While the following review is as spoiler free as possible, some story elements of ‘The Last Jedi’ are included, as are references to ‘The Force Awakens’.
After the events of The Force Awakens, the Resistance is on the run, pursued with merciless intent by the First Order and unable to escape their tracking systems. In a last ditch attempt to save the waning Resistance fleet, Finn (John Boyega), Rose (Kellie Marie Tran) and BB-8 set off in search of a hacker who can disable the First Order’s hyperspace tracking device. All the while, far across the galaxy, Rey (Daisy Ridley) looks to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for guidance and teaching as her force powers become unleashed, preparing her to either recruit Luke in the fight against the First Order or confront Kylo Ren on her own.
The Last Jedi, as with any new Star Wars film, arrives with inescapable hype and a weight of expectation known by few (if any) other movies. As with The Force Awakens, it may fare better upon reassessment and with the benefit of some time passed. But, as for first impressions, The Last Jedi is quite a mixed bag.
For starters, the film is long. Way too long, in fact. When the final act is upon us with yet another battle and there still looks to be a good 30 or 40 minutes left in the tank, you might well be forgiven for checking the time. While ‘too much Star Wars’ is never a problem anyone thought they would ever have, in this instance a bit of judicious editing would do the world of good.
The trouble is mostly rooted in the first half, where we get an opening battle and then a protracted adventure for Finn, Rose and BB-8 travelling to Canto Bight to locate the hacker. Separation anxiety is clearly a problem for writer-director Rian Johnson as it appears he does not know how to handle Finn when removed from Rey. By necessity, their story arcs are on a different trajectory, and while Rey drives the main story here, Finn is left to go adventuring with Rey-substitute, Rose. Which is a shame, because as a character, Rose is one of the best new arrivals. Tran is excellent and there is an interesting backstory into which the expanding universe will no doubt delve.
But the adventure to Canto Bight takes too long, feeling like a needlessly expanded sub plot. This might be because the main story at this point in the movie is simply the resistance trying to keep out of range of the First Order before they run out of fuel. Which leads us to question, is that really exciting enough to carry ninety-odd minutes of the movie? The answer, sadly, is no, as the rag tag bunch of ships on the run resembles a Battlestar Galactica plot more than anything else.
There are still many good points to The Last Jedi though. Despite holding on to established Star Wars plot staples, The Last Jedi does deliver twists. Lessons were learned, perhaps from The Force Awakens‘ second half; this time out, just when you think they are taking a well-trodden path, Jedi subverts it.
The other key ingredient Last Jedi gets right is the enjoyable action sequences. From the opening dogfight and bombing run, to an exciting encounter with the red armoured Praetorian Guards, it all gets the adrenaline going. There are AT-ATs and X Wings aplenty.
The chance to see Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker again gives us everything we wanted from it, and Last Jedi delights in that respect. Luke is older, wiser and more curmudgeonly, and fans will enjoy seeing Skywalker in cantankerous Jedi Master mode. As he behaves similarly toward Rey as Yoda did toward him.
Daisy Ridley and John Boyega inhabit Rey and Finn in an almost iconic manner already, and are both infinitely watchable. Of the old guard, Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Princess/General Leia is all the more poignant for the knowledge we will never see another. Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) has fun chewing the scenery again, and, of course, BB-8 remains awesome.
The recurring disappointment of this new round of characters seems to be Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), who is once again underused here. As she pops up for another five-minute cameo, it might be argued she is the Boba Fett of the new series – memorably designed, so as to be indelible in the minds of the fans, yet not given a lot to do.
The strange one thing good/one thing bad aspect of The Last Jedi is epitomised in the creature design. The practical aliens of the Star Wars universe are one of the most beloved aspects of the original trilogy; The Last Jedi incorporates a mixture of practical and CG effects, to predictably mixed results. The caretaker lizard nuns on Skywalker’s Ahch-To island of solitude are marvellously realised, whereas the rotund leprechaun-esque gamblers on Canto Bight are less impressive. The much-discussed Porgs are inoffensive, while the Fathiers (Space Horses) look great when stable, yet dodgily computerised when on the move.
There is a lot of pointed speech about dispensing with the old and destroying the past, and The Last Jedi definitively draws a line under the legacy of the original trilogy. Embarking on brand new stories can only be a good thing, and by coming into its own Jedi addresses the criticisms of The Force Awakens and those who thought that film’s second half was not original enough. And yet, even with these good intentions, The Last Jedi is simply not as fun as The Force Awakens, which, for all its faults, did at least feel like a classic Star Wars movie.
In terms of the canon, The Last Jedi is certainly better than the prequels, but not as decisively so as The Force Awakens. In terms of the original trilogy, Last Jedi does not register. It’s a solid Star Wars movie, and one that is well worth seeing, but it’s just not the truly great new Star Wars movie we deserve.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆