The Last Jedi is worth your time. Not just as a good Star Wars film, but as a fun, beautifully made adventure that sets the stage for the series to come. It has flaws, but the sum of the many parts is worth the whole experience.
Our story picks up a few minutes following the end of The Force Awakens. Quite literally.
Following the destruction of Starkiller Base, The Resistance is now in full retreat as the First Order under Supreme Leader Snoke seek revenge.
As the Resistance begin their escape, we progress through four storylines. We continue Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) arc as he attempts to prove to himself and his master that he is as “dark” as he desperately wants to be. Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) gets some much needed focus as he fights under the command of General Leia (Carrie Fisher), and gains some much needed leadership experience.
Finn (John Boyega) moves further away from the structure and callousness of The First Order as his own plotline provides some human background for the major conflict alongside the introduction of Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). Finally, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and begins to understand the fall of the Jedi and why Luke has abandoned the Galaxy, as well as her own place in it.
These all feel like natural following on points from the end of Force Awakens. What makes this movie so interesting is that the journey from there onwards is familiar, yet fresh at the same time.
Fundamentally, this is still a star Wars movie.
It’s a film showing a plucky band of rebels facing impossible odds. There are (really very good) fight sequences. There are even some WW2 inspired dogfighting scenes that pay homage to the original films. There are discussions of the force and what that means to the wider universe. A young hopeful seeks the wisdom of a Master Jedi. There’s X-Wings and lightsabers and Jedi and Sith.
We get some compelling performances. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver have some wonderfully complex performances that really highlight the strength of their characters within the story. Mark Hamill is utterly spellbinding reprising the role of Luke. Carrie Fisher and Oscar Isaac have an ongoing relationship that was fascinating to watch as it develops so naturally. Finally, Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega provide a very human story as they try and find their place in a Resistance full of literal heroes.
What is so different for this story is what this narrative is actively trying to be about. I’d put this down to the focus on the individual character arcs, and how these feed into the larger thematic shift in the story. While it’s definitely still Star Wars movie, there’s a clear attempt to show why these new movies deserve to exist beyond simply regurgitating the original trilogy.
Instead, we have a fertile ground ploughed for the new generation, and any films beyond.
This is a film engaging with the mythology of Star Wars and providing fascinating answers to questions that have not yet been explored in the films. What is key here is that the Characters are informed by their actions. The one or two scenes which have exposition delivered via straight dialogue rather than as part of the action stand out obviously, and feel like they belong in the prequel trilogy.
In this film, every character is progressing along an arc that feels relevant to the wider plot, while earning their own ending. And in terms of endings, the Last Jedi is coming down with them. Every character gets to resolve their plot in a meaningful way, while the film as a whole builds to an incredible resolution.
There are structural problems. It can’t be ignored. The film is slightly long in the tooth, as four separate storylines weave their way through the run time. It does affect the pacing and enjoyment of the film as a whole if you don’t buy into any one part.
However, to rush any of these would be to deprive the film overall. What matters to the story is the payoff to the individual arcs, and how they all support each other. While I would argue that there isn’t quite enough support for Finn and Rose in their narrative to justify how much time it’s given, the themes behind that story are interesting enough to hold their own. In fact, the payoff for that storyline is my favourite line of the film, schmaltz be damned.
As it is, I can also see a lot of people being frustrated by the plot of this film. Specifically following The Force Awakens.
I blame JJ Abrams. JJ Abrams and his mystery boxes. Who is Snoke? Who are Rey’s family? Where is Luke?
The Force Awakens was a perfectly fine film that reintroduced the audience to the Star Wars Universe. Mostly by retelling the story of Star Wars and reaffirming the tone.
Problematically, the film couldn’t break too much new ground as a result. As such,The Force Awakens only left the audience questioning. To wonder what had happened in the last thirty years of this universe. The Last Jedi weaves these questions and their answers into the narrative deftly, but I suspect those answers won’t satisfy everyone.
Regardless of pacing and audience related plot problems though, I really did like this film. It is a blockbuster actively trying to be about something as we watch these characters grow.
And as we watch them, we are treated to some gorgeous cinematography. Everything about the final half hour especially is an incredible balancing act of beautiful design and clever plotting.
In the rest of the film as well, there’s a couple of scenes where silence is used to spellbinding effect, one of which left me grinning like a fool and the other left me gaping like a fish, literally stunned.
More than anything else though, this movie is designed to look to the future. With the Disney Machine behind them, we can expect many more Star Wars films beyond this one. If they try as hard to be as meaningful as this one? I’ll keep watching.