Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

I’m going to try and keep this as spoiler free as possible, but if you’re looking to go into The Last Jedi completely cold without any semblance of what it’s about aside from what you have seen in the trailers, then maybe hold off on continuing. That said, I’ll avoid any major spoilers as best as I can but let this be a very mild spoiler warning.

I and what appeared to be a hundred or more other people herded into the local cinema at midnight for the opening of the latest Star Wars. I’ll say now that it’s a lengthy movie, perhaps even a little too long. After ads and trailers, we didn’t leave the cinema until nearly 3am. But the length aside, I came out of the film with the same excitement I had after Episode VII.

Following on from 2015’s The Force Awakens, the Resistance is in a bit of a shambles. The Republic has been crippled thanks to the attacks from Starkiller Base and The First Order – helmed by Kylo Ren and Admiral Hux under orders from “Supreme Leader” Snoke – are on a bit of a rampage. The Imperials First Order hunt down the Rebels Resistance, while Rey tries to convince Luke Skywalker to leave his island retirement life and return to The Resistance, as well as train her in the ways of The Force.

 

The Last Jedi, as predicted by many, follows a lot of the same patterns as The Empire Strikes Back. We see a wounded band of rebels being chased by the powerful and evil bad guys, we’re treated to a host of different locales and gorgeous battle sequences, the main character goes off to train with an eccentric old Jedi and we’re basically following multiple different story arcs. Where The Force Awakens was more focused on introducing the new main characters (namely Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren), here everyone gets their own individual “thing” to do. And Oscar Isaac fans who wished Poe Dameron got more screen time in TFA can rejoice – he’s featured quite prominently here as a major player in the plot.

Without going too far in depth, there’s a central plot focus throughout most of the film of the Resistance being in a critical, almost no-win situation and being at risk of complete annihilation. I really liked the concept they went with as it gave the story a real sense of urgency and it felt like the stakes were incredibly high. But when the story moved focus to say, Finn and new character Rose (who is a great character addition by the way) off doing something else, it kind of broke that sense of urgency and made the pacing feel a bit awkward. Poe Dameron has his own little side arc with another new character, Admiral Holdo, and I just found the sideplot there to be dumb and frustrating. It’s one of those cases where if the characters just acted like regular, sensible people keeping each other apprised of plans, then there wouldn’t have been such a conflict in the first place. It just felt like slack writing to keep the plot going and give Oscar Isaac something to do.

I did enjoy Rey and Luke’s arc though. Mark Hamill is fantastic as the old, bitter ex-Jedi who has turned his back on the Force. They had some really fun chemistry while still getting some serious character development done. I really can’t understate just how enjoyable Mark Hamill was in this film. Both he and the script does the Skywalker character justice. And overall I found the way they handled the “older” characters (i.e. Luke and Leia) to be brilliant. Whereas in The Force Awakens, a lot of the moments with Leia and Han etc. felt very fan service motivated, here I feel the characters have a ton of growth and serve the story rather than serve the nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong, there is some fan service thrown in here and there, but nowhere near to the degree of The Force Awakens or Rogue One.

The main thing that I loved about this movie is the growth. All the characters grow and develop by leaps and bounds. Episode VII set the foundation for these characters and Episode VIII builds exponentially on that while staying true to their personas and characters. Kylo Ren is still conflicted as ever, but he seems to be less a spoiled Sith-Lord wannabe now and more of a major antagonist. He has some great scenes and interactions with Rey, and Rey also shows a lot more depth in this film. There are some major developments and changes which will impact the story going forward, but I won’t go into spoiler territory here, suffice to say they made some bold and unexpected moves.

Visually, the film is stunning and Rian Johnson captures some beautiful shots both from crazy space battles and scenic planet shots. It is a very pretty and impressive film just to look at.

The main weakness just comes in the subplots and overall length. The whacky misadventures of Finn and Rose don’t feel like they add a lot to the movie, although they do build a connection between the two characters that will likely be important in the next film. I can also see some criticisms of Poe Dameron as his character came off as a fairly two dimensional anti-authority hothead, but there was a nice moment towards the end where it certainly seems like he’s learned a lesson. So hey, that’s character growth! I still feel that the movie is just a little longer than it really needed to be. Just as I thought they were about to end the movie and it felt like we were wrapping up the third act, the movie enters what appears to be a fourth act and goes on for another half an hour or so. Albeit it’s a damn impressive fourth act though.

The performances are all great. Mark Hamill, as mentioned, really shines here. Daisy Ridley continues to prove her worth and completely owns her role as Rey. John Boyega should get a special mention as Finn, he’s a super talented actor that does a great job balancing a somewhat difficult character who has to switch between serious protagonist and comedy relief rather seamlessly at times and he does it well.

In closing, The Last Jedi is an excellent effort and, to me, is without a doubt the strongest film yet since we’ve had this Star Wars renaissance. Rian Johnson really does the film and characters justice and I can’t wait to see the conclusions in Episode IX. Definitely worth the price of admission.

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