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Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi – film review

December 16, 2017

STAR WARS VIII: THE LAST JEDI

Course correction steers saga away from expectations.

Reviewed on Thursday 14th December 2017

Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. Running time: 154 mins.

Forced to flee their secret base after it is attacked by The First Order, the Resistance fleet, commanded by Princess Leia, are pursued across the galaxy. Meanwhile, Rey attempts to convince an exiled Luke Skywalker to join the fight against his former pupil Kylo Ren and take down The First Order.

PLEASE NOTE – THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Revisiting The Force Awakens in the lead-up to seeing this latest installment and, having not seen it since its theatrical release – I was somewhat shocked to find Abrams’ entry doesn’t hold up nearly as well on a re-watch. The relief I felt that it wasn’t terrible having long since faded, the issues I had with it initially are now all the more glaringly obvious. While its recapturing of the sense of fun of the originals was indeed welcome (particularly in light of the stodgy seriousness of the prequels) – the nonsensical motivations of some of the characters in The Force Awakens, not to mention the fact that it is structurally a beat-for-beat copy of A New Hope really do make for a frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying re-watch. Indeed, as with last year’s downright abysmal Rogue One, it really does feel suspiciously slapped together without any real passion or forethought. My biggest gripe with The Force Awakens this time round however is just how pathetic a villain Adam Driver’s Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren actually is. Portraying him as a petulant brat prone to tantrums     is not nearly enough to instill a sense of awe or fear in the audience. Also, the fact     he got his ass kicked by a female half his size does nothing to paint him as any particular threat to anyone (well, aside from his own men, that is).

With The Force Awakens so closely aping the structural template of A New Hope, speculation was rife this new sequel trilogy would be nothing more than a lazy rehash of the story arc of the original films. However, with Rian Johnson taking the creative reins – this thankfully no longer appears to be the case – as the unfolding story arc     of Kylo and Rey, so far, is very much its own thing. Structurally, at least – the film recalls The Empire Strikes Back – in the way it segues back and forth between Kylo’s pursuit of the Resistance fleet and Rey’s tutelage under Luke. But, to Johnson’s credit – that’s pretty much where similarities end.

Clearly the issue I had with the Kylo Ren character being ineffectual was also an issue for Johnson, as he has addressed this directly – using it to his advantage in     a wholly satisfying way. Also addressed is the matter of Finn’s flip-flopping loyalties, taking what began as a poorly-written character in the previous film and turning him into an (albeit) reluctant hero – willing to sacrifice his own life for the greater good. The Poe Dameron character also benefits here from better writing – playing a more prominent role in proceedings – becoming essentially the dashing rogue – impulsive in nature. As played by Oscar Isaac, I can see his character quickly becoming a firm fan favourite.

The scenes between Luke and Rey on the island are really the glue which hold this film together – with the theme ‘accepting failure’ being central. And Daisy Ridley, given more to do here, only cements what an incredible presence she is on screen. While Mark Hamill (Luke is now the self-exiled sage his old mentor was – albeit a more bitter one) – does a great job in portraying just how spiritually damaged Luke has become.

As one might have guessed from the poster art alone, Last Jedi is tonally a lot darker than the previous episode. Sure, there are a number of genuinely funny moments scattered strategically here and there. But overall, there is a palpable sense of melancholy which, either knowingly or unknowingly, pervades the film. Having witnessed the generally negative backlash against the darker tone of The Empire Strikes Back upon its initial release, I find it ironic that history appears to repeating itself with Last Jedi. Perhaps in years to come, this film will be fully appreciated and embraced just as fondly as Empire is today.

As with all Star Wars films outside the original trilogy, Last Jedi does have its share of flaws – sporting the longest running time of the series, momentum does tend to flag somewhat leading into the final act. But the finale – cross-cutting back and forth between various characters in peril (much like in Return of the Jedi) – more than makes up for this. My only other issues are relatively minor, the most annoying being the inclusion of earthly slang and colloquialisms in some of the dialogue (something Lucas – to his credit, took great pains to prohibit writer Lawrence Kasdan from doing in his penning of subsequent installments) – these stories do take place a long time ago in a galaxy far far away after all. My only other gripe is the virtual side-lining of Artoo and Threepio – characters through whose eyes, up until now anyway – we are meant to be experiencing the saga. It’s sad to see – with these recent episodes – this well-established given, for whatever reason, has been basically abandoned.

These minor quibbles aside, The Last Jedi is excitingly bold, full of surprises, emotionally involving and already appears to be the most divisive of all the Star     Wars films so far. I find it odd that some feel it is a flaw the film ends with no         clear indication of where the story may go from here. I would suggest this is     probably a good thing.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Wallis Piccadilly Cinemas, Adelaide, December 14th 2017

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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2 Comments
  1. Haven’t seen this yet- I’ll be back when I have. At least it sounds better than the awful TFA. That was one of the stupidest films I have ever seen (a Planet Killer that can shoot at star systems light years away circumventing the laws of time and space, even in a space fantasy like Star Wars, just really jumped the shark for me- like transporting across the galaxy in Star Trek, JJ Abrams has no idea about the limitations that even sci-fi/fantasy material needs in order to maintain credulity).

    • gregory moss permalink

      Unlike TFA, I’m more inclined to revisit this one in the cinema. There’s definitely a lot more to unpack here. A good sign of longevity I guess. Looking forward to hearing your take on it. 🙂

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