Two years ago J.J. Abrams was tasked with reinvigorating the Star Wars product after a prequel trilogy that saw the franchise in the creative doldrums. The Force Awakens had a familiar feel to it: a Star Wars greatest hits album of sorts that revisited old favourites and sought to right a listing ship after a period of neglect. Rian Johnson’s follow-up Episode 8 is a totally different beast: a much more ambitious film tonally, structurally and narratively. It casts its gaze and sets its sights higher than Episode 7 pulling off some significant victories, but it’s perhaps not surprising that a film as enterprising and determined as this seems to occasionally flounder.
The Last Jedi picks up immediately where The Force Awakens ended, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) meeting the long lost Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) while the Resistance is in retreat, pursued by the First Order following the attack on Starkiller Base.
The key moment in trailers that preceded the movie is Luke cryptically teasing: “This is not going to go the way you think” and The Last Jedi works best, is at its most thrilling, tense and joyous, when it happily undermines the expectations of the audience. At the centre of this is a fantastic power-play between Rey and masked dark-side Brat Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). As Rey pushes Luke to clue her in on the ways of the force, she finds herself increasingly connected to Ren who is having something of a crisis himself. The dividing line between dark and light, good and evil is blurred somewhat here, and the most successful part of the movie sees Rey and Ren questioning their position in the galactic drama. A central set-piece scene that comes at a pivotal moment in the plot, taking place within the flush-red confines of a Star Destroyer throne room, ranks as exciting and heartbreakingly dramatic as anything seen in any Star Wars movie.
Elsewhere, the plot drifts off into areas about which I am much more ambivalent and, occasionally, disliked. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe’s (Oscar Isaac) budding bromance stalls early as Finn finds himself on a mission of subterfuge with newcomer and low-key star of the movie Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). A jaunt to a galactic casino feels like an unwelcome side-mission and too much in the way of superfluous procrastination padding out an already-long movie just to give some characters something to do. It’s during these less-engaging moments that you notice the all-too-on-the-nose subtext; the attempts at broad humour largely falling flat; or the occasional, weirdly incongruous dialogue.
Fair play to Johnson, for he has aimed for the stars with this one; although I feel that on a few too many occasions he has only succeeded in reaching the moon.
Chris Banks | [rating=3]
Fantasy, Action, Sci-fi | 12A | USA, 2017 | 14th December 2017 (UK) | Lucasfilm | Dir.Rian Johnson | Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaacs, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher