Spoilers for Star Wars: Episodes 1-7 and Rogue One
I have a lot of weird little rules when it comes to choosing what films I want to spend my hard-earned money on. One of them is that I will give every film franchise three chances. If any franchise makes 3 shitty movies in a row, then that’s when I tap out.
Case in point: DC movies. I watched Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. All three disappointments. So why should I continue to spend my money on something that has taken nearly £50 from me and given me nothing but disillusionment in return? Same with the Transformers franchise. 3 movies. 3 let-downs.
And when it comes to Star Wars my feelings on the new Disney-led regime aren’t that positive. In spite of my excitement, The Force Awakens was a major dud, and Rogue One wasn’t that much better.
So while my piddling £10-£12 ticket won’t make a damn bit of difference to Disney’s guaranteed $1 billion hit, this was pretty much the last chance I was going to give the Star Wars franchise.
So I suppose I should thank the force for Rian Johnson, because he has brought Star Wars back with a vengeance!
Starting off exactly where The Force Awakens finished; the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), barely evacuate before their base is blown to smithereens.
Now being chased by the First Order, Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Issac) and maintenance worker Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) must find a way to escape the relentless pursuit by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) starts her training with reclusive Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). However, it soon becomes apparent there is far more to learn about Luke and his relationship with his former pupil, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
There’s this moment about halfway through The Last Jedi (TLJ) where Rey is standing in the rain near the Millennium Falcon. She puts out her hand, allows a few drops to scatter over it, and finally smiles. It’s only 3 or 4 seconds long, but in those few moments so much is communicated non-verbally. We’re reminded about Rey’s desert origins; how soon this film takes place after leaving Jakku; as well as the fact that this legitimately might be the first time Rey has seen rain.
It’s those small moments that really make a movie, and in TLJ, writer/director Rian Johnson has truly outdone any Star Wars film that has come before. Not just through the small touches, but also on the massive canvas he was allowed to paint his masterpiece upon. With numerous twists and unexpected developments, this is Star Wars at its most confident. With no need to set up various characters, TLJ dives straight into the action, delivering a film reminiscent of the panicky desperation from Battlestar Galactica’s “33”.
Speaking of characters, it’s clear that the most anticipated is Mark Hamill in his performance as Master Skywalker. No longer the towering pillar of strength we saw at the end of Return of the Jedi, this Luke Skywalker is cold and jaded. Gone is the hope of years gone by, replaced by the hard facts of loss and pain. It’s a stunning performance, and a great addition to what is an incredibly successful ensemble, similar to what we’ve seen in 2012’s The Avengers or X-men 2.
Even putting aside the plot and characters, the visual treats top almost every moment seen in Star Wars over the past four decades. Zooming X-wings, beautiful vistas and more aliens than a day trip to Hadley’s Hope, TLJ exhudes spectacle and wonder in its 152 minute running time.
In the run up to the film’s release, John Boyega mentioned in an interview that:
There hasn’t been a Star Wars movie yet that has explored war in the way The Last Jedi does.
And he’s correct. While previous Star Wars films were content to wallow in the simplistic battle of “Good vs Evil”; TLJ instead gives us shades of grey. War is messy, and TLJ goes to great lengths to show us a fractured rebel force with competing desires and goals. While last year’s Rogue One tried to do this, the behind-the-scenes problems meant it was never presented convincingly.
As such, though this may be a Star Wars film, it ejects many of the aspects that usually make up a galaxy far, far away. In fact, based on the answers given to numerous questions laid out in The Force Awakens, it’s clear that Johnson doesn’t care about the traditions of Star Wars storytelling. That, fundamentally, is why it’s easier to appreciate TLJ over Force Awakens.
Think of it as the difference between reverence and respect. The 2015 Abrams movie chose reverence, an unquestioning commitment to the idea that the original series of movies were close to perfection. Because of this Force Awakens ended up feeling fairly rote and unoriginal. But Johnson clearly prefers respect. In other words, an acknowledgment that what came before was important, but after 40 years is now out of date and must be let go for something new.
That doesn’t, however, mean that Johnson rejects everything about the Original Trilogy. Indeed, the single most important thing TLJ achieves is to take us back to the intent of A New Hope. He returns us to a time before scared bloodlines and special families. No longer is it your birth that determines your destiny, but your choices. In essence, a hero can come from anywhere.
Surprisingly though, for a film that is presented to us as the middle of a trilogy, there is a palpable sense of closure. A huge number of plot points that would be expected in Episode 9 are instead tied up in this chapter. As such, there’s a true sense of mystery (and maybe even a little confusion) as to what the future might bring.
Are there flaws? Yes, of course. No Star Wars film is without them. I personally wasn’t a great fan of the more “earth-like” references, such as “cops” or “perps”. And finding out exactly how The First Order keeps their uniforms crease-free wasn’t exactly desperately needed information!
But these are such minor gripes for a film that now deserves to hold the mantle for best Star Wars movie ever made. In TLJ I see inspiration. I see a film that will encourage an entirely new generation of filmmakers, just like George Lucas did for so many 40 years ago.
And if that isn’t Star Wars, then I don’t know what is.