Perhaps the biggest, and arguably only, failure of 2015’s The Force Awakens was the duplication of the basic plot points of A New Hope. So the big question is does director Rian Johnson manage to avoid the same mistakes in this year’s entry into the Star Wars saga? The answer is a definite yes! While there is a familiarity about The Last Jedi, in many ways it is unlike any Star Wars film that has come before.
The Last Jedi picks up immediately following the events of The Force Awakens, a narrative decision no Star Wars film has taken before, with often years passing between films. Despite the victory at Starkiller Base, the Resistance is still very much on the back foot with the New Republic decimated by the First Order.
We are thrown straight into the action with the opening scenes having some real tension, similar to the end of Gareth Edwards’ excellent Rogue One (keep an eye out for his cameo). The time spent with the resistance gives us the first real opportunity to get to know Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) as he was left very undeveloped in The Force Awakens. Across the course of The Last Jedi Poe has one of the best character arcs and by the end of the film he is someone you care about. The other takeaway from our time spent with the resistance is how much Episode IX will miss Carrie Fisher.
While the self-exiled Luke Skywalker is a figure of legend across the galaxy his sister Leia is also a hero in her own right and every scene with her in helps you to understand this. It is very difficult to imagine Episode IX without her presence and The Last Jedi feels like a fitting tribute to a character and actress beloved by the Star Wars universe.
In addition to the plight of the resistance, The Last Jedi also spends significant time with the aforementioned Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and aspiring Jedi in training Rey (Daisy Ridley). The relationship between Rey and Luke is very different to that of Rey and Han but no less enjoyable to watch. In the time since Return of the Jedi Luke has become very different to the man we knew; pessimistic, grumpy and closed off from the galaxy around him. The time he and Rey spend together on Ahch-To is filled with some great moments ranging from comedic to melancholic.
Luke shares the island with the nun-like Caretakers and the heavily marketed Porgs, who I’m happy to say are used very well and avoid any Gungan silliness. You could draw similarities between The Last Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back with these training scenes but, apart from the reluctant mentor and the eager/naїve student, things unfold in a very different way.
Away from our heroes we also get to spend time with the troubled Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and finally get an in the flesh look at his sinister mentor Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Driver is particularly excellent as Ren, who is clearly struggling with his decision during his meeting with his father in Episode VII. Snoke also benefits from another strong motion capture performance from Serkis, who really is the master at this type of role.
Alongside the two powerful force users you have the snivelling General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) who ends up on the wrong end of a lot of the films more comedic moments. While it does prevent him from coming across as a villain to be feared, there is something uniquely delightful about seeing someone so self-important be constantly put in their place.
The Last Jedi also has several other strong characters who feature to varying degrees. Joining the ever enjoyable reformed First Order Trooper Finn (John Boyega) is Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), the two of whom go on their own mission to help save the resistance. Rose is a great new addition to the cast and provides a lot of the film’s more heartfelt moments, reminding us of what the struggle against oppression really means to the inhabitants of the galaxy. Other new supporting additions to the cast come in the form of Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) and the mysterious DJ (Benicio Del Toro), the later of whom might be even more of a scoundrel than the late Han Solo.
One final returning character I would like to mention is Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), who survived her encounter with the trash compactor. Phasma is quickly becoming the new trilogy’s Boba Fet, a very cool looking individual who doesn’t really do an awful lot. Once again her screen time is limited and having read some of the books based on her, she is being massively underutilised.
In terms of The Last Jedi’s weaknesses they are few and far between. While it is the longest film in the Star Wars franchise, there is enough going on that it never feels a chore to watch. Rian Johnson also brings his own directing style to the film with several scenes that feel very different to what I have come to expect from Star Wars film. While I’m sure some won’t enjoy these scenes I found them to be quite refreshing. In fact, the only real criticism I could have of The Last Jedi is that some of the lingering questions left at the end of The Force Awakens still feel unanswered, and seeing where the film is narratively at its conclusion I feel that these may never be answered (on screen at least).
The Last Jedi is not just a fantastic Star Wars film, it’s a fantastic film full stop. It is very much following in The Empire Strikes Back’s footsteps in being a deeper and more compelling entry into the franchise than its predecessor. If you are being ultra critical it does have some similarities in structure to Episode V however, The Last Jedi is very much its own film and a very good one at that.
By Mark Jankowski