One thing that you cannot say about Star War: The Last Jedi is that it plays it safe. This is a Star Wars movie not afraid to take risks. And it’s all the better because of it.
The movie starts off with an exhilarating action set piece with Oscar Isaacs charismatic Poe Dameron. It’s here that also highlights one of the films main flaws for me… The humour. Poe’s “banter” with Hux felt forced and didn’t land. This is a recurring issue throughout the film with the humour quite often falling flat. Although I’d be lying if I didn’t chuckle at the ridiculousness of seeing Luke milking some strange alien before drinking blue milk… However, this energetic sequence highlights Rian Johnson’s capability helming large scale action and in this film he crafts some of the series’ best action set pieces, most notably the Kylo Ren and Rey fight sequence. The vibrant colours and slick choreography made it one of the series’ high points in terms of action.
After years of speculation amongst the fans we finally get to find out what happens after Rey presents Luke Skywalker with his lightsaber… And in one of the film’s funniest moments he just tosses it over his shoulder. This serves as a metaphor for how the film intends to deal with the rabid fan base… In the same way that Luke doesn’t care about the lightsaber and tosses it away, SW:TLJ does away with any preconceived ideas that fans have about where this story is going to end up. This movie does not care about the fan’s endless speculation and theorising over the last two years. It revels in defying fan expectations.
The film’s strengths lies in it’s characters. I found all of their arcs to be engaging and satisfying with them linking in to the central theme of failure and learning from said failure. While the plot line was somewhat sloppy in it’s execution I found Poe’s arc to be one of the highlights. This is a film series that has always leaned in on characters trusting their instincts and here Poe’s instincts got hundreds of rebels killed. How many times have we seen movies where the cocksure pilot always knows best and takes matters into their own hands and is inevitably proven right by the end. I found it to be a great subversion of our expectations and as shown at the films climax, leads to Poe being a more effective leader.
I’ve seen complaints about Finn and Roses storyline being superfluous and a bore. And while I agree to an extent that the diversion to the casino is the weakest plot line, it is necessary for Finn’s character growth. He starts the film off with no particular affinity for the rebellion and trying to flee from the First Order. By the end of the film he’s ready to sacrifice himself for the cause. His story line also ties into the central theme of the movie. Finn, Rose and Poe’s actions cause the deaths of hundreds of rebel soldiers. It’s a bold move that’s sure to rile a lot of fans up having each central characters failing in some manner. Luke failed Kylo Ren when he was still Ben Solo and in his moment of weakness, turned Ben Solo into Kylo Ren. Rey underestimated her ability to turn Kylo Ren to the light side. Poe’s recklessness and arrogance in wanting to be the hero derails the escape plans. Finn and Rose inadvertently cause the deaths of many rebels. Holdo not informing Poe of her plan results in him taking matters into his own hands. For me, each of the characters arcs felt satisfying, unexpected but mot importantly true to the character. I know that’s controversial considering Luke was going to kill Ben Solo… But to me it highlighted that even legends like Luke Skywalkers were susceptible to their darker impulses and showed him to be human too. I’m sure many fans will feel that it’s not true to his character but the original trilogy showed he had tendencies towards the dark side of the force. Luke being a recluse and his demeanour demonstrated how heavily his mistake was weighing on him.
The movie features some really striking imagery too. Most notably for me the shot of Luke and Yoda watching the tree burn, the shot of Luke standing in front of the AT-ATs and of Luke against the backdrop of the two suns. The incredible sequence where Holdo lightspeeds through the imperial fleet has to be up there as one of the most visually stunning sequences of the year. The sound design here too is masterfully handled, especially Rian Johnson having the confidence to follow it up with complete silence.
Finally, the acting is continually impressive with Adam Driver and Mark Hamill being the standouts. Adam Driver has made Kylo Ren the most interesting and complex villain we’ve had in Star Wars. In two films he’s imbued him with so much depth that I am thrilled to see where this character goes in the next movie. The decision to kill Snoke and focus more on Kylo Ren is a brilliant decision as far as I am concerned as we get a much more nuanced character who the audience are far more invested in. This should lead to some emotionally charged conflict occurring in the finale between him and Rey. Mark Hamill also does wonders with the character of Luke Skywalker. He manages to perfectly sell the guilt and shame Luke feels over his past mistakes and provides a great send off for this character (although let’s be honest… he’s definitely coming back as a force ghost). The rest of the cast continue to do solid work but those two impressed me the most.
The film is certainly not without it’s flaws. The casino sequence was sloppily handled and needed to be trimmed down, the horrendous Leia in space sequence, the dialogue was incredibly cheesy at points (Rose’s godawful speech to Finn after crashing into him being the most egregious example), there’s plot holes and contrivances and misjudged humour. However they do not derail the overall experience in my opinion. This is a solid entry to the franchise that took risks and has left us in a tantalising position going forward. It defied expectations and took risks but did so in service of the characters. This is a much more character focused story than many expected and I appreciate them taking the difficult middle entry in that direction. I believe once the dust has settled that this will gain popularity over the years once fans have a chance to digest it.