There’s a rift in the Galaxy. Darkness has risen and the light to meet it. I’m talking, of course, about the on-going debate amongst Star Wars fans across the globe. The Last Jedi has been met with some hefty criticism since its release, with many fans voicing their concerns about Rian Johnson’s fresh take on the ever-growingly popular space-saga. But there’s one thing for sure, this is Star Wars as we’ve never seen it before, with a new visionary at the helm.
From the success of J.J. Abrams’ revival of the Star Wars franchise with The Force Awakens, it seemed as if Rian Johnson had a lot to live up to. Continuing the story in a new direction was never going to be an easy task, but Johnson’s affection for the saga has resulted in a terrifically exhilarating addition to the esteemed franchise.
The Last Jedi carries on from the events from its predecessor, opening with an exhilarating introduction to Rian Johnson’s galaxy. The First Order is hot on the Resistance’s heels, and General Organa’s fleet must escape their base or face inevitable destruction. The scene sets the standard for what is to come, with a standoff between Oscar Isaac’s endearing Poe Dameron and Domhnall Gleeson’s exaggeratedly evil General Hux, there’s a certain light-heartedness to Johnson’s film, leading to a spectacular space battle that is both expertly choreographed and so brilliantly complimented by performance and visual effects; a testament to the actors and Steve Yedlin’s cinematography.
With the sequence over, we are greeted by familiar faces. The late Carrie Fisher provides a career-best performance for her final role as fan-favourite and irreplaceable Leia Organa, who is met with an air of pride and sadness by the viewer. Returning is also John Boyega as Finn, awakening from his comatose state following the events of the previous film. “Where’s Rey?”, he asks.
Much of the frustration that fans had towards The Force Awakens was its predictable decision to end on a cliff-hanger, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) finding the mythical Luke Skywalker on an uninhabited island. 2 years later, Mark Hamill returns (with dialogue) as Luke, a much changed Jedi master. This is by far one of Hamill’s best performances, bringing a well-needed sense of maturity to the role in a way that is both poignant and endearing.
Reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back, new-force-user Rey must be taught the ways of the force, only this time the student has now become the teacher. But Skywalker is resistant to the notion, wary of the time where his teachings inadvertently caused Ben Solo to be seduced by the dark side, an inner torment that brings out the best of Hamill’s performance.
The last we saw of Adam Driver’s Ben-Solo-turned-Kylo-Ren was the murder of a fan-favourite in an attempt to rid himself of the light, and this sense of conflict continues in The Last Jedi. Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren is, no joke, perhaps the most human portrayal that we have seen in the entire saga. Driver has an impeccable ability to fuse both the light and the dark sides of the force into one being, traits that were missing in Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of the equally as conflicted Anakin Skywalker in the prequel trilogy. Driver’s raw-feeling antagonism makes him a worthy heir to Darth Vader’s legacy, something that will hopefully be further explored in Episode IX.
A new Star Wars film means an abundance of fresh faces, and The Last Jedi introduces some truly exciting new characters to the galaxy far, far away. One of which is Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo, who is blessed with a compelling story arc and a breath-taking scene that will be looked back on as one of the franchise’s most profound moments. Yet, on the flipside, the introduction of newcomer Rose Tico reaches no such heights, and is burdened with an over-long sub-plot reminiscent of everything fans hated about George Lucas’s prequel trilogy, a sequence filled with an over-abundance of CGI-comprised characters and unfulfilling action set-pieces. Whilst played with a sense of courage by Kelly Marie Tran, Rian Johnson can’t seem to get the best out of Rose, opting to place her in an on-screen companionship with Boyega’s Finn that feels nothing short of forced and a huge waste of potential.
This sense of wasted potential can also be applied to Andy Serkis’s motion-captured Supreme Leader Snoke and Gwendoline Christie’s badass-looking-but-completely-wasted Captain Phasma. J.J. Abrams had set the potential for these villains, leaving them enigmatic in nature and ready to be explored by Episode VII’s successor. Sadly, though, Rian Johnson boldly decides to avoid delving into these characters, and whilst we can admire his bravery in disregarding the expectations of the fans in doing so, the divisive reception to his film is undoubtedly caused by such decisions.
This is a Star Wars film that, I believe, will age like fine wine. Whilst a handful of fans will remain angry and/or sceptical about Rian Johnson’s creative decisions, others will come to appreciate the artistry and affection that has gone into this revolutionary Star Wars tale. There’s a lot to be excited about with The Last Jedi, it finds a balance between the mesmerising action sequences and the captivating character development on display. Where The Force Awakens has been criticised for its decision to re-hash elements from A New Hope, Rian Johnson takes the saga into unchartered corners of the galaxy in an original way.
“See you around, kid.”