A New Director.
Following the overall success of Disney’s continuation of the Star Wars Saga with The Force Awakens, Director Rian Johnson took the helm as successor of J.J. Abrams, vowing to make his mark on the long running space opera by delivering a new experience that challenges our expectations of the high flying franchise. He did not fall short of his promise as The Last Jedi split its audience almost down the middle, receiving praise from many critics yet flack from many of the fans. Was Johnson’s daring move a step too far to the dark side or are we simply not interested in being challenged by this pop culture icon?
The Force is strong.
The Last Jedi begins as The First Order corner the remaining rebels on their planetary base. In a frenzy, Leia (Carrie Fisher) and the entire rebel force escape on transports as Poe (Oscar Issac) saviours a hero moment, pulling the near impossible and highly dangerous feat of taking on a First Order dreadnought, with the capability of laying waste to the rebellion, alone. Poe is acting on impulse and without orders, much to Leia’s grievance who does not want to risk her best pilot. Poe considers himself a real Han Solo as he jibes and and pokes fun at the ridiculous and often over-emotional General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) who can’t help but rise to his bait. This action set piece neatly ignites the main focus of the film; a long and gruelling space-chase – a retreat by the rebels from the First Order to avoid all out annihilation.
Rey hits the screen at precisely the point we left her in The Force Awakens; beholding a weathered and aged Luke Skywalker, the legendary Jedi Master who now lives as a hermit far far away from the cold gaze of the First Order. However Luke has become Jaded and resentful of the Jedi and now regards them as arrogant. Rey however, is determined to realise her destiny and be trained and so endeavours to rekindle his faith. As Luke and Yoda often butted heads as they trained, so do Rey and Luke. Whilst happy to provide perhaps the most grounded and compelling description of the force we’ve been given to date, Luke is quick to point out that the force does not belong to the Jedi alone, they are not it’s guardians as it belongs to all and all belong to it. Rey’s disappointment is particularly palpable as she believes her entire existence is meant to help settle this conflict.
A scattered plot.
We meet Finn again as he regains consciousness following his duel with Kylo Ren in the midst of the frantic evacuation of the rebel base. Separated from Rey, his motive is to help and protect her at all costs. Whilst failing an attempt at stealing a pod and going in search of her Finn meets Rose, a plucky, young, grieving dock worker. Together they hatch an over convoluted plan to temporarily disable the First Order’s tracking, hopefully allowing the rebel fleet to escape, thus saving Rey from returning to certain death. With Leia indisposed, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) takes over command in her stead, much to Poe’s dismay – he considers her inexperienced and under qualified. Using Poe’s distrust Finn and Rose confide their plan in him and leave in search of the Code Breaker rumoured to be in a casino on Kanto Byte. Feeling like a lacklustre lift from the prequels, the Kanto Byte casino is decadent and crammed full of wacky CGI creations. More disappointing is the clunky development of Rose and Finn’s character arc’s which feel rushed and unnecessary in terms of the grander scheme and scope of the film.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), still reeling from his loss at the hands of Rey, is more determined than ever to fulfil his destiny and prove himself to Supreme Leader Snoke (Motion capture overlord, Andy Serkis) With his fair share once again of angst-filled outbursts (an activity General Hux is also too familiar with) and acts of random vandalism in an all too typically villain way, Kylo Ren undergoes arguably the most change throughout the movie and a simple yet effect device is used to progress his relationship to Rey; a telepathic link. Whilst unable to physically effect one and other, the pair share intense moments of reflection and conversation which influence their actions, inevitably bringing them together.
An overly convoluted plot.
The pacing leaves something to be desired, even with the continual high altitude-low speed race against the fuel tank going on, mainly due to the constant need to cut back and forth between a multitude of sub quests. A late mid point steals the show, suddenly ramping up the stakes and sending the film in a very different direction – and a thrilling one at that. Whilst very well executed and very much deserved of it’s place in the movie I can’t help but feel as though a careful tweak or two could have put it at the films climax. The finale in comparison fizzles and while fitting, is quite underwhelming. Overall the film might seem like The Empire Strikes Back in reverse, certainly in terms of its action set pieces.
The one thing that The Last Jedi does achieve, like it or not, is that it is remains faithful to its theme and Rian Johnson to his promise. With Luke’s disillusionment to the Jedi cause, Poe’s disobedience towards Holdo and constant search for heroics, Kylo Ren’s desire to fulfil himself and Rey’s quest for meaning in her existence, we are encouraged to feel that without the unified whole – the rebellion, not Rey or Poe or Luke – The First Order, not Kylo, Hux or Snoke there is no meaning. No one person can change the fate of the galaxy, without the whole, both divided sides are exactly just that.
An honest attempt.
With it’s repetition of plot, character arcs, set pieces and even costume motifs lifted straight from A New Hope, The Force Awakens suffered somewhat from the sheer amount of recalls intended to inspire (heavy handedly) a sense of nostalgia amongst Star Wars fans. Not to mention the returning cast members of the original trilogy, reprising some of sci-fi’s most beloved hero’s. Although slightly less obvious in The Last Jedi, the call backs are still an integral part. In The Force Awaken’s we got to see an ageing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who had slipped back into his old life style of scams but had taken a great deal of wisdom and faith from his time with the Rebels and acted as a mentor to both Rey and Finn. Luke’s progression from where we left him in Return of the Jedi, to the grizzled, reluctant old man we meet in The Last Jedi is understandable, but still disenchanted many fans (And Mark Hamil himself). A sizeable amount of the cosmic romanticism that the masses fell in love with decades ago is replaced with stark reality and hit and miss humour. Finn’s side quest feels empty compared to the action going on elsewhere and the character arc of this originally highly intriguing and compelling runaway from the First Order feels tacked on. However The Last Jedi has some tricks up its sleeve which save it in all the right moments (well, nearly) and Johnson makes his mark with a step away from the traditional formula of a Star Wars movie.