The Last Jedi is the eighth film in the forty-year young episodic Star Wars series of films, offering fans everything they were expecting, and then some.
Following on from the events of 2015’s The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds herself on a hidden island where the weathered Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has been hiding out. Her goal: to have a reluctant Skywalker teach her the ways of the force, and join her in her quest to bring down the First Order, who are currently attempting to once again, destroy the small band of Resistance fighters standing in their way to dominating the galaxy. While Princess/General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and her stalwarts are struggling to survive under the constant barrage of attacks from the First Order’s leaders General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), the Resistance hero Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) head off on a covert mission to help aid the Resistance forces in their defence.
The Last Jedi’s three main plot points listed above lie at the core of this episode’s narrative, as each of the stories branch out into further sub-plots and deeper character development. While each plot-point is thoroughly entertaining, they don’t all quite hit the mark to the same degree. The time spent with Rey and Luke is the film’s strongest element, as Rey attempts to figure out her place in the bigger picture under the guidance of an ageing Jedi Master, who has all but cut himself off from the ways of the force. It’s Rey’s journey of discovery between the light and dark side of the force that makes for the most compelling viewing, and the relationship between her and Luke, as well as her and Kylo Ren makes for the most interesting character dynamic; the old blood and the new, the light and the dark, and their different perspective on events.
The battle between the First Order and the Resistance army offers up some excellent character interaction, especially coming from Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and his outlandish methods, often leading him to butt heads with Leia and new character Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, played by Laura Dern, who is a welcome addition to the film’s lineup. Finn and Rose’s journey to recruit a master code-breaker on another planet give the audience a chance to dive deeper into Finn’s personality and flesh out his loyalty to the Resistance and Rey, while developing chemistry with newcomer character Rose (another welcome new addition to the cast). Both of these story-arcs are par for the course as far as the adventure angle goes in a Star Wars film so there’s nothing new there, but it’s the characters that make these common plot elements interesting.
The Last Jedi has had decades-long experience in character creation, and the culmination of that experience was first witnessed in The Force Awakens, and expanded on here, successfully. The characters are what keeps audiences coming back after all, and director Rian Johnson and his team have figured out the perfect balance of featuring engaging, intricate characters that bounce off each other on either side of the light/dark efforts. Furthermore, whether or not a character belongs on the hero or villain’s side in the film, they’re all likeable. This is a true testament to the excellent writing by Johnson, as being able to root for, and empathise with nearly everyone on the screen makes for a unique moviegoing experience.
Johnson, who had only directed less than a handful of films before being tasked with taking on the biggest movie franchise of all time, seems to have handled the job as well as any other veteran director likely would have. Where he’s faltered is in the editing department, as the film jumps around at a breakneck pace, often not giving you enough time to absorb what you just saw in one scene, before moving on to the next. This doesn’t mean the film is hard to follow by any means, but it would have been nice to draw out some scenes, as there were some moments in the film that you didn’t want to leave, so soon anyway. Thankfully the director makes up for this fault in other ways (see characters above and spectacle below).
As has come to be expected in all of the latest string of films set in the Star Wars universe, the film makes a dramatic spectacle of itself. This is by far the most epic film in the Star Wars episodic series, and the most visually striking, full of what may become iconic imagery. The film is full of beautiful cinematography, set and creature design, pulling you into the world the filmmakers have created. Sure, it’s not perfect and some eagle-eyed CGI-police in the audience will find things to criticise, but on the whole, the film is beautiful to watch, and listen to. John Williams’ score and the sound design in this film add an extra dimension to the immersion provided by the film’s visuals and action set pieces.
The Last Jedi may not quite be in the same class as its counterpart, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, however it comes awfully close. It features everything fans have come to love about Star Wars and pushes the envelope as far as a cinematic spectacle film goes. While some sub-plots may fall flat and the fast pace may be disconcerting to some, the film still delivers the goods overall. The Last Jedi is as good as a Star Wars film gets in the modern era, for now.
The film is released over 40 years after Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) and marks the 40th anniversary of the Star Wars film franchise.
Deserted Island Movie Collection: The films of Quentin Tarantino.
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