Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro
Run Time: 152 mins
Set immediately after the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, director Rian Johnson’s subversive sequel is certainly one of ambition and flair. Whilst J. J. Abrams’ sequel trilogy opener was one of frequent grandeur, it was decidedly safe. Johnson attempts to inject some of the slickness and voice that are present in the entire range of his filmography. Unlike The Force Awakens which was a grand voyage across worlds and large in scope, Johnson’s narrative is much smaller. The Last Jedi is essentially an extended chase scene.
The film has proven to be rather controversial with some of its characterisations amongst audiences, even extending to Mark Hamill, who was publically rather critical over the treatment of Luke Skywalker within the film. Johnson’s approach is hit-and-miss. In the case of some characters, it is refreshing to see a heightened sense of vulnerability and cynicism, in particular with Hamill’s Skywalker. However, by far, Daisy Ridley is the standout as Rey, who gets many stand-out moments and her character really develops as she matures from her fish-out-of-water characterisation in The Force Awakens. Andy Serkis and Oscar Isaac also fare much better this time around, Serkis’ villain who was introduced in The Force Awakens is suitably sinister and also has some great moments and Isaac gets a lot more screentime this time around compared to being underused previously.
But in the case of other characters, this is either regressive, conventional or on-the-nose, the latter referencing to the treatment of the late Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia. Adam Driver’s formidabble villain, Kylo Ren was expertly introduced by Abrams in The Force Awakens and whilst Johnson furthers his character arc, I thought the material paled in comparison. Gone are the extreme tantrums and venomous hate, Driver’s character here is much more mellow and mysterious.
Some of Johnson’s risks in the narrative and character choices also backfire. The fusing of an auteur director within the macro-economics of Disney can be rather problematic. As is also the case within the Marvel Cinematic Universe which Disney also figurehead, there is always an issue with promises of false death. There are moments in the film which dare to be really brave creative choices but never happen, which is a real shame. The film portrays life as expendable in many of its characters, but it doesn’t have the guts to extend this to its more central characters.
Johnson excels however with the action sequences, which are superbly crafted and particularly cine-literate. There are two scenes mid-way and late into the film that are particularly memorable, both bathed in red and complimented by Steve Yedlin’s superb cinematography, to connote the severity and bloodshed that these characters find themselves in. There is also a moment where Johnson experiments with sound (or rather the lack of it) and moments of pure popcorn action, in the vein of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which are seriously impressive.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi ultimately proves a very different flavour compared to the familiarity and magical nature of The Force Awakens. What allows the film to work really well is how this film functions both as a standalone film and as part of a canon. It’s good to see risks being taken by Johnson and everyone all around would have been more courageous, the film would have been brilliant. That said, The Last Jedi is easily the most consistent film compared to The Force Awakens and Rogue One and this is despite it being the longest film, clocking in at a lengthy 152 minutes. The film is never boring and perhaps on subsequent rewatches and as time passes, The Last Jedi will hopefully be favourably remembered. I do, however, have concerns with how the final film in the trilogy which is set to be directed by J. J. Abrams will fare as the way the narrative has been handled in The Last Jedi necessitates capable hands to work out the best way to progress it. That said, at least The Last Jedi isn’t a film concerned with setting up sequels as its narrative is so firmly rooted within this standalone film. This is a rare and welcome outlier in the world of films being consistently being connected and needing to set up future installments.