Star Wars is a brand which has a special place in audience’s heart. When the original came out 40 years ago (yes, it’s been that long), the film (and to some extent, George Lucas) redefined what a space epic could be. It revolutionized the film industry, changing the way people think about long form storytelling. After Return of the Jedi, the franchise was continued with The Force Awakens, which “borrowed” a lot from the original film. So with the new installment out now, how does it fare against the other films ? (No spoilers, of course).
The Last Jedi is the eighth main installment in the Star Wars saga. Directed by Rian Johnson (Looper), the film follows The Force Awakens in that it takes place almost immediately after the former ended. With the Resistance still clashing with the First Order, Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) has travelled to a desolate planet in order to convince Luke Skywalker to help. On the other side, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) go on their own adventures to bring down the First Order so that the Resistance, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher), can survive.
Right off the bat, let me just say that watching Luke Skywalker come back to the screen in all his glory (he didn’t do much in TFA did he?) is a great sight. Mark Hamill plays the character to perfection, easily making it the best rendition of the character yet. Much like Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in the previous film, it feels like an older Luke rather than Hamill playing himself.
The minute mannerisms from how the character talks to his body language remain intact and makes it feel all the more natural. Especially considering the fact that Hamill is playing this character after well over 34 years. We see the rage and sadness in Luke as he recounts the events that led him to self-exile. We see the deep backstory that he and Kylo Ren, or rather Ben Solo (played by Adam Driver) have and how unfortunate events led them to the places they are in now.
Between them comes Rey, in the middle of all this conflict. Being a relative newcomer to this world, Daisy Ridley manages to give an improved performance from the one she gave in The Force Awakens. Being in the same position Kylo Ren was once, Rey is still trying to figure out how she fits in to all of this. Her and Luke’s scenes are the stand outs and a lot of it can been said to have been inspired from Luke’s arc with Yoda in Empire Strikes Back. But while the plot beat is same, the way in which it is handled is a welcome move.
Weaving in Kylo Ren into all of this was a brilliant choice, although I won’t get into the details. Since her introduction as the focal point of this new trilogy, fans have been theorizing for the last two years about the origins of this new character seemingly out of nowhere. We got to know nothing about her in the last film, aside from the fact that she is really good when it comes to using the Force. This time though, the filmmakers sought to answer some of those burning questions, but the manner in which they’re answered might come off as lazy. Basically, kiss all your fan theories from The Force Awakens good bye.
Coming to Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, I feel a lot of pride in saying, or rather stating, that this is an excellent character. Adam Driver gives an immensely enjoyable performance as the conflicted Knight of Ren. His performance breeds off cinematic tension, keeping us at the edge of our seats. With him being as important to this new trilogy as Rey (maybe even more so than her), the writers really took some bold, but welcome choices in what the character represents : The shift of balance between the dark side and the light. Ren is a direct personification of this idea. A strong connection is shown between Ben & Rey, the seeds of which were planted in the last film. Both characters are in a similar place, in that they are both confused and are indecisive of what side of the Force they really belong to. This connection brings out a lot of new story ideas and reveals, both of which result in some of the most jaw-dropping and exciting sequences ever put to screen in Star Wars.
Talking about returning characters, I have to talk about Finn and Poe. The Force Awakens didn’t really give Poe much to do, but here he is given all the attention he very much so deserved. Oscar Isaac proves again how versatile he is as an actor, given the different types of roles he’s played over the years (Apocalypse). It is through him that we see the rage of the Resistance against the First Order. As usual, his chemistry with Finn is off the roof !
Speaking of Finn, the stand out from the last film is great here again. His co-star (for the most part) sadly though isn’t. We meet Rose (played by Kelly Marie Tran), a new comer to the Star Wars story, and are immediately thrust into a sub-plot involving her and Finn having to travel to another section of the galaxy. This right here, is probably the weakest part of the film, one which could have easily been cut down to save some of that hefty run time (It’s 153 minutes long). While the plot isn’t entirely useless as it leads into some pretty important things, the way it is handled could have been better. Whenever we cut away from all the interesting Rey and Luke stuff to this part of the film, I felt my (and the rest of the audience’s) eyes roll.
A good 15 minutes minutes could have been cut from this part and it wouldn’t have changed anything that affects the main story. It’s sad though, seeing a really fun character as Finn getting stuck in arguably the worst part of the film. As for the newcomer Rose, I have conflicted feelings. I get what the writers were going for, but for the most part it feels like it backfired. Most of the decisions made by her made me want to yell at the screen, seeing as the character came across as annoying (no, not as much as Jar Jar) and forced (not as much as Ewoks). Hear me out: There are some genuinely good moments with her, but the bad outweighs the good. Hopefully J.J Abrams takes some of this in his notes when he’s helming the next chapter.
Everyone else from General Leia (Carrie Fisher, May the Force Be With You), General Hux & Phasma to newcomers Admiral Holdo and Benecio Del Toro’s character “DJ” are played wonderfully. The droids and the porgs steal our hearts away (as expected) and the new environments such as Canto Bight are a welcome move. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) though, is kind of… wasted. Don’t get me wrong, when he comes on screen it is terrifying, but he’s less of a character and more of a conduit for Kylo Ren’s character development., of which there is a lot. As I said above, he is the focal point of this trilogy, and as such, is given a lot of importance.
Rian Johnson really outdoes himself here be it some excellent, wide wallpaper-worthy shots to breathtaking action. The way lightsaber fights are handled in this film are just plainly amazing, offering some of the best the saga has ever seen. He even comes up with new ways of Force-manipulation. Yes, there will be hordes of fans protesting against these new changes but fast forward about 30 years and I can see a new generation of people watching the saga and welcoming these new techniques as part of an on-going story. We get to see a lot of new Force-based powers here, some within the context of what has been seen before, and some completely new. For once, change is good. Might I also add that Johnson is a master at holding tension. Every scene has a sense of urgency, and in a good way as it should be. So much so that mid way through a set piece I actually thought that it was the climax, only to realize over 40 minutes of the film was left. Every battle sequence, chase and reveal is handled expertly. I look forward to Johnson’s new trilogy, confident that he will give us nothing short of spectacular.
As Kylo Ren states in the film, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.”, The Last Jedi is all about letting go of what came before and looking forward to new experiences. If you were disappointed by the sheer amount of ‘homages’ The Force Awakens made to the original trilogy, fear not as this film aims to do that by just the right amount. In the same way as BB-8 was welcomed, keeping aside the awesomeness of R2-D2 in its own way, we look forward to the next chapter. Now, about that Han Solo movie…