Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

The Last Jedi
The Resistance, led by General Leia (Fisher), are on the run. As the First Order close in, their only hope is if Rey (Ridley) can tempt Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Hamill) back to the fight.

by Ian Freer |
Published on
Release Date:

15 Dec 2017

Original Title:

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

“This is not going to go the way you think!” Luke Skywalker warns Rey on the Jedi Temple island of Ahch-To. It sounds like a quote designed for a trailer but now feels like the opening line from Rian Johnson’s pitch. The Last Jedi delivers everything you want from a Star Wars movie — fierce lightsaber action, space dogfights, exotic creatures, people off British telly as bad guys (hello, Ade Edmondson as a First Order Officer) — but layers it with story twists, character arcs and an emotional wallop that you could never have predicted. It doesn’t all work, but it’s a long time since a huge franchise movie has delivered the thrills and feels in such surprising ways.

The Last Jedi

This rug-pulling starts from the get-go. For all those who felt Episode VIII would start with a lightsaber handover (when it happens, that moment is fantastically throwaway), Johnson launches into a breakneck sequence of the Resistance evacuating their base as the First Order attack. Out of the melee, everyone gets more to do. Poe Dameron (Isaac, registering stronger here than in The Force Awakens) is both fly-boy and military leader, butting heads with Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (played by a pink-haired Laura Dern being all Laura Stern); Finn (Boyega, clearly having fun) joins maintenance worker Rose Tico (a likable Kelly Marie Tran) on a mission to disable the First Order’s tracking device that now works through hyperspace; and, on the dark side, Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis), more formidable in person than in hologram, plays Kylo Ren (Driver) and General Hux (Gleeson) off against each other. Even BB-8 gets bigger action licks rather than cute comedy asides.

The Last Jedi

Still, if Episode VII was Han Solo’s movie, then Episode VIII belongs to Luke. Whether it’s stepping back onto the Millennium Falcon (it’s a hard heart that doesn’t melt when he meets Artoo), or learning to live with regrets, Hamill crafts in a moving performance, perfectly capturing how a gosh-and-golly farm boy can become sarcastic and embittered. A more assured Ridley stands toe-to-toe with him, but is even better in her ‘relationship’ with Ben Solo. Johnson’s conception of their bond is potentially embarrassing: Ridley and Driver not only make it work, they make it gripping.

If Episode VII was Han Solo’s movie, then Episode VIII belongs to Luke.

Time and again, Johnson finds a cinematic grammar that feels new to Star Wars; big close-ups (tender touching hands), top shots, elegant camera tracks and pulling out in-world sound, leaving just music and image. In fact, there is a moment involving Leia that is as poetic as the series has ever been. And Johnson isn’t afraid to go trippy, either - a scene in which a character repeatedly clicks their fingers could have come from a ’60s arthouse flick. This is also the first Star Wars film to heavily indulge in flashback as opposed to visions. Be warned: those revelations will prove divisive.

But happily, Johnson gets Star Wars, too. His action is thrilling but elegant (there is the most nonchalant lightsaber kill yet). He is not afraid to embrace the cornball, but never goes too cute: the Porgs (not as adorable as you hoped, nor as irritating as you feared) are the butt of the film’s darkest gag. Hell, even the art of comedy ‘Imperial’ officers has returned. But you know he really gets Star Wars in the respect he affords Leia (Fisher, dignified but still with that unmistakable twinkle), or the way he understands the emotional weight of golden dice passed between characters.

It doesn’t all work. The middle section loses its shape and is subject to longueurs. Finn and Rose’s mission takes them to Canto Bight, a kind of Monte Carlo peopled by extras from Babylon 5, and feels like it is just ticking the Weird Alien Bar box started by the Cantina. A ride on space horses also feels like a needless diversion, as does Benicio Del Toro’s space rogue, whose strange, laconic presence never really makes its mark.

But in its last hour, Johnson serves up bold, gut-wrenching narrative moves you should discover on your own. Throughout, there are beats from * The Empire Strikes Back* playbook — a version of the Dark Side cave, walkers and speeders battling across a glacial plain — but this is not The Dark Middle Act, it’s a multicoloured adventure that juggles different moods and tones. Johnson even bravely channels Return Of The Jedi, to the extent that Episode VIII wraps up leaving Episode IX with almost a clean slate. And that, for an Act II, is no mean feat.

If The Force Awakens raised a lot of questions, this tackles them head-on. Fun, funny but with emotional heft, this is a mouth-watering set-up for Episode IX and a fitting tribute to Carrie Fisher.
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