Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The fact that Star Wars is back on our screens, and with the clockwork-like efficiency of Disney, is still something that I can’t quite wrap my head around. It’s been two years since The Force Awakens marked the return of one of perhaps my most beloved sagas. I still find hard to believe that I live in a world where new Star Wars films exist. I genuinely thought that the prequel trilogy had killed off any chance of there ever being new adventures in a galaxy far, far away. While there were some moments of the old magic hidden away in those prequels, it always seemed fleeting. No matter how much I wanted it to be true and no matter how much I tried to convince myself that they “weren’t actually that bad”, it was apparent that Star Wars, as I knew it, was dead.

It’s a measure of just how much of a good job Disney and J. J. Abrams did with The Force Awakens that I went into last night’s screening with not only a sense of optimism but an expectation that Star Wars: The Last Jedi was going to deliver. I’m going to be very careful to avoid spoilers here. I went into the film having no idea about anything that might happen in Rian Johnson’s take on the Star Wars universe. I feel that’s the best way to see it.

I think the real question is does it deliver? I think the answer to that was a resounding yes for me. My overriding thought during the movie was that Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes us to places, both physically and metaphorically, that we have never been to before in the Star Wars universe. One of the most common complaints about The Force Awakens was that it was very safe, and familiar. An almost beat for beat remake of A New Hope. It’s true that The Last Jedi might borrow some ideas and themes from the original trilogy. Where The Force Awakens played things safe, The Last Jedi really strikes out as its own film.

Whereas The Force Awakens was very much an homage to the original film I thought that The Last Jedi was really its own thing. There are some narrative similarities with Empire Strikes Back, but I think that’s more closely tied to this being the middle chapter in a larger trilogy than Disney intentionally sticking to comfortable, familiar territory. This is not just the dark middle chapter. The Last Jedi manages to span a range of emotions. It’s a film that deals in shades of grey rather than being unrelentingly bleak or optimistic. There are a lot of familiar elements in The Last Jedi. Lightsabers, space battles, strange new creatures, and some breathtaking landscapes. But it all feels new.

In the past it has been fairly easy to work out roughly where the Star Wars movies were heading, but Rian Johnson does a brilliant job at hiding where he’s going. What he does deliver is a layered, textured and, at times, unexpected take on the Star Wars universe. The film manages to marry together all of the familiar elements that undeniably make this a Star Wars film. While at the same time doing things in a way that you never quite expected.

I don’t really want to dwell too much on the plot, for fear of spoilers, but what I will say is that we pick the action up pretty much immediately after the end of the previous film. The war for the galaxy is still raging between the First Order and the Resistance. The balance of power, perhaps unsurprisingly, shifting towards the First Order. After the destruction of the New Republic in The Force Awakens, the Resistance find themselves without too many friends and desperately needing a glimmer of hope.

This is the longest Star Wars film to date at 152 minutes, but at no point does it actually feel too flabby. The opening sequence sets quite a relentless pace and the film manages to keep up the intensity for pretty much the entire duration. There was no point in the film where things started to drag or feel tired. I was hooked from start to finish. Perhaps I was slightly concerned that after such a strong start the film might just run out of steam. I was definitely wrong.

We definitely do get some answers to a lot of the big questions from the previous instalment, although I felt that we’ve been told things from a certain point of view. I have no doubt that there is a lot more still to be revealed, but The Last Jedi really does deliver in a number of quite satisfying ways.

One of the things that I have been waiting for is more Mark Hamill, as much as I love The Force Awakens I always wanted more from Luke (than the four seconds of silence we got). This time around it’s safe to say that we do actually get to find out what Luke has been doing on his lonely island. Looking back on it now, it’s pretty clear that The Force Awakens was Han Solo’s film, and that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is very much Luke’s. This was something that I had been anticipating since I first saw Return of the Jedi nearly 30 years ago. Despite the weight of expectation, it actually delivered for me. Mark Hamill gives a really good performance as Luke. Seemingly slipping back into the role with ease.

Daisy Ridley has continued to grow into the role of Rey. She gives a really good performance, especially when she’s working with Mark Hamill. The two of them have a great chemistry that just worked really well for me. However, this is a very different Luke than the one that I grew up with. It’s a performance that is filled with emotional heft and surprisingly more humour than I had expected. There’s definitely a lot going on and it’s an intense and emotional experience at times, but this is also one of the funniest Star Wars films. When I say funny I do mean it’s genuinely funny in places as well, not Jar Jar Binks stepping in poo funny, thankfully.

The Last Jedi is certainly a very good Star Wars film. I might need to see it once or twice more to be totally sure. I think it ranks up there with the best of them. It is not a perfect film by any means. There are some issues. None of them are significant enough to detract from the fact that this is not just a great Star Wars film but a good film in its own right. The film does set a fairly breathless pace for pretty much its entirety. There is, however, a sequence that really slows things down for no real reason. There are some interesting character moments in this particular sequence. So it needs to be there in some form, but I think it could have worked better. I really don’t want to spoil anything, but the sequence that I’m thinking of (you’ll know it when you see it) gave me flashbacks to the dark days of the prequels. I was worried about where we might be heading. This particular section relies quite heavily on the use of CGI environments and feels quite at odds with everything else in the film.

I think that there are just some elements that could have been tightened up really. Don’t get me wrong, this is a film that feels like it deserves its runtime. While it never feels flabby I think certain elements could have been sharpened up. There are a number of new characters introduced. The best of which is probably Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who feels like a really well developed and natural character from the outset. At the other end of the scale was DJ (Benicio Del Toro), who just appears, does some stuff, and then off he goes. It’s never really entirely clear what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. I think the biggest problem for me is that I was looking forward to seeing what Benicio Del Toro could do in the Star Wars universe. The end result just really didn’t work for me at all.

There’s no doubting that this is a great Star Wars movie. Star Wars: The Last Jedi could have very easily been an updated version of The Empire Strikes Back. A dark and depressing middle act, but it manages to be something in its own right. This is a film that manages to find a really good balance between the dark and the light. The film delivers a story that is brilliantly realised and that has an emotional core that will echo through to Episode IX.

There are moments of genuine humour and lightness in what could have otherwise been a very dark and sombre affair. There’s no question that there are familiar elements on show here. However, Rian Johnson also manages to breathe new life into the franchise. Showing us things in new and exciting ways. The Force Awakens was all about setting the scene and moving the pieces into place. The Last Jedi shows us what you can do with them. I am genuinely excited to see what happens next and where Episode IX might take us. At the moment it feels like anything could happen.

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