This review is Spoiler Free.
Needless to say, if you haven’t yet watched Star Wars: The Last Jedi then turn around and go and do so, because what makes Rian Johnson’s latest entry in the Skywalker saga so enjoyable is a feeling of endless possibilities when the screen is graced with the green shine of the Lucasfilm logo. To go into The Last Jedi with any sort of expectation will leave you disappointed, and as was made apparent in the theatrical trailer for Episode VIII by Luke Skywalker himself– “This isn’t going to go the way you think…”.
It has to be said right off the bat that The Last Jedi is, to many heavy hearts, a troubled film. Whether or not you find it enjoyable is purely down to you. Without giving away the entire plot of the film, which is the most difficult part of writing a review for the biggest film of the year, The Last Jedi greets us with an Empire Strikes Back-inspired first act, with the Resistance (now back to being called Rebel Scum by the First Order) desperately trying to escape an ambush by a fleet of imperial star destroyers and frigates. Where Empire took the opportunity to evolve this situation into an epic battle that has become synonymous with the most popular Star Wars video games, The Last Jedi takes the opportunity to stretch out the situation into a feature-length plot – and for once, there is a real sense of peril for the Resistance as they hang on by a thread. In terms of its place in the Star Wars story, The Last Jedi does the usual aesthetic tasks of showing us a handful of new creatures, put together by a wonderful team of visual artists and practical effects artists. Surprisingly, some of the new places seen in The Last Jedi feel like they’ve come straight out of the prequel trilogy, which is actually rather exciting.
With The Empire Strikes Back in mind, rest assured that The Last Jedi is not a copy of arguably the greatest of the Star Wars films. Where many fans were concerned after the stark comparisons between The Force Awakens (2015) and Star Wars (1977) about the direction that Johnson’s middle film might go, there is a real sense of relief when The Last Jedi goes in a completely different direction. But that relief is soon turned into concern when the plot rushes the film into new territory.
As with any Star Wars film, there is always a sense of dread when we are introduced to new concepts that may not feel welcome in a most beloved universe. This is the first time since the prequel trilogy that the mysteries surrounding the force have taken center stage, and after Rey and Luke’s eagerly awaited first lines to each other, we are quick to learn the reasons behind Luke’s abandonment of his religion and devotion to the force. Mark Hamill steals the show as the troubled legend himself, Luke Skywalker – with many poignant lines about the nature of the force and its uncontrollability, delivered on an emotional level. If The Force Awakens was Han Solo’s time in the spotlight, then The Last Jedi is Luke’s.
If there is one word that could encapsulate The Last Jedi best, it’s Change. Rian Johnson’s goal here is clearly to push the franchise into unexplored territory – and we can only hope that his independent trilogy due for release after Episode IX may follow suit. However, there is a real conflict that screams out in the 2 and ½ hour run time between Johnson’s obvious devotion to exploring new philosophies about the force and Disney’s unsurprising notion of good triumphing over evil and ‘hope’ – a word that has almost become a thorn in the franchise. I do not doubt that all the action that went on behind closed Disney doors most likely played out identically to the film itself, with Johnson battling to allow the Jedi and the Sith to become part of history and to give Star Wars a new breath of life. This is most apparent in the unexpected and yet respectable way that Johnson handles Supreme Leader Snoke, bringing a whole new definition to the word half-hearted (you’ll get the pun when you see it). The same can be said for the relationship between Rey and Ben Solo, which on paper could have been a Star Wars director’s worst nightmare to execute convincingly. Thankfully, Rey and Ben’s relationship pays off outstandingly and for the first time in the Star Wars story, we have never seen the line between good and evil as blurred as it is now. It’s almost too good to be true when the story gets closer and closer to being the most innovative and thought-provoking Star Wars film yet, only to be trampled on by Disney’s final act of the film. That is not to say that all of Johnson’s innovation doesn’t make it to the final act of the film. We are presented by a handful of the finest and most stunning lightsabre fights we have seen since Revenge of the Sith, as well as game-changing new powers that even the most famous faces from Star Wars have never shown us until now.
There is much to talk about with The Last Jedi, but there is a feeling that most of what can be appreciated doesn’t need to be written about, purely to be enjoyed. The soundtrack, cinematography, humour, overly dramatized new characters and peril all check the necessary Star Wars boxes, without getting any bonus points. What’s important to discuss with The Last Jedi is the aforementioned internal conflict between the three acts. If an argument were to be made over which act that Johnson enjoyed directing the most, the prize has to go to the middle act – far away on a remote island where he can’t be found by Disney’s Stormtroopers.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a thrilling entry into the Star Wars story, which answers most of the questions raised in The Force Awakens. There are moments that might leave you cringing and moments that will leave you smiling. On a touching note, the film is a stunning tribute to Carrie Fisher, who we will all miss dearly. In the end, the best way to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi is to leave all you know behind and prepare to see the Skywalker saga embrace real change that will leave the cleanest pallet ready for Episode IX. The Last Jedi feels like a finale, even though the epic conclusion is yet to come. My next concern is whether J.J Abrams has any idea where the hell to take the story from here. Thanks a lot, Rian.