'Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi' Movie Review
Rian Johnson's latest effort takes the 'Star Wars' franchise in bold and intriguing new directions.
Released: 15 December 2017 (Worldwide)
Length: 152 Minutes
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Kellie Marie Tran and Benicio Del Toro
Star Wars made an immensely successful comeback with JJ Abram’s opening chapter and since its thunderous return to the big screen two years ago, all eyes have pointed to what the next episode will do to expand the sequel trilogy. By taking on a different direction, the latest chapter in the Star Wars saga, for all its divisive reception, has achieved something that no other entry can claim; a full subversion of expectations.
Taking place directly after The Force Awakens, the resistance led by General Leia Organa (played by the late Carrie Fisher in her final film performance), along with ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and turn-cloak Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), evacuate their base in a hurry as the First Order bears down on them at the behest of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson), and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis); with their options running out with every passing minute, the shrinking band of rebel forces takes some risky steps in a bid to come out on top. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds an aging Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a backwater planet and the two set about exploring the nature of the force and the endless conflict between light and dark. The Force itself plays a key role in Episode VIII and the ways it is used (especially outside of the action) are both extensive and intriguing while the thematic elements, which look to the past and the often-grey area of conflict lead to the narrative’s greatest strength; the many twists and turns. I was constantly wondering which way things would go and while there isn’t anything on the scale of The Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi still makes its mark for being very surprising. The plot’s only real shortcoming is an extended tangent to a casino planet involving Finn and newcomer Rose (played by Kelly Marie Tran); it felt tacked on, attempting to add some further background to the Star Wars Universe while instead serving as a distraction to the central action.
The main characters in The Last Jedi are still just as compelling as they were in its predecessor. At the centre of the film is Rey and Luke Skywalker, who both deliver some excellent chemistry alongside some fascinating developments to their characters. Rey is possessed with a quiet confidence and yet she still has much to learn, compelling the audience to follow her arc. Returning after over three decades, Luke Skywalker feels broken-down, having lost his faith in the Jedi Order and the path he takes throughout the film results in many emotional moments. On the other side of the proceedings, other characters also rise to the occasion. Poe Dameron is forced to come to terms with his often-reckless space combat antics and Finn finds himself going to the extra mile to keep the resistance alive. Kylo Ren is every bit as tortured as he was in Episode VII; the conflict inside him manifests into something much more unstable this time around and you find yourself wondering what he will do next. Snoke’s sinister mannerisms channel the Emperor from the original trilogy while expanding on the nastier uses of the force. Some of the side characters don’t fare as well, however, despite being performed with dedicated gusto. Laura Dern’s rebel admiral character, apart from a visually stunning space set-piece, rarely feels like a cohesive part of the resistance. Rose attempts to develop as a character, only to fall flat in the face of the main cast and while I won’t give away Benicio Del Toro’s role, it’s very miniscule. Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma is once again snubbed as well, something the sequel should have worked to fix.
Right from its opening shots, you’ll notice that Episode VIII uses more saturated and striking aesthetics. It’s a very sleek look that characterises the film’s darker tone, bringing it more in line with last year’s Rogue One; a heavy use of jet black and pure red hangs over the space sequences, a symbol of the powerful force relentlessly pursuing the Rebels. This is contrasted with the more spiritual setting of Luke’s island where some brilliant natural lighting from the sun enhances the sense of mystery that engulfs both him and Rey. The shots give off a tremendous sense of scale while also continuing the same whirling cinematography that really pulled the audience into the action in The Force Awakens. Some of the First Order ships from hulking dreadnoughts to a massive flagship in the shape of a stealth bomber are the major highlights. Episode VIII works well to maintain the balance between computer effects and physical models as well while the score by John Williams once again brings the emotion in all the right places; there are also points where the music speaks more softly or ceases entirely but those are best left discovered on your own viewing. It’s simply another visually stunning science fiction film, but overall, it feels more gargantuan than other films in the genre this year.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is a very anomalous entry in the franchise’s four-decade long history, but I mean that in the best possible way; director Rian Johnson has made some very bold steps to both shake up the tried and true formula while also challenging how you think about the universe as a whole. It succeeds despite an unneeded second act tangent and a few underdeveloped characters and had me thinking long after it wrapped up.
Rating: 4/5 Stars (Great)
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