Director: Rian Johnson.
Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Andy Serkis, Benicio del Toro, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie.
|I'm not sure if this new "Luke Skywalker" character's going to catch on with the kids.|
One of the biggest (and not inaccurate) criticisms levelled at Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens was it followed the beats of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope too slavishly. To be honest, I thought that was one of its strengths; that it was something that helped The Force Awakens feel classic and tickle our nostalgia bones while simultaneously creating something fresh.
So if The Force Awakens was another New Hope, it follows that Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back will be the touchstone for Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi. And it is in so many ways. The somewhat darker tone and the downward story trajectory with a glimmer of hope at the end are on display here. There are even some familiar story elements.
And just like The Empire Strikes Back set the benchmark for the "orig trij", The Last Jedi does the same for the sequel trilogy.
Picking up from where The Force Awakens left off, The Last Jedi finds Princess Leia (Fisher) and her Resistance (AKA the Rebels) on the run from General Hux (Gleeson) and his the First Order (AKA the Empire), despite the destruction of the First Order's superweapon Starkiller Base.
Meanwhile, Rey (Ridley) is trying to convince the legendary Luke Skywalker (Hamill) to return from isolation to aid the Resistance, but finds him unwilling, with the Jedi Master still torn up over his evil nephew Kylo Ren (Driver) crossing to the dark side.
Kylo Ren remains the most fascinating of the new characters and Rey is close behind, but what makes The Last Jedi next level is the interaction between those two players in the film. Theirs is a psychological battle unlike anything seen in the saga to date. In just one film, their relationship offers a more nuanced exploration of the light and dark than Luke's attempts to return Darth Vader to the light in Return Of The Jedi, or Anakin's downfall across the entire prequel trilogy. In The Last Jedi, we are starting to learn about the power that lies within Rey, and further explore the conflict within Kylo.
Of the new newcomers (ie. those not in The Force Awakens), del Toro and Dern are great additions, while Tran's character Rose gets an interesting subplot to share with ex-stormtrooper Finn (Boyega). For those who seem to think this subplot is irrelevant and could have been cut, think about the impact this subplot has on the Resistance, how much pain it inadvertently causes, the affect it has on smug fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac), and how rare it is for a film to show the actions of heroes having such devastating impacts. It's one of the examples of the bold decision-making at play in Johnson's excellent script.
The humour in the screenplay is also welcome, harking back to the many oft-forgotten laughs in the original trilogy (which were sadly lacking in the prequels) - never forget that Han Solo killed Boba Fett with slapstick sight gag. Luke's reaction to being handed his old lightsaber is priceless and some of his other antics are like a toned-down Yoda, while the hamster-penguins called porgs are surprisingly amusing.
Best of all is the look of the film. A major lightsaber battle involving Rey and Kylo is a visual treat and one of the best lasersword sequences in the saga. Similarly, the final showdown between Rebels and Imperials on a salt plain is striking.
Of the returning old favourites, Luke fares best, and it's great to see him in action again. Whereas the prequels were too concerned with Lucas’ myth building, this is about tearing all that down, and that's were the original trilogy characters come into play. Luke is a character wrestling with his own legend, while Leia is struggling to find the all-important hope in the face of utter annihilation. Both are faced with their lowest moments. Like Empire, The Last Jedi wants backs against walls. It wants to ensure things are darkest before the dawn.
That dawn is on the horizon, andwith JJ Abrams back in the chair for Episode IX, Han Solo and Obi-Wan spin-offs in the works, and Rian Johnson about to start a new trilogy, it's a bright one indeed. The new cast are shining as the series ploughs ahead, with nothing sacred, no-holds barred, and a three-out-of-three strike rate for the latest additions to the saga. The Force is strong with the new Star Wars films.