My force has been out of balance for a while, hence the lack of movie reviews. I’m still watching movies, but I’ve been too busy or lazy to write, and there was no movie that could lure me out of semi-retirement — not even blockbusters like Thor: Ragnarok or Justice League (I’ll hopefully get to them soon) — except one. Of course, it had to be The Last Jedi.
As much as I wanted to keep expectations in check, it was difficult to contain my excitement. The Force Awakens had its flaws, but it was exciting, nostalgic and lots of fun. Star Wars was back and everybody was guessing what the next instalment had in store. Luke Skywalker was going to play a big role. Big names such as Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro joined the cast. Andy Serkis’s Supreme Leader Snoke wasn’t going to be a hologram anymore. And the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher added a sense of melancholy but also curiosity as to how they were going to handle her character.
However, what lit up my lightsaber more than anything else about The Last Jedi was its filmmaker, Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed the stylish and compelling Brick and Looper, and arguably the greatest episode of arguably the greatest TV show of all time (the legendary Breaking Bad episode, “Ozymandias”). Disney was reportedly so happy with what Johnson did with The Last Jedi that they’ve signed him to create a new Star Wars trilogy (the first film of which he will write and direct).
But even with one of my favourite directors at the helm, I knew Episode VIII could not possibly live up to my fantasy of what I hoped it would be. And it doesn’t. It’s far from a perfect film. That said, the most difficult task for Johnson was to give audiences something new and fresh yet in keep with the Star Wars mythology and feel. In that regard, I think he absolutely hit it out of the park.
The Last Jedi is bold and distinct, with subtle elements of nostalgia that won’t irk some fans like The Force Awakens did. There were a million theories about the film, the characters, and the direction the story might take, and yet Johnson manages to avoid pretty much all of them, twisting and turning the plot in ways I didn’t expect while answering a lot of questions from the movie’s predecessor. I found myself repeatedly surprised, and for me, that’s the film’s biggest strength.
Fueled by solid dialogue that avoids too much forced exposition but does enough to inform audiences, the characters are mostly strong and well-developed, building on the solid foundations of the first film and adding more metaphorical flesh to the bones of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and especially Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher have much bigger roles (“Duh” for the former), though the story remains firmly that of the new generation. For me, Adam Driver steals the show. He is just so good that I’m fairly certain the original trilogy would have a completely different legacy had he played Anakin Skywalker (no offence, Hayden Christensen). The chemistry he has with Ridley, Hamill, Andy Serkis, and even Domnhall Gleeson adds more layer and depth to all their characters, and that stoic expression on his face keeps you wondering what the heck he’s thinking.
Another standout is the cinematography by Steven Yedlin, who might have an Oscar nomination coming soon after delivering some of the most beautiful and memorable shots of the entire saga. There are some scenes that look like they should be in photography exhibitions. The special effects are as good as they were in The Force Awakens and Rogue One, though in my opinion not quite on the level of War for the Planet of the Apes and Blade Runner 2049, especially during one extended subplot sequence.
Like any good Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi features a good mix of riveting action and moving drama, plus, perhaps surprising to some, a decent dash of humour. As everyone expected, this is a darker film, but this does not mean there aren’t moments of levity. I must say that I was a little worried about both in the beginning, as the action seemed somewhat standard, even a little confusing with the quick edits, and the first couple of gags didn’t feel quite right, tonally speaking. As the movie progressed along, however, more of the jokes hit their mark, and by the third act, the action had me nailed to my seat, engrossed by every image.
There are a few other weaknesses. While the new “big four” of Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo get the bulk of the juice in the script, some of the lesser and newer characters and their arcs and subplots feel shortchanged. One, in particular, is very deflating. I can’t go into it much more than that, except to add that some of the story points came across as a little forced and don’t actually propel the narrative as much as they should. This is despite a 2.5-hour running time, which makes it’s the longest Star Wars movie ever. Apparently, the first cut was over 3 hours, which could have put some of that meat back on but it would also have made the movie way too long. For the record, despite some slower moments in the beginning, I thought the final running-time was fine—you need the build-up at the start to deliver the emotional punch you need at the end.
Ultimately, Episode VIII of the Star Wars saga was well worth the wait. It is a high-risk, high-reward follow-up to the relatively safe Force Awakens that, for the most part, pays off. It’s unlike any Star Wars movie you’ve seen, but it’s also still undoubtedly a Star Wars movie. I never watched the original trilogy at the right age (either too young or too old), so I was always a fan but never in love with the first three films like many are. Accordingly, while I have a feeling The Last Jedi could divide viewers, it might very well be my favourite entry of the lot. The last hour of the film, certainly, is as engrossing as any hour of the eight episodes (and one spin-off) that have been made thus far. It’s possible that, with a few more viewings, I might end up revering The Last Jedi as much as those who grew up on the original trilogy revere Empire Strikes Back.
4.5 stars out of 5!