This is a spoiler-free review, but might have some scene setting parts. If you truly want to know nothing, go watch the film and come back to read our review after!
It’s 3:30am, I’ve just finished the midnight viewing of The Last Jedi and I’m already booking the next available showing. Given, I could say that about any Star Wars film to come out because they are just so beautifully crafted and expertly told, but this one definitely stands with the favourites of years gone by.
The Last Jedi picks up from where The Force Awakens left off, with the First Order in hot pursuit of the fleeting Resistance, and Rey handing over Luke’s lightsaber on Ahch-To. Where the story goes from there we’ll be leaving out, but the crucial part is that it deviates much further than what people might expect in a way that charts this new trilogy on a much more unique course to either of the other two collections. Where Episode 7 had to introduce new characters, settings and a refresh of the series, 8 takes the already moving wagon and rockets it forward, bringing with it thematic threads that are complex but amply explored.
There’s one major thread that is sewn through each layer of this story which is loss. Loss of an individual, of a feeling, of an entire movement. For a film that has usually followed the despair to hope to despair formula, Episode 8 feels much more mature in it’s approach. There’s moments where you do feel there is risk and the outcome might not be what you want, especially after Rogue One’s culling of their entire main cast. The last two films have shown that taking a different path is a good thing, and The Last Jedi takes that a step further by changing that path for good and almost combining what could have been two individual parts into a full blown opera. Skirting around plot points, there’s a moment that I definitely didn’t see coming and sets up Episode 9 to be more curious with what the final chapter will be because of this. 8 definitely has links to both Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but in its own way.
Rian Johnson is known for his character work; his ability to humanise and carve strong relationships are definitely here in a way that’s sometimes swept over in Star Wars films. Every character, returning and new, plays a key part in the narrative and, crucially, feelings are so reflective of how you might feel if you were in their shoes rather than it being too operatic. Some interesting pairings and new people allow The Force Awakens characters to grow and show much different sides to where you might think they are going. Even established characters Leia and Luke are opened up much more than Episode 7, but not in a way that alienates you – rather how age and experience has taught them new approaches while still holding onto the streak of the original trio. It’s refreshing, engaging and just so enjoyable to be taken from predictability to somewhere different.
Humour again plays a huge part in the new trilogy, continuing and building on some of the quirkiness and off-kilter lines from Episode 7. There’s even a moment or two that addressed fan anger from the previous film without it feeling shoved in. The newest must-have merch in the Porgs reminded me of the seagulls in Finding Nemo but much less annoying, serving as a reminder of some of the whacky creatures of the older generations. There’s also streaks of comedy threaded through the villains this time round and while making jokes at the dark side’s expense could make some feel like they’re being cheapened, it never loses steam when trying to crack a couple, rather again adding to the humanistic feeling of these characters. They are like you and I in the end; they’re not gods.
There were moments in the 2 1/2 hour runtime that I felt Johnson’s directing style didn’t match the foundations of this new generation set by JJ Abrams, but then came moments of absolute perfection; snapshots that weren’t just great movie scenes, they were artistically choreographed to be unforgettable and these moments that my mind keeps revisiting over and over. The audience would just say ‘Woah’ and gaze with their jaw dropped, Johnson allowing enough time for that image to set in your memory before throwing you back into the action. While less locations were introduced in 8, they’re memorable and unique, unlike Maz’s hangout (cantina) or Jakku (Tattoine). These moments felt like Johnson had been given a giant sandbox to play with, and choices like the contrast of the white plains with blood red dirt on Crait are just mesmerising.
And we can’t talk about The Last Jedi without talking about Carrie Fisher. From the first moments of her final on-screen appearance, there is an overarching feeling of sadness (my friend mentioned in his screening that you could feel the atmosphere change every time she was on screen). General Organa feels crucial to the shrinking Resistance, and knowing that there is a high chance of her not making it through the film fills you with dread. It’s really hard to talk about her without spoiling anything, but I so wish that Fisher was still with us as Johnson showed there was so much more to explore with Leia. Who knows, they might change their mind on CGI characters or even legacy footage. The film is dedicated to her, and she steals every moment of it. The Last Jedi kept her values as Leia front and centre, something to never be forgotten about.
So it’s with a sigh of joy that I can say The Last Jedi is up there with one of the best films of the year, rather than just one of the best Star Wars films. With each new director to the franchise brings an exciting change of tack, and Johnson has helped reroute this Resistance ship onto a successful course. I can’t say that the 2-year wait for the final chapter will be easy, but the way in which this film has been crafted to perfection is enough to keep me satisfied for at least a year and a half.