Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Review

Worth seeing: for anyone who's already invested 14+ hours in film's favourite franchise and anyone who loves the guilty pleasure of laser fights in space
Director:Rian Johnson
Featuring:Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran, Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, Adrian Edmondson, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Benicio Del Toro, Billie Lourd, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Lupita Nyong'o, Peter Mayhew
Length:152 minutes
Certificate:12A
Country:US
Released:14th December 2017

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, the First Order is tightening its grip on power, doing its best to clamp down on the last remaining outpost of the Resistance, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher).

The evil Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), his powerful apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and military leader General Hux (Domhnall Gleason) are plotting a final attack to snuff out any hope that they can be defeated.

But one of the newest recruits of the Resistance, Rey (Daisy Ridley), a former scavenger who’s recently discovered her Jedi powers, has found the legendary Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) living as a recluse on a remote planet. She’s determined to coax him back to the cause – and to start by teaching her everything she needs to know to continue the Jedi line.

Fellow Resistance fighters Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) are concocting a plan to escape from the grasp of the First Order.

The Last Jedi is the latest episode of the forty year old saga of the fight for supremacy between the Light Side and the Dark Side of The Force.

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

Under the watchful eye of executive producer JJ Abrams and regular Steven Spielberg producer Kathleen Kennedy, the Star Wars saga is in safe hands.

From the opening space battle to the final show-down, via a number of thrilling light-sabre duels, the action is riveting and faithful to the earlier films in its energy and excitement. And everything from the merchandising potential to the swiping scene transitions pay homage to the earliest films in the saga.

There is an unexpected – but very welcome – humorous streak running through the film, which lifts some of the thinner scenes and much of the more expositional dialogue is well camouflaged so as not to sound clunky.

Eight episode’s into the saga, the franchise still feels satisfyingly fresh, but thoroughly entertaining, as it unquestionably is, there are undoubted problems with the story and structure – which would, with any other material, reduce the likelihood of it ever reaching the screen in the first place.

At two and a half hours, it’s a long film and while it doesn’t drag, there’s not really enough plot to fill the running time. Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker spend far too much of the film on the island, chatting portentously – or even pompously. Many of the other characters throw themselves into a somewhat pointless side-plot. And there are many inconsistencies – in the behaviour of characters or the way certain events are explained.

As with its immediate predecessor in the Star Wars saga, the cast is very much female-orientated, from Carrie Fisher’s General Leia and her Vice Admiral, played by Laura Dern, to Ridley’s Rey, Finn’s new sidekick Rose and the chief storm-trooper, and there are times where eyes might roll at yet another diverse piece of casting.

But whether it’s an intentional side-swipe at the rest of Hollywood, saying “we can do it even if you can’t,” in truth, Star Wars is one of the few critic-proof blockbusters, which would top the box office even if its main cast included furry, beakless birds or giant land-based fish with legs – which, as it happens, it did.

Such new creatures – many of which are no more than incidental back-ground details – add to the fascinating fabric of the universe whose baton has – for now – been handed to Looper director Rian Johnson, before he turns his attention to his own new Star Wars trilogy.

There are rather too many smaller characters to be following throughout, but a number of well-known faces pop up in small roles, including Benicio del Toro as a bit of a space chancer and Adrian Edmondson in a peculiarly straight role as General Hux’s right hand man. Mark Hamill spends rather too much of the film moping, bathed in a not-very-legendary cloak of disappointment and self-doubt and Daisy Ridley seems to be struggling for gravitas at times, but Oscar Isaac, John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran provide all the thrills and spills of galactic adventure that fans will be craving. And Adam Driver’s particularly complex character will continuously confound audiences – some beats will be predicted, knowing that there’s another film to come, but others will take you delightfully by surprise.

One of the most profound elements of the film is Carrie Fisher’s final on-screen performance; her scenes were completed shortly before her premature death, a little under a year ago – but the way her scenes have been worked into this film, it’s as if Johnson knew in advance that this would be her final outing. Perhaps her role was rewritten a little in the cutting room, because form the dialogue to her story arc, it’s as if he knew she wouldn’t be coming back for Episode IX. The film is unsurprisingly dedicated to “our princess” at the start of the closing credits.

Narratively, The Last Jedi is full of contrived, convenient and unconvincing beats and much of what happens is on the one hand obvious or on the other tricksy, but it’s so visually and emotionally uplifting and such tremendous fun that it feels unfair to pick at it like a vulture at carrion.

Without needing a Marvel-style taster at the end of the credits, Johnson has done more than enough to leave most people who venture to see this desperate to find out how this latest trilogy will draw to a close. And with JJ Abrams back in the director’s chair for Episode IX, fans of film’s favourite franchise should have nothing to fear.