LUCASFILM LTD. / WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES (2017)
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Joonas Suotamo

“This is not going to go the way you think..." - Too right, Master Luke.

 

Two years after The Force Awakens, Star Wars is back with The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson’s take on the franchise and the eighth instalment in the saga. Given Johnson’s penchant for character-driven movies and his sharp eye for a beautiful visual, anticipation was high for what he could do in the galaxy far, far away – and given the incredible success of the marvellous The Force Awakens, the pressure was on and the stakes were high.

 

Fear not, the bar has been raised even higher.

The Republic has been decimated and the ragtag Resistance is on the run from the actually massive First Order and their deadly duo – Kylo Ren (Driver) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis). Having secured a huge victory and then suddenly suffering a massive defeat, General Leia Organa (Fisher), Poe Dameron (Isaac) and newcomer Vice Admiral Holdo (Dern) are left to rally the beleaguered troops. Elsewhere, having found Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Hamill) in exile, Force strong Rey (Ridley) struggles to convince him to return to the battle for the galaxy. The depressed and lost Master is struggling to reconcile his failures in resurrecting the Jedi Order, and now questions the Jedi religion as a whole. Speaking of struggles, Kylo Ren is struggling to let the Dark Side consume him fully – with Snoke in his ear and Rey having a larger than expected effect on him, the conflicted ex-padawan (and filthy Han Solo murderer…) is desperate to find his place in the galaxy, just like Rey.

 

Finn (Boyega) returns from his spine-slashing during The Force Awakens and buddies up with Resistance technician Rose (Tran) in order to infiltrate the First Order and give the Resistance a chance to simply survive, let alone win the fight – and with the shady DJ (del Toro) and murderess Captain Phasma (Christie) in the picture, nothing’s going to be simple.

 

Oh, and there are Porgs, and they’re AWESOME!

 

My first concern going into The Last Jedi is Star Wars movies without Han Solo tend to fall more on the side of average (Rogue One aside) and secondly, would this just be The Empire Strikes Back in a new hat? Thankfully, both of these concerns have been well and truly dashed. Are there similar beats? Of course, but there are similar beats to many other movies out there too – one criticism that cannot be levelled at The Last Jedi is that it’s a duplicate of Empire, in the same way that The Force Awakens riffed off the Original Trilogy pretty heavily. It’s also the longest Star Wars movie of the saga, leaving Johnson enough time to squeeze in as much story and beats as he possibly could, and for the vast majority of the time, it all works. 

 

Compared to previous instalments, this movie certainly takes a lot more risks – in terms of the perceptions of the Jedi and the Force, visually it’s strikingly different, the non-standard narrative flow, character motivations, it feels a lot more ambitious than what’s come before (certainly since Empire) and it’s refreshing to see a new direction being taken. It’s fair to say that The Force Awakens was a more ‘fun’ movie, more of a crowd-pleasing movie, though The Last Jedi has plenty of levity attached to it throughout.

 

Porgs = awesome.

 

Performance-wise, the level is staggeringly high for a franchise not always associated with high-class acting. After recent appearances in Kingsman and Brigsby Bear, Mark Hamill delivers the finest performance of his career as the embittered and exiled Jedi Master and Carrie Fisher (RIP) also hasn’t been better before. The returning cast – Ridley, Boyega, Driver - all show greater signs of maturity in their abilities and have grown significantly into their characters, whereas Oscar Isaac is generally always good. Of the newcomers, Kelly Marie Tran shines brightest as the technician thrust into the fight and bright lights of casino city Canto Bight and is highly endearing with her performance. Andy Serkis is bad-ass as Snoke. Period.

 

Visually, the movie is beautiful to look at. Similar to The Force Awakens and Rogue One, this movie is jam-packed with stunning, memorable shots and some fantastic (as per usual) visual FX. The space battles pop with colour, fire and expansive wide shots of massive Star Destroyers/Dreadnaughts and the more meditative moments allow for greater nuance in cinematography. As a motion-capture creation (as opposed to a huge hologram), Supreme Leader Snoke looks unnervingly genuine here as Andy Serkis works his wonder once more. The sound design is also impressively handled, especially in the stranger moments within the movie – as is John Williams score which feels more accomplished this time around compared to The Force Awakens.

 

Porgs!

 

In terms of story, The Last Jedi is full of twists and turns that will surprise and engage you in equal measures. Again, the vast majority hit their mark as intended, though a couple don’t quite connect as well as Johnson maybe intended (space floating, anyone? It’s not bad, it just looked slightly bizarre) – the heavier, emotional beats were delivered brilliantly, however. There’s no one moment that steals the movie a la “I am your Father”, and the revelations are sprinkled through and the major reveals are handled just right (especially within the third act). With so many plot points being covered it’s inevitable that some moments weren’t as compelling as others and the casino arc was probably the weakest moment in the movie, whilst still remaining a strong component. Some of the humour was ill-placed at times and could take viewers out of certain moments, but the vast majority is great. Also, the Porgs (have I mentioned them?) aren’t the new Ewoks, thankfully, and their small screentime is utilised just right.

 

There are some great space battles and incredible fight scenes also, one especially that is a joy to watch – choreography-wise and the location create a rewarding action scene. Crucially, the stakes feel high as well, it doesn’t really ever feel guaranteed that the good guys will prevail – it certainly puts the war in Star Wars.

 

The Last Jedi is certainly an adventure that will pull you this way and throw you that way but never ceases to be anything but Star Wars – as different as it is in comparison to the previous efforts, it stills retains the core essence of the saga. It certainly will prove to be divisive, but hey, so was The Empire Strikes Back when it was released way back when. Buckle up and get ready for a wild ride.

 

The Force is with The Last Jedi.

 

And the Porgs.

 

 

December 14th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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