Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review
Rian Johnson’s desire to push a franchise brand to its limits is urgently felt in this thrilling, if stuffed fit-to-burst new Star Wars story. We open right where The Force Awakens left off: General Leia’s ailing resistance group is in flight, and mysterious orphan Rey is light-years distant, in search of Luke Skywalker. Supreme Leader Snoke attempts to draw both into his grasp, while his apprentice Kylo Ren finds himself still gutted by internal conflict, despite his recent trial-by-murder.
That’s as much as you’re going to get out of me plot-wise, but suffice to say that – despite it’s apparent parallels with Irvin Kershner’s much-loved sequel – The Last Jedi is no re-tread of The Empire Strikes Back, save perhaps thematically. This isn’t the movie where things suddenly ‘go dark’ (a description which always seemed a disservice to everything else Empire had to offer), but where the danger to our heroes is constant.
If anything, this film carries more similarities with Gareth Edwards’ (keep your eyes peeled for his cameo) Rogue One than The Force Awakens. Swapping the streamlined for a jumpy narrative nature, imparting a central message of hope in dark times, and largely favouring CG characters over practical puppets. That’s not to say the somewhat exasperating anti-CG sentiment of this new breed has been entirely abandoned: in one single moment, its nostalgic blindfold threatens to take The Last Jedi past homage and into spoof.
Wonky waxworks aside, our cast of characters new and old remain enchanting to be around. Without the guiding hand of Han Solo and her star-struck wanderlust rather quashed by her initial encounter with Luke (a massively unpredictable Mark Hamill), Rey is finally forced to forge her own path. Ridley plays the Jedi-in-waiting as resolute and yearning with as much conviction and life as she gave the lonely scavenger we met two years back.
The dynamic between the late Carrie Fisher (to whom the film is dedicated) as General Leia and Oscar Isaac as starfighter ace Poe Dameron is deepened, exploring the possibility that, for once, the gut instincts of a hotshot pilot can’t always win the day. Laura Dern’s introduction as stern Vice Admiral Holdo serves only to heighten tension within the resistance (though her “I can’t believe I’m actually here!” delivery of “May the Force Be With You” betrays an inner excitement with which long-time fans will sympathise).
Our other new player within the rebel ranks is newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose, a starry-eyed engineer who has a chance run-in with the newly-revived Finn (John Boyega). Despite her established battle scars, Rose is a wonderfully optimistic character (there’s something of the mop-haired young Anakin Skywalker in her desire to set things right for those in need), but she has a stern edge that makes her interactions with the haphazard Finn a joy to watch.
Over on the Dark Side, performances are no less rewarding. Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux never fails to give a great line in scowl and spittle, whilst Adam Driver continues to inhabit Kylo Ren brilliantly, alternating seamlessly between the nuances of the tortured Ben Solo and broiling rage of Snoke’s acolyte. Ren and Snoke’s trajectory within the story and their collision with Rey (the mysterious past of all three has swallowed up discussion of this trilogy like a ravenous Sarlacc) defies every possible expectation, so kindly leave your fan theories at the door.
You may also have to drop your notion of what makes a Star Wars film. One can feel Johnson straining against the limits of telling a story within the Skywalker legacy, trying his damndest to pay respects while paving a new path. While this makes the prospect of his upcoming trilogy (exploring uncharted territory in this cinematic universe) all the more exciting, it also makes experiencing his introduction to the saga for the first time strange and somewhat jarring for those used to the familiar embrace of the original trilogy and The Force Awakens. Countless re-watches will no doubt cure this, but on first contact it’s an experience that elicits as much shock and horror as it does awe and delight.
Still, for those latter emotions, we’re left in want of nothing. Johnson’s script is consistently funny (the much-marketed Porgs earn their keep within seconds, and John Boyega is a hoot as ever), often drawing laughter from the most unexpected places. And as for sheer spectacle, The Last Jedi delivers not one, but two of the saga’s most spellbinding action sequences, worth the cost of seeing on a big screen alone. Johnson’s gobsmacker of a script, a galaxy of star turns and cinematographer Steven Yedlin’s glorious vision of the Force secures this as a pivotal moment in the history of Star Wars. J.J. Abrams’ return for Episode IX will have to be one spectacular homecoming.