“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.”
Directing a movie is undeniably hard work. Directing a movie that is not only a sequel to the third most successful film of all time (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) but part of the most popular Sci-Fi franchises of all time is a different beast entirely and Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) has more than risen to the challenge by both honouring the series’ rich legacy while boldly going in new directions to deliver one of the most surprisingly ambitious and rewarding Star Wars movie yet with The Last Jedi.
Picking off immediately after the Force Awakens cliff-hanger, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally reaches the mysterious island on the barren water-planet Ahch-To where the legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has exiled himself. Disillusioned and a touch cantankerous, Luke firmly rejects Rey’s plea to teach her the ways of the force and to return and assist with the fight against the dreaded First Order led by the malevolent Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his petulant apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) alongside the Resistance, who despite destroying Starkiller Base, find themselves on the run from a ruthless First Order fleet as their hope and resources dwindle. For those who complained that Force Awakens followed the story beats of A New Hope a bit too closely fear not, while Last Jedi may share some thematic similarities with The Empire Strikes Back this is a Star Wars movie that stands on its own and isn’t afraid to take risks and push the universe towards places it hasn’t been before and a huge amount of credit must go to Johnson and Lucasfilm for the vast majority of decisions they have made here. This is a challenging and immensely enjoyable entry in the series and nearly all of my guesses for where the story would go were completely off the mark and I am pleasantly clueless as to what the returning J.J Abrams will do with Episode IX. He certainly has a massive job ahead of him.
Featuring some of the most exhilarating space battles I’ve seen in recent years, Johnson begins Last Jedi by putting the War back into Star Wars. This is easily one of the most impressively shot films of the year with sumptuous cinematography and fight choreography plus jaw-dropping CGI, especially regarding Andy Serkis’ typically brilliant motion-capture performance as Snoke. I couldn’t hide the grin from my face at seeing how Johnson approached shooting the lightsaber fights; he knows that he has a fantastically physical cast especially with Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver and his use of wide shots during hand to hand combat was superb alongside the immaculate set and costume design which looked like they were straight out of the original trilogy.
Daisy Ridley continues to show why J.J Abrams put his faith in the fairly unknown actress as the Jakku-born scavenger learns that the Force is not simply lifting rocks with your mind. There is powerful light, yes but it is intertwined with powerful darkness and the dark side is keen to seduce her as it did with young Anakin Skywalker, something Luke is fully aware of as a previous mentor to Kylo Ren. Those who foolishly called Rey a ‘Mary Sue’ character in the last movie are shown just how wrong they are as Ridley once again makes Rey a wonderfully badass female protagonist who has inspired a whole new generation of young fans just as Princess Leia did in 1977. Adam Driver’s portrayal of Kylo Ren once again stands out as easily one of the most compelling villains of the entire franchise as the young conflicted leader of the Knights of Ren struggles with the moral war inside him; between the pull of the dark side that claimed his grandfather and the light side his parents and uncle side with. Driver gives Ren just enough humanity for us to think he may return to the light and it is truly riveting to see his journey unfold. One thing becomes clear however, Ben Solo is tragically gone and only Kylo Ren remains and the entire galaxy shall suffer for it.
We got a tantalising glimpse of Luke at the end of Force Awakens but here he has a huge part to play and it has to be said; Mark Hamill has never been better. He has managed to perfectly recapture who Luke is while delicately adding the thirty years of baggage Luke has acquired since Return of the Jedi. Luke no longer believes in the Jedi anymore and believes their way of life and controversial past should end with him and the places Hamill has to go with Luke emotionally are handled beautifully in an incredibly satisfying arc. The excellent Carrie Fischer is a joy to behold, tragically in her last role, as Princess turned General, Leia Organa Solo and as a final goodbye she couldn’t have delivered a better performance. Star Wars and its fans will miss her rebellious spirit and unquestionable passion.
As for the newer cast introduced in the previous movie, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is given much more to do this time around, embracing the Han Solo shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality and using his extra screen time well as the charmingly impulsive X-Wing pilot. His ideological back-and-forth with Leia are a unique spin on what could have ended up as a cliché macho character but Isaac portrays him as a good man with the best of intensions. General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is also a more well-rounded character this time as the methodical commander of the First Order fleet as he attempts to exert his authority with increasing desperation over Kylo Ren to questionable success.
As for negatives, I have little to mention apart from the sub-plot revolving around Finn (John Boyega) and new addition to the cast Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) as they attempt to track down a Master Codebreaker in the wealthy casino city of Canto Bight which I did have some fun with but felt it ultimately meddled with the pacing of the film and stole precious time we could have spent with Rey and Luke, which was by far a much more interesting plot. Here, they encounter the suspicious and stuttering DJ (the excellent Benicio Del Toro) who really didn’t have that much impact on the story unfortunately but these are minor issues that didn’t take away from the movie for me. Overall, I’m thrilled by what Rian Johnson and his entire team has achieved. It will be a divisive film I have no doubt , but I’m certain that even the most die-hard fans will be pleased with The Last Jedi. Emotional, action-packed and often quite humorous, a fresh energy has been injected into Star Wars and I can’t wait to see where the adventure goes next in a galaxy far, far away.
So until next time…
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