Written By: Nick Poulimenakos & Mathew ‘JJ’ Simoes
The middle chapter in a trilogy is generally known as a tough egg to crack. Not only is it meant to learn from its predecessor and take on certain established story threads, it is also looked upon to craft a unique, standalone narrative that answers some questions and leaves others opened ended. For its original trilogy, the Star Wars franchise delivered arguably its best film, The Empire Strikes Back while with its prequel trilogy, Attack of the Clones is merely seen as a faint improvement over its own predecessor. This leads us to the middle chapter of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Being the anticipated sequel to J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi has had fans conjuring up two year’s worth of fan theories and anticipation was at an all-time high. Videos were made, editorials were written but no one could predict what we were in store for with this film. So, does writer/director Rian Johnson succeed in delivering a compelling entry in the Skywalker Saga? Read on to find out…
Star Wars: The Last Jedi picks up right from where The Force Awakens left off. The Resistance struggles as Kylo Ren and General Hux lead the First Order in an all-out assault on General Leia Organa and her band of fighters. Meanwhile, Rey finally comes face to face with the legendary Jedi, Luke Skywalker. With his solitary existence getting upended, Luke decides to train Rey in the ways of the force and will be forced to make decisions that could change their lives forever.
With Rian Johnson at the helm, The Last Jedi becomes an unrelenting, jaw-dropping experience that will leave fans speechless and shocked for days to come. Instead of following expectations of fans, The Last Jedi shapes its own path, one that turns the entire franchise on its head. With The Force Awakens, many saw it as Disney playing it safe as the film proved to be very similar to A New Hope. The Last Jedi, while still being inspired by past Star Wars films, is a breath of fresh air and delivers on being both an emotional drama and an action-packed blockbuster. Never leaning too deeply on history-driven expectations, the movie makes you think you have an idea of what is occurring, only to pull the rug from under your feet and leaves you on the edge of your seat for the better part of two hours.
The film thematically is focused on sacrifice, failure and the hope placed in a future generation. Throughout the film, symbols of the previous status quo in Star Wars die, and while it’s difficult to get through, it leaves room for change. The film operates in a very metaphysical way, as it seeks to push both the characters and franchise in a new direction. At its core, The Last Jedi is about how individuals are important as they make up these larger causes, but that they must stay united. From the opening sequence to the finale there’s an emphasis on being part of a larger cause. During them film, characters make largely rash and selfish decisions, at least initially, before they all come together to rebuild the rebellion (thank god, they’re rebels again). Case-in-point, Luke believes that he alone can’t fight the First Order and he’s right. Instead Luke aids Rey in becoming the Jedi she wishes to be so that she, and the resistance can continue the fight against tyranny.
As expected, the main cast once again puts on stellar performances. The clear standout for The Last Jedi goes to Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. The complex and morally divisive villain becomes increasingly more mesmerizing and unpredictable and Driver sells the character’s emotion beautifully. Every line of dialogue spoken by Driver oozes charisma and you are fully engulfed in his set-pieces. Daisy Ridley returns as Jedi hopeful Rey in another terrific performance. Rey, while still confused as to what kind of power she holds, settles in nicely into her hero role and Ridley proves to be as alluring as ever. In a powerhouse portrayal, Ridley succeeds in reminding viewers why they fell in love with the mystery girl from Jakku and brings a new sense of wonder and hope to the decades-old franchise. John Boyega is back as ex-First Order member Finn and is always a treat to see on screen. Generally seen as a genuine representation of Star Wars fans, Boyega’s Finn is funny, charming and all kinds of fun when on screen. In an expanded role, Oscar Isaac plays Poe Dameron and is loads more exciting and interesting the previously thought. As the top Resistance pilot, Poe is forced to make difficult decisions that could impact the lives of his fellow soldiers and Isaac portrays Poe’s conflicted but heroic nature wonderfully. Laura Dern, who plays Vice Admiral Holdo of the Resistance, makes her Star Wars debut here and gives a solid performance. Despite her character being a tad underwritten, Dern makes do with what she’s given and ultimate gives viewers a complex and interesting addition to the Star Wars lore. Finally, Andy Serkis is also given a much bigger role here as Supreme Leader Snoke and is as fearsome as ever. With every line, Snoke will make your skin crawl as he strives to be ruler of the galaxy. Really, The Last Jedi serves as another reason why Serkis is one of the best actors working today.
Mark Hamill, who got no dialogue in The Force Awakens, makes his highly anticipated return to the Star Wars franchise and gives the performance of his career as Luke Skywalker. Johnson gives Luke a multifaceted storyline that dives deep into what it means to be a hero and the legend behind the Luke Skywalker name. Hamill does wonders with this new, much more jaded Jedi Master. Gone is the hopeful student of Obi-Wan and Yoda and in his place is a Luke that is deeply flawed and capable of making grave mistakes. In her final film appearance, Carrie Fisher returns as General Leia Organa and, like Hamill, gives the performance of her career. Fisher embodies the character so incredibly well and her performance is ultimately satisfying in that it gives Leia some of the most impactful moments in franchise history.
As I said earlier, not only is The Last Jedi a fantastic emotional drama, it’s a stellar blockbuster film. From the film’s opening set-piece of a space battle between the First Order and the Resistance to its final battle on the salt planet of Crait, The Last Jedi is a treat to watch. The visual effects work is blended seamlessly with the practical backdrops as Johnson strived to create something that is realistic but also pure sci-fi fun. If you’re looking for dogfights in space or lightsaber battles or trench warfare, The Last Jedi has it all, and then some.
Visually speaking, The Last Jedi can arguably makes it claim for most beautiful Star Wars film ever produced. It is clear that Johnson was on a mission when it came to framing every shot and sequence so meticulously. Much like with every Star Wars film, The Last Jedi introduces viewers to new worlds and previously unseen technology being wielded on both sides and cinematographer Steve Yedlin along with Johnson flourish in showing the sheer scope of this film while still keeping the story grounded in very real themes. In the past, Johnson has never let his art get in the way of his desires for the genre and once more, he’s fashioned a gorgeous looking movie that ultimately obliges both the characters and ambiences.
Despite the praises, The Last Jedi is not a perfect film and it mainly falters with one of its side plots. Kelly Marie Tran makes her Star Wars debut as Rose Tico, a Resistance mechanic who is sent on a mission with Finn to find a master codebreaker to assist them in escaping from the Resistance. Now, this is not a knock on Tran’s performance as she proved to be a very solid addition to the film. But, The Last Jedi effectively slowed its entire pace down to tell Fin and Rose’s side story. There isn’t a sense of urgency in these scenes, despite the fact that the fleet in relying on them to survive the First order. It eventually sets up the film’s thematic ending, which is good, but it doesn’t change the fact that the casino scenes became less and less interesting as the film went on. Additionally, the humour throughout the film is mostly well timed and effective, though some scenes from the film that exist purely for comedic purposes could have been cut, and have no effect on the story.
John Williams’ score for the film is spectacular. After showing that he had not lost his stride with The Force Awakens, Williams’ score for The Last Jedi is something entirely different. As with the rest of the film, Williams delivers an unexpected albeit emotionally spellbinding score that blends the old and the new perfectly. The use of music from the original trilogy in particular scenes to highlight certain character relationships and arcs is excellent. This is especially evident in the film’s climax, where music helps to create the most emotional scene in the franchise’s history. From Rey’s Theme to Leia’s Theme, Williams’ score is simply beautiful.
In the end, if The Force Awakens was a safe blockbuster that didn’t take many risks, The Last Jedi effectively and excitingly takes a bold step towards the future and makes for one of the most original entries in the saga. It is not only liberating, but it is scary, enticing and opens the door for endless possibilities. At 152 minutes, The Last Jedi is an emotionally-driven, high-octane adventure that embraces aspects of the past but strives to cement its name in the legacy that is Star Wars and break free from the shackles of what came before it. It is a game-changer and breathes new life into the Star Wars franchise and Johnson magnificently conveys a fantastic middle chapter to this new trilogy.
Rating – 9/10
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theatres everywhere now.