Thursday, 11 January 2018

Review #1,291: 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' (2017)

Say what you will about George Lucas and the way he took the Star Wars franchise dangerously close to laughing stock territory with the prequels, but he was certainly a man with a plan. The original trilogy told a satisfying story, but Lucas always knew what came before, and what would come after. As stilted as the prequels were, they never faltered in telling the story that The Phantom Menace had mapped out. When the rights to the franchise were sold to Disney in 2012, Lucas passed on his ideas of an all-new trilogy, set after the events of Return of the Jedi and bringing in characters both old and new. Although elements from these early drafts made their way into J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens in 2015, it became clear that Disney had their own ideas, which are, as Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi would suggest, to make it up as they go along.

The Force Awakens set up plot threads and introduced shady characters to be explored in future instalments, such as just how Maz Kanata got her hands on Luke Skywalker's lightsaber and just who the hell is Snoke, the new Emperor-like big bad? Fans were foaming at the mouths dreaming up theories to tie the strands together, and The Last Jedi was the film that would answer at least some of the questions. In hiring an independent filmmaker like Rian Johnson, they have hired a man intent on delivering his own vision, and it becomes clear quite early on that the events of The Last Jedi will not bring everything into place. It takes ideas conjured by The Force Awakens and makes a point of throwing out of the window. The result is an emotional sci-fi extravaganza which has divided audiences down the middle, with one half calling for te film to be removed from canon, and the other marvelling at Johnson's balls in turning a billion-dollar franchise on its head.

I can confidently say that I am in the latter category. While The Force Awakens was a fun shout-out to the original trilogy, even following the story of A New Hope almost to a tee, The Last Jedi is determined to make you care for the previously one-dimensional characters of Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and question everything you knew about old-hand Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Skywalker is now so beloved within the annals of pop culture (both in universe and in our world) that there's almost a regal quality to Hamill's presence. When he first appears on screen, it's like seeing somebody dead brought back to life, and his reaction to Rey's passing of the lightsaber will likely catch you off guard. With the knowledge of Carrie Fisher's tragic passing a year ago, you'll likely be choking back the tears as Leia Organa first graces the screen. The Last Jedi has the power to make you feel in ways you would never think possible from the Star Wars franchise, especially when you remember those uncomfortable romantic scenes with Anakin and Padme from Attack of the Clones.

Not everything works however. At two and a half hours, it's too long, and Johnson's decision to take Finn (John Boyega) and his new Rebel pal Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) on a thirty minute detour to a casino in search of a hacker simply doesn't work. It's a sub-plot that doesn't really serve a purpose other than to give Finn something to do while Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) clashes heads with Rebel Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), and to set up a showdown with fan-favourite Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). This meandering story aside, The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, and by a comfortable margin. Many fan complaints about The Force Awakens were due to Abrams' film lacking originality, and although it provided one genuine shock with the death of a major character, it played things very comfortably. So I find the backlash aimed at Johnson's film quite dumbfounding, and personally, having my expectations subverted made for a far more engrossing experience. But with fan presence in every corner of social media, it's clear that you'll never please all the people all the time, but you can please about 50% of us.

Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Andy Serkis, Kelly Marie Tran
Country: USA

Rating: ****

Tom Gillespie

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) on IMDb

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