Review: Star Wars The Last Jedi proves to be a real force
- Credit: Lucasfilm
If Episode VII: The Force Awakens crammed everything fans love into one entertaining origin story, the next chapter directed by Rian Johnson adds scope, humour and a spectacular finale that's one of the highlights of the entire series.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (12A)
Every time an opening graphic crawl begins its ascent, I think we are all Star Wars fans, just a little bit. For many of us, it is often the case that that enthusiasm will have drained by the time the closing credits appear. Here though is a Star Wars film that could make a fan of someone who has never really seen the sense in all this Skywalker, Force Be With You nonsense.
Middle films in trilogies are tricky. Even the best have that Two Towers sense of being a means to an end, something to be gotten through. In Star Wars they are the best and the worst of times. Attack of the Clones is the most irredeemably wretched of the Prequels. The Empire Strikes Back though is probably the main reason why we are still bothering with Star Wars. It took the elements that made the first film such a massive pop culture phenomenon and gave it a mythic dimension. It was so good that even the subsequent three decades of disappointments couldn't piss away the goodwill.
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The middle film of the concluding trilogy (until the next one) does something similar. So far these Disney Star Wars films have basically just been rehashing what we've already seen.
In Episode VIII writer/director Rian Johnson has to take what was introduced in The Force Awakens and give it an identity, a purpose and a scope.
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Which he does, though you have to hang in there because the magic comes mostly in a spectacular finale which I think many die-hard fans will feel is one of the highlights of the entire series.
Prior to that I was a little grudging about it. Taking up from where the previous film finished, for much of its length the film has a dual narrative: Rey on the island with Skywalker and the rebels trying to escape. The two narratives are supposedly occurring simultaneously, yet take place over a number of days and the other over a number of hours.
The Rey/Skywalker part is well done but it is an example of that irritating movie convention of people prevaricating over a decision which is inevitable. Luke doesn't want to go back, doesn't want to get involved, but (not a spoiler) we know eventually he must.
The baddies in this film are First Order, a very minimal rebranding exercise for the Empire: new name, same uniform, same policies. My issue with the other half of this narrative is that their First Order is very rarely business.
They have this mighty fleet and the rebels have a few puny little ships but somehow there always seems to be something in the small print that stops them wiping them out; they are always just a bit out of range, or they need a bit of time to charge up their weapon. And their blasters and canons never seem to hit anything anyway, even if they only have one target.
Though we should be concentrating on Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher the secret of Last Jedi's success is rooted in the casting decisions made by JJ Abrams for Force Awakens. Say it quietly, but the new gang of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaacs are better than the old gang, perhaps because there's a greater splash of Hans Solo in them.
Both the boys are variations of him, while Ridley's Rey covers the more earnest Luke and Leia side. In the first film, there were times when feisty well-spoken Rey looked and sounded like she might be happier with Laser Hockey Stick than a Light Saber but she a stronger presence in this one.
The surprise is how compelling a character Adam Driver's baddy is. He is like a sulky, confused teenager playing at being Darth Vader and given to throwing destructive strops when he doesn't get what he wants. Unlike Luke's, his torment over his relationship with the Force, whether to embrace the dark side or not, has a real intensity to it. Johnson's most successful previous film was time travel thriller Looper and you wish this performance could be sent back in time and forcibly shown to Hayden Christensen with the firm instruction to be like him.
Last Jedi is also the most humorous of all the films. Johnson hasn't Ragnaroked it but everybody gets to raise at least one laugh.
When George Lucas turned away from the Light it was probably because he was afraid it would undercut his attempts to give his prequels weight. But Last Jedi demonstrates that the odd laugh can enhance the emotional identification when the people are risking death. And a big advantage these new films have going for them is that nobody is safe. Though there are plenty of last-second escapes from certain death, unexpected things, and unexpected deaths, happen
Star Wars films have generally known how to climax and, as I said already, Last Jedi really builds up to a magnificent showdown, about which my lips are sealed other than to say that it is a triumph both of visual effects and dramatic construction.
I was a pre-teen when the first film came out, so I would be the perfect age to be a Star Wars fanatic, but if I'm honest, it never really grabbed me. I enjoyed the original three when they came out, but they didn't rock my world. It all seemed a little thin to me. Really, I should care about someone called Luke Skywalker?
This time though, I'll admit, I'm waiting to see how all this turns out in Episode VIII. I think I may even have a little bit of that there force with me.