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Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

HAVING restored balance to the cinematic force that is Star Wars at its best with JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens two years ago, Rian Johnson now looks to take things further with the eighth episode in the saga, The Last Jedi.

The result is a film played out on the grandest of scales, that confidently encapsulates the best Star Wars traits while also expanding its horizons. The Last Jedi is fresher and more forward thinking than Abrams’ predecessor, opening up intriguing new possibilities and bringing in interesting new characters. It’s very much a changing of the guard.

And it should therefore be applauded for its willingness to take risks, even if not every single one pays off.

Johnson, as he has previously shown when handling episodes of Breaking Bad, knows how to enter into a franchise and honour its legacy, while creating something distinct in his own right.

Hence, The Last Jedi has plenty of surprises up its sleeve, whether stylistically in its surprising [and frequent] use of humour, or in terms of some of the plot ‘twists’ it delivers. It still retains the darkness inherent in franchise standard-bearer The Empire Strikes Back, but it doesn’t exist to go through the same motions.

Johnson, a self-confessed childhood fan, knows what is expected of a Star Wars entry and deploys the iconography well. There are nods to past creations and sequences, as well as one or two surprise cameos.

But he is also acutely aware of the need to keep things fresh, to usher in a generation of new heroes and villains capable of carrying Disney and Lucasfilm’s vision forward for future generations of cinema-goers. And he frequently does so with aplomb.

The film picks up in the immediate aftermath of The Force Awakens as the Resistance, led by General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) and fellow heroes Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega), are relentlessly pursued by First Order Star Destroyers intent on ending their rebellion once and for all.

It’s eventually left to Finn and newcomer Rose Tico (a fellow soldier played by Kelly Marie Tran) to embark on their own mission aimed at thwarting this.

Rey (Daisy Ridley), meanwhile, has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote island and persuaded him, albeit reluctantly, to train her in the ways of The Force – a task that unsettles him once he begins to realise the true extent of her powers.

And then there’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), still coming to terms with his own destiny, who comes to view Rey as an unlikely ally who could tip the balance of power in his favour, if he can prove his worth to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

With so many characters and so much plot to squeeze in, it’s perhaps unsurprising that The Last Jedi is officially the longest film in Star Wars history so far (clocking in at just over two and a half hours). But Johnson, who also penned the screenplay, works hard to ensure that the film maintains a breathless energy, if not always managing to do justice to every single character.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Where he does, though, the actors and the emotional investment benefit. Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, now a man struggling with his own legend and the toll it has taken on him and those around him, is brilliantly realised, providing Hamill with his best work to date.

While the continued struggles of both Ridley’s Rey and Driver’s Ren are nicely realised, giving both stars plenty to work with as they gain a deeper appreciation of their [possibly linked] fate. One of the criticisms, however, does extend to the Kylo Ren character, who has still yet to attain the Darth Vader-style status that his initial appearance seemed to suggest. But that’s more down to the writing than Driver’s portrayal of him.

Of the supporting cast, newcomers such as Tran, Benicio Del Toro (as a thief) and Laura Dern (as a Resistance general) impress, while returning characters such as Isaac’s ‘trigger happy’ pilot Poe and Serkis’s villain Snoke (delivered via more performance capture) also get plenty of moments to savour.

The late Fisher, too, has plenty to do and the film honours her legacy nicely.

In terms of spectacle, The Last Jedi demands to be seen (and heard) on the biggest screen possible. Johnson injects the film with a wow factor befitting its status as a cinematic giant.

The battles are big, long and always spectacular, whether being conducted atop a planet surface awash with whites and reds, or in the midst of outer space where one explosion, quite literally, illuminates the screen without so much as a hint of sound. It’s one of several bravura moments.

As if to underline the confidence that the film has in its own ambition, Johnson is also keen to widen the universe, taking us to planets never previously visited and showing us characters and creatures that have never before been tasted. One planet, in particular, offers up a den of gambling and other illicit activities that is alive with invention and possibility.

Indeed, with so much going for it, The Last Jedi comes mighty close to being the best Star Wars entry yet. But – and it’s a relatively small one – there are moments when it stumbles.

I felt the film could have benefitted from a more cynical streak, befitting The Empire Strikes Back, instead of the sometimes cheesy optimism it deploys throughout (in the face of a lot of darkness). While some of the revelations it teases (a la Empire) ultimately fail to pay off as big as you’d expect.

But in the main, Johnson has delivered the goods: a film that isn’t afraid to be ambitious, that delights and dazzles in equal measure, while providing a worthwhile emotional investment. It is a crowd-pleaser that will be wholeheartedly embraced by fans.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 152mins
UK Release Date: December 14, 2017