Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Rian Johnson
Stars: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, John Boyega, Laura Dern, Andy Serkis, Benicio Del Toro, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Frank Oz, Justin Theroux, Adrian Edmondson, Warwick Davis.
The Force Slumbers?
In 2015, J J Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8, etc) gave us a great Star Wars film with The Force Awakens, which reinvigorated the franchise and largely removed the stench left by the three George Lucas directed prequels. With The Force Awakens, Abrams brought back a sense of adventure and wonder to the series. And even the stand alone Rogue One film had a sense of adventure that tapped into the whole Star Wars mythology. Therefore, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, or Episode VIII, is one of the most hyped and eagerly anticipated films of the year and arrives on the screen with a huge sense of expectation. Unfortunately, it is a bit of a disappointment, and has already divided fans.
The director is Rian Johnson, who comes from a background in low budget dramas. He first came to our attention with Brick, a stylish high school set noir mystery that starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt; he followed that with the quirky comedy The Brothers Bloom, which starred Adrien Brody; and then he gave us the time-switching sci-fi adventure Looper. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is his biggest budget film to date and his most ambitious in terms of scope and size. The film is loaded with special effects and CGI imagery, with some impressive set pieces and aerial dogfights. But whereas Abrams had an intuitive understanding of the Star Wars universe and mythology, Johnson seems determined to stamp his own imprimatur on the franchise and by burning down much of what came before he signals that he is taking the series in a new direction.
While Johnson’s story ties up some of the loose ends and unanswered questions left from The Force Awakens, he also leaves us with lots more unanswered questions and loose ends. But apparently even star Mark Hamill had disagreements over the direction in which writer/director Johnson was taking his beloved Luke Skywalker character – a concern that has been shared by fans.
The Last Jedi opens with the familiar text crawl across the screen that fills in details about the story so far and sets the scene. The film takes up almost immediately after the events of the previous film, with a spectacular space battle in which cocky pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) destroys a Republic dreadnought. But the fractured rebel alliance is in disarray and engaged in a desperate battle for survival against the overwhelming forces of General Snode’s First Order stormtroopers under the command of the ambitious and power hungry General Armitage Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). While General Leia tries to lead her rebel troops to safety on the remote mining planet of Crait, Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to convince Luke Skywalker (Hamill) to return to the fray. But, like Obi-Wan Kenobi before him, Skywalker has lost faith in the ways of the Jedi. He is a reluctant warrior who just wants to be left alone on his remote rocky island sanctuary.
Elsewhere, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) also seems conflicted as he wrestles with his personal demons. The son of Hans Solo and Princess Leia and a former student of Skywalker, Ren crossed over to the dark side of the force, but he cemented his place in cinema infamy when he killed off his father Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) in the previous instalment. He and Rey also seem to share a deep telepathic bond, and they communicate their feelings about their shared and troubled history. There is a more introspective and existential nature to their silent shared communications.
Audiences will welcome the appearance of familiar characters like C-3PO and Chewbacca and Yoda. Hamill has more to do here than in The Force Awakens, but his performance tends to see him spend a lot of time staring intently and glaring, but he brings a maturity and gravitas to the character. Isaac brings a roguish quality to his gung-ho fighter pilot Poe here, and he seems to be becoming established as a nice replacement for the Solo character as the series continues. Carrie Fisher brings charm, humanity and gravitas to her role of Leia, who seems conflicted about the huge cost in lives in continuing the war of resistance against the evil Republic. There is a piquant poignancy about watching her final performance, knowing that she passed away soon after production finished. This casts a melancholy tone over the film.
Andy Serkis, a master of motion capture technology, is unrecognisable here as the evil General Snoke. Gleeson brings some touches of humour to his performance as the hapless and snivelling Hux. Driver is good and delivers an emotionally complex performance that effectively portrays Ren’s conflicted and tortured personality.
New characters include Benicio Del Toro as DJ, a sleazy underworld scoundrel who plays both sides of the struggle off against each other for his own personal gain, and Laura Dern, who plays Amilya Holdo, Leia’s vice-admiral.
There is also some wonderful, large scale production design from Rick Heinrich, especially with his creation of Snoke’s garish, cavernous blood red throne room that looks like something out of a David Lynch film. Johnson’s regular cinematographer Steve Yedlin gives us some great visual images and superb space scapes. There are lots of cute CGI created creatures, but the film does tend to overdose on these fanciful creations. There also seems to be more emphasis on humour here. There is also an unnecessary overdose of schmaltz here, no doubt due to the influence of parent company Disney.
There are certainly some impressive action sequences here and a great climactic light sabre duel between Ren and Skywalker that shows that Rian knows how to stage action. However, overall, this film seems more sombre in tone than The Force Awakens, and the pacing is uneven. But there is also a lot of padding here that stretches the material out to a bum-numbing 152 minutes, making this the longest film in the franchise to date. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a good film rather than a great one. It has already divided fans.