I’ve just got off a roller-coaster and I can’t wait to ride it again. That’s the easiest way to describe Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Some people thought that The Force Awakens, the first film in the continuing saga of the Skywalker family, was safe and there were many parallels drawn between it and Star Wars: A New Hope from 1977. The Force Awakens needed to bridge the gap of 30 years since the events of Return of the Jedi, and bring Star Wars to three generations of fans. Thanks to the stellar casting of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver and others, along with the returning cast of Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Anthony Daniels, this was achieved and the first film in the trilogy was well received among most.
Two years on, we knew that The Last Jedi had to continue where The Force Awakens left off, but we didn’t know what to expect — except for the inclusion of Porgs, which are used in an effective way for some much needed comic relief. Virtually unknown director and writer Rian Johnson, along with producer Ram Bergman, have managed to delight and surprise us with a 150-minute joy ride (the longest running time of any Star Wars film to date) with a story that has so many twists and turns, ups and downs that you’ll be grabbing for tissues one minute, whilst laughing out loud the next. The film is very dark in places, but the pair manage to intersperse this with plenty of humour that brings you back from the brink of numerous occasions.
It’s very difficult to write a non-spoiler review but we want to give all fans a chance to see the film before breaking it down into its component parts. If you have been a fan of the two animated shows created by Dave Filoni and his team, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, you will instantly recognise the use of the Force, and understand the complex relationships going on during the film. I was immediately drawn back to the Mortis arc of episodes from the third season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars to draw parallels.
This is not a safe film by any means, it takes the characters we know, as well as the new characters introduced, into some very interesting places allowing for plenty of character development and some amazing performances by all; let us hope that the industry gives this film, and its cast/crew, the recognition it deserves. The younger cast are given the chance to take their characters to a new level, and to find themselves in their on-screen personas delivering some great performances. Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico is a delight to watch, as are all the new cast members including Laura Dern as Grand Admiral Holdo & Benicio Del Toro as DJ. I would be remiss not to mention Carrie Fisher in her last role, before her untimely passing almost a year ago, she brings so much energy in what I thought was her best performance since A New Hope.
The film is long, and with the first cut coming in at 3 hours, I wonder if any thought was given to splitting the action into two films — there’s certainly enough going on to achieve that, but this is a trilogy after all. The audiences I saw the film with, laughed, cried and clapped in many places which is testament to the work done by Johnson, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, and parent company Disney; they were so confident with Johnson’s abilities that they have given him free reign to create his own new Skywalker-less Star Wars trilogy — vindication indeed.
As with The Force Awakens I didn’t notice the score by John Williams too much on the first viewing except for the themes for Rey, which we already knew, and the new theme for Rose. I expect that to change on subsequent viewings though, and I look forward to listening to the soundtrack in more detail. The sound design led by Matthew Wood was very evident, and as always Wood and his team have surpassed themselves. Another group that needs mentioning is the excellent creature shop led by Neil Scanlan at Pinewood, they too have outdone themselves on The Last Jedi with some superb creations including the Fathiers and Porgs.
The Last Jedi takes Star Wars up a level, raising the game and then some. There are moments of pure genius, real risks that I thought we’d never see in this middle chapter, but they are executed well. There is a lot of humour, maybe a little too much, although I think it’s warranted in places. The films running time moves quickly and at no point did I think the story was dragging on, in fact I would have liked a little more exposition in places. Lucasfilm took a risk with Johnson, this is only his fourth feature film to date (following Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper), but undoubtedly his best and we look forward to what he delivers for Star Wars fans next.
Johnson passes the baton back to J. J. Abrams for Episode IX and I genuinely feel he has a hard act to follow, wrapping up what will probably be the last of the Skywalker saga films. December 2019 cannot come soon enough.