Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Cert 12A)
US (2017) Dir. Rian Johnson
It’s been two years since the Star Wars franchise was resumed with The Force Awakens, during which time we saw a prequel in the form of the adjunct Rogue One that came in between the prequels and the original series that began 40 years ago this year! Scary age admission – I was there at the beginning!
Now, the story continues with The Last Jedi, picking up where The Force Awakens left off with Rey (Daisy Ridley) having found the reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on the remote planet Ahch-To to encourage him to help the Resistance in their battle against the First Order. Luke however is reluctant, claiming his Jedi days are over and he wants to be left alone to die in peace, but in sensing the Force in Rey, Luke has a change of heart at agrees to teach Rey how to harness her powers.
Meanwhile the Resistance launches an audacious attack on the First Order, fronted by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and BB-8, succeeding in causing some significant damage to their fleet but at the cost of many lives of their own fighters, for which Poe is demoted by General Leia (Carrie Fisher). When the First Order retaliates, Leia is hospitalised and her replacement Vice-Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), immediately clashes with Poe over her passive tactics.
Elsewhere Finn (John Boyega) awakens from his medical stasis just as the Resistance craft is struck. Wanting to find Rey, he plans to slip out unnoticed but is spotted by maintenance engineer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), whose sister was killed during the Poe-led attack mission earlier. Thinking Finn is a deserter, Rose tries to report him but Finn is able to get her onside and with Poe’s help, they hatch a plan to infiltrate the First Order ship and hack their weapons.
Three paragraphs of plot recap may seem like a blow-by-blow retelling the whole film but this barely scratches the surface of the story and we haven’t even talked about nominal villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his emotional instability in being whopped by Rey in the previous film, and their apparent telepathic connection via the Force, not to mention his struggle to keep on the right side of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).
At 152 minutes long – that’s 2 hours 32 minutes in old money – there is a lot of time to be filled and Rian Johnson certainly does that, keeping us on our toes throughout with either stupendous action sequences or shocking story twists and swerves. If you thought “Luke, I am your father” was a big moment (and it was) Johnson throws in half a dozen more, each one building to one emotional crescendo after another that should touch and stir even the hardest of hearts.
By splitting the focus across three separate arcs – four if you count Kylo Ren and his feud of sorts with the obnoxious General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) over who has Snoke’s favour, it gives each of the participants a chance to shine without being overshadowed by the others, avoiding the arguments and disputes about the spotlight being shined on the wrong person. It also affords the scenarios to set their own tempos and build to their logical conclusions while creating a nice ebb and flow it the pace ahead of the ultimate thundering climax.
The caveat is that the central cadre of new heroes have yet to work together thus haven’t been given a chance to gel as a group like their legendary predecessors did. Perhaps this will be addressed in Episode XI but for now, they each undertake their own missions – similar to Empire Strikes Back. In fact, there are a few more parallels between the two films with Rey off on her on Jedi training and Luke assuming the Yoda role and Kylo Ren and Snoke is almost Darth Vader & the Emperor Part II as well as the location setting of the ice planet in the final act.
Humour plays a big part of this film but not overwhelmingly so, much of it naturally courtesy of BB-8 along with the hamster-bird hybrid newcomers the Porgs, which are cute and hilarious but not really essential to the plot. As mentioned earlier a new face joins the fray in Rose, another feisty female to add to the increasing quota of leading ladies making their presence felt in the Star Wars diegesis. She’s less feisty than Rey and without a definite personal direction but a worthy addition to the cause.
For many though this will be about being reunited with the old favourites from yesteryear, especially Luke who was largely absent from The Force Awakens, and without spoiling anything, expect to see some other familiar faces pop up too. One thing that can’t go unmentioned is the added poignancy behind watching Carrie Fisher – who gets a tribute credit at the end – the dialogue in one scene being tragically prescient.
You know already that visually this is going to be a spectacle and Johnson certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front, but he isn’t beholden to CGI, relying on practical effects and real location settings for a more tactile sensation for the viewer. His script may show little progression and development for the main characters but as the second part of a trilogy, what Johnson has done is tie up the loose ends from the first film whilst setting the path for the next, which has endless possibilities, based on how this one ends.
The Last Jedi may not have been written by George Lucas but it is pure Star Wars with a modern sensibility to make it feel fresh and relevant. Rian Johnson’s emotional thrill ride has bridged the gap between the two eras of Star Wars, maybe for the last time, giving the current audience their own heroes to root for, whilst assuring us oldies (especially this emotional old fool) that the saga is in safe hands, which he does superbly.
Rating – **** ½
Man In Black