The latest instalment in the Star Wars saga, writer/director Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi picks up where The Force Awakens left off and focuses on Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she tries to get the legendary Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to teach her the ways of the Force so that she can finally figure out just who she truly is and who her parents were. Meanwhile, the remnants of the rebel alliance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) struggle to stay ahead of the pursuing First Order fleet, with rebel stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) coming up with a daring plan to get the fleet to safety, and Sith apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) faces an inner struggle as he fights to conquer the light within him and to find Luke Skywalker in order to appease his master, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).
Story-wise, the main thread involving Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren works the best because it’s never obvious as to where it’s all heading and the development of Ren’s character as well as Rey’s training, the truth about what happened between Luke and Ren, and the main scene involving Snoke are all admirably tense and intriguing, leading to plenty of surprises and some very effective, eye-widening dramatic moments. But even so, the writing in these parts is a little all over the place as Rian Johnson tries a bit too hard to be different and unexpected (“This isn’t going to go the way you think” is clearly a not-so-subtle message to the audience) and all the false leads, red herrings, anticlimaxes and deliberate, misleading references to both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi make the film a little messy as it seems to go in numerous directions and there appear to be some half-baked story ideas.
On the other side, the plotline that revolves around the rebels’ retreat from the First Order doesn’t work as well as the main story thread because it simply isn’t interesting or important enough to be given pride of place in a Star Wars film; the scenes involving the rebel ships attempting to evade the enemy fleet surely seem more like something out of Battlestar Galactica, not especially film-worthy. The segment that takes place in the casino is also a bit naff since it all seems like a pointless side mission and it all culminates in an over greenscreened final chase. But of course, the very final snow assault, as well as Laura Dern’s final act, is perfectly exciting and engaging.
The central performances are as good as they’ve previously been but in The Last Jedi, it’s Mark Hamill, Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley who have the most to do and they don’t disappoint, giving the strongest and most memorable performances of the film. Properly returning to the Star Wars universe after a lengthy absence, having put in that brief return right at the very end of The Force Awakens, Mark Hamill plays a very different Luke Skywalker than anything we’ve seen before; having closed himself off from the Force, he’s infinitely more serious (though he does also nail some deadpan comedy at various points throughout) and shows definite darkness as he hides certain secrets and goes on an important journey, showing plenty of character development. The Force Awakens was a joyous return for Harrison Ford but in The Last Jedi, it’s Hamill’s turn and in this, he gives us the very best version of Luke Skywalker and Hamill is excellent. Between this and Brigsby Bear, heesa having a good film year!
As Kylo Ren, Adam Driver goes on much more of a journey in this film as Ren seems to struggle with the conflict within him and there’s always the question of whether he can ever rejoin the light side of the Force or if he’s simply destined to obey his master. Driver manages to effectively show all the important conflict in his facial expressions, constantly making us guess just what he’s going to do next, and he is a force (pun alert!) to be reckoned with in the fight scenes – all of Driver’s talent makes Kylo Ren a truly memorable character in the Star Wars universe. And carrying on from her revelatory turn in The Force Awakens, Daisy Ridley is once again on fine, likeable form as young Jedi-in-training Rey and shows all the necessary character determination as well as uncertainty and anger, proving herself to be quite adept in the fight scenes.
Tonally, The Last Jedi regrettably has far less goodhearted humour than previous instalments, although some funny moments do indeed occur (mainly from Luke’s deadpan quips), but unfortunately when the humour does come, it sometimes gets a bit too silly, especially with Poe and Hux’s opening confrontation that’s full of forced (pun!), unnecessary humour and ANY scene involving those darn Porgs (what’s the general verdict there? Do people like them?). Overall, the film isn’t as thrilling, fun or joyous as The Force Awakens and doesn’t hit as hard in the emotional stakes.
As for the technical elements, everything’s more or less in order, though the film doesn’t add anything revolutionary as we’ve essentially already been spoiled enough by the glitz of The Force Awakens; the visuals are cool enough to look at but the use of green screen is too apparent in many instances and the CGI could’ve been a bit better. John Williams’ score is expectedly brilliant and he reintroduces certain character themes to a wonderful effect; the use of silence in particular moments also works excellently as well.
Looking at all of what I’ve said, you may assume that I didn’t like the film but I assure you, I actually did. I appear to be in the popular “I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it” camp and although I essentially left the cinema making a list of the film’s shortcomings, I know that The Last Jedi is unworthy of so much hate and that it’s a very good film that’s worth watching in cinemas. It’s just not the best Star Wars film that there’s been, large parts are sadly forgettable, and, with a great writer/director at the helm, it had the potential to be so much better.