Title: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscaar Isaac, Andy Serkis
When The Force Awakens arrived in 2015, fans and critics celebrated it as a return to form for a series wallowing in the unpleasant aftertaste of George Lucas' prequel trilogy. At the same time, moviegoers criticized it for playing things too safe, and for matching the plot points and dramatic beats of the very first Star Wars adventure, a New Hope. Its sequel The Last Jedi, conversely, is a movie of risks, gambles, and subverted expectations. It's arguably the most surprising and different Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, and subsequently could finish as the most controversial. It's also among the most thematically rich and visually striking films of the long, probably never-ending franchise. It's not perfect, however. Some of its humor is broad and ineffective. Many digital effects are distracting and unconvincing. Most glaring of all, the movie is too busily plotted and, as a result, overlong.
The Last Jedi picks up immediately after the concluding scenes of The Force Awakens. Rey, a young adept strong in The Force, seeks out Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), both as a guide -- "I need someone to show my my place in all this," pleads Rey -- and as a symbol of hope for a downtrodden and outmatched resistance army. Luke, having gone into hiding in "the most unfindable place in the galaxy" wants nothing to do with the resistance or with Rey, after losing a previous student to darkness. Meanwhile, the resistance fleets struggles to escape the long reach of The First Order, a fascist organization that grew from the ashes of the Galactic Empire, which Luke and friends defeated thirty years prior.
Fans anxious that The Last Jedi would play out like the original trilogy's sophomore effort, The Empire Strikes Back, need not worry. Writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) treats his movie as a fresh canvas. Yes, he's inherited story threads and characters from The Force Awakens, but he takes those plot points and people in new, surprising, and uncomfortable directions. The First Order pursuing the resistance fleet through space could have easily mirrored Darth Vader's pursuit of the Millennium Falcon in Empire. Yet it plays out more like a nod to Battlestar Galactica, with what's left of the rebellion struggling to simply stay alive in a flotilla.
Likewise, Rey's training with Luke, which might have played out much like the relationship between young Luke and his own mentor Yoda, is flipped upside down. Luke shuts himself off from The Force, rejects Rey's requests, and questions the usefulness of the Jedi and the legitimacy of his own legend. Meanwhile, Rey finds a surrogate teacher in Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, in a raw, unhinged performance), Luke's nephew who turned to the dark side of The Force and now serves the leaders of The First Order.
When Johnson focuses on these two plot lines, and the themes of survival, hope, sacrifice, failure, and destiny that accompany them, the movie is at its best. Unfortunately, the film takes several detours that end up disrupting its pacing and padding its running time. At 152 minutes, The Last Jedi is the longest Star Wars movie, yet a few judicious edits could have brought that number down considerably, resulting in a leaner, more dramatically-efficient story. There's a great 100 minute movie in The Last Jedi, buried under a bunch of sub-plots and action sequences that probably should have ended up on the cutting room floor.
The worst offender is the casino planet, where Finn, an ex-soldier of The First Order, and resistance mechanic Rose Tico (played warmly by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) attempt to recruit a code-breaker to save their fleet. This sequence, which takes place in the middle of the movie and threatens to stop it dead, adds very little to the experience overall, apart from setting up the film's admittedly perfect final shot. It also suggests the idea that the resistance and The First Order aren't so different, after all, but that motif is introduced by Luke elsewhere -- and more convincingly.
Speaking of Luke, in many ways this is his movie. Whether in isolation on Ahch-To, or in crabby interactions with Rey, he brings humor, weight, and pathos to the proceedings. Mark Hamill takes the character that made him famous and brings him to new places, both downtrodden and ascendant. It's without a doubt the best acting performance of his long, impressive career.
On a technical level, The Last Jedi mostly shines. Costumes, props, and sets, inspired by everything from samurai armor to WWII bombers, are often stunning. John William's musical score is appropriately rousing. The movie's photography, done by Steve Yedlin, who partnered with director Johnson three times before, is consistently engaging and, at times, downright breathtaking. The film's climactic sequence, filled with blood-red plumes of clay dust and ending with a showdown worthy of Sergio Leone, is one of the most visually-arresting of the entire Star Wars saga. Regrettably, some of the special effects employed throughout the movie are far less convincing than others. In some instances, The Last Jedi looks worse than The Force Awakens, which relied heavily on practical effects.
Equally spotty is the movie's attempt at humor. Where The Force Awakens traded in jokes informed by each character, The Last Jedi leans toward broad physical comedy to land its punchlines. BB-8, the comic relief droid, is featured too prominently here. So too are the Porgs, the latest franchising opportunity dreamed up by Disney. These painfully-cute Furby lookalikes are present in the film mainly for a few cheap laughs (and for stocking stuffers this holiday season).
In the end, The Last Jedi is a movie of moments, both amazing and middling. Unlike The Force Awakens, which was consistently good but never great, The Last Jedi achieves greatness at times. There are moments here of clarity, of revelation, of pain, and of visual poetry that are rare in the Star Wars universe. Yet there are, at the same time, moments where jokes fall flat, digital technology fails, and sub-plots go nowhere. A script doctor and a discerning editor could probably make this a masterpiece. Right now, however, The Last Jedi isn't the rival to The Empire Strikes Back it wants to be.
7/10Last edited by Veknoid_Outcast - on 16 December 2017