, though unlike Force Awakens and A New Hope, this doesn’t feel like an Empire retread. While I am sure many expected it to be just that, and Johnson has, of course, offered minor similarities – Luke and Rey, predominantly – The Last Jedi in fact does what no other Star Wars film that has come before has done; in many ways he has ripped up the format and challenged both himself and his cast, and those charged with the next installment (looking at you, J.J.) with starting from scratch to create something special.
As a middle entry in a trilogy, the usual form would be to carry on what the first part set up, further establish what you have, and then start to place your pieces on the chess board ready for the final act to wrap things up. Here, however, things are done a little differently. Threads from The Force Awakens are forcibly cut, taken off in very different directions than expected, and generally threaded in ways that ‘standard protocol’ wouldn’t suggest. And it is so refreshing, a breath of fresh air to have, not just a middle portion in a trilogy series, but the middle portion of a Star Wars trilogy, go so against the norm and shake things up so dramatically.
We mustn’t forget, however, that this isn’t just the Skywalker and Organa show. Coming out of Episode VII, the series had two new heroes in Rey and John Boyega’s Finn, with both going in different directions coming out of that. Rey, of course, has headed off to try and bring Luke back into the fold, leaving Finn space to be more fleshed out as a character, something that was needed, despite an encouraging debut. And while aspects of his side story don’t quite work, he is in a much stronger position going forward and into Episode IX where he should really get the time and position to shine. The same can be said about Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, who gets some much-needed character development here, following a stop-start showing in The Force Awakens that involved him disappearing for the whole middle act before a late third-act return. He is naturally likeable, someone that may not always play by the rules but does so with the best intentions, and the hope now is that Abrams will realise the stronger position he has Dameron in for Episode IX and features him stronger than he did two years ago.
Finally, we come to our villain of the piece. No, not Snoke, though he is undoubtedly evil. Adam Driver came out of The Force Awakens as, in this humble scribe’s mind, the best Star Wars villain of them all. More interesting and rounded than Darth Vader, with an almost-limitless well of potential stories to mine from, I was very excited to see how Kylo Ren would be expanded as a villain and the – for lack of a better comparison – Vader of this new story. I can attest that if Ren was the best Star Wars villain before, he has only staked more of a claim to that title now.
Driver is magnificently gripping in every scene, almost demanding your full attention and you can only look away or to other things going on in the scene when he’ll let you. After having his best moments with Harrison Ford last time out, this time Driver gets to do his best work opposite Ridley, including a lightsaber battle that is truly up there with the best we’ve seen. I won’t discuss the trials and tribulations the character goes through during the movie, but suffice to say that Kylo Ren is perfectly positioned for Episode IX to once and for all take the villain crown, mask, helmet from Sidious, Vader or anyone else we’ve seen through episodes 1-8 and keep it as his own.
Ren, of course, is not on his own on the evil side of things, with General Hux still around to rival him for the affections of the all-seeing Supreme Leader Snoke. After a strong debut in The Force Awakens, Domhnall Gleeson gets more screen time here and does not disappoint, though this time largely isolated from Ren and concentrating on the attacks on the Resistance – whilst spending a large amount of the film alongside a marvellous Ade Edmondson (yes, Bottom and The Young Ones fans, the one and same). A word, too, on Snoke himself; shrouded in mystery in Episode VII, Andy Serkis’ latest motion capture character moves to the forefront, though still with little in the way of backstory or biographical information. He does have more of an impact this time though, and is front and centre in one of the movie’s surprising scenes (and to keep this review non-spoiler, we’ll leave that there).
Star Wars movies will always divide. Critics will love it, fans will hate it, or vice versa. And there will be some who don’t like this film, or only like parts of it. For sure, the middle act does slow down a little, though the movie’s lengthy runtime and natural inability to keep up the same pace without general storytelling throughout surely contributes. And while great work is done with the characters mentioned above, Benicio Del Toro’s DJ and Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo don’t quite work, or at the very least do work but maybe are not required here other than to add two more big names to an already-stellar ensemble cast list.
One of the biggest compliments I can think of for The Last Jedi is that it isn’t just a great Star Wars movie, but that it’s a damn good movie outside of the insular universe. Rian Johnson has done what I suspect most directors wouldn’t dream of, or at least actually have the guts to do, and divert so wildly from the script that it’s a wonder the famously-protective Kathleen Kennedy allowed him to do so. As said earlier, threads from The Force Awakens that you would expect to be built up and continued here are thrown away with such vigour, while also doing what is definitely not the done thing with the second fim in a trilogy and left as much of a blank slate for Abrams and the Episode IX team as possible. Indeed, the scope for where this can now go is massive, and it is only a good thing.
And the Porgs were fine.