First, let me start by saying that I truly loved The Force Awakens. It was criticised in some circles for being something of a nostalgia trip, and whilst I recognise that the parallels that ran with A New Hope were sometimes ridiculously close, I loved its pacing, characterisation and execution.
The Last Jedi is somewhat different. It makes efforts to try new things in the Star Wars universe. Some of them work, some of them leave you scratching your head. It hits some magnificent, classic Star Wars highs, but has some dangerously prequel-esque lows.
The latest chapter in the Star Wars saga picks up directly after the end of The Force Awakens. We see Rey continue in her pursuit of a reluctant Luke Skywalker, Poe and Leia striking back against The First Order and Finn generally having little of much substance to do.
And therein lies one of the flaws of the new film. Anything involving Rey/Luke/Kylo is fantastic (and I saw that with some surprise, as I didn’t take to Adam Driver’s Run in The Force Awakens all that much – he is much improved as a character here) and Leia is fantastic when she’s on screen (which isn’t much). However, the Finn and Rose plot line with them galavanting around trying to save the day – usually by contributing some small yet meaningful act – doesn’t really work for me. Finn’s characterisation seems a little off compared to the first movie, the Rose character simply isn’t that interesting, and the entire sequence on the casino planet is just dull. Things don’t get much better in the ludicrous battle between Finn and Phasma, which manages to lack any of the emotional resonance it should have had. Instead, we’re distracted by an obscene number of background explosions, cinders flying through the air, and all-round gratuitous CGI. It’s disappointing considering how well The Force Awakens did in this regard.
However, there is much to be admired here. The exchange between Snoke – disappointingly killed off with hardly any backstory development – and Rey on the Supremacy is fantastic, and the subsequent sabre fight with Kylo and Rey fighting side by side is wonderful from both a plot and cinematographic perspective.
So too are the exchanges on Ahch-To (or ‘Bless You’, as I like to call it) are very engaging, and the appearance of Yoda I enjoyed very much. In particular, a thumbs up to the decision to use a puppet instead of the awful prequel CGI Yoda that pirouetted across our screens.
There’s plenty of good Star Wars in here, but plenty to make it different. Right when we expect our heroes to stage a miraculous recovery and clinch victory from the jaws of defeat, the fall flat on their faces. I suppose that’s quite common in the second instalment in the trilogy, but nonetheless it felt quite fresh in the Star Wars setting.
Rey’s character development felt comprehensive and necessary too. Her brief duel with Luke on Ahch-To in particular feels like it is the pivotal moment of the entire trilogy, for her character, Luke and the overall story arc. Daisy Ridley is eminently watchable and engaging on screen.
Mark Hamill too rocks an excellent performance, with a darker, more troubled Luke Skywalker. Despite his embittered alcoholic demeanour, he lets moments of the original trilogy Luke shine through just enough to make his transformation believable. I particularly enjoyed his stand-off with Kylo on Crait, where his acceptance of what was necessary echoed the original encounter between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader.
There were also a few “Really, though?” moments. Particularly the handy and sudden development of hyperspace tracking rendering the Resistance pretty much useless as a guerrilla force. The fact that Haldo waited until pretty much the entire Resistance had been massacred before disabling the Supremacy as well seemed like it was only done to heighten the stakes of the final encounter on Crait (which is excellent, it should be noted). Finally, Poe’s entire plot line in the film seems a little at odds with the last movie. Still the plucky hero, it’s very quickly established here that he’s extremely reckless – which seems to be his main trait in this film.
My only other criticism would be the pacing in the opening hour. It felt a little bit disjointed, and a little aimless for a while. That didn’t take too long to clear up and get moving, and what we’re left with is a film that feels two and a half hours, but you don’t ever quite feel the need to check your watch.
By contrast, I felt The Force Awakens flew by.
I’m curious to see what the final chapter brings. How will they deal with the tragic death of Carrie Fisher, when Leia’s character plot line is clearly unresolved? Will we find out more about Snoke? Is what Kylo told her about her parentage the truth? There’s plenty more to see here, and I look forward to seeing JJ Abrams’ take in the final movie.
The Last Jedi proves there’s plenty of life left in the Star Wars universe without the need to homage the original trilogy constantly. It stands as a very strong Star Wars film in its own right – lightyears ahead of the prequel trilogy – but is let down by some of its handling of characters like Finn, a little over-exuberance with those CGI horses, and some pacing/plot holes that didn’t sit quite right with me.
That said, I cannot wait for the next instalment and to find out what happens next with Rey. I’m also curious to see where they go with Poe, as it happens. Finn/Rose? Not so much. I do hope they find a nice way to tie off Finn’s character, but there’s a real risk of it falling into mediocrity in the overall Star Wars lore – and they don’t have a huge amount of screen time left to fix that.
Onwards and upwards.