Caution: This review contains mild spoilers for The Last Jedi.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the eighth instalment to the Star Wars saga and the third since the Disney takeover of Lucasfilm. It follows on from Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) and continues the story started by Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren.
The Last Jedi picks up exactly where the last film left off with Daisy Ridley’s Rey finally handing the lightsaber over to Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, who was mostly absent in Force Awakens, and finally answers what happens after they first meet.
Meanwhile over on the other side of the galaxy, the Resistance, led by the late, great Carrie Fisher’s General Leia Organa is trying to escape and fight off the might of the First Order, led by returning characters General Hux and Supreme Leader Snoke.
From the opening sequence, it becomes very clear that this movie will have some of the greatest Star Wars battles ever seen on the big screen. Director Rian Johnson, of Looper and Brick fame, is also given writing duties and he does everything he can to make the best Star Wars possible.
The story is balanced very well between each of the main characters, giving them all a good amount of screen time to tell their story arcs. Those expecting to see a Rey-focused training movie will be disappointed. Most of her story is taken up by her time with Luke. There isn’t much training, but we get to learn where he’s been all this time and why he wants “the Jedi to end.”
Luke is vastly different to what we’ve seen before. He’s grumpy and damaged, which is given an explanation throughout the runtime. This is probably Mark Hamill’s best performance as the last of the Jedi, with a believable motive for disappearing and a great story arc that will give fans plenty to discuss over the next few years.
Rey continues her story and her powers increase as she learns the ways of the Force. Daisy Ridley has proven why she was the right choice for the role, giving a realistic performance for a very well realised character. There isn’t as much Rey in this film compared to the last, and even though she as we were led to believe. This is similar to Empire Strikes Back, where each of the characters were given more to do and their own adventure.
Arguably the best character to come from this new trilogy is Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. When we first met him he was conflicted between his family and the lure of the dark side. Unfortunately the dark side wins and we get a greatly written and complex villain, filled with rage and now shed of his mask, he proves a powerful and intimidating foe against the Resistance. His relationship with Rey is expanded and takes some surprising turns that deepens the connection drawing them together.
Out of the other returning characters, Leia gets plenty more screen time. Carrie Fisher gives a great performance that cements her legacy in the movie industry as a strong and compassionate hero in one of her last roles before her unfortunate passing in 2016.
Joh Boyega’s Finn is also back and has his own story to tell with newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico. Their story takes them away from the conflict and acts like a short story on its own, which detracts from the main story and ultimately could have been shortened or removed, and with the films runtime coming in at 153 minutes, a whole 30 minutes longer than any other Star Wars film, it wouldn’t be unwise. It does have an important message and has some significance later on in the film, but it still runs too long.
The rest of the returning characters play their roles well, with many appearances from characters that fans have wanted to see more of, including Andy Serkis’ motion capture performance as Snoke, who finally makes an appearance in the flesh and looks significantly better this time around. Captain Phasma, played by Game of Thrones actress Gwendoline Christie, returns with a vengeance after being shoved into a trash compactor. It is great to see these characters, but they aren’t given much to do and leave you underwhelmed with many questions still left unanswered. It’s doubtful these answers will be given in Episode IX either.
As for new characters, we are introduced to Jurassic Park’s Laura Dern, who plays a character called Holdo. She only serves a small part of the story and acts as a hindrance to many of the main characters. We are greeted with the strange stutter of Benicio Del Toro’s DJ, who again only serves a small part of the story. They aren’t very memorable, but have the potential to be fleshed out should they return for Episode IX.
Poe Dameron, as played by Oscar Isaac, is fantastic and really adds a lot to the movie. Initially killed off in Force Awakens, JJ Abrams decided to write him back into the story later on. He’s charismatic and instantly likable with some great dialogue and action scenes, one of which sees him and BB-8 in an X-Wing taking on a First Order Dreadnaught (a gigantic Star Destroyer).
The action sequences are well helmed and paced. They’re fast, they’re fluid and provide a real sense of danger towards the characters. The space battles are intense and worth the big screen experience alone. The Walker and B-Wing battle, shown in all the trailers and posters, is the most visually breath-taking sequence in all of the Star Wars saga to date with the use of red salt electrifying the pale wastelands. The lightsaber battles are fairly brutal, for a Star Wars movie, and reminiscent of old samurai and anime movies and comics, with great wide shots and steady camera work, allowing everyone to soak in the incredible imagery.
The use of lighting and colour in this film is extraordinary! Every shot and frame is a sight to behold, some of which would make fantastic posters that fans would take pride displaying on their walls. There is only one scene that proved difficult to see, even in a darkened theatre it was difficult to see the detail, but luckily it is only one short scene. The rest of the film is filled with very subtle contrasting light and dark to symbolise the main conflict throughout the franchise.
The effects used in this movie lend a tremendous hand to create the best visuals possible. The space sequences look as good as they ever will and the creatures that appear look fantastic. There are a few scenes where the interaction between the actors and the creatures looks off and it becomes apparent they’re in front of a green screen, but it never gets in the way or distracts from the action, unlike a certain son of Krypton’s mouth in Justice League (2017).
The one thing that sets this trilogy above the prequels is the use of practical animatronics and real locations and sets. Nothing looks out of place. The aliens are incredibly designed and suit their habitat. The locations used in this film are fantastic, even though this only means Luke’s island, it’s a brilliant metaphor to Luke’s solitude and isolation.
One of the biggest parts of the films marketing and merchandise revolve around the Porgs. They are little seagull/penguin-like creatures that inhabit Luke’s island and try to make a new home out of the Millennium Falcon. They’re adorable and well used, with some good effects and animatronics to bring them to life.
John Williams returns once more to compose the latest score, after the incredibly talented Michael Giacchino took over scoring duties for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016). Although not as powerful as Revenge of the Sith or Empire Strikes Back, the score is a definite step up from his work on Force Awakens, which was the result of him facing health issues at the time, but it isn’t as memorable as hoped.
In terms of this being a Star Wars movie, it feels vastly different. Sure, it uses the normal Star Wars structure with some brilliantly utilised call-backs and easter eggs. It plays out like a chase movie and focuses on the desperation of the Resistance and their effort to escape from the relentless force of the First Order, which provides a much darker tone to the average Star Wars movie.
The Last Jedi is the middle chapter to the sequel trilogy, but at times felt like it could be the last, which stems from the desperation of the characters. After the passing of Carrie Fisher, the producers ordered a rewrite because she was pivotal to the story, which we get big hints of here, so the possibilities of where Episode IX will head is anyone’s guess.
There are things that fans will love. There are things that fans will hate. It takes many directions and decisions that are unexpected, but work well with the story. It also seems fully aware of the fan theories building towards the release. It does a good job with quickly confirming or denying what it can in great fashion, while creating more speculation for the future of Star Wars.
Overall, it’s a fun action packed ride, dotted with humour and heart, filled with twists and turns and brimming with ideas and surprises. While not perfect, this is definitely among the better of the franchise entries that is able to launch off of what The Force Awakens started, but doesn’t quite reach the bar set by the original or Empire Strikes Back.
Purple Revolver rating: 4/5. The force is still strong.