The Last Jedi (2017)
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson, George Lucas (based on characters created by)
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer
After The Force Awakens (2015) failed to live up to expectations, The Last Jedi had quite a to-do list in order to revitalise the newest Star Wars trilogy. Thankfully, The Last Jedi tackles this list head-on.
The Last Jedi is a welcome addition to the world's favourite episodic space saga, confidently bringing ingenuity and depth to the latest trilogy. Whereas The Force Awakens unashamedly exploited the nostalgia of two generations, The Last Jedi wants to be its own Star Wars, a new Star Wars, and a bridge towards the next Star Wars.
The evidence for this is there in its opening moments: while immediately throwing viewers headfirst into a familiar dogfight above the backdrop of an unnamed planet, new threats and new answers to those threats instantly bring us up to date with a story which has finally moved on from 1983. The rest of the film is driven by this momentum, and is decorated with some utterly mind-blowing special effects (including a spectacular use of hyperspace). Johnson took a big risk here, diverting from the regular template to create something a step away from the original trilogy that spawned it, while remaining loyal to its roots. A big risk, but one that paid off.
Undeniably, the focal aspect of The Last Jedi is Luke. After a cruel tease in the final moments of The Force Awakens, Mark Hamill finally fully returns to his defining role, and brings with it a new dimension to his beloved character. Almost a character piece for Luke Skywalker, it is a tale of how guilt and betrayal can tear down even the best of us, and the conflicted and disenfranchised journey Hamill takes us on adds a fresh facet to his character. Luke’s turmoil also asks questions about the nature of the Jedi, and the pedestal on which they are, perhaps, wrongly placed, treading carefully but purposefully towards a philosophy which has been largely avoided by the franchise. A courageous move, and a recognition of the raised expectations for 21st century film-making.
Hamill’s co-stars have also evolved since their last (albeit far more recent) appearance. Driver thankfully gets the opportunity to flesh out his character, Kylo Ren, maturing from ‘stroppy teenager’ into something much more complex. Now unlikable for the right reasons, Kylo Ren’s conflict and instability is beginning to sculpt him into a sinister opponent, while his growing connection with Ridley’s Rey continues to fan his air of mystery. Ridley is also given more scope with her character, and through her we gain a new experience of the force. Her time with Luke both asks and answers questions, consolidating her growing power while being deliberately ambiguous about its origin. Where The Force Awakens' lack of clarity left viewers scratching their heads, The Last Jedi has a deliberately vagueness which leaves us wanting more. Fisher's part is handled respectfully, Leia's involvement in The Last Jedi being decidedly poignant, particularly in it's final few moments, while Boyega and Isaac are also afforded the opportunity to explore their roles, Finn and Poe, respectively. The Last Jedi adds a lot of meat to the bones which made up The Force Awakens but, perhaps most importantly, our newest band of heroes have step-stepped the trap of becoming a facsimile of our original trio, while remaining true to what made them so iconic.
Not without faults, however, there are moments of narrative lunacy inherited from The Force Awakens. A frustrating and flaccid decision regarding a heroic gesture towards the film's end is a major culprit for this (perhaps an influence from the franchise's new overlords, Disney), while the film seems to go in a odd direction during its middle half. Perhaps dissatisfied with the variety of planets/aliens the already amassed footage, Johnson seems to spend 35 minutes rectifying this with a narrative detour. On their own these scenes make for entertaining viewing, but their anti-climatic conclusion leaves the viewer feeling somewhat cheated. At the same time, some elements seem rushed or under-utilised, smothering plot lines just as they are starting to pick up speed. Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke is a screaming example of this, while Benicio Del Toro’s rather confusing contribution is wasted. These issues may have arisen from an attempt by Johnson to remedy a few disliked aspects from The Force Awakens, but he may have pruned some a little too early. Luckily, the film quickly gathers itself, and recaptures the momentum of the first half, accelerating toward a fantastic Mexican stand-off climax. Overall, the story has far more integrity and poise than Episode VII, despite some shapelessness in its middle.
Issues are to be expected in a film with such a looming legacy, but The Last Jedi compensates for any issues with a much needed injection of originality. It is a fresh and innovative addition to the saga, which has learnt from the mistakes of its predecessor - which is an impressive feat itself - and this active attempt to mend issues with Episode VII has resulted in a brilliant follow-up.
In one line: Despite some minor misfires, The Last Jedi has pushed the franchise out of its comfort zone, and in a fresh and innovative direction.
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