The First Order reigns . . .
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is filled with suspense, brand new characters, and shocking moments that will divide fans even more than 2015’s The Force Awakens. Director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) gives us a Star Wars movie like we’ve never seen before, taking the franchise to places it has never gone, and showing us that he and the team at Lucasfilm is willing to pull no punches.
For prequelists like myself, there is a lot to love. In some ways, The Last Jedi feels more like the prequels than it does the original trilogy—although it’s hard to deny it has truly become its own thing. Many people (including myself) wanted Lucasfilm to start taking risks, and The Last Jedi takes a hell of a lot of them. By the final credits, you may be shocked, you may be angry, or you might be thrilled—whichever way you feel, The Last Jedi is sure to make you feel something.
It’s all about character
Rian Johnson is, without a doubt, a master of character development. Each character is crafted with masterful strokes. The heroes we all loved from The Force Awakens return to a larger and more dangerous galaxy, where they will each be tested in ways you won’t expect. Rey, Finn and Poe all continue to be outstanding characters for the new generation, while Kylo Ren’s inner battle with himself grows deeper and more exciting than ever before. I might be in the minority here, but Kylo Ren was my favourite character in this film, and Adam Driver does a remarkable job portraying him.
Unfortunately, some of the new characters fall a little flat.
Amilyn Holdo (played by Laura Dern) comes to the forefront of the Resistance at the end of the first act. She is a colourful character who constantly clashes with Poe, but she isn’t going to be as memorable as some other side characters we’ve seen. Likewise, the mysterious figure of DJ (played by Benicio del Toro) turns out to be far less interesting than we speculated when he was first announced. He’s essentially a walking plot device who has the same role as Lando in Empire but without the charm and charisma. I didn’t care for him. The last of the new characters is Rose Tico (played by Kelly Marie Tran), who accompanies Finn on a secret mission to the casino of Canto Bight. She is fine, but not exceptional.
Return of the Jedi
Mark Hamill finally returns as Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. For the most part, he gives a strong performance with some very memorable scenes. At times, he’s just a little bit rusty, especially towards the beginning of the film. As for the character, it’s easy to see how Hamill would have “fundamentally disagreed” with Rian Johnson. Luke Skywalker is a damaged man and he bears a huge weight of shame. I’m sure that some fans will not be happy with how the character is handled—I had my own issues with it—but I won’t delve too much into that, for we’ll be entering spoiler territory.
In Carrie Fisher’s final performance, Leia has some incredibly emotional moments. She doesn’t have a lot to do in the film, but the few moments she has takes her to new and exciting places. Contrary to what Lucasfilm and Rian Johnson hinted at, there is no proper send-off for the character—which is going to make things very interesting going forward. I guess this isn’t a spoiler considering we already knew Leia was going to play a big role in Episode IX, but she is still very much a part of the group by the film’s end.
But not everything works
I do have some small issues with some of the creative choices Johnson made when it came to certain characters. Although the characters are generally well-written, at times they seemingly become cartoons of themselves. Luke has some early scenes that are so weird I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Remember how we theorised what Luke’s reaction to Rey would be? Remember some of the bad ones? Well, his reaction is so unsatisfying I can’t believe it actually made it through Lucasfilm’s vetting process. Another part that had me almost cringing was Hux’s first scene. I did not like how his character was handled at all. He’s supposed to be a general of the First Order, but he comes across as someone we would find in Rebels—a kids show with some of the most cartoonish characters in Star Wars.
And don’t get your hopes up regarding Captain Phasma’s much-anticipated return, because Phasma has less screen time in The Last Jedi than she does in The Force Awakens. She also has no influence on the plot. In essence, what you saw in the trailer is what you’ll see in the film.
In terms of Supreme Leader Snoke, let’s just say I was disappointed.
Lucasfilm has stated, many times before, that they don’t have a clear direction for the story of this new trilogy. Instead, they have given full control to their directors. Unfortunately, this is noticeable in The Last Jedi, and makes me really hope someone steps up to steer the ship and put a solid story in place. This “make-it-up-as-you-go” mentality is a recipe for disaster. Where is the Kevin Feige of Lucasfilm? It used to be George Lucas, and there are parts of this film that make me truly believe that getting rid of Lucas was the worst mistake Lucasfilm has ever made. Sure, I don’t think anybody wants him to take the directorial helm, but at least he would have given the films a consistent story.
I will just be brief here, but without delving into spoilers, there are a number of story threads that are outright abandoned in The Last Jedi.
If you were one of those people hoping for an explanation regarding Rey’s incredible power, I urge you not to expect too much. There is no explanation. None. It’s mentioned—vaguely—but that’s about it. Not only that, her training is barely shown and yet her power increases tenfold. I’m seriously not sure why this wasn’t addressed, especially considering Lucasfilm have copped so much backlash over it. They had a chance to fix what was, arguably, a mistake, but this is only going to feed fuel to the fans’ negative backlash.
Oh, and I hope you weren’t excited to finally see the Knights of Ren. They are not even mentioned in The Last Jedi. Hell, they’re not even alluded to except in the vaguest, most off-hand way! We can only assume that they all ended up dying off-screen, which is disappointing.
Shock over story
The Last Jedi promised to change everything in the Star Wars universe, and it definitely succeeded. Although I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens for what it was, I know many fans disliked how similar it was to A New Hope. The Last Jedi does not have that issue—it goes out of its way to avoid it. The Last Jedi is on the other end of that spectrum; you could say they over-corrected. It’s a shocking film, and it’s a ballsy film. But sometimes this is at the expense of story.
I can’t help but feel that Rian Johnson was so focused on defying our expectations and giving us something completely outrageous and unique, that he did it even when it didn’t suit the story. The Last Jedi throws everything into chaos, and it’s going to be a herculean task to fix. I have no idea how Episode IX is going to pan out. In some ways, that is exciting. But in others, it leaves nothing to actually anticipate. Don’t expect too much speculation this time round; the future is going to be very, very interesting.
All this is not to say the film wasn’t absolutely suspenseful. There were moments that had my heart kicking at my chest. Rian Johnson obviously knew what he was doing and the execution is flawless. But you have to wonder if he had a little too much creative agency to take the story wherever he wanted.
Not quite the sum of its parts
Like I said, there is a lot to love about The Last Jedi. John Williams is at the top of his game with another incredible score, one that (in my opinion) wipes the floor with Rogue One and even trumps The Force Awakens. There aren’t a lot of new themes (it borrows a lot from The Force Awakens), but the music is a strong blend of old and new, and at times is very reminiscent of the prequels. The musical cues are also on-point and adds a whole new level of tension, wonder and grandeur to the film. One thing that struck me, not that I mean to spark any new theories, is how Rose’s theme sounds eerily similar to Anakin’s . . .
The Last Jedi also has some of the best cinematography of the franchise. Some shots are so damn beautiful that I want to hang them up around my house immediately. I only had one issue—a very small issue: at times it looked like fan art. I’m not saying The Last Jedi was overflowing with fan service, because it definitely wasn’t, but some shots just looked weird—as though my eyes couldn’t process what they were seeing. Maybe it was the way it was shot and colour-graded, or maybe it was just me. Some of it looked surreal. Keeping on the topic of visuals, the fight choreography was incredibly well constructed.
There is also a lot of humour, and for the most part it lands. The packed theatre was laughing throughout the film, but it certainly wasn’t to the extent of, say, a Marvel film. Personally, I felt as though some of the humour was out of place and even sometimes a little unnatural, but it’s generally well-employed.
New rebellion, new direction
Overall, The Last Jedi left me with mixed feelings, but I can’t stress enough that I thoroughly enjoyed it in both viewings. It’s different. Star Wars is not as we always knew it—for better or for worse. All we can do is understand that—and accept it—because it is, after all, what we all wanted following The Force Awakens.
So there is a lot to love in this film, but also a lot to be disappointed about. And when the excitement wears off, The Last Jedi is going to divide fans like no film before it. Unfortunately, it feels as though Johnson places shock over story and, unlike a strong story, shock wears off. At times like this I miss George Lucas more than ever. There’s no denying he was a master storyteller, and Lucasfilm needs one right now.
One more thing . . .
If you’re still reading, then you’re probably wondering about the porgs! I’ll be honest, I had my reservations going into the theatre, but I can happily say that they are not overused and are handled really well. You should also be on the lookout for some sneaky cameos from previous Star Wars directors. Oh, and maybe I missed it, but this might be the very first theatrically released Star Wars film not to include the famous line, “I have a bad feeling about this.” I did not pick up on it during either viewing.
So, make what you will of that.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theatres as of this article’s writing and was produced by Lucasfilm. Distributed by Disney.