Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.
On its release two years ago, ‘The Force Awakens’ was heralded as a stunning return to form for the ‘Star Wars’ series, but once the hype subsided, there was perhaps a recognition that the film was less the masterpiece it had been called in some quarters and more a rehash of ‘A New Hope’. Given the lingering animosity towards the prequels, most people were just happy to have a good ‘Star Wars’ film again and ‘The Force Awakens’ did deliver this. As we now come round to ‘The Last Jedi’, the expectations are raised once again and this is a film that has to stand out as an original entry in the series in its own right, without relying on the nostalgia that carried Episode 7. Does it achieve this? I’m not really sure it does. I did enjoy ‘The Last Jedi’ but it’s a flawed film and ultimately it felt to me like one big setup for Episode 9. The pieces are in place by the end of the movie, but the journey to get there is muddled, compromised by strange character choices and a narrative that never fully engaged me.
We pick up directly after the events of ‘The Force Awakens’, with one strand following Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she tracks down the elusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and the other strand focusing on the remainder of The Resistance as they continue to attempt to stay one step ahead of The First Order. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) are caught up in this situation, trying to take the fight to The First Order whilst new leadership (led by Laura Dern) favour a more patient approach. A lot of the film is caught up in this hierarchical bureaucracy, with a lot of stalling and discussions about moving spaceships (the first ‘proper’ episode of the modern ‘Battlestar Galactica‘ series did this plot much better). As this is going on, The Resistance continue to lose numbers and fuel as they are outmanoeuvred and outgunned by the vastly better resourced First Order. The rest of the film is spent with Rey and Luke on the quiet island he currently inhabits, with these training scenes reminiscent of those with Obi-Wan and Yoda in previous entries in the series. They mostly provide an opportunity for Daisy Ridley to shine which she does with aplomb, building on her performance in ‘The Force Awakens’ to become the series true lead as we move forward.
Production wise it remains a spectacular experience, with breathtaking visuals and John Williams score elevating every sequence, whether it be a space battle or a conflict between key characters. That aside I felt there were many confusing choices, ranging from the time wasted in the space casino (featuring Benicio Del Toro basically playing ‘The Collecter’ again) to some bizarre directorial choices from Rian Johnson, whose work I’ve generally liked in the past. Did we need as many framing shots of the island Luke is on? The editing and cuts felt a bit off, particularly when Kylo and Rey’s connection was shown, and the less said about the ridiculous sequence with Leia in space the better. I also felt that the film continued to mishandle Supreme Leader Snoke, who we still know almost nothing about after two films (and perhaps never will). I appreciate there is an element of keeping your cards close to your chest and a reveal may come further down the line, but when we are introduced to a guy who seemingly came from nowhere to become the most powerful villain in the galaxy, I’d expect a little more information.
This may sound like a series of complaints and it wasn’t meant to come across that way (well maybe a little bit!). There are aspects I really liked about the film; the performances are almost uniformly excellent with Ridley the standout and Hamill as good as he’s ever been, whilst the scenes in Snoke’s throne room were tense and engaging. I felt it lacked a bit of the magic that characterised the best ‘Star Wars’ films (including ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘Rogue One’ even moreso) and I thought many aspects were overly long and a little dull, but I did enjoy it overall and now that the pieces are in place, I’m intrigued to see where things are taken next in Episode 9.
Directed By: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Benicio del Toro, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Frank Oz