Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer, Oscar Isaacs, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Domhall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Beneicio Del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels
Synopsis: Immediately after The Force Awakens, the Galactic Republic is no more following the use of Starkiller Base’s superweapon. Hounded by the superior power of the First Order, the Resistance is a remnant struggling for survival. Against this backdrop, Rey (Daisy Ridley) struggles to adapt to her new powers despite finding Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
A film’s purpose is to push the audience, to guide us into the unexpected and therein find resonance with the tale. The Last Jedi does its job very well. Pushing the viewer between dismay and revelation, The Last Jedi leaves you in awe when the credits roll. Upending characters, uprooting expectations and ladened with twists, The Last Jedi is a stark contrast to The Force Awaken’s recycled nostalgia. The grandiose orchestra between good versus evil which has been Star War’s hallmark is sidelined. In its stead, The Last Jedi is a thread of different characters’ parallel journeys between the past and the future. Rian Johnson’s focus on characters moulds The Last Jedi into a film not seen before in Star Wars.
A bold departure from the franchise’s foundations, The Last Jedi will be praised for its maturity and originality in the years to come. In the present, Rian Johnson’s choices will disgruntle and divide fans expecting a rehash. An absence of answers to questions raised two years ago will cause many, myself included, to feel cheated by differing degrees . Viewers of Looper will notice Rian Johnson’s repeated error of focusing on characters over plot details. This mistake pushes The Last Jedi to commit the worst sin of The Star Wars prequels, outright omissions and references to unknown past events which steal away much needed exposition. The differing fate of two major characters at The Last Jedi’s conclusion veers away from the rest of the film’s commitment to originality. Yet in the moment of viewing, all misgivings dissolve away in the rush of pure adventure amid a galaxy far, far away.
I watched the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS. I remember The Return of the Jedi beginning as the tape unspooled in the machine. Luke Skywalker appeared and I knew he would be victorious. Silent and collected, draped in the black attire of a Jedi, Skywalker emanated an invulnerability and a purpose regardless of his surroundings. The Last Jedi swipes away all certainties. Every character is conflicted, their purpose tested and their perceptions of the world ultimately changed. From Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) to Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi is a lesson taught across different characters about what strength, weakness, and success really mean. Through this lesson, the characters learn who they really are. Atop this moment of conviction or failure is layer of moral ambiguity alongside a willingness to kill off characters.
Despite the desperate times humour pervades The Last Jedi. A lot of the gags bear Johnson’s hand as his previous film Looper does have its laughs. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron have their expected comedic moments but more unexpected jokes come from Luke and Leia (Carrie Fisher). Leia’s interactions with Poe as both teacher and friend have their chuckles. Luke has the goofy kookiness of an exile which Yoda displayed in The Empire Strikes Back. Part of Luke’s comedy comes from Rian Johnson letting Mark Hamill be himself, especially when he interacts with his old droid companions.
From extras to old favourites, every actor and actress excels in their role. Adam Driver bears a menacing teenage angst as Kylo Ren, without wallowing in the self pity which rendered Anakin Skywalker needlessly morose. Some of my favourite moments in The Last Jedi were the exchanges between Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Kylo Ren. Unlike the originals which did not develop the relationship between Darth Vader and the Emperor; Snoke treates Kylo as a student, offering him kernels of wisdom between rebukes. Growing up watching Batman cartoons and others, only to discover Mark Hamill was behind many of the voices, proved to me that he was a great actor. The Last Jedi will prove to many beyond the cartoon world that Hamill is just as good as any major star today.
Only one character falls flat despite the actress’ great performance. The character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and her arc underscore my personal issue with The Last Jedi, that Rian Johnson’s voice is bookended by J.J.Abrams and Disney. The overlap creates a disjointed transition between two directors creating different films with no shared source material. Atop of this is Disney ultimately dictating events. Following a spectacular opening space battle which may be Johnson’s best visual work, Rose arrives. Throughout her arc, Rose exudes an artifice, a clear purpose to create emotion and add meaning. Despite the actress’ attempts Rose never feels genuine, feeling more like a mouthpiece for what we are supposed to feel rather being a real person. This is contrasted by DJ (Benecio Del Toro), a character introduced in the same plot who with fewer words, conveys what he is meant to yet still belongs to this universe. Rose’s conclusion and its effect on The Last Jedi, while building on Johnson’s themes, were an artificial insertion preparing for the final instalment. Rather than bind me closer to the story, Rose’s purpose as an emotional device intermittently brought back all disbelief.
Certain moments in The Last Jedi were clear attempts to prepare for episode IX, with one scene causing me to cackle and remember I was in a small cinema screen full of people requiring cough medicine. Beyond Rose are a lack of answers to mysteries from The Force Awakens. Major plot details gain no explanation and earlier details from prior films are overlooked. Yet The Last Jedi never feels threadbare. Johnson’s talent for characters and visual knack distracts from the flaws until the film ends.
Looper had a visual imagery grounded in the minute which weaved into the past and the future of the story. In The Last Jedi, Johnson’s attentiveness imbues Star Wars with a vividness close to Blade Runner. Surveying every payload in a rebel bomber during the opening battle immerses you inthis grand scale event. Johnson’s use of wide angle lenses and inclusion of the actors’ full body in the frame gave lightsaber battles a fluid poetry. Never have these alien lands felt so real.
I am giving The Last Jedi 4 out of 5 stars. Rian Johnson had the onerous task of the new trilogy, to go beyond the old and forge something new. Star Wars is moving beyond George Lucas, transcending what we expect from the franchise. When episode IX releases, The Last Jedi can be praised as middle chapter in Star Wars’ new generation.
For those who have seen the film and disagree with my review, Hagood’s reaction was the complete opposite to mine. It can be read here.
By Saul Shimmin
For the trailer, see below: