Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill & John Boyega
Rating: 12A Duration: 152 minutes Release date: 14 December – UK
Exactly how does anyone try to critique the Star Wars films? They are so engraved in the minds of generations of film fans that by now any attempt at sensible criticism seems futile. These films have defined blockbuster cinema for decades and it’s safe to say that we are still feeling the effects from A New Hope even today. By now though, surely it’s time for something different? Something that will tread new ground and set the franchise up for a few decades more? Well, The Last Jedi certainly does that.
As the opening crawl dictates, we soon learn that the Rebels are on the run once more. After successfully destroying the Starkiller base in The Force Awakens, our heroes led by General Leia Organa and X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron find themselves on the back foot after they have been tracked down by The First Order. With Supreme Leader Snoke and Kylo Ren in pursuit, the Rebels jump into hyperspace – only to be followed by The First Order, leaving what’s left of the Rebel Alliance to attempt a daring escape mission.
After the sheer joy of The Force Awakens and the stoic Rogue One, The Last Jedi has arrived with much fan fare. There are fantastic lightsaber duels, daring X-Wing missions and plenty of adventure going round, but there is also intrigue, character development and a sense that the landscape is changing. Without spoiling anything, Luke Skywalker’s key line from the trailer – “this isn’t going to go the way you think” – has much more resonance while watching the film than initially thought. What you know about Star Wars, what you thought you knew and what you’ve been making fan theories about for the past two years is about to be seriously tested here. And if you thought Star Wars was about you, then you are seriously wrong.
Admittedly, that last sentence is a bit of a contradiction. There is plenty for fans who have been around since A New Hope, but there is also the unnerving feeling that the landscape has changed significantly. If The Last Jedi leaves you with one feeling more than any other, then it will be one of uncertainty and perhaps that is scary for a fan-base who are maybe more used to getting what they want than any other.
The Last Jedi’s biggest achievement is what it does with its core characters. Rey (Ridley) is the central focus of the film and her arc here really drives the film forward. In search of answers to her past and indeed her future, Rey is stricken with inner conflict while attempting to reignite a spark under Luke Skywalker’s disgraced Jedi master. The two make for an intriguing double act, with Rey acting as counsel and Luke battling with whether he is able to train another Jedi in waiting. Like Rey, Ben Solo’s inner struggle is brought to the fore, with Adam Driver on magnificent form. Driver is by far the best actor this current trilogy has, and one could even make an argument for him giving the best performance this entire series has seen. His maturity and ability to convey conflict bring a much needed dynamic to the film and ensure there is more to hang onto than the usual visual delights. Another great pairing is that of Poe and Leia, the two proving that there are different way to settle a war than piloting an X-Wing and blowing shit up. Again, there is plenty of this, but director Rian Johnson is keen to show a different perspective to intergalactic war and it’s a welcome viewpoint.
There are, however some drawbacks to Johnson’s style. Pacing is a concern, with a mid-point sojourn on a Monte Carlo style planet proving little more than a diversion to the main plot. The main chase, as The First Order pursue the Rebels, plods on almost to the point of parody. Likewise, characters like Captain Phasma and General Hux struggle to acclimatise. Phasma in particular proving one of the least interesting characters to join the Star Wars universe. Hux, on the other hand is a better version of his character from The Force Awakens, but Johnson see’s the foolishness in him and has no trouble in making Hux more comedic this time around.
Despite many thinking The Last Jedi will follow The Empire Strikes Back and be the “dark” middle chapter, Johnson allows the film to be quite light in tone throughout. He allows comedy to flow naturally and has given us one of the best site gags seen in blockbuster cinema in a long while – it’s a scene that would fit more naturally in Spaceballs – but Johnson pulls it off with skill. There isn’t the same sense of instant gratification that came with The Force Awakens and you do feel that it may require a few more viewings before it really sinks in. But, The Last Jedi is the first sign of something new in the Star Wars franchise in a long while, and that combined with some stunning set-pieces and glorious visuals gives fans more than a little hope for the future.