Beware! There be SPOILERS!
In 2015 the dormant Star Wars franchise was reawakened by J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens (read the Movies In Focus review), a gloriously faithful movie to George Lucas’ beloved original trilogy. The film featured many of the same beats as A New Hope, but it introduced a wealth of new characters to sit alongside fan favourites like Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The film ended with Daisy Ridley’s Rey standing on a cliff top on planet of Ach-To (bless you), arm outstretched, offering Luke Skywalker his long lost Lightsaber. The sequel was open to all possibilities – which brings us to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Rian Johnson’s film manages to be both brilliant and terrible at the same time, a mix of classic mythos and insipid story telling. The opening action sequence featuring Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is stunning, a wonderfully presented piece of intergalactic battle, illustrating that Isaac’s Dameron is the heir to Han Solo’s laid back heroics. We cut back to the finale of The Force Awakens, where Luke Skywalker takes his lightsaber from Rey and quickly tosses it over his shoulder. Like Luke says: ’This isn’t going to go the way you think’.
Skywalker is to The Last Jedi what Yoda was to The Empire Strike Back – a quirky loner who doesn’t want to train a young apprentice eager to use the Force. Hamill gets to deliver a lot of great work here, hitting comedic and dramatic notes with ease. I would happily sit and watch a movie about Skywalker’s lonesome existence (Space Survivor, anyone?)
Away from Ach-To, the Resistance fleet is on its knees, running out of fuel and pursued by The First Order and the dastardly trio of Snoke (Andy Serkis), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). It would seem that the plan for Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo is to keep on running – something Poe Dameron doesn’t do. He sends John Boyega’s Finn on a mission to sneak onto Snoke’s ship and decommission a tracking device so they can make the jump to light-speed and lose their pursuers.
It’s Finn’s mission which takes the film off on a diversion where it didn’t really need to go. Finn is joined by Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico, a plucky mechanic wanting to fight the good fight against the First Order. Together the duo visit a Monte Carlo type world (freeing space Llamas in the process) before hooking-up with Benicio Del Toro’s mysterious criminal. There’s a lot of comedic hijinks involved in all of this which George Lucas would have excised from the first draft of anything he ever wrote.
Rey and Kylo are also having some force-fulled telepathic conversations – you know the type: ‘I know there’s good in you’, ‘You will turn to the dark-side’, ‘Join me’ etc. Most of this works and there’s some nice stuff aboard Snoke’s ship (shade of Return of The Jedi) which really works, but sadly an editing fumble means that the pay-off doesn’t ring-true. In a film with a lot of extraneous scenes it feels like a disappointment when we don’t get to see how Rey escapes, covering up a silly line like ‘She stole Snoke’s shuttle’’. Speaking of Snoke, he’s offered very little back story and the character isn’t really developed further that he was back in Episode VII.
Hamill’s Luke Skywalker is the highlight of The Last Jedi, anchoring the film in the same way that Harrison Ford steadied The Force Awakens. The late Carrie Fisher is given more to do this time around – but there’s a moment in the film which could have been used as her swan-song. This wouldn’t have had much of an impact on the main thrust of the story and it would been a powerful way to have her exit the franchise.
John Boyega, one of the highlights of the last movie is given a pointless plot thread that really has nothing to do other than keep ILM busy and Isaac’s cocky flyboy is grounded for most of the movie, booking the movie with his piloting skills. As a character, it feels that Ridley’s Rey is spinning her wheels a bit. She gets some good moments with Adam Drive Kylo Ren (a great villain) but ultimately it feels like she spends every other scene being drawn to the dark side/light side of the force.
There’s more humour in The Last Jedi than previous Star Wars movies; some of it hits, some of it doesn’t. The much publicised Porgs work for a moment or two, but they outstay their welcome. The film drew to a halt too many times to show-odd cute creatures. I didn’t care for the crystal wolves during the climatic battle and the aforementioned space Llamas feel like they belong in a Disney movie (wait, this is a Disney movie!)
The Last Jedi has some great moments (some of the best in the series) but it also has some of the worst. It’s better than Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (read the Movies In Focus review), but it doesn’t match-up to the original trilogy – or the much derided prequels. In fact, Rian Johnson commits many of the same crimes that George Lucas did in those movies (plot diversions, silly humour, CGI creatures) but Lucas handled it much better. At 2 1/2 hours, Star Wars: The Last Jedi could have been tightened-up in the editing room, cutting out that bloated middle section and removing things like Maz Kanata’s cameo and the cute slave kids which feel like they dropped in from a totally different movie. When it works, it really works but when it doesn’t, it feels like bad fan-fiction with a million dollar budget. It will be interesting to see what J.J. Abrams brings to the table when he returns for Episode IX.