Thursday 4 January 2018

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

The eighth episode in the original Star Wars saga and the second in the sequel trilogy, The Last Jedi is a magnificent achievement, brilliantly combining the series' familiar elements with original ingredients and powerful plot developments.

Picking up events immediately after The Force Awakens, the resistance fighters led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) are routed, and the evil forces of the First Order under the command of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) are moving in for the final kill. Ace resistance pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) leads a daring bombing counterattack but incurs heavy losses.

Meanwhile Force-sensitive scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) track down the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), now the last known Jedi, on a remote planet. Rey pleads with Luke to come to the rescue of the resistance. He refuses, having still not come to terms with failing to prevent his nephew Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) from turning to the dark side under Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Rey starts to experience Force-enabled face-to-face communications with Kylo, and they try to influence each other towards opposite sides of the Force.

Leia is severely wounded in battle, and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) takes over command but immediately clashes with the hot headed Poe. With Rey and Kylo having an in-person audience with Snoke, former stormtrooper turned rebel Finn (John Boyega) and resistance maintenance worker Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) team up for a mission to secure the services of a hacker who can help the remaining resistance ships escape. Their search yields the services of the seemingly capable DJ (Benicio del Toro), but things are about to get much worse for the decimated rebel army.

After the relatively disappointing warmed-over rehash offered by The Force Awakens, Rian Johnson takes over as writer and director and delivers a spectacular boost to the franchise. The Last Jedi is best described as fearless, introducing new Force capabilities, one of the best lightsaber battles in the series within Snoke's inner sanctuary, a stunning landing pad for one essential arc, stirring acts of bravery and sacrifice, and a marvellously tense Force-enabled connection between Rey and Kylo, pregnant with possibilities.

And nothing is taken away from the action set-pieces, here delivered with a searing creativity and clarity of execution. Johnson pushes away from the familiar and finds new showdowns and genuinely thrilling battles, including Poe's bombing raid; the First Order all but annihilating the rebel fleet; a slow but existential space chase; and a finale at a previously abandoned resistance base that features several epic confrontations.

The narrative is pushed forward with Luke and Kylo both offering versions of where it all went wrong, and Luke forced to define his true legacy in unexpected but faultless fashion. Rey makes progress in coming to terms with her origins and role in the unyielding struggle between good and evil. Gradually Poe and Finn unite with Rey at the centre of the story, and now they are joined by the unlikely and disguised heroism of Rose.

The Last Jedi is not without its faults. The running time of 152 minutes is excessive, Finn and Rose's side quest to the casino planet a particular bloat culprit, and some of the multicultural preachiness is flagrant. But Johnson also introduces a mean streak of humour to combat the slow parts. The noisy robot BB-8 and the perpetually worried Porg furry creatures are deployed in just the right doses, and several other characters and creations make timely contributions.

Despite the large cast, a few performances do stand out. Adam Driver emerges as a magnetic presence, the uncertainty within him bursting out in prodigious directions. Daisy Ridley and Benicio del Toro are the other notable cast members, Ridley mixing the perilous unknowns of Rey's ancestry with grim determination, del Toro luxuriating in DJ's confidence as an enigmatic man who can code break his way out of any situation.

With John Williams contributing another iteration of cinema's most beloved music score, The Last Jedi travels at lightspeed to claim a place as one of the most satisfying entries in the legendary series.

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