STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI Review
‘The Force Awakens’ is the film that Star Wars fans needed. Post-prequels, fans needed to be reassured that Star Wars was back and here to stay. It’s safe to say it was a success. Audiences have back-tracked their opinions of the film and have begun bashing the film for ‘copying’ the original Star Wars film ‘A New Hope’. The hardest audience member to please with a Star Wars film is a Star Wars fan. Rian Johnson goes for the opposite end of the spectrum by presenting a Star Wars film that is the most original (and flawless) Star Wars film since ‘The Empire Strikes Back.
‘The Last Jedi’ picks up where ‘The Force Awakens left off. Rey (Ridley) has found Luke Skywalker (Hamill), the galaxy’s legend and hopeful saviour. Finn (Boyega) must work with newbie and Resistance engineer, Rose Tico (Tran) to help the Resistance escape the First Order. Poe (Issac) works under the tutelage of General Leia (Fisher; for fear of spoilers, I will refrain from focusing on Leia’s moments) and butts’ heads with Resistance leader, Vice Admiral Holdo (Dern), who can see through his charming, dreamy exterior to see the hot-head and wild pilot. Kylo Ren (Driver) struggles with his conflicting morals as he nears the completion of his training under Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis). From the moment the crawl fades away and the camera pans down, ‘The Last Jedi’ is a surprise. Pleasantly so.
Some surprises audiences may have to come to terms with or will never accept as ‘their Star Wars’. The film will most definitely be divisive (shocking). This is a dense film that deserves to be analysed and is endlessly rewatchable because of the layered complexities it brings to the narrative, characters, actors and the expansion of the galaxy. This film is an ode to the Star Wars franchise. Characters and moments are recalled from the Original Trilogy, which are married excellently with the Sequel Trilogy. One sequence, which is the films weakest, feels reminiscent of the Prequel trilogy but in the best of ways, with it offering a CGI-heavy piece of entertainment for the intended audience (KIDS!) and also offers breathing room for the emotional rollercoaster of the film.
The strongest moments of the film revolve around the main three characters: Rey, Kylo and Luke. Hamill steals the movie from himself as he gives a damaged and heavy performance that brings 30 years emotional history. He is jaded and regretful of his actions, namely creating the New Jedi Order and ultimately, Kylo Ren. Luke’s arc is an emotional arc that is rarely seen in blockbuster filmmaking nowadays. Daisy Ridley bounces off Hamill like a seasoned pro, countering his harsh wisdom with energetic optimism. She brings that wide-eyed innocence of a woman dragged into the wide world from ‘The Force Awakens’, and expands on it by having her be disappointed by her hero and guide through the scary world of the Force. Where Rey shines is her brief interactions with Kylo Ren. Both actors can be quite, emotional, at points but it is understandable from each characters perspective. Rey has seen a man willing to destroy something she has been searching for; a family. Kylo is a petulant child who has been born into privilege, craves power to abuse it and uses rage and fear as his weapons (sound familiar). Kylo is Star War’s strongest villain. Not power wise, but character. He has more complexity and emotional resonance than Vader and is more threatening because of how volatile he is. With a quiver of his lip, Driver displays anger and sadness boiling underneath waiting to explode. The trio’s relationship/arc offers the chance to dive deep into the Force itself, the Jedi, history and tradition. It is the emotional crux of the entire film and contains some of the saga’s greatest moments, visually, nostalgically, narratively and emotionally.
The greatest surprise of the film comes from ‘The Force Awakens’ weakest character: Poe Dameron. Poe was delegated to hot-shot flyboy in ‘The Force Awakens’. Here, he still is hot-headed but is called into question by Dern’s Holdo with the two exchanging words about hope, the power of command, war and the importance of strategy. Holdo (and Rian Johnson) break down Dameron’s character and examine why he is a poor choice of a leader, but it offers a great arc and journey for the character to travel that ties into the films greatest message about the important thing in a war: protect over destroy.
This message is also explored in Finn and Rose’s story, certainly the films main (and possibly only) weakness. Rose is not the ‘fan-girly’, awkward introvert she initially could have been. She admires Finn for the hero the galaxy sees him, and was inspired by his supposed selfless act of betraying the First Order and destroying Starkiller Base. However, as she learns, he is a selfish character that has no stake in the fight but cares about his friend, Rey. As he works with Rose, however, his loyalties are put into question. The film has a similar theme to ‘Rogue One’ about ambivalence in a confrontation but (like everything else) ‘The Last Jedi’ does it better. The weakness of this storyline is that it is not as tight as the others, and while expanding the Star Wars galaxy and offering unique themes, discussions and messages, is less interesting than the film it is in.
Rian Johnson was clearly allowed to make his own film. It is a breath of fresh air in a string of stale franchise films (*cough* MARVEL *cough*). It is a deep, thoughtful and passionate franchise film that never feels tampered with by a boardroom of executives (*cough* DC *cough*). Johnson is clearly a fan of Star Wars, but on a different level than JJ Abrams. Abrams is a fan who favours fan-service over original material. Johnson is a filmmaker first, fan second. He has festered ideas about the characters, and themes and ideology related to the Star Wars universe. He presents a discussion on legacy, rebellion, religion, failure and hubris, all to the background of galactic Civil War in a galaxy far, far away. ‘The Last Jedi’ is a thoughtful and layered film that may be controversial amongst Star Wars fans, but if taking a risk results in this, then Hollywood need to take more risks.
From the opening scene, the film subverts any and all fan speculation. It’s a big middle-finger to the 2 years of internet speculation that audiences forced onto ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’. This film will not be bound by wild theories, and narrative tropes of 7 other films before it. Certain characters aren’t explored as much as audiences hoped, but the same occurred in the OG Trilogy, and no complained then. Entire storylines result in no impact onto the narrative, which will annoy audiences, but others may find relief in a narrative that is unpredictable and unique in its payoff. It would be remiss to say the film will be loved by all. There are certain story and character elements that divert from audience expectations, from both a modern blockbuster and Star Wars, and will certainly divide some. But that is what makes films fun, is when there is something that is (when delivered well) unique.
Star Wars is considered to be an ‘epic’ saga with space battles and Shakespearean-style drama. However, no Star Wars film has (personally) felt, ‘epic’. ‘The Last Jedi’ is EPIC. Each battle is intense and choreographed to perfection that it is fluid and frenetic, but is not confusing. Johnson manages to provide scale for every battle, from each ship that dog fights in space, to the boots-on-the-ground battles against lumbering machines. The space battles are equal to the Battle of Endor and Battle Over Coruscant in terms of creativeness and capturing the spirt of the World War II dog fights that inspired George Lucas. And the lightsabre battles are hands down the best in any Star Wars film. They are packed with unique fighting styles and creative lightsabre uses and mimic the fights see in Kurosawa films that also inspired Lucas.
‘The Last Jedi’ is the next ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (and given time, may even surpass it). It is a film by a fan that is an ode to the saga and its inspirations that offers some of the sagas most memorable moments. The Force is indeed, strong with this one.