Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

Star Wars - The Last Jedi posterWhether the title The Last Jedi is one that was thrust upon writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) or whether its one he came up with, its fair to say that another previous Star Wars episode title could have been far more fitting here… A New Hope.

Where The Force Awakens kickstarted the series into a new life, leaning heavily on its past, The Last Jedi feels like a movie aiming for something new. Taking the space opera grandiosity and injecting it with something Star Wars has often been criticised for missing (sometimes unfairly), ideas and concepts.

As suggested those ideas focus largely around the concept of hope and what it means to the struggling resistance, led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).

Also though, the film tries to examine the role of the sort-of-martyr, in the form of the self-exiled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and how his presence effects hope for both Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and their relative positions as regards the balance of The Force.

The Last Jedi - Daisy Ridley as Rey
Ridley as Rey

While Star Wars has had a thread based around these things running through it before, it never seemed to be quite as explicit as here and that makes for some interesting moments.

Interesting ideas, fairly broadly expressed, don’t make a blockbuster film though and all of this is wrapped up in the ongoing ‘saga’ of the Skywalker family and associated hangers-on.

So, we also have the main narrative of this episode which sees the vastly depleted Resistance, including our fresher heroes Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega), along with total newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), struggling to escape the First Order.

The first order is further bolstered from The Force Awakens by the (slightly underwhelming) physical presence of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who I’m guessing is just there to see the final end of his adversaries, otherwise his presence makes little sense for the first two-thirds of the film (although he does have a very fancy new type of Star Destroyer).

The Last Jedi - Adam Driver as Kylo Ren
Driver as Kylo Ren

Added into this is a side plot that sees Finn and Rose head on a quest to find a codebreaker that feels like a section that has been lifted from The Phantom Menace and dropped – I was deeply concerned we were about to watch another podrace at one point…

This all culminates, as one might expect, in an epic battle scene that is largely well handled and moves from space to the ground in a way not really seen in the series before.

Unfortunately what this means is that Johnson is left trying to cram far too much into one film, to the extent that, rather like the final Lord Of The Rings film, this feels like it has about four natural conclusions but just keeps going until all the marks that had to be included are hit and it does run long.

The Last Jedi - Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Hamill as Luke Skywalker

As well as this there is a shift in tone from past Star Wars films that takes a good while to settle down, with more broad comedy (not helped by the presence of Adrian Edmonson and Domhnall Gleeson’s all but moustache twirling Hux) and even more of a mystical and magical sense to quite how The Force can be used.

The final third of the film is where it really it comes into own with the concepts laid down, the tone finding its feet and the action really kicking off in grand style.

In this part (along with a few moments earlier, particularly one featuring Luke and a returning hero of the past) it does a nice job of referencing Empire Strikes Back without it being a burden while the battles, which range from huge starships to Solo combat, pun intended, are excellent and some of the most inventive the series has seen yet.

The Last Jedi - John Boyega as Finn and Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma
Boyega as Finn battles Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma

With a somewhat bittersweet ending, thanks in part to the real world passing of Carrie Fisher, but also in universe events that again echo Empire, the film culminates with a new Star Wars universe established in which our new heroes and villains have their place and in which the actions of our old heroes have created that new hope.

So, while the film is scrappy, a bit of a mess and certainly a bit too long, I think it comes out of it on the right side and has opened up the universe for JJ Abrams to, apparently, conclude this story in a couple of years time in a way previously unimaginable.

Whether how its done it is a good thing or a bad thing seems to have divided opinion, but I’m happy to give it the benefit of the doubt for now, and share a little of the Resistance’s new found hope.

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