After the events of ‘The Force Awakens’, The Resistance struggles to hold back a resurgent First Order as Rey begins her training with Luke Skywalker, setting in motion events which will fulfil the destiny of the Jedi in this eighth instalment of the epic saga in a galaxy far, far away . . . .
Having secured their huge investment in Lucasfilm thanks to the runaway box-office success of ‘The Force Awakens’ and their first standalone ‘Anthology’ film ‘Rogue One’ (not to mention the associated merchandising), and rekindling a global obsession with the most beloved of space operas, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and the bigwigs at Disney turn to writer/director Rian Johnson(Brick, Looper) to take us into uncharted territory—sticking to an established formula but taking a narrative left-turn for the saga which aims to leave behind the old and usher in the new . . . with mixed results.
‘The Last Jedi’ is no doubt a film that’s hard to talk about without revealing plot and perhaps a few spoilers, but we’ll try to limit any revelations to what you can glean from the trailers and other promos, for the sake of those who haven’t yet contributed to the film’s already enormous box-office receipts.
The breakout star of ‘The Force Awakens’Daisy Ridley returns as young Jedi-in-waiting ‘Rey’, struggling to convince a reclusive and reluctant ‘Luke Skywalker’ (Mark Hamill) to return to the fold and train her in the ways of the force, while general ‘Leia’ (Carrie Fisher), headstrong pilot ‘Poe Dameron’ (Oscar Isaac) and recent recruit ‘Finn’ (John Boyega) try to save the rebel alliance from a resurgent and marauding ‘First Order’—setting up a clash with dark side enthusiast ‘Kylo Ren’ (Adam Driver) which threatens all that’s come before and leaves the fate of the galaxy in the balance.
Having successfully captured the lighter adventurous tone of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy with 2015’s ‘The Force Awakens’ and stuck to the formula (and plot) which made it so successful, Disney begins ‘The Last Jedi’ with a familiar trajectory which fans of the first ‘Star Wars’ sequel ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ will be familiar with, darkening the mood slightly and building on the familiarity the audience now has with the characters introduced in the previous film—and in this case giving ‘legacy players’ Hamill and Fisher much more to sink their teeth into. But as the film moves along and the plot thickens, Johnson begins to take risks and subvert expectations, shifting the balance from character to story development and charting a new yet familiar course for the saga.
As you might expect ‘The Last Jedi’ is quite the visual and sonic extravaganza, boasting some spectacular space battles and dynamic action sequences which feature all the top notch production designs you would expect from a film with a $200 million budget, including visuals which strike a healthy balance between practical effects and an inevitable heavy dose of CGI—plus some equally impressive sound design and the customary epic score from maestro John Williams, building on classic themes and the ones introduced in ‘The Force Awakens’ while weaving in some new ones to reflect a changing mood.
What you might not expect though is the ramping up of the humour, ranging from deadpan to slapstick and turning unexpectedly and abruptly from drama to comedy on a sixpence, often within the same scene and sometimes in a single line of dialogue, which makes the film unexpectedly funny at times but gives the tone a bipolar quality. All of which gives the expanding cast some room for character development but mostly just drives the plot along, led by Ridley and Driver who take over the saga and with Hamill making up for his lack of screen time in the previous film—but it’s BB-8 who once again steals every scene the adorably rotund little droid is in . . . and yes the ‘Porgs’ are cute without overstaying their welcome.
‘The Last Jedi’ undoubtedly answers many of the questions raised in ‘The Force Awakens’ while posing all new ones, although we could debate over how captivating or compelling they truly are, particularly in the context of this cinematic universe. Yet despite how majorly entertaining and visually dazzling the film is, we find ourselves caught in between the divided critical and audience reaction to the eight episode in this iconic long-running saga—making Rian Johnson’s potpourri of themes and cinematic influences a slight disappointment which fizzles but never truly sparks.
Perhaps it’s the on-the-nose social commentary about elitism and equality, the treatment of ‘Force’ lore or the moments of ill-conceived sentimentality, or maybe it’s the absence of Harrison Ford and the chasm of charisma left by the departure of Han Solo, but despite all the flash-and-bang ‘The Last Jedi’ seems lacking and just doesn’t feel special enough for a ‘Star Wars’ piece, particularly one which ultimately takes the saga to new places and potentially expands this universe—but maybe that’s the whole problem.
Disney’s Lucasfilm may yet become a victim of their own success by setting expectations high and trying to live up to them with a frequency of films which puts the studio in Marvel territory, having to deliver the goods year in and year out while maintaining high levels of entertainment value and satisfying entitled audiences who’ve seen it all. Although they can only hope to match the critical and commercial successes of Marvel Studios, this expanded ‘Star Wars’ universe—which will continue to see standalone prequels and spin-offs plus a whole new separate trilogy—may yet turn these adventures a into more manicured, meticulously planned run-of-the-mill yearly affair, and potentially risk audience Jedi fatigue.
Having recouped their initial investment in Lucasfilm through box-office results alone, not counting all the product tie-ins and extensive merchandising, Disney’s huge purchase will no doubt continue to prove a four billion dollar bargain—particularly when you consider the upcoming theme park attractions, plus the welcoming of the world’s favourite archaeologist into the Disney family with 2020’s upcoming ‘Indiana Jones V’. Time will tell if they can continue to produce one billion dollar-grossing films as the force is spread thin across an ever-expanding galaxy, or whether global audiences begin to fall out of love with never-ending adventures in a galaxy far, far away . . . .
The Bottom Line…
A meticulously crafted and epic visual feast featuring twists and surprises, plenty of humour and the odd bit of genuine pathos, ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ ultimately proves to be a slightly disappointing box-office juggernaut thanks to some questionable narrative choices and a central ethos of “out with the old and in with the new” which renders mixed results. Nevertheless Rian Johnson and the folks at Lucasfilm deserve credit for taking some risks and heading into uncharted territory for the saga, despite largely sticking to a winning formula—only time will tell if audiences keep the faith and the big bucks continue to roll in after the Skywalkers eventually leave the building.
Thirty years after the fall of the Galactic Empire, a new dark force casts its shadow over the galaxy seeking absolute power through the destruction of the resistance and hunting down the last remaining Jedi opposition. An encounter between a talented scavenger and a dissident Stormtrooper brings together an unlikely group of allies to stop this menacing “First Order” in yet another epic space adventure, 3 decades in the making.
Directed by J.J. Abrams and starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Harrison Ford among others.