There was a lovely little moment in THE FORCE AWAKENS where Leia (Carrie Fisher) after reuniting with Han (Harrison Ford) comments with a wry smile, “Same jacket” and her paramour responds, with mock hurt in his voice, “No, new jacket”. This exchange pretty much summed up a lot of people’s feelings about Episode VII – was the jacket different enough? Now comes Rian Johnson’s THE LAST JEDI, which is nothing if not different.
Despite the destruction of their superweapon, the evil First Order are bearing down on the heroic Resistance forces and are close to completely wiping them out. As General Leia (Carrie Fisher) commands the retreat, Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to convince Luke Skywalker to rejoin the battle against fallen apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his master Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).
Luke was right; this did not go the way I thought. I knew a Star Wars film from the director of LOOPER and BRICK was going to be different, but I didn’t realise it would be quite this tricksy. As many thrills, laughs and revelations as The Last Jedi offers, Johnson makes you work for it.
A lot of the conflict and the meat of the relationships between the key characters is built around the lies and the failures of the Jedi, encapsulated by Luke’s repeated put down others’ misunderstanding of the Force, “Every word of what you just said was wrong”. If the saga has always been about a single idea, it’s about keeping balance, and this film especially is about maintaining this balance at any cost.
One of the finest moments in the film uncovers the great lie of this galaxy far, far away: Empire, Rebels, First Order, Resistance, it doesn’t really matter. When the cargo manifest of a weapon smuggler’s ship reveals that deals have been cut with both sides numerous times, it becomes clear that when intergalactic war is involved everyone finds themselves in the grey area sooner or later; anyone could conceivably be a villain from a certain point of view. ROGUE ONE tried to explore this idea and bottled it, TLJ really takes it to the limit.
Mark Hamill plays a very different Luke Skywalker. For much of the time we’re with him he is a shell, a shadow of his former hopeful self. He has his reasons for losing his drive, for completely cutting himself off from the galaxy to become a spiky space Ranulph Fiennes, and while it doesn’t end up quite as black and hopeless as I thought it might, it’s pretty dark stuff. We get the odd flash of the old Luke, where Hamill really comes alive, such as when R2-D2 reconnects with him using “a cheap move” and Luke warns him to “watch the language” when on a sacred island.
It’s so nice to have weird Benicio del Toro back; shady hacker “DJ” is like one of his roles from the 90s, all strange vocal tics and physical mannerisms. I think Gwendoline Christie’s shiny enigma Captain Phasma is in this even less than she was last time. Even Ade Edmondson from BOTTOM (one for the Brits) is around more than Phasma as straight man to Domhnall Gleeson’s gleefully pantomimey General Hux. Speaking of Gleeson, he often threatens to steal the show, or at least he does when the superb newcomer Kelly Marie Tran isn’t on screen.
TLJ is not the most visually interesting film Johnson has done (though it contains strong singular images he gives in to the tried and tested Star Wars aesthetic) until we reach the very different red salt plains and crystalline caverns of the final act. However, we are gifted with two awesome action sequences in the form of the grin-inducing derring-do battle in space that opens the film and the ferocious clash with a room full of Snoke’s formidable Praetorian guards that ends the second act.
The film’s best and most revealing scenes are unusual trans-galactic conversations between Rey and Ben/Kylo, and Ridley and Driver completely nail these fascinating dialogues. Gone are the days where everything is settled over the glow of locked lightsaber blades, now people talk and psychoanalyse each other.
I will say that the film is at times unnecessarily oblique in revealing certain plot points; I’m not talking about the big ongoing mysteries, more the practicalities of what is going on at a given moment. There’s a few points when characters knowing a key piece of information early would help their present situation, but they are kept in the dark a little longer seemingly just to keep them on the same level as the viewer. The plotting does feel freer and looser, which is fine, though the second act could have stood to be shaved down a bit, not to mention getting rid of an unnecessary chase sequence.
I have absolutely no idea where the resolution of The Last Jedi leaves us, or what is coming next. Maybe that’s a good thing. Tragic real-work events means there are unexpected storytelling challenges going forward, and I think they’ve now missed out on the opportunity to neatly tie everything up. However they finally resolve Leia’s storyline, this is a memorable and touching final appearance for Carrie Fisher.
If Force Awakens hit the reset button, then The Last Jedi has fearlessly taken the saga into uncharted territory. I personally really liked it for its sheer bravery, but I’m not convinced every fan will. I wouldn’t say it’s a crowdpleaser like The Force Awakens or Rogue One, but it’s a bolder, deeper, more beautiful film and perhaps the most blatant deliberate act of iconoclasm in Star Wars history. It’s about time this Galaxy Far Far Away got a shakeup. SSP