Review

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Andy Serkis

Running time: 152 minutes

4-stars

As Supreme Leader Snoke’s (Serkis) First Order closes in on the Resistance, led by General Leia (Fisher), a group of plucky fighters – including Finn (Boyega) and pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) – embark on a daring mission. Meanwhile, Rey (Ridley) attempts to enlist the aid of a certain Luke Skywalker (Hamill), and finds herself locked in a strange bond with a fierce adversary.

It might’ve all happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, but The Last Jedi has been a long time coming. When The Force Awakens lured us back rather emphatically to a now Jar-Jar-less Star Wars, 2017 felt light years away. But, here we are; it’s December and we’re Porged and ready for the next instalment. But being easily the most anticipated blockbuster of the year doesn’t come without its fair share of trepidation from franchise fanatics the world over. And so the sound coming from everybody’s lips – other than the symphonic chimes of John Williams iconic score – is the question of whether The Last Jedi lives up to the hype.

And, to put it simply: yes, yes it does. Is it cheesy? Of course. Is it without fault? Absolutely not. But does The Last Jedi boldly lift Star Wars to new and uncharted thematic and stylistic territory? Yes – and it’s all the better for it.

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You need look no further than 2012’s Looper to see that Rian Johnson knows how to do sci-fi, and do sci-fi well. His present-self-hunts-future-self cat and mouse action thriller combined wonderfully crafted characterisation with high-octane, Bruce Willis gun-slinging sequences. And, with The Last Jedi, Johnson applies the same breath-taking strokes here – albeit onto a much, much broader canvas. If J. J. Abrams film looked back with fond homage, Johnson’s film looks forward with exhilarating exuberance.

The Last Jedi’s opening sequence has all the ingredients of a final-third showstopper, as we catch up with our band of Resistance fighters amidst a desperate escape from a relentless First Order onslaught. A courageous counterattack spearheaded by Poe and BB-8 (both of whom are giving substantially more narrative weight this time around) is launched, and merely ten minutes in, we already find ourselves caught up in a nail-biting, fist-pimping thrill ride to the sound of John Williams’ soaring orchestral powerhouse of a score: elevating every manoeuvre, every explosion, every near miss to the levels of the franchise’s finest climatic space battles and Jedi duels. But with Resistance numbers and resources rapidly depleting, and with Leia (a measured, and typically sassy Fisher performance that’ll only make you miss her more) struggling to keep the hope alive, Johnson’s narrative vision shows itself to be far more astute than the impressive audio-visuals would have you believe. Here, heroism is costly and consequential; characters are conflicted; and the balance of good and evil – between what is right and what is wrong – is well and truly skewed.

With The Last Jedi’s precedent set, we move to where Abrams left us – the meeting of Rey and Luke Skywalker. And it’s this narrative path-crossing that is without question the most eagerly anticipated since the latter’s showdown with a certain masked Sith Lord almost forty years ago; but one that also proves to be the film’s most divisive thread.

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Having tucked himself away on a small island, existing on a diet of large fish and questionably green milk, Luke is now a recluse, finding solace in solitude, and a far cry from his clean-shaven former self. And Hamill is clearly having a blast playing the bearded, embittered Jedi; and even if Lucas loyalists might be left somewhat soured by the lack of Luke lightsabering on offer, it is nonetheless an intelligent and intriguing characterisation that embodies the perfect contrast to Rey’s youthful optimism. And Ridley is equally commendable here, adding further layers to those already laid down in The Force Awakens, and more than rising to the challenge of Johnson’s occasional art-house stylistics. One scene, involving a seemingly endless number of reflections feels less loyal to its own franchise’s spec. and much more akin to the Blade Runner school of Sci-fi, as Rey’s journey of self-discovery – her cause, confusion, and confliction – constructs neat parallels to Driver’s Kylo Ren.

The scenes they share – namely, a meeting with the dastardly Snoke – are some of the strongest in the entire series, as Driver delivers the most impressive performance of the lot, and Johnson leaves his boldest, but most inspired stamp on the franchise. For him and The Last Jedi, it is the human element that shines brightest.

But elsewhere, it’s not all quite as riveting. The film gets messy during its middle third, with certain character development feeling a little anaemic; clunky dialogue saved only by interjections of well-pitched humour; and a sub-plot involving Finn, maintenance worker Rose (a very likeable Kelly Marie Tran), and a trip to the galaxy’s answer to Las Vegas that promises much, but fails to reach intended heights – ultimately serving as little more than an extended, notably forced analogy for the film’s thematic binary blurring.

At two-and-a-half hours, the film’s running time is a touch too long; and despite the final thirty minutes offering up some beautifully realised landscapes, you’ll likely find yourself channelling your own inner force to stop yourself rushing out for a toilet break.

Enthralled. Surprised. Frustrated. Get ready to feel them all. The Last Jedi may not always follow Star Wars protocol, but it is through its own risk-taking that Johnson’s film truly excels.

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