Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi Review
Note: This review is spoiler free. It does contain very minor plot details, however.
After the rip-roaring success that Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi had a lot to live up to. Whilst it is not quite the uneven exposition dump that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was, The Last Jedi may leave fans divided. A week after release it is evident that some people can’t stop singing its praise, and that some are vomiting some not-so-pleasant words about it. So, where do I fall?
The Last Jedi continues with The Force Awakens biggest strength: it is so much fun to watch. Where Rogue One failed to make a serious yet fun movie, The Last Jedi took note and excelled in creating a breath-taking experience. And there is a lot of The Force Awakens in The Last Jedi too, though with an unpredictable nature thrown into the mix.
The film starts off where The Force Awakens ended… quite literally. The Last Jedi is never bogged down by having to fill in the blanks that The Force Awakens had to fill in between it and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and is able to jump straight into the action. As seen in the trailer, Luke reluctantly begins to train Rey and General Leia Organa leads the Resistance, including returners Finn and Poe, against the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke. I dare not spoil anymore because the rest of the film is a rollercoaster of twists and turns with moments I am sure nobody saw coming.
Like The Force Awakens, the biggest strength of The Last Jedi is its characters. Though Finn has a little less to do here (though still gets his own side story; more on which later), Poe’s role is expanded immensely to great effect. He is still the quick tongued rogue you knew him as in The Force Awakens, but here you see the consequences of his actions plastered across his face. Oscar Isaac is given so much more to work with here, as is Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. Fisher’s tragic death last year left many wondering how the filmmakers would tackle her role in this film, and they do it expertly (with the exception of one laughably bad moment). Like Poe, you can see the weight of every consequence on Leia’s face.
Consequence is a theme the film tackles quite heavily. Every action is felt, and for a Star Wars film it feels very real. Rian Johnson deserves a lot of praise for creating a darker Star Wars film and moving the new trilogy forward, and by ‘the new trilogy’ I mean the characters. They truly drive the film and instead of events happening to them we experience the characters happening to events. A large part of this is due to the humanisation of the new trilogy’s overarching villain: Kylo Ren. Like The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi is, ultimately, a story that parallels its two leads, Rey and Kylo Ren, showing them as equals and often blurring the line between good and evil. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, yet again, shine as Rey and Kylo Ren, and both expertly display the conflict that they should not feel despite it being human to do so. George Lucas’ prequel trilogy (for all its faults) does a fantastic job at setting up that Jedi are supposed to be inhuman in their approach to emotion, suggesting that a strong sense of emotion leads to the dark side. It is Luke Skywalker who experiences this the most, however, with Mark Hamill turning in his best performance of the iconic Jedi to date. He is a different Luke to when we last left him in Return of the Jedi, but a much more human one: an unconventional Jedi.
And that is where the film seems to be upsetting people. The biggest flaw with the Star Wars Saga is that it is quite conventional in its approach to the classic fantasy/good vs. evil set up that it has. That is with one exception: Star Wars Episode lll: Revenge of the Sith. The Last Jedi certainly has the hopelessness that Revenge of the Sith possesses, though with it being a prequel you knew how it was going to end. There is never a moment in The Last Jedi when you truly know the fate of each character. Johnson keeps audiences on the edge of their seats whilst letting the action take a bit of a back seat so that The Last Jedi can focus on the characters. That is not to say that the action is not there, for when it is present it is spectacular (seriously, go see the film on a big screen, if not just for the final action set piece).
That said, the lack of action makes the film feel a little too long. Finn’s side story with newcomer Rose (played quite unremarkably by Kelly Marie Tran) presents the anti-war message often present in Star Wars from a new angle, but does not offer much story-wise. Its result fits in well with the film’s themes, but it solely exists to give Finn something to do. The biggest shame too is that John Boyega has been given a lot less comedy- which definitely is his strong suit- and not much substance to work with. This story, along with Rey’s training, dominates the second act of the film, and slows it down for a little too long. It is evident that Johnson did not know how to write Finn in the fun manner that J.J Abrams did, and the film suffers at his inability to work him into it effectively.
Unfortunately, it is evident that Johnson struggled to make The Last Jedi feel like a sequel to The Force Awakens. It advances the same characters, yes, but completely goes against elements set up in the last film, electing to ignore others completely. How free a reign Disney gave Johnson over the sequel is up for debate, though it makes me worry that they do not have a plan for Episode IX and are making it up as they go along, electing to let the directors pave their own way throughout the saga. Johnson’s style is, gladly, felt, but fans of The Force Awakens may leave a little dissatisfied when the conclusions of some of their most itching questions from the previous film are reached.
The dialogue also is a little weak in places. Humour often lands (though some attempts at humour may anger die hard fans), yet lines of dialogue are often repeated and none of it particularly grips you. The sentiments of the characters are there but the dialogue does not do their complexity justice. It is not bad by any means, but Luke mainly gets the best lines and some characters are left sounding a little preachy. In addition, the soundtrack does not add much to that was heard in The Force Awakens, but carries the film quite suitably.
Overall, The Last Jedi is a film that is not afraid to take risks and break convention. Johnson does an excellent job at making the audience feel the oppression and terror of the First Order, as well as the hopelessness of the Resistance, as they cling to survival. With the exception of a few moments (and you will know when you see them), the film is visually appealing and you truly never know where the story will take you where characters are concerned. It may not be the best Star Wars film (Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back still holds that title), but it certainly ranks up there as one of the best, providing an experience that has its flaws but shows that the saga still has energy to keep the story pounding forward. Roll on Episode IX.