Since it was first announced, what made me excited for Star Wars:The Last Jedi more than anything was Rian Johnson being brought on board to direct, not only did he direct what I think is the greatest episode of television ever made, Breaking Bad’s Ozymandias, he also has a great eye for sci-fi, as he proved with Looper. With him at the helm, we would be able to see something different with Star Wars, and he more than succeeded with The Last Jedi, creating one of the most ambitious, risk taking blockbusters I’ve seen in a long time.
The film takes place immediately after the end of The Force Awakens, with Rey going to Luke Skywalker to be trained in honing her skills with the Force, although the Luke she finds is a far cry from the one from the end of Return of the Jedi. This version of Luke is broken, filled with guilt over the rise of Kylo Ren and wishes for the Jedi to end. Whilst Rey is with Luke though, the Resistance is attacked by the First Order, their base destroyed and their ships under siege, it only being a matter on time before they run out of fuel and the First Order completely destroys The Resistance. Now what Rian Johnson does brilliantly is subvert what we’ve come to expect from Star Wars films, the subversion building characters that become so much more interesting than if our expectations were met. Johnson also uses this to build thematic weight for the film, mainly with the Force. In the other films, there was always an elitism to the Jedi and the Force, focusing on bloodlines to the detriment of other qualities. Here though, we see the true nature of the Force for the first time and how it’s more about balance than power. We also get a critique of the Jedi philosophy and how that philosophy led to the creation of Kylo Ren, with the specifics of the Jedi order being given less weight than the generic principles. This focus on the negative side of the Jedi order is something that needed to be done for a long time in Star Wars and Johnson does this brilliantly.
The subversion continues with the other characters in the film, mainly Poe and Finn. With Poe we see how his whole attitude is cocky and arrogant, how it’s not the best thing for the Resistance and how it can cause more harm than good, with the new character of Vice Admiral Holdo, showing the need for trust and patience rather than going in guns blazing. For Finn, whilst there are structural problems with his story, there are great themes explored, especially with the character of Rose, attacking the apathetic attitude Finn showed in Force Awakens, showing the class disparity in the Star Wars universe, and the importance of hope, leading into a final shot which is the most pure expression of the power of Star Wars.
For the performances, Daisy Ridley continues to show her talents, bringing across a vulnerable side and an inquisitive nature that makes her so fun to watch. This is especially true in her scenes with Mark Hamill, who gives his best performance as Luke, showing how broken he is and his growth as a character in the film is incredible to watch. John Boyega as Finn meanwhile shows his friendship with Rey well and his growth into fully embracing the Resistance and seeing the true inequality in the galaxy makes for great thematic weight, especially combined with Kelly Marie Tran as Rose, who is incredibly charming and a more heroic figure than Finn, understanding the power of hope better than most other characters. Oscar Isaac as Poe is great as well, mainly having humility beaten into him and seeing the damage his actions cause. Carrie Fisher gives her best performance as Leia here, a lovely performance to remember her for, showing things I’ve always wanted to see from Leia and showing the power of the character. Of the other new additions, Laura Dern gives a great performance, working well with Fisher and Isaac, whilst Benicio Del Toro, whilst being a bit tonally misjudged gives a performance essential for the themes of the film, although to explain more about their performances would spoil the film. For the villains, Adam Driver continues to impress as Kylo Ren, showing a very conflicted character that is fascinating to watch and offers a true critique of Star Wars, which was needed. Domhnall Gleeson as Hux is entertaining, and we get more of an incling as to why he’s kept in a position of power, Andy Serkis is fun as Snoke, although a bit underutilised, which was needed for the twist for his character, and it’s always fun to see Adrian Edmondson and Gwendoline Christie, even if they are underused.
On a technical level, the film is very impressive. Working with DP Steve Yedlin, Johnson creates one of the most beautiful looking Star Wars films, the location work and the use of colour being just gorgeous to look at, creating breathtaking moments of beauty. The CG used is excellent as well, creating some brilliant action scenes with Johnson’s directing, for the most part. The new creature designs need to be praised as well, especially the Porgs, which I really enjoyed watching, and are just a lot of fun, and a great way to make use of the puffins on the island used for filming. The music meanwhile is the quality you’d expect from John Williams and the sound design is top notch.
Overall, whilst I can understand why some people don’t like the film, I loved The Last Jedi. I found it to be a powerful, touching, subversive film, and the fact that it is A Star Wars film makes it all the more impressive. Rian Johnson was allowed to make a film that is purely his film, and whilst I do prefer The Force Awakens, I am impressed with what Johnson was able to get away with and I’m looking forward to seeing how JJ Abrams finishes of this cycle.
My Rating: 5/5