Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Oscar Isaac
I like the Star Wars series enough that I’d be happy for it to become an evergreen franchise where a new generation of Jedis are rolled out periodically to face the old enemy. I imagine it could be something like the Bond films where we get a new hero at the helm from time to time, but the staples of the series (lightsabers, Death Stars, the Force, wookies etc) remain a constant.
Others are less enamored with that idea and found that The Force Awakens stuck too closely to the template established by A New Hope and Return of the Jedi.
With The Last Jedi, new director Rian Johnson appears to directly address those critics by making a film that severs some long-standing ties to George Lucas’ original trilogy. The Last Jedi is structurally unlike the films that have come before it. Plenty of new characters are introduced. Some old favourites don’t make it to the end. Some of them (vale Admiral Akbar) are even unceremoniously killed off-screen!
The end result? I came away mostly happy with The Last Jedi and the new direction it took but once again a vocal collective of Star Wars fans have taken against it. With the weight of five decades of fandom burdening the franchise, it remains a challenge fraught with peril for any new director taking the helm of the series. Just what exactly should a modern Star Wars movie be?
In The Last Jedi, we pick up where The Force Awakens left off with Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally meeting the reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). And in the first sign that all bets are off when it comes to expectations, Luke is handed his old lightsaber by Rey which he promptly tosses into the ocean like it was common garbage.
Meanwhile, the Resistance continues its battle with the New Order, lead by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher in a post-humous performance) and her allies Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Vice Admiral Holdo (a new character played by Laura Dern).
Somewhere in amongst this conflict, Finn (John Boyega), a former stormtrooper who defected to join the Resistance, struggles to find his purpose.
As much as I appreciate the host of new characters that Rian Johnson has introduced into the series, by far the most compelling characters for me are the trio of Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren. To that end, The Last Jedi doesn’t quite hit the heights that The Force Awakens did for me. Finn is given a somewhat marginalized role in this film (although I expect that to change in Episode Nine) and an interesting twist in the tale is teased when Kylo Ren proposes an alliance with Rey but the story then veers back towards safer grounds almost immediately afterwards.
On the flip side, The Last Jedi offers some of the most substantial acting performances for Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher as Luke and Leia. Hamill is given plenty of onscreen time as the reluctant mentor to Rey where he stews with guilt over the rise of Kylo Ren under his tutelage. I enjoyed the melodrama of these scenes and thought Hamill played the part perfectly.
Carrie Fisher is also given plenty of scope as General Leia and far more screen time than what I had anticipated. On first viewing, I found myself distracted and morbidly anticipating the death of her onscreen character (which is teased several times). I need to watch the film a second time to properly take in her performance.
I have to commend the exceptional production values that The Last Jedi has. It has by far the finest cinematography in the series to date and the special effects continue the good work started by The Force Awakens which effectively melds the rough and tumble look and feel of the original trilogy (now nearly forty years old) with modern effects. It avoids the trap of ever looking too clean or artificial – an issue that plagues the visual effects of the Prequel Trilogy and Special Edition versions of the original films.
Overall, I didn’t really find The Last Jedi to be a film that stands particularly well on its own two feet. It very much feels like the middle chapter to a journey and it doesn’t quite have anything as revelatory as Darth Vader telling Luke he’s his father going for it. Having said that, I feel satisfied with the direction that the story is headed, am happy with the faith shown in the new cast and have no problem with the film sending off a couple of much loved Original Trilogy characters.
I hope the much publicised backlash against the film doesn’t cause the creative leads of the franchise to lose their nerve or double back. The Last Jedi is a middle of the road entry in the series but I like where it’s headed.