“This is not going to go the way you think,” Luke Skywalker warns Rey on the rain-swept island of Ahch-To. As it turns out, that line isn’t just a tantalising soundbite for the trailers, but a full-blown mission statement for Rian Johnson’s Star Wars sequel.
Following The Force Awakens, a movie that delighted with plenty of fan service but all too often felt like a blow-by-blow remake of A New Hope, The Last Jedi pushes the saga into a deeper, darker and richer territory than ever before. Make no mistake: The Last Jedi delivers answers to many of the Big Questions on fans lips; but they come wrapped in a satisfying narrative filled with hidden twists, unpredictable character arcs and gut-wrenching beats that will hit you like a bolt out of the blue.
If Johnson does pinch one thing out of The Empire Strikes Back playbook, though, it’s his decision to split the core cast for much of the movie. Gung-ho fly-boy Poe Dameron leads a revolt against cautious military chief Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dean), the Reisistance’s defacto leader after General Leia is incapacitated. Finn (John Boyega) teams-up with wide-eyed maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) on a mission to infiltrate a First Order ship. And on the dark side, Supreme Leader Snoke pits Kylo Ren and General Hux against each other in a bid for his favour. Meanwhile, back on Ahch-To, Rey seeks out awol Jedi Master Luke in the hope of luring him back into the fight.
Handing every major player their own mission means everybody has got more to do this time out. Oscar Isaacs, Domhnall Gleeson and Andy Serkis, in particular, register far stronger here – even if their characters are still frustratingly one-note – while Carrie Fisher’s scenes take on an added poignancy after her untimely death last year.
Of course, the biggest beneficiary of this greater character focus is a certain beardy bloke last seen standing on a picturesque cliff edge in the North Sea. Needless to say, Mark Hamill is handed a meatier part this time out and doesn’t disappoint, layering Luke with greater depth and nuance than ever before to perfectly capture how a hopeful farm boy could become such an embittered and regretful figure.
That being said, The Last Jedi belongs to the new generation and the rich, complex bond between Daisy Ridely’s scavenger and Adam Driver’s reckless apprentice. Both excel once again as the connection that binds them develops in powerful, thought-provoking ways and the scenes of them engaging in a battle of wills are the movie’s most shocking and engrossing.
For all his grandly conceived character arc and plot twists, though, Johnson isn’t adverse to letting his giddy, geeky side show. The Last Jedi delivers everything you could hope for from a Star Wars movie – daring dogfights, ferocious lightsaber duels, exotic creatures and plenty of offbeat comedy. Even a poignant reunion between two pivotal characters opens with a gag about hairstyles.
Yet Johnson is also unafraid to throw new elements into the saga’s established visual palette. The rickety rust-bucket set designs remain just as charming, but they’re infused with operatic tracking shots, scenes where real-world sounds have been ripped out leaving only John Williams’ evocative score, and a finger-snapping sequence so trippy you’ll think you’ve stumbled into a completely different movie.
It doesn’t all work. The film is overlong and feels overstretched in the middle section, while a detour to the Cantina-aping Canto Bight is entirely superfluous to the plot – but when it hits its stride, The Last Jedi is a bold, ballsy, inventively challenging movie that defies expectations and culminates in a jaw-dropping finale that effectively leaves J. J. Abrams with a clean state from which to create the final episode of this new trilogy. Over to you, J. J.
Runtime: 152 mins (approx.)
Director/Screenwriter: Rian Johnson
Stars: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher