Where to begin. I suppose, with an awakening.
Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi. A film shrouded in darkness and secrecy for over 2 years, with teasers revealing little to next to nothing of the plot. Director Rian Johnson of Looper fame directs here and the result, without giving too much away, is coherent, strong and tinged with humour.
If JJ Abrams’ 2015 The Force Awakens was the equivalent of a Greatest Hits tour from the Star Wars universe, then Rian Johnson ploughs into the difficult second album with aplomb. First and foremost, the film is about character. Character is central to this effort, contrasting with the action driven sequences of the prequels, where the story arcs of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) take precedence above the spectacle. Starting immediately where The Force Awakens left us to years ago, the pacing of the plot never dips, even in the slightly unwieldy casino sequence in the middle of the film. Beset by First Order destroyers and Kylo’s vindictive assaults, the resistance throughout 2/3 of the film are on the back foot, backs to the wall.
This may, to the avid fan, draw comparisons with Empire Strikes Back, frequently hailed as the model for all sequels. Yet, it seems Johnson is aware of this echo and refuses to compromise with his vision of what Is essentially a stop-gap between the first and last films. Yet, this does not reduce the spectacle of what is a commanding and assured piece of work. Attention must be drawn to the female heavy cast which is nothing but a benefit, the men of the film given to explorations of their damaged souls whilst the female elements seek practical solutions to the problem of impending death.
Nonetheless, in a calm and sad performance, we see the last of Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) who is truly wonderful throughout, beguiling and bewitching the audience, particularly in a final act reunion with her long-lost brother.
Now, we must discuss for me, what was the most central and well-constructed part of the entire film. Mark Hamill’s turn as Luke Skywalker, in self-imposed exile on the island world of Ahch-To, is a winning combination of Jedi mystic and grumpy old man. His commanding performance as a man broken by the weight of the force is endearing and his training of Rey left me gasping for more. His ability to combine sardonic wit and lacerating self-truth truly showcased the idea of darkness and light being equally balanced within him. This was no zen master, capable of complete autonomy, rather this was a man whose personal trauma now shaped him, in words of the man himself “I came to this island to die.”
Indeed, his arc along with Adam Driver’s imperious and conflicted turn as Kylo Ren were the standout elements of the entire 120 minute running time. Adam Driver, part emo-Vade, part devastating imperial commander is the most interesting character on screen, frequently upstaging the other actors onscreen by a quiver of his lips. He truly showcases the dark side struggle which is raging inside him. A particularly well-choreographed piece of cinematography is the duel with Rey aboard Supreme Commander Snoke’s behemoth flag ship. No spoilers.
Overall, this film operated as both fan and critic service, the underlying sense of unity and strength of the cast, particularly newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose, the powerful sense of destiny which accompanies every scene means The Last Jedi towers above all other opponents. This film was all about striking the balance between the dark and the light, an equilibrium fostered by Johnson’s organic and well-written script.
This is a film for the fans, for the newcomers, for the galaxy. It is the spark that lights the fire of this new trilogy, a devastating turn from Carrie Fisher and an authoritative portrayal by Mark Hamill complement and enhance the brilliant set pieces, the illuminating visuals and truly cement the core premise of the film. The force is with it, always.
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Words by James Hill