UK Release Date: 14th December 2017
Runtime: 152 minutes
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Domhnall Gleeson
Synopsis: Rey attempts to hone her Force powers with the help of a jaded, unsure Luke Skywalker, while Resistance forces challenge the new dominance of the First Order.
There isn’t a film franchise around that feels as significant as Star Wars. The rush of adrenaline when the crawl text appears and that John Williams theme blares through the speakers is incomparable to anything else in cinema, whether it’s Marvel’s most ambitious superhero team-up or the new Pixar animation. Every journey to the galaxy far, far away is both exciting and nerve-wracking in equal measure because, for every moment as powerful as the death of Han Solo in The Force Awakens, there’s a memory of Jar Jar Binks getting his tongue trapped in something.
With that in mind, Looper director Rian Johnson‘s hugely ambitious adventure, The Last Jedi, is a worthy successor to JJ Abrams‘s franchise reboot and enough to have every Wookiee lover and slightly too Force-sensitive fan breathing a hearty sigh of relief.
We begin with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his Resistance buddies, under the command of the late Carrie Fisher‘s returning General Leia, taking on a huge First Order spaceship. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is struggling to connect with self-exiled Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on the secluded planet of Ahch-To, with him vowing that the Jedi ideals are long dead. Villainous Vader-in-waiting Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is getting a verbal kicking from his boss Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) after the demise of Starkiller Base, while snooty General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) isn’t exactly in line for a pay rise either.
The genius of Rian Johnson’s take is in how different it feels to everything that has come before. While The Force Awakens was a highly concentrated blast of crowd-pleasing nostalgia karaoke, The Last Jedi is a looser, baggier tale that occasionally makes you forget you’re watching a Star Wars film at all. Johnson delves into the long-established mythology of the franchise and is unafraid to put a brave new slant on the canon, even if some of his brash moves are already proving to be divisive with fans. This is a film with shocks and surprises up its sleeve at every turn, eschewing the Empire Strikes Back formula it could easily have fallen into.
Johnson splits up his central stars, with each of the new main trio of heroes getting their own distinct arc. Oscar Isaac must confront the flaws of being a reckless hothead as he butts heads with ace tactician Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), who proves to be a much deeper and more complex character than Star Wars military characters of the past. Isaac gets time to explore his burgeoning bromance with John Boyega‘s rebel Stormtrooper Finn, though the film ultimately packs Boyega off for a bizarre adventure in the definitely-not-just-the-Cantina-again world of the Canto Bight casino.
These scenes feel tangential to the main plot and Benicio del Toro‘s sleazy underworld character is never developed beyond being a Benicio del Toro sleazy underworld character. In a movie that’s already taking its time, this feels like an unnecessary diversion, though it does introduce us to plucky Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who is tremendous as a woman wholly devoted to the cause of the Resistance in a movie where everyone seems to exist in shades of grey.
It’s in this criticism of the established dichotomy between the Light and the Dark that Johnson really finds room to shine with The Last Jedi. The much-discussed sense of connection between Rey and Kylo Ren is the epicentre of his story, with interesting Force projections allowing the two to communicate across geographical boundaries. It’s a device that could easily have felt cheesy and trite, but is told with quietly affecting sophistication by Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver.
Driver cements himself as arguably the most interesting villain in Star Wars history in a performance that deepens and intensifies the sense of youthful rebellion that powered his initial sparks of evil. There’s no question that Kylo Ren is a combination of good and evil, with the same true of Ridley’s headstrong, conflicted Rey, but Johnson asks the characters which side of the divide they wish to fall, and the results are not always as predictable as you might expect.
As much as The Last Jedi is fascinated with the new, it finds plenty of time to spend with Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. The sadly departed Fisher gets a dedication in the credits and her performance is measured and delightful, as Leia hardened by time, but turned strategic by her transformation from renegade princess to battlefield maestro. Hamill, meanwhile, is compelling in his return to the role that made his career, as a Luke Skywalker turned hermit when the Jedi belief system failed him. He’s a character who maintains his belief in light and dark, despite a complicated new world that has little interest in such binary concepts.
The focus on character never feels as if it comes at the expense of the action and spectacle needed for a Star Wars movie to excel. The film opens with a heart-stopping space dogfight around an enormous First Order Dreadnaught ship and takes in some of the most inventive and violent lightsaber action the franchise has ever produced. One final battle in particular feels like the culmination of everything that has come before it and features at least half a dozen images of pure, arresting cinematic art. The conclusion of the fight has split fans in half, but it has a poignancy and an intelligence befitting of the film that has come before it.
The wider Star Wars universe, too, remains as colourful as ever, whether it’s the stocking filler cuteness of the bird-like Porgs or the stunning beauty of a third act pack of glistening ice foxes. There are some nice nods to the past, with returning characters showing up for fan-pleasing cameos, but Johnson has an entire hatful of original ideas for the universe. It’s perhaps the most outwardly comedic Star Wars movie, as a stark contrast to the inky blackness of Rogue One and its horrors of war.
Johnson’s biggest achievement with The Last Jedi is in delivering a satisfying spectacular of sound and light, while also producing a story packed with chewy themes around hope, morality and the passing of old ideas. He’s clearly having a whale of a time in the biggest blockbuster sandbox imaginable, delivering a film with its share of rough edges, but enough jaw-dropping beauty to carry it over the finishing line.
This writer-director hasn’t constructed the perfection of Empire Strikes Back with The Last Jedi, but he has shown remarkable bravery in steering this new Star Wars franchise away from the established narrative beats of the past. That takes a serious pair of Porgs.
Pop or Poop?
The Last Jedi is a towering spectacle of cinematic bravery from Rian Johnson, who finds plenty of room for new ideas and weighty themes within the established order of a Star Wars adventure. He has constructed a satisfying blockbuster movie, featuring stunning action sequences and equally impressive dialogue set pieces.
Mark Hamill is tremendous as a weary Luke Skywalker, but it’s the newbies that are once again the stars of the show, with Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver crafting a dynamic that’s as compelling as any in the 40-year history of the series. JJ Abrams has a near-blank slate to work with, which is an incredibly enticing notion.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.