TL;DR
  • Comparable to Empire Strikes Back, but very different compared to similarities between A New Hope and The Force Awakens
  • All parts of plot substantial and interesting parts of the overall story
  • Flicking back and forth between storylines emphasises the film’s long runtime
  • Some exciting plot points and questions posed in the last film, are either thrown away or given underwhelming answers
  • There are several surprises – you really won’t expect some things that happen
  • Plenty of references to older films to please the fans
  • Lots of comedy to enjoy that adds to the movie’s personality – but perhaps it goes just a bit too far?
  • New planets are imaginative and a joy to explore – the final planet is particularly gorgeous
  • Incredible fight and battle scenes – this is Star Wars action looking better than ever
  • Characters both new and old are important to the story and all excellent

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When it was announced that Disney would be buying Star Wars and adding more films to the saga, there was widespread fear and moaning on the internet, stating that the prequels alone proved that some things should be left alone. However, Disney found our lack of faith disturbing and, with the enormous success of The Force Awakens (not to mention spin-off Rogue One), our doubts were suitably crushed in a manner that would make Darth Vader proud. But what now? Can lightning strike twice and can Rian Johnson pull off something as wonderful as J.J. Abrams? The answer fortunately is a resounding yes.

After the traditional title crawl, we see the story split in two parts. On one side we have expert, but cocky Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) along with trusty droid BB-8 helping the Resistance escape their planet before the evil First Order, led by General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), destroys them. But they’re not out of trouble yet with the First Order hot on their heels. So while Poe deals with tensions on board the Resistance ship with Holdo (Laura Dern) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) journeys with new friend Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to find an expert codebreaker to help them out. Meanwhile on the other side we pick up where we left off at the end of The Force Awakens, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) handing that famous lightsaber back to Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Reluctant to teach Rey about the Force and preferring for the Jedi to end, Rey perseveres learning much and discovering untold secrets that change everything…

Since coming out in 2015, The Force Awakens has often been compared to original film A New Hope (1977), where there are a number of striking similarities. Therefore it’s long been assumed that The Last Jedi would continue along a similar vein, being similar and very alike to sequel The Empire Strikes Back (1980). However, whilst there are certainly similar aspects that you can compare, The Last Jedi is a very different beast to The Empire Strikes Back. Now we know the characters, the plot is split in 3 parts (one with Rey and Luke concerning Jedi training, one with Finn and Rose, and one with Poe and Leia escaping the First Order), much like Empire was split in two parts (one with Luke and Yoda concerning Jedi training, and one with Han and Leia escaping the Empire). Unlike with some films, neither one of these storylines feels like a “side-quest,” an unimportant story to fill time and use characters, ultimately coming across as slightly boring (I’m looking at you, Gandalf in The Hobbit…). Instead they all feel like substantial parts of the film, different enough to keep the story fresh and engaging, never stale, and all coming together perfectly at the end.

The only minor issue with this flicking back and forth between different storylines is that it can make the film seem long. In fact it’s actually a very long film anyway, coming to a hefty 2 hours 30 minutes runtime. Whilst the pace never feels slow or boring, its skipping from one part of the plot to your next does tend to make you realise the long runtime – it’s quite a while to be sitting down… But when it’s so enjoyable and you’re utterly transported to a galaxy far, far away it’s hard to really care. On top of this, without giving away any spoilers, not a great deal has really changed. Whereas sequels should be able to take the overarching plot a great deal further than the first film took us, not much is different and it feels as though some significant plot point is lacking. Additionally there were some potentially big, hugely exciting questions posed in the preceding film. Without giving any spoilers, all I can say is that some questions are wasted, some great potential just being thrown away, almost as if this film doesn’t want to be included in the overarching narrative.

And unfortunately that’s not all that’s lacking. It seems like ever since The Avengers came out and became a huge success, every blockbuster now insists on including so many comic moments it becomes a quasi-comedy. Perhaps this is just Disney, or maybe it’s just the general trend of Hollywood blockbusters these days. On one hand, the comedy in The Last Jedi is very funny and it really adds a fun characteristic to the movie’s personality, making it even more of a joy. On the other hand, however, it verges on overstaying its welcome, resulting in much criticism that Star Wars has “changed too much” and is just appealing to the “lowest common denominator.” I don’t necessarily agree with this, but it does feel that it does occasionally go a gag too far.

Still, we do get to explore more planets and that’s what we love with these films, right? The world of Star Wars that Lucas created is a big one with unlimited potential and part of the original joy was seeing things we’d never seem before. With CGI as incredible as it is these days this challenge is becoming harder and harder, yet the creativity of Star Wars‘ galaxy still taps into our imagination – It’s safe to say that Las Vegas will soon see a Star Wars-y element to it. Luke’s planet is also a lot more fleshed out and not as barren or boring as it could have been. After all, who doesn’t want to run away to an island populated by those adorable Porgs?! But more than this, the final planet we find ourselves on is stunning. A thin layer of what looks like snow hiding a mass of deep red salt that, when disturbed, goes flying into the air, a gorgeous rich burgundy cloud of dust floating around, contrasting with the pure white ground – an incredible backdrop for a thrilling climactic battle.

Draw all the comparisons to Hoth you want (made particularly obvious by a character tasting the snow-like layer on the ground and proclaiming that “its’s salt.” i.e. It looks like Hoth but it’s not Hoth…), but this is the sort of look we really need and want from the Star Wars sequel trilogy. The more-advanced CGI used in the prequel trilogy made that galaxy look like a massively different one than in the original trilogy, as opposed to just an older one. What the sequel trilogy currently seems to excel at (and The Last Jedi is no exception) is faithfully continuing the look and feel of the original trilogy whilst subtly updating it so it feels more authentic. It’s a joy to see that, along with the references to the originals and to revel in the nostalgia; yet the message it also gives is a good one – especially for a beloved franchise transforming to suit the modern day (for better or worse); namely it’s fine to look back fondly and smile, but it’s important to be able to move on and look to the future…

Still, one aspect the newer films certainly succeed at more than the older ones is the action scenes. Take any space battle or lightsaber fight you want from this film; they’re all thrilling, edge-of-your-seat stuff, giving you a big enough adrenaline rush to boost you into hyperspace. While the majority of us admittedly have an unfaltering love for the originals, some of the action has aged (the fight between Obi-Wan and Vader in Episode IV in particular). The Last Jedi on the other hand shows us Star Wars action at its finest; quick, fun, kinetic, explosive, acrobatic. It’s all wonderfully varied, excellently choreographed, seamlessly performed and beautifully scored, with the returning John Williams remaining the biggest behind-the-scenes hero of the Star Wars films. Williams gives us yet another gorgeous soundtrack to enjoy with or without the film to accompany it (particularly the track where he reprises the tune from the Tie Fighter Attack in Episode IV), really adding to the film’s personality and continuing to bridge the gap between all the films.

Of course the biggest bridge between trilogies is in the characters and, like in The Force Awakens, we have a pleasant mix of classic and new characters, a combination that can’t fail to please. The original characters are still highlights, with many an audience incapable of giving a cheer when they see Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2… and yes, even C-3PO. They don’t appear just as cameos though; as with Han in The Force Awakensthese characters help bridge the gap between films and are crowd pleasers (along with all the nostalgic references and appearances), but more than that they are genuinely included within the story as substantial roles. This isn’t just a brand new trilogy, but the use of these characters show it’s an expansion of the Star Wars saga, emphasising how this is one continuous story. One issue many people have voiced though, and I partly agree, is we see a slightly different Luke Skywalker here than before. Still, we have to remember there’s been a long gap since we saw him last and lots has happened to understandably change his character. I don’t see this as a huge problem – it’s important for characters to change and progress – but maybe too much change is a bad thing for some… Their inclusion of late Carrie Fisher’s General Leia was done very well (apart from one particular strange scene in space…) and often felt like a fitting tribute to everyone’s favourite intergalactic princess.

Among returning classics however, the new characters who we met in the last film return and can stand proudly among old favourites. Rey and Finn come back, each leading their own storylines confidently, both developing their characters; Ridley going from naïve to more confident, and Boyega as always being a consistent to joy to watch. Gleeson’s Hux get given more time on-screen to shine and uses that time well, establishing his character much more than The Force Awakens allowed him to. Driver as Kylo Ren too goes deeper and brings out the conflicted nature of his character effortlessly, showing us the real danger is how we can never trust him or quite know what he’s going to do. Serkis gives us what could have been a potentially memorable Star Wars antagonist, evoking Palpatine without copying him, but isn’t quite given the chance to do so (though this does allow for a particular shock midway through the film). Newcomers Benicio Del Toro, Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran all put their own unique touch on the franchise, Tran’s Rose in particular lending a personal, more human touch that gives us pause to think and reflect on our own world, an element that is surprising but not unwelcome in these films. The best new character change however is Isaac’s Poe Dameron. A stand-out character from Episode VII that people loved and that spawned a comic book series, Poe is given much more screen-time, making the film all the better for it, his electric energy permeating his scenes. Alongside him, and at times Finn and Rose, is also our favourite BB droid, BB-8, who, while not used as frequently as The Force Awakens, still steals the scenes he’s in – though he may have met his match with the adorable Porgs.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has so far proved to have been perhaps the most divisive entry in the franchise to date. This, however, came as a huge surprise to me as I came out of the cinema with a huge smile on my face, humming the music and thinking about how long the next two years will be until we see Episode IX. Yes, there are flaws, but when this film does something good, it’s fantastic. While it may suffer from a long run-time, thrown-away plot-points and just about edges on a bit too much comedy, this is an excellent and incredibly enjoyable chapter of the biggest sci-fi saga out there. Big, bold and exciting with brilliant characters, shocking story developments and beautiful action scenes, this is the Star Wars film we needed. Forget the haters, the force is strong with this film, one of the greatest Star Wars films yet.

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