It was a curious feeling, as I sat in my seat willing the adverts and trailers to hurry up and finish, to realise that – despite the huge presence “Star Wars” has had in my life – this would only be the eighth time in my entire life that I would be reading a brand new opening scroll. By the end, The Last Jedi would leave me as conflicted and torn as the movie’s characters, them facing a choice between the darkness and the light and me facing the fear that Star Wars’ overconfidence may be its weakness.
As Rey (Daisy Ridley) confronts Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on his remote island hideaway, The Resistance scrambles to flee their base, having revealed their location during their successful destruction of Starkiller Base. Relentlessly pursued by the General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) and his First Order Fleet, our heroes must find a way to ensure the survival of the Resistance as Supreme Leader Snoke and Kylo Ren close in on Skywalker’s location.
One of the main complaints of “The Force Awakens” was the way it played as a greatest hits of the original trilogy, remixing the story elements of “A New Hope” into a nostalgia-heavy new beginning for the saga. “The Last Jedi” feels much less nostalgic than its predecessors but somehow ends up being much more derivative, this time plundering both “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return Of The Jedi” for visual and story elements but the saving grace of Rian Johnson’s script is that just when you feel that it’s becoming stale and predictable, it throws a real curveball into the story, jarring you out of a growing sense of narrative ennui. Famously, “The Empire Strikes Back” was rebuked for having a middle, middle and a middle, yet emerged as – still – the reigning greatest Star Wars film of all. “The Last Jedi” doesn’t feel like the middle chapter of a trilogy at all. It feels like the conclusion of a two-part soft reboot of the entire saga. Whatever J J Abrams has up his sleeve for Episode IX, Johnson has left him a remarkably clean and potentially limitless slate from which to work from.
Whatever its derivations, though, the film boasts the finest visuals yet to grace the screen under the Lucasfilm banner. There are images and events on screen which are simply breathtaking and often the spectacle itself mitigates for the film’s weaknesses which, unlike the prequels, don’t include the performances.
Mark Hamill has never been better as Luke Skywalker, here the weary, wary and reluctant warrior, fighting against both his destiny and his ultimate responsibilities. Carrie Fisher’s final performance is, poignantly, superb. Where she seemed a little uncertain and badly written for in “The Force Awakens”, here she’s given material and an arc which honours and finally gives us a General Leia Organa we can believe in. Of the new cast – and The Last Jedi very firmly feels like the passing of the torch – Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac get the lion’s share of the action, with John Boyega being relegated to a B-story which never quite ignites. Adam Driver continues to impress, imbuing Kylo Ren with a believable complexity and inner conflict which genuinely keeps you guessing throughout the story.
Overly familiar but still surprising – and occasionally shocking – “The Last Jedi” is one of the most dramatic and brave “Star Wars” movies to date. It’s got its own sense of humour, for sure, but the strength of the performances and the astonishing visuals prevent it from returning us to the dark days of the prequels. You can sense the struggle within it but to explore the film further would be to enter spoiler territory and I won’t do that…yet. I only know one thing. It’s time for this review to end.