Here we are again. From my first ever review on this site being The Force Awakens, we have now finally seen two years of fan theories come to fruition in the next chapter of the money-making Star Wars saga. Is it ever going to live up to the impossible expectations of fanboys? Ha! That’s funny. But that doesn’t make it a bad movie.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) continues the Star Wars saga from Force Awakens and is written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick). It stars Daisy Ridley as Rey, who is currently seeking out secluded Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to convince him to help the struggling resistance headed by his sister Leia (Carrie Fisher) and hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).
The Force is Moderately Strong in this Johnson
Unlike The Force Awakens which played it a little too safe under J. J. Abrams direction (note: my opinion on that film has lessened somewhat since my review was written), The Last Jedi has Rian Johnson helming the Star Destroyer this time around. And unlike Abrams, Johnson has a style of his own, which makes the fact that The Last Jedi is clearly his vision all the more impressive – even if it doesn’t succeed on all fronts. While this film takes bold new directions and makes surprising choices, it can’t help but feel disjointed from The Force Awakens and struggle under a few characters that Johnson clearly felt he was hampered by.
This may be a Rian Johnson film, but lets not forget this is also very clearly a Star Wars movie – and it is stunning. Johnson and his longtime cinematographer Steve Yedlin has such an incredible eye for grand, striking shots and Star Wars has so much spectacle to pull from that the film is a constant treat for the eyes. One particular scene I’m going to turn into a screensaver faster than you can say parsec once it comes out on bluray – its that stellar.
As you’d also expect for a Star Wars film of this size (and budget) but all the effects are as true to Star Wars as you can get. On initial inspection the film doesn’t seem to rely as much on practical effects as The Force Awakens which is disappointing, but that doesn’t mean there’s any Justice League mediocrity on display here. The character designs as usual for Star Wars are all just as good as well – the designs really burst off the screen in several instances (and not because of the 3D which is laughably pointless at best). And yes, even the Progs – which I’m sure are going to be the Ewoks of a new age – are frustratingly cute. Goddammit Disney. You win. I want one.
Far Far Away from Perfect
But now lets get to the problems, and sadly most of them lie with the plot. On the positive end, Rian Johnson has clearly been given plenty of leeway to tell his own story, and that can be seen both how it subverts expectations and makes some incredibly bold and gusty decisions, almost all of which pay off. However, the problem with that is Johnson clearly didn’t want to deal with every single dangling plot thread from The Force Awakens – meaning that not only are some never resolved but others come off as incredibly unsatisfying. There’s obviously another film left to come but the way certain things are resolved here are sure to piss people off and make The Last Jedi feel a bit too dismissive of what came before. Even beyond contrasts with The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi is just too long – not only does it struggle to maintain momentum at times, but there’s a couple of essentially ‘side missions’ that feel like an arbitrary waste of time and drag proceedings down even further. Its a shame, and while I do appreciate that Johnson takes his time to develop certain story elements naturally, a little bit of trimming the fat would’ve gone a long way.
Swingin’ Sabers, Takin’ Names
One side of new Star Wars that continues to deliver is the cast. And better yet, Mark Hamill gets to speak! Shocking I know. But what he has to say is mighty interesting, delivering a performance that takes Luke in an interesting, albeit somewhat lacklustre, direction. Even when the movie fails to deliver, he never does and manages to pay homage to both his iconic character and Hamill himself in a very effective way. Daisy Ridley has also stepped up in this sequel, growing from a likeable fresh face to a legitimately compelling character between screenplays. The same can be said for Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, who at this point is probably my favourite and most interesting new character of the current trilogy, and The Last Jedi does a fantastic job contrasting the two characters with a surprising touch of grace and mystique. The same can sadly not be said for the other two of the ‘core’ three, Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and John Boyega’s Finn. They both still deliver great performances, but its clear that Johnson is much more interested in the force sensitive side of the cast than not. Finn in particular is relegated to a lacklustre d-plot involving newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose. Tran delivers a solid performance but is sadly hampered by some lacklustre writing and a third act turn that is more cringeworthy than cheerworthy. Special mention should also go to Carrie Fisher in one of her final performances – not only is she great, showing a rather different side to Leia, she is payed homage to in one of the most beautiful and touching ways imaginable.
No Need to Strike Back
As spoiler-free problems go for the film, being disjointed from The Force Awakens, feeling too overstuffed and disappointing in several story moments is enough to sadly bring The Last Jedi down from the masterpiece the hype has built it up to be. But it should not be understated that there is a lot to love in this film – fantastic unpredictability, great performances, stellar cinematography and an assured director’s vision all number among its major positives. More than likely this is going to be a film that causes fanboy divides the size of the grand canyon, but I will still come out and say The Last Jedi has plenty of the light side to its appeal. However, there’s also just enough dark in there to make me feel conflicted.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
True Believers (Star Wars): You’ve definitely already seen it, but: Recommended