We returned to the Star Wars galaxy last month with Episode VIII of the saga, The Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson – and it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride.
After The Force Awakens was received as perfectly acceptable but not exactly groundbreaking, there was a lot of responsibility on Johnson’s shoulders with how to carry on this much beloved series in a way that would (hopefully) give us something new, as well as ticking all the necessary boxes.
The Last Jedi seems to have had a split reception; it’s made critics pretty happy but left some fans less than satisfied. Mark Hamill spoke out about his unhappiness at the portrayal of Luke Skywalker in the movie (and then apologised for it), and some lovers of Lucas’s original trilogy felt it didn’t give the answers to questions set up in The Force Awakens (this Vanity Fair article does a great job of exploring the backlash).
So, what did we think?
Disclaimer – I, Sophie Butcher, Editor of this here film blog and the person reviewing The Last Jedi, is coming to this movie as a bit of a Star Wars noob.
Sure, I’ve seen bits of the original trilogy (and the prequels that shall not be named) on TV over the years, and I went to see The Force Awakens when JJ Abrams relaunched the saga, but I ain’t seen Episodes 4-6 all the way through, ever. I know, I know – call myself a film lover? I get it; that’s why this feature came about.
But, I thought it important to give context around how the perspective I’m seeing this film from – it might even be interesting for you to read a review from someone with fairly fresh eyes on the series (Maybe? No? Okay. Forgive me.)
And with that out the way – a summary of the plot.
As the iconic yellow writing states at the beginning of the movie (enough to make even a Star Wars novice like me smile), we re-enter the galaxy with the First Order still in charge, under Andy Serkis‘s weird and wrinkly Supreme Leader Snoke – and with a name like that, what else would he grow up to be?
Princess Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) Rebel Alliance is still working hard, but on the run. After barely escaping an onslaught from General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and suffering great losses, Leia, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Vice Admiral Holdo (a star turn from Laura Dern, no rhyme intended) are forced to make some tough decisions to keep the rebel cause alive.
Kylo Ren (the glorious Adam Driver) is still licking his lightsaber wounds, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is trying to convince Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to teach her the way of the Jedi (as well as come back to help the rebels win the war), and Finn (John Boyega) wakes up determined to make sure Rey returns to the rebels safely.
Whilst The Force Awakens has plenty of fun and nostalgia, it hardly lasts in the memory – but sure, it had a lot of work to do to reestablish the universe as well as introduce a new set of characters. The Last Jedi, however, has a whole lot more character development, emotional clout and exploration of the galaxy that takes place in a really concise timeframe.
There’s a lot of humour in this film, with some moments of levity that will make you laugh out loud, including an embarrassing phone call for General Hux and a certain gang of ridiculously cute Porgs that can’t fail to make you smile. Whilst some tweets would lead you to believe these jokes are misplaced, I can’t understand why – everyone in the cinema audience I watched this with were laughing, and it would be silly to think there can’t be a genuinely light hearted moment in this vast and fairly ridiculous galaxy.
The legends of the piece – Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill – are stunning, Hamill in particular, and give a poignant nod to Fisher’s death, as well as the film being dedicated to her.
There’s great set pieces, with the siege between Snoke’s ship and the rebel cruiser building real tension and coming to a dramatic conclusion. The final act sees a face off between Kylo Ren and Luke and goes a long way in terms of story, but you can’t help feeling that the film is almost half an hour too long.
A big shame in the film is that John Boyega’s Finn just isn’t given enough to do, and is overshadowed by his companion Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). Whilst Tran does a good job, you’re kind of there for Finn, and Boyega brings such joy to the screen that you wish there was more of it. You sense the connection between him and Rey but don’t get to see them together to revel in it.
Speaking of Rey – whilst her segment on the island with Luke is really important, it wasn’t the most enthralling. Daisy Ridley does a fine job, but how much do we really know her character? You get the sense that there’s a lot more to come from Rey as she steps into her true power, but the best moments of her story are those where she connects with Kylo Ren – in fact, come to mention it, Ren (or Ben Solo) is the best thing in the entire film.
Adam Driver is phenomenally good as Kylo, bringing realism and three fully formed dimensions to a character who could so easily seem nothing more than a cartoon. There’s been mention of him being the best Star Wars villain (not my words, don’t hurt me), and it’s not hard to see why. He has depth and intrigue and you really don’t know which side he’s going to end up on – and despite his murderous ways, you’re almost rooting for him. Adam Driver is one of the most exciting actors around right now and a fantastic piece of casting in this franchise.
Rian Johnson brings a strong visual style and sense of cinematography to this episode that elevates it to a new level – there’s a theme of red versus black throughout, used especially effectively in Snoke’s lair (with henchman all in red) and on the mineral planet in the final act, where the sand is bright red when brushed into the air, making it look like the very land itself is bleeding from the epic battle happening across it.
There’s also lots of fun creatures included in the movie – the aforementioned Porgs are adorable, there’s crystal Arctic fox-like animals called Vulptex, and the Fathiers are like elegant race horses that get to wreak havoc on a world that enslaved them.
Tension, tears and terrific characters – The Last Jedi is, for us, a welcome addition to the Star Wars saga. It gets 4 stars for making this farfetched world feel a little more modern, and for giving us characters we can’t help but fall for.
What did you make of Star Wars: The Last Jedi? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
The Last Jedi is still just about showing in some cinemas now. Watch the trailer below – though it might be best going in blind to make sure for maximum surprises!