Review: 'Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi' (2017) Dir. Rian Johnson
Rian Johnson brings his unique take to a sequel that promised to dig deeper into 'The Force Awakens' and expand the lore...
Following the destruction of Starkiller Base at the hands of the Resistance led by General Leia Organa (Fisher), the brave heroes find themselves mercilessly hunted by the First Order under the command of General Hux (Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis).
As the Resistance attempts to survive the First Order, young Jedi in training Rey (Ridley) seeks the help of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Hamill) to join the fight and defeat Snoke and his powerful apprentice, Kylo Ren (Driver).
Emotions will be pushed to breaking point as Rey discovers shocking truths about the First Order and Luke Skywalker himself, which will force her to question just which side of the fight she is truly on…
I walked out of the midnight showing of ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’ disappointed. Not for J.J Abrams’ thrill ride, but for the new episode from writer/director Rian Johnson. ‘The Last Jedi’ is a blend of all that works from the prequels and original trilogy, but sadly lots that don’t. The result is a film that delivers on the most part, but stumbles along the way and gives, I think, little payoff for a film that should offer more resolutions than headaches.
We are catapulted into the fall-out from ‘The Force Awakens’ in a typical Star-Warsy narrative that is tried and tested; a number of stories running parallel that converge at the end. The late Carrie Fisher has far more to do this time around leading the Resistance as General Leia Organa never putting a foot wrong. Oscar Isaac is back as passionate pilot Poe along with John Boyega as Finn and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose, a mechanic. It’s this group, along with Laura Dern as the ‘is she good / is she bad’ Admiral Holdo, that are the ones scrabbling around trying to fight and flee the First Order at the same time.
It’s a busy narrative with lots of new and old characters, new planets, species and technology. And there is a lot of waste and a lot of back and forth that ruins up the flow.
As well as the Resistance trying to slowly escape from a slow First Order, we have Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker looking to understand each other, the Force and the state of the galaxy. And we also have Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux ham it up for all it’s worth as the brash, short-fused, volatile but merciless First Order agents.
As you can see, it’s a busy narrative with lots of new and old characters, new planets, species and technology. And as you suspect, there is a lot of waste and a lot of back and forth that messes up the flow. The Resistance has a lazy plot that revolves around breaking a secret code on-board the biggest Star Destroyer in the First Order fleet to allow their ships to flee. So much time is spent on this task that is made out to be much easier to do than it really should be, giving Boyega, Tran et al reasons to forge relationships and run around on the very prequel-esque digital world of Cantonica and Canto Bight. It detracts from the main flow of the story and is very digital, compared to the practical worlds of Takodana and Jakku from ‘The Force Awakens’.
The CGI here and throughout is very noticeable. It’s not 100% polished, but because there is so much it’s far easier to spot. From Snoke’s digital body to dozens of new alien species and much more gravity/physics defying action, it reminded me more of the flamboyant CGI of the prequels than the restrained, minimal CGI J.J Abrams introduced us to. As I said, some of the prequel material worked, much didn’t. ‘The Last Jedi’ plays out like a new modern entry wrapped up in a prequel skin.
It’s a busy film, and the secondary narrative detracts from what we are here to see – the return of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and his relationship with Rey. We get this and more, and it’s wonderful. A highlight of the film is seeing the two bicker, argue try to understand each other, exploring lore from the past and touching on the future. Hamill is not the Jedi we last saw on Endor, but a world-weary, scared and bitter hermit questioning his own existence and the Force itself. He draws us into his story and the spark between him and Ridley grips you, wondering just who is right and who is wrong.
And on the subject of Luke; his Porgs. Not as annoying as you’d expect, and rather amusing in a restrained way. They are NOT the new Ewoks, believe me, and the best of the various digital creatures we have here…the Canto Bight ones truly pointless if you ask me.
But with constant interjections from a slightly boring Resistance story, it becomes frustrating being drip-fed so much about Luke, Rey and Kylo that while it is electric to watch, Johnson doesn’t offer clear resolutions to questions raised in 2015. I felt short-changed by many outcomes, and annoyed at what seemed to be a waste of established material. To be honest, at times I didn’t know if I was watching the middle of a trilogy or the end of one.
As both stories crank up to converge, my mind’s eye saw ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ blended with ‘Return Of The Jedi’ in a mish-mash of sequences that, while hitting the humour, emotion and action just right, were just too rushed and hap-hazard to take in. Even the Battle Of Hoth’-esque finale (spot the Gareth Edwards solider cameo!) is pretty boring, un-eventful and jammed with digital creations that I was turning off even when a certain character brushed his shoulder off. It felt too much, too late.
I was seeing things I didn’t want to see happen. Outcomes I didn’t want to witness. Characters go places when I couldn’t see a reason for it. The film itself is immersive, don’t get me wrong. There are some really beautiful shots and really tender, well executed moments developing our heroes and villains. I just felt the outcomes were either cheap or rushed. Even the score by John Williams is devoid of anything standout, and the only motifs that roused me were ones recycled from the Original Trilogy for a truly sentimental impact. Especially a returning character; that really lifted my spirit for the scene in question.
You can see I’m torn, and I’m annoyed that a Star Wars film has made me feel like this especially following such a blistering opening chapter.
As I said, I felt the trilogy was wrapping up towards the end of this. It was strange. Where will they go from here? Questions and motives are still clouded and over-looked all for dramatic effect, and opportunities have been missed. And while not all on Johnson, this falls to the overall production and script-writing, proving that each of the sequel episodes is made up as they go. A wider structure and story doesn't seem to be flowing, and there is evidently a battle to ret-con ideas and themes laid out in 2015 for new ones.
Questions are proposed, but still no answers or reasons given. A dramatic shift in tone and theme gives the impression this trilogy is truly wining it, because it feels Johnson has peaked the trilogy too soon.
'Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi' is a LucasFilm Ltd. production