Should I Watch..? 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
What's the big deal?
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (also known as Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi) is an epic sci-fi adventure film released in 2017 and is the eighth instalment of the Star Wars franchise. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the film is the second in the sequel trilogy and follows The Force Awakens. Returning cast members include Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher in her final screen appearance, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Andy Serkis while newcomers Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro and Kelly Marie Tran join the cast. The film follows force-sensitive Rey as she tries to persuade Luke Skywalker to join the Resistance against the First Order, which is targeting the dwindling Resistance forces with no mercy shown. The film was a smash at the box office with global earnings in excess of $1.33 billion and was also a hit with critics with some claiming the film was the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. It will, of course, be followed by another film - Episode IX - due for release in December 2019.
What's it about?
In the aftermath of the Resistance victory at Starkiller Base, the First Order begins pursuing the remaining Resistance fleet. After emerging from hyperspace, General Leia Organa is astonished to find that the First Order fleet - led by General Hux and her son Kylo Ren - have somehow tracked them through hyperspace and after a costly battle, is critically injured. As Vice Admiral Holdo takes command, X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron disapproves of her strategy and sends Finn and maintenance worker Rose Tico on a dangerous mission which might turn the tide in their favour.
Meanwhile, on the remote oceanic world of Ahch-To, former Jedi master Luke Skywalker has been tracked down by Rey, a Force-sensitive member of the Resistance, in the hope that he will join them. But Luke is resolute in his determination to keep out of the conflict although Rey's natural aptitude alarms and worries him. With the First Order bearing down on the remains of the Resistance, can Skywalker save the day one last time or will it fall to another to take his place?
Luke Skywalker / Dobbu Scay (voice)
General Leia Organa
Supreme Leader Snoke *
Kelly Marie Trans
Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo
Rian Johnson *
Release Date (UK)
14th December, 2017
Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing
What's to like?
Given the rabid expectation surrounding this film (and all Star Wars releases, it seems), you'd be forgiven for thinking that director Johnson (who isn't the most experienced guy to helm such a project) would cock things up. Thankfully, he hasn't - the film is a more cerebral outing than anything we've seen so far, full of mystery and intrigue instead of endless space battles and CG creatures. Of course, the film still has plenty of those but the narrative here is more important than sparking up a light-saber. The characters are given centre stage, much like they were in Empire Strikes Back, and the film feels deeper and more meaningful as a result.
Despite the obvious difference in experience, the cast all perform well. Veterans like Hamill and Fisher are ably supported by the likes of Ridley and Boyega but for me, the star is Driver as Kylo Ren. He has become a proper villain in this film, ditching his silly helmet and twisting into a very dark character indeed. I also enjoyed Tran's appearance as the spunky Rose, a character full of gumption and grip despite her small stature. Naturally, the film wouldn't be a Star Wars film if it didn't take us to a bunch of new planets we haven't seen before and Johnson has created an even more believable setting, aided by some breath-taking visuals and powerful action scenes. There aren't many in The Last Jedi but it really is a question of quality over quantity.
- Among the many people appearing in a cameo are Billie Lourd (Fisher's daughter), Adrian Edmundson, Justin Theroux, Lily Cole, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Warwick Davis, Gary Barlow, Princes William & Harry and Tom Hardy - although his scene was cut.
- Hamill asked Johnson to play a CG character so he appears as Dobbu Scay, named after the film's editor Bob Ducsay. Dobbu is the creature who mistakes BB-8 for a slot machine at the casino.
- When shooting in Ireland, Ridley took her dad along to the set and introduced him to Hamill. He apparently asked Hamill which character he played and Ridley still isn't sure if he was joking or not!
- This is the first film not to feature Kenny Baker as R2-D2, Baker having passed the role onto Jimmy Vee after his death in 2016. This leaves Anthony Daniels as the only actor to appear in all eight feature films.
What's not to like?
Much like The Force Awakens, the film's problems only really hit after I'd sat down and given it some thought. While The Last Jedi isn't a straight-forward remake of A New Hope like its predecessor, the film does feel somewhat clinical and cold. It doesn't involve you as much as previous films - remember feeling like you were flying into the trench on the surface of the Death Star or speeding through the deserts of Tattooine as a pod racer? For all of the film's crisp, high-definition visuals, there is a sense of detachment and I didn't really care that much for them.
While the narrative offers plenty of twists and turns (which is quite unusual for a Star Wars film), there is also a lot that doesn't make sense. Take the pursuit of Resistance ships by the First Order - why can they not speed up to catch them and why can they shoot at tiny escape pods but not much larger support ships? The character motivations felt muddled and confused - I didn't recognise the character of Skywalker at all, who feels like he's being an ass for the sake of it. I enjoyed the spectacle of the film but considering how much effort Johnson puts into making the film more character driven, I didn't feel like that had paid off. It's too talky and lacking in original ideas, not to mention the aspects true fans expect to see - elaborate light-saber duels, thrilling space battles and cataclysmic explosions. I felt somewhat short-changed.
Should I watch it?
The Last Jedi is a curious film, certainly different enough from the rest of the series to stand out. It turns its back on what fans wanted to see and instead gives us a deeper and more philosophical piece about the futility of war, the nature of destiny and the timeless good-vs-evil conflict. With exceptional visual elements and interesting new characters (or improved ones), this could have been a nailed on classic but there's too much going on, no real conclusion and the odd sensation that this was a Star Wars film made by someone who doesn't like Star Wars.
Great For: fans of the saga (who, frankly, will watch it anyway), philosophers, merchandise sellers
Not So Great For: long-term fans of the series, action lovers, Irish viewers
What else should I watch?
Annoyingly, neither this or The Force Awakens has convinced me that the sequel trilogy was an endeavour worth pursuing. Granted, very little Star Wars since Return Of The Jedi is worthy of standing up to the original trilogy but these new films seem to be a triumph of style over substance. What I did enjoy was the revivalist spin-off Rogue One which fills in some of the gaps between Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope. Recreating the look of the original trilogy, the film tells a gripping, original and ultimately tragic tale about those pesky Rebels getting their hands on the plans to the Death Star.
Anyone who can't stand all this talk about a galaxy far, far away have always been able to turn to the more old-school sci-fi of Star Trek which places a greater emphasis on exploration of the human condition as well as alien worlds. Unfortunately, the rebooted series of films stemming from J.J. Abrams' Star Trek seems to place a greater amount of their running time to action scenes and shoot-outs. Like these new Star Wars films, they seem to be placing newer visuals on old ideas and I'm afraid that people like me can see straight through such shenanigans.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox