After The Force Awakens’ fun, but awfully familiar plot, I was wondering if Lucasfilm/Disney would give director Rian Johnson the slack to take a few more risks this time with the eighth instalment in the saga.
The answer is, for the most part, yes.
Whereas The Force Awakens holds your hand, carefully introducing you to the newer elements in the tale whilst comforting you with the familiar, The Last Jedi breaks a few windows. The audience knows Rey, Finn Poe, et al, so it’s time to ramp things up a bit.
The film starts with an epic fifteen-minute space sequence that seems to be chronologically before the end of The Force Awakens. We then return to Rey on the island, passing Luke the lightsaber that he lost, along with his hand, on Cloud City. Straight away, Johnson deviously starts down a path completely different to that of our expectations.
The Last Jedi is far removed from the safe, formulaic plot of the first film of this new trilogy. As a fan, the film is challenging, as I don’t necessarily get to see the scenes that I’ve been looking forward to all these years. But, bloody hell, what we get instead is awesome. This is Star Wars.
There’s a lot going on in this movie. I wouldn’t say that they’ve exactly fallen into the trip of “over Star Warsing” the movie with excessive set-pieces and other fan-pleasers, but they’ve come close. I imagine that this was a difficult film to write, the script bearing the obvious smudges of a lot of rubbing out. The result is a long film, but it didn’t feel long. And that’s interesting, as even I, just a hack writer, could have picked out a few redundant plotlines for the cutting room floor.
A few plot lines from the last film are terminated without what I thought was a proper resolution. If they do go back and cover it in a later movie it will involve some awkward exposition. I also found that the film sagged a bit in the middle, but only for a few minutes.
The biggest problem that the film-makers faced is the huge cast of characters. You’ve got the old guard, Luke and Leia, in their mentoring roles and them you’ve got the newcomers all running around the galaxy. This results in characters being sent on errands or given tasks just to keep them occupied whilst their colleagues carry out their more important plot points.
Both Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro’s characters are woefully underused and rather pointless. Both their contributions to the plot could have easily been covered by one of the established characters. Similarly, the return of Captain Phasma, a pointless character from The Force Awakens, again, serves no real purpose.
The feathered critters that Luke shares his island with, the Porgs, are nothing to worry about. They are not another Jar-Jar Binks, but nor are they Ewoks. They do add a few laughs to the proceedings, but I’ve little doubt in my mind that they are only in the film to sell plush toys. They are more akin to Star Trek’s Tribbles than anything else, and rival Shrek’s Puss in Boots for doe-eyed cuteness.
General Hux, instead of being a sinister Hitler-type, is portrayed more as a comedic foil this time, capitalising on his role as a snivelling toady. If you watch The Force Awakens and then Hux’s portrayal straight after, during The Last Jedi, it’s a bit jarring. But Kylo Ren is the bad guy, whereas Hux is just a dick.
The are plenty of winks for the fans. It’s good to see that Luke still enjoys blue milk, although Rey isn’t so enamoured by where he gets it from. As dark as it is at times, The Last Jedi is full of laugh out loud humour, breath-taking action scenes and awesome moments that’ll have you gasping with joy.
By the film’s close, The Last Jedi successfully foreshadows the passing of the baton, the reset of the galactic conflict and the rebellion that will likely be the focus of J.J. Abrams as yet untitled third movie in this third trilogy.
This is very much Star Wars for the times. Gone is the solemn, monk-like Jedi of old, and in it’s place we have Rey, undisciplined, perhaps a little darker, but with a bit more of a can-do attitude. I imagine that, by the seventh trilogy, in a few decades time, the audience will see Jedi leaping about lightsaber in one hand, a blast in the other and a dagger between their teeth.
Despite absolutely loving the film, I can’t help but think just how far the saga has deviated from what Lucas’ intended. I’m not saying they would have been as good, the rise of the First Order and the fall of the New Republic kind of makes the sacrifices of Obi-Wan, Biggs many Bothan spies and even poor old Porkins, a bit pointless. It makes you wonder if the galaxy would not have been better of under the boot of the Empire rather than getting stamped on by the First Order?
With the prequels, George Lucas was making movies for kids that were seven-years-old at the time, just as he did in the 1970s/early 80s. With The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams was just reassuring everybody that this new trilogy was putting the series back on track. The Last Jedi is a film for me now, as an adult. It acknowledges failure, disappointment and the strength to carry on that these otherwise negative experiences can give you, if you let them.
The film undoes so much of what was set up in The Force Awakens, I’m fascinated as to what direction Abrams takes the story from here. The Last Jedi, doesn’t feel like the middle part of a trilogy, it feels more like the second AND third part with something very new and very different and very exciting coming next.