It has been two years since we last caught up with the Skywalker saga in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In the 30 years since Return of the Jedi, Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han (Harrison Ford) and company have found that destroying the Emperor and Darth Vader was only the beginning. Restoring peace to the galaxy was not an easy task.
After stopping the First Order from wiping out the Resistance, Rey (Daisy Ridley) tracks down Luke Skywalker on the oceanic planet Ahch-To. She leaves the comatose Finn (John Boyega) in the care of the survivors, including Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) and General Leia Organa. Meanwhile, despite losing the Starkiller Base, the First Order has major victories in blowing up the Republic’s senate planet and Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) murder of his father Han Solo in order to further his training with Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).
So all caught up and ready for The Last Jedi.
This is a spoiler-free review, so feel free to continue.
The Last Jedi begins exactly where we left off with The Force Awakens. The fleeing First Order has discovered the whereabouts of the Resistance and head for the planet in an effort to wipe them out in one fell swoop. And so begins a cat and mouse battle that runs the course of the film.
As seen in the trailers, Luke is extremely reluctant to be drawn back into the real world and has closed himself off from the Force. The weird Force connection between Rey and Ren is strengthening, unsettling Rey. It leads to a great many questions about her heritage, the Jedi, Luke, and her place in the galaxy. With a lot of persistence and determination, Rey is able to convince Luke to help her. He agrees to give her three lessons.
Ren, having killed his father, continues his training with Snoke. He is more firmly committed to living up to the legacy of his grandfather and the promise he has shown.
If there is one thing we learn from the film, it is never judge a book by its cover. This can be to your benefit, but also your detriment. We do end with a sliver of hope, but things have never been as dire for the freedom fighters, either as the Resistance or in the days of the Rebellion.
Writer/director Rian Johnson had a lot to live up to with The Last Jedi, following on from J.J. Abrams enormously successful, and overall, extremely well received The Force Awakens. Personally, I don’t think he quite succeeded. While a fantastic film, and truly beautifully shot (especially some of the scenes on Ahch-To), the middle did lag quite a bit in moments. Ultimately, the film itself felt a tad too long. The pacing was just off and it seemed he lost the way a bit. He did find his stride again for the finale and this entire sequence was executed fantastically. The pace, the story, the action, the special effects, the tone, the use of light and colour – all were spot on and just what was needed here.
As to be expected from the second part of a trilogy, The Last Jedi is dark, very dark. Think The Empire Strike Back, but magnified. As with Empire, however, there are a number of lighter moments throughout the film, and a lot of the humour found in The Force Awakens was carried over into this film, which was definitely needed. While a number of questions raised in the first film were answered, we also got a whole lot more to add to the list.
One thing that you cannot fault the creatives of the current trilogy with is their casting, and this remains true for The Last Jedi. It was great to see more of Isaac’s Poe and have him do more than just be an out-of-this-world pilot. Ridley is a revelation who continues to shine throughout this film, tackling everything thrown her way with finesse, style, maturity and a sense of wonder. I could watch a whole movie of Rey. The development of Boyega’s Finn has been great to watch. He was given a good storyline in the film. It will be interesting to see how this develops further.
Ren has always been slightly problematic for me. I just feel that he’s a bit too juvenile a lot of the time and that continues in this film. If the character was younger or there was some reasoning behind his reactions, then it would make a bit more sense. As is, you often just want to force him into time-out. Having said that, however, you can’t fault Driver for a brilliant performance working with what he has. He’s engaging and captivating to watch. His work with Ridley and Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux) in particular is a lot of fun to watch.
Snoke is another character I have difficulties with, especially in this film. He’s not a threatening enough villain. Whereas the Emperor was pure evil, completely unpredictable and instilled fear across the galaxy (and movie cinemas across the world), Snoke is bland. You don’t get a sense of danger around him. This is the biggest failing of the current trilogy – there’s no real villain. Even with Ren, you root for him to return to the light. There was never that with either the emperor or Darth Vader, at least not at this stage of the trilogy.
A whole stack of newbies entered with this film and are all great additions to the universe. Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico) was a favourite in the screening. Tico’s smarts, her tenacity, and her heart won us all over very quickly. Plus it was awesome to see another strong female character up on our screens. Speaking of strong female characters, Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo was an interesting character. The reaction of the Resistance, especially Poe, to her command provides food for thought in parallels with the treatment of women in positions of power here. Benicio del Toro’s underworld character was just so much fun. We have seen hints of these types of characters in the galaxy, but never had the chance to truly rub shoulders to this extent before and it’s great. He is likely to be The Last Jedi’s Boba Fett.
Also as a big fan of Billie Lourd (Lieutenant Connix), I was pleased to see her role expanded this time round.
As with The Force Awakens, celebrity fans were lining up to have cameos in the film. There are a number of surprise guests hidden under helmets and prosthetics. Among them, as revealed at the London premiere this week, are Princes William and Harry. While it is unknown if their turn as stormtroopers made the final cut, there are a couple of instances in the film featuring two stormtroopers that I would love to think were the princes at least once.
Luke and Leia, Hamill and Fisher… Of the original gang, The Force Awakens was really Ford’s vehicle and while Fisher had her spots to shine, we were definitely shortchanged with Hamill. Our patience has been rewarded with The Last Jedi. Hamill is spellbinding and produces some of his best work. His work with Ridley and Driver was brilliant, especially with Ridley; it was like watching a masterclass. Luke’s journey through this film is intense and Hamill perfectly captures this.
With Carrie Fisher’s death less than a year ago, this – her final Star Wars appearance – was always going to be hard to watch. If you are like me, then you’ll need the tissues out from the first time she appears on screen. Like Hamill, Fisher is brilliant in the film, bringing to Leia’s strength, feistiness, and no-holds-barred attitude along with a maturity and peacefulness resulting in the kickass Princess and General that we have before us. Her relationship with the newbies is great to watch unfold, particularly with Poe. If this is Leia’s final appearance in a Star Wars film, then this is the Leia we want to be left with.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is now in cinemas in Australia and the UK, and in US cinemas this Friday.
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