There’s a certain magical feeling you get when you visit a cinema. When the trailers (and countless cellphone ads) conclude and the lights finally dim around the venue, euphoria sets in quickly as your excitement peaks in anticipation of the film. In the case of Star Wars, it’s always been the most memorable opening few minutes for me. From the moment the lights dim to John Williams’ iconic theme song welcoming the title card, I know I’m in for something special – even the prequels never failed to get me hyped up. Little did I know what The Last Jedi had in store for us; something that I can confidently call the most bold and unexpected Star Wars film to date. As I sat there with my gaze completely fixed on the screen for the entire run time, I knew this was going to be the first time I’d walk out of a Star Wars film utterly bewildered.
Note: this review is spoiler-free, but for those who haven’t seen The Force Awakens (please watch it), there will be mentions of the events in that film.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes place after the events of The Force Awakens. Rey finds herself face-to-face with the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker, on a mysterious planet hidden from the rest of the galaxy. Meanwhile, the Resistance faces a more dire threat from the First Order as Finn, Poe and Leia begin there separate journeys to bring down Kylo Ren and a looming Sith darkness. As far as plot descriptions go, that’s about as much as I can say without spoiling anything.
Unlike J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens which was a pretty straight-forward film by comparison, The Last Jedi has a lot going on. Each character breaks off into their own individual story arcs, giving us a chance to really see them fleshed out in unexpected ways. I’ll be using the word “unexpected” a lot in this review because that’s exactly what the film is. Director Rian Johnson, who is a very talented filmmaker responsible for Brick and Looper, has a knack for throwing plenty of curveballs at audiences. For everything that happens in this film, I can’t think of any other director who’d handle it with this much confidence. His directorial flare is at the heart of the film, and from the moment the first scene begins, you can tell Johnson has made this Star Wars experience his own.
The Last Jedi goes in several interesting directions that you normally wouldn’t expect any film, let alone Star Wars, to go. The way it's structured is courageous as it toys with expectations and laughs in the face of speculation. We see these characters evolve and go through extraordinary character arcs, but it’s not character arcs you’d typically see in Star Wars. This is actually the biggest compliment I can give the film because we finally got a Star Wars movie that takes drastic measures to be different, unique and truly surprising. I know for a fact that this difference has played a part in the huge divide between audiences, but for what it’s worth, this divisiveness has only made the impact of the film clearer.
This isn’t to say that everything unexpected really pays off in the end. The Last Jedi feels more like the final film in a trilogy than it does a bridge between them. This is largely due to Johnson’s need to give conclusive answers to many questions and theories that should’ve been left up in the air, at least to maintain some mystery going into Episode IX. The Last Jedi brings closure to some of the key characters set up in The Force Awakens, and while I genuinely did not see any of them coming this early on in the new trilogy, I can in some way appreciate what Johnson did when trying to make this entry in the series stand out from the rest. Unfortunately, it does leave us with little to really sink our teeth into for Episode IX, and with J.J. Abrams returning to the director's chair for that, let’s hope his mystery box comes in handy.
The Last Jedi boasts some of the most spectacular and memorable action set pieces in the entire saga. The space battles and lightsaber duels are by far the greatest aspects of the movie, and we get those in the truckloads here. Poe Dameron is one of my favourite characters in the new cast, and he gets a few great moments to shine in the opening action sequence, but most of all, he undergoes a crucial character arc that gives weight to his actions. It illustrates that all heroic actions have consequences, and this sentiment echoes throughout each character in the film, including Rey and her turbulent training with Luke. Johnson, like in his previous films, draws plenty of inspiration from anime. This is especially noticeable in the incredible lightsaber fights, where it’s pretty clear that he’s trying to set up the Jedi as samurai or ninjas. The final action scene also drew a few stylistic parallels to shounen like Bleach and Naruto, which made for a jaw-dropping duel. I loved this new take on Jedi in the film, and it’s something we haven’t seen done in Star Wars before.
My favourite character in the new trilogy has always been Kylo Ren. Even in The Force Awakens, we got to see a damaged, emotionally torn villain that walked a fine morally ambiguous line beneath all that jazz about being the next Darth Vader. That’s fully explored in The Last Jedi, and Kylo Ren is given so much great depth. The evolution of his character really surprised me, and he remains my favourite character for these reasons. That said, the First Order and its few mysteries don’t really have the most satisfying resolution. Perhaps Episode IX will address a few of the unexpected twists that The Last Jedi takes in regards to its principal villains, but the execution was surprising yet hollow. Another problem that bogged the movie down was the subplot involving Finn and a new character, Rose. Their entire purpose in the film is unforgivably downplayed while characters around them face personal revelations. It’s unfortunate because both Finn and Rose are great characters, but they’re given very little to do that has significance to the rest of the film.
Visually, The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars film to date. Johnson’s directing shines through, down to the stunning wide-angle shots of the action sequences and immaculate, almost symmetrical framing. There’s a lot to be said in the visuals alone, and the director shows his chops for crafting a Star Wars story that shows and doesn’t tell. The setting for the third act was also incredibly appealing to look at and exploded on-screen in IMAX 3D. John Williams’ score is also much more powerful in this than it was in The Force Awakens, taking us back to the booming orchestra of the original trilogy. On a technical level, The Last Jedi is simply superb. One scene, in particular, makes masterful use of sound and visual design, and for those who have already seen the film, you know which scene I’m talking about.
Overall, Star Wars: The Last Jedi manages to deliver a compelling, visually poignant, and unexpectedly surprising Star Wars entry. The action scenes are among the best in the entire saga, and the focus on specific character arcs really make it a fulfilling piece of science fiction. However, in taking a few bold directions for the series, The Last Jedi can also be its own worst enemy. While The Force Awakens was a more focused story with plenty of great set up, this film inexplicably tries to tie those loose ends in the most unceremonious and knowingly divisive fashion possible. Some of it works, but for the most part, it leaves little to be desired for Episode IX, feeling like the exciting conclusion that we got maybe a little too early. That said, it’s still a thrilling adventure and one that every Star Wars fan should see.
Writer. Enthusiast of all things geek. Legend has it he completed Final Fantasy VII without a memory card.
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15 December 2017
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