For many, the Star Wars films have been the most anticipated cinematic events of recent years. While The Force Awakens and Rogue One were legitimately strong intergalactic action films they earned much of their praise by paying adequate fan service to the revered original trilogy and by being nothing like the reviled prequels. The Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson has a tougher task as it can’t rely on the thrill of reintroducing the proper Star Wars universe the way The Force Awakens did. It also has to continue that homage to the original trilogy while evolving the universe and it’s characters. Charged with this weighty task Rian Johnson only just gets over the line with an at times exciting, often visually stunning but tonally inconsistent and emotionally empty film.
Johnson seemed an unusual choice for a Star Wars director. Despite gaining some sci-fi cred with 2012’s Looper, his films have usually been introspective, David Lynchian, neo-noirs about dysfunctional neurotic criminals. Admittedly, tortured villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) would probably be at home in that world.
The Last Jedi takes off from The Force Awakens’ final scene as aspiring Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) hoping to prepare herself for any future confrontation with Kylo Ren seeks out the now grizzled beardy Luke Skywalker on his scenic windswept island home of Anch-To. Anyone sniffing a rehash of the Dagoba training sequence from The Empire Strikes Back is on the money although the grumpy Luke is mysteriously unwilling to take on an apprentice. All this is interspersed with sequences aboard various Resistance (i.e. Rebel) and First Order (i.e. Empire) ships as the Resistance led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher) concoct various plans to help their ailing fleet escape a hotly pursuing and murderous First Order armada. These sequences also reacquaint us with characters introduced in The Force Awakens such as troubled former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and hot-shot Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).
The Force Awakens cleverly built its narrative around a tight (although very familiar) action story that indulged nostalgia while effectively moving the Star Wars universe forward. The Last Jedi is a much less coherent film as it flips between action sequences, leaden exposition and a multitude of character arcs in a wildly overstuffed plot.
Flitting between different scenarios makes it hard to engage with the characters, a problem made worse by mediocre performances from the leads. Here Rey’s appearances are sporadic and Daisy Ridley’s acting more shrill and less convincing than in The Force Awakens. Also, Mark Hamill doesn’t exactly distinguish himself as the scruffy Skywalker as he fails to invest the character with the lump in the throat emotion that the central figure of the most beloved cinematic mythology in history should have. This film also contains some of the most outrageously hammy acting in the Star Wars series. Particularly over-the-top is Domhnall Gleeson as the First Order fleet commander and requisite pompous British villain. He chomps mercilessly on the scenery making it very hard to take him seriously.
It also doesn’t help that the film frequently undercuts the drama with annoying quirky ironic gags that, rather than sounding like the sort of thing a character in that universe would say, sound more like the creation of a fan boy sitting outside the film.
Also, too often the film features one of the most reviled aspects of the Star Wars universe: silly looking creatures. There some shockers here with squeaky little hamsters (or are they Tribbles?), goofy looking Jar Jar-esque things with udders from which Luke at one point disturbingly guzzles milk and frog-like people who seem to have stepped out of a panto production of The Wind in the Willows.
Still, despite these gripes, The Last Jedi has much to recommend it; on a technical level especially, it’s a triumph. The traditional space dogfights are typically thrilling if occasionally confusing and many of the action scenes make striking use of different terrains and settings across numerous exotic planets. The art direction throughout is also excellent, particularly during a light sabre stoush in evil baldy Snoke’s throne room that looks like it’s happening on the main stage at the Sands Hotel in ’62; you almost expect a sozzled Dean Martin to come stumbling out.
As a spectacle and action film The Last Jedi should satisfy most fans but it doesn’t quite recapture the magic of The Force Awakens or The Rogue One, let alone the beloved original films.
Nick’s rating: ***
Genre: Sci Fi/ adventure.
Director(s): Rian Johnson.
Release date: 14th Dec 2017.
Running time: 152 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
- Film review: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, from ‘Built For Speed’
- Film review: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, from ‘Built For Speed’
- The ‘Built For Speed’ END OF YEAR SPECTACULAR announcement
- ‘Built For Speed’ playlist. End of Year Spectacular. December 18th 2015
- Film review: STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS, from Built For Speed