For those who have been living under a rock for the last forty years, Star Wars is one of the most successful and popular science-fiction media franchises of all time and, perhaps, one of the most beloved trilogies ever crafted. In 1999, series creator George Lucas began his Prequel Trilogy which, thanks to their abundance of CGI, questionable acting, and much-maligned narrative choices, left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, they immediately set to work in reinvigorating the franchise by beginning not just a new trilogy of movies, but also an entirely new series of spin-offs and multi-media merchandise. Excitement was high for Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015), which saw the return of fan favourite characters Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo/Peter Mayhew), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). For me, The Force Awakens had just as many positives as it had flaws; it had some great characterisation and action and was way more exciting and interesting than any of Lucas’ prequel movies. However it suffered from leaning maybe a bit too hard on nostalgia by mirroring very closely the plot of Star Wars: Episode VI: A New Hope (Lucas, 1977). This might have been a thematic choice but I feel that the massive time jump over the new renaissance of the revived Galactic Republic and Jedi Order in favour of a inexplicably overpowered Empire proxy, the First Order, and the renewed destruction of the Jedi.
Anyway, The Last Jedi picks up immediately after the end of The Force Awakens; the traditional opening crawl is quite sparse as a result but, basically, the First Order apparently now reigns supreme and chaos has swept across the galaxy despite the destruction of their Starkiller base. Relentlessly pursued by the First Order’s fleet, the remnants of the Republic (now reverting to their original branding as Rebels), led by General Leia Organa, organises an evacuation of their base but they end up running low on fuel and being constantly bombarded by the slower First Order ships. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found former Jedi Master Luke Skywalker living in isolation on a hidden planet. Swamped by her own fears and uncertainties, she attempts to convince him to rejoin the Rebellion and to train her as a Jedi. Luke, however, is a broken shell of a man, haunted by his failure to keep Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) from succumbing to the dark machinations of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).
After Leia is injured from the First Order’s attack, hot-headed Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), former Stormtrooper turned Rebel hero Finn (John Boyega), and newcomer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) hatch a plan to locate a master hacker and sneak onto Snoke’s ship to disable their systems and allow the survivors can escape to safety. These three storylines weave in and out with the continued development of Kylo Ren, who continues to struggle with his legacy, his actions from The Force Awakens, and his attempts to tempt Rey to join his cause.
If The Force Awakens drew heavily from A New Hope, The Last Jedi is heavily influenced by Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980) primarily in its juggling of multiple storylines happening concurrently and in topping the planet-destroying super weapon of their previous film with a more personal, intense storyline. Like the asteroid field chase from Empire, the Rebels end up in the slowest chase in history when they manage to stay just out of range of the First Order’s barrage, Rey’s training is as brief and vague as Luke’s, Finn and Rose are forced to turn to a rogue for assistance, and the Rebels end up in a desperate battle against Imperial walkers. There are also various obvious call backs to Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Marquand, 1983); Snoke attempts to turn Rey similar to how the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) tried to turn Luke, the Rebel forces get absolutely obliterated by the First Order similar to the one-sided Endor battle, and there’s some cute new critters used thankfully far more sparingly than the Ewoks to help boost sales of tie-in merchandise. The Last Jedi felt like a massive course correction and righted a lot of the wrongs I took away from The Force Awakens; I didn’t like that Snoke was a thing, I felt that it would be far more interesting and different to see Ren and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) at odds but in command of the First Order rather than repeating the tired “evil old wizard in command of the galaxy/pulling the strings” storyline we’ve seen for six previous Star Wars movies. As a result, I was happy to see Kylo kill Snoke and crown himself the new Supreme Leader of the First Order but, as a result, Snoke died before we ever learned anything about who he was or where he came from.
Also, while we get to see Poe develop from a trigger-happy, impulsive pilot to a competent leader, Finn’s side plot with Rose ended up just being a convoluted and largely insignificant addition that existed just to give him something to do, and his showdown with Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) was a similarly minor moment in the grand scheme of the narrative. Phasma, with her chrome-plated look (and armour that actually reflects lasers), had the potential to be a stand out character but, in this sea of new characters and overlapping plot points, is basically a nothing when she really could have been Ren and Hux’s primary enforcer. Finn’s best moment comes when he resolves to sacrifice himself to save the Rebels from being blasted by the First Order’s “Death Star cannon” but even this is stolen away from him when Rose randomly jumps in to save him and, effectively, spell the destruction of the remnants of the Republic. As we all know, Carrie Fisher tragically passed away during the production of this movie; as a result, it seemed as though her character would receive a dramatic send off, possibly in a way of adding to Ren’s impressive resume of asshole actions. Instead, she manages to use the Force to survive being blown into space and, although she spends a great deal of time injured, returns to active duty to comfort Rey by the finale. In the meantime, her duties are taken over by Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) who, for no other reason other than manufacturing tension, keeps vital information away from what remains of the Rebellion.
Turning to Luke, I felt this was a great performance by Hamill, who really showed the depth of his acting ability here. While I am annoyed at not getting to see Luke build and lead a new Jedi Order, and I find it hard to believe that he has become a mythical figure when he hasn’t really been away from the public eye for that long, it was great to see him as a broken old man who has isolated himself to die and end the Jedi’s place in the galaxy. Rey helps to nudge Luke back into action not only through her Force proficiency (revealed to be a by-product of her lineage, another plot thread just dumped on the floor), but also reminding him that he is, for many, the personification of hope and the Rebellion in the galaxy. After a few interactions with Kylo Ren through the Force, Rey decides to leave behind her Jedi training and attempt to turn Ren back to the good side and fill the role that Luke is refusing. Although Ren dramatically kills his master and teams up with Rey to fight Snoke’s praetorian guards, they ultimately reject each other’s arguments for turning away from their chosen paths. After a conversation with the Force ghost of Yoda (Frank Oz), who is lovingly realised as a CGI-enhanced puppet, Luke comes to realise that he has to face up to the (extremely uncharacteristic) mistakes he made with Kylo. After an initial fake-out, where it seems Luke is taking a page out of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (Alec Guiness) book by giving his life to buy his allies time and teach Kylo a lesson in true power, it actually transpires that he was smart enough to project himself into that climactic battle, a feat which takes the last of his energy as he peacefully fades to the Force.
Was The Last Jedi perfect? No, not really. It was probably about as good and bad as The Force Awakens, which basically means that, as much as I enjoyed the film, I still prefer Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Edwards, 2016). Rogue One utilises nostalgia in a far more natural way as, being set before A New Hope, it makes sense that it’s using the traditional seventies aesthetic. This Sequel Trilogy, however, seem to be a mish-mash of nostalgia, tried-and-true Star Wars narratives, and an attempt to establish a new generation of characters. With the passing of Luke and the fate of Leia up in the air due to Carrie Fisher’s death, the central Star Wars narrative as a Skywalker tale is effectively over, with only Kylo Ren carrying that story forward. All unanswered questions from The Force Awakens are either waved away or dropped entirely; what could have been an interesting tale of a benevolent Galactic Republic being whittled away by the remnants of the Empire under the command of Kylo and Hux (or Grand Admiral Thrawn) is returned to the status quo of the rag-tag Rebellion fighting an oppressive Empire, and the promise of a rebuilding of the Jedi is side-stepped in favour of a new last of the Jedi in Rey. Having said all that, The Last Jedi is still a great film; it’s big on action, humour, and heart but there are some questionable decisions that, for me, keep it from being better than, say, The Empire Strikes Back. Obviously, nostalgia plays a lot into that and there are some parts of Empire that aren’t perfect but, in the end, I can’t get over some of the biggest plot points, such Rey’s parentage and Snoke’s origins, being given no resolution. It’ll be interesting to see where the narrative goes for Star Wars: Episode IX given how The Last Jedi concludes and that I get the sense that Disney are kind of making up each film as they go along.
Could Be Better
Recommended: Sure; Star Wars and action/sci-fi fans will love this movie, I’m sure, and general audiences should be enthralled by the special effects.
Best moment: There were two for me; Kylo and Rey’s team up against the praetorian guards and Luke’s penultimate battle with Kylo.
Worst moment: The film dramatically slows down after the opening action scene, the awkward and frustrating personality of Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo stands out, but definitely the entire side plot involving Finn and Rose, which ultimately ended up adding nothing to the larger narrative.