Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Oscar Isaac, Laura Dern, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis
Runtime: 2 hrs 30 mins
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
Released By: The Walt Disney Company
Official Website: http://www.starwars.com
Opening Day: 14 December 2017
Synopsis: In Lucasfilm's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the Skywalker saga continues as the heroes of The Force Awakens join the galactic legends in an epic adventure that unlocks age-old mysteries of the Force and shocking revelations of the past.
Whereas ‘The Force Awakens’ needed to bring us back home to the franchise and did so by mostly remaking the original ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’, ‘The Last Jedi’s’ challenge is to forge a new way ahead for the series, while retaining at least some of its crowd-pleasing tropes, traditions and mythologies from before. And if the news that its writer-director Rian Johnson had just been given the reins to chart the next trilogy was not reassurance enough that he has nailed this one, then we’re here to say after seeing the film that Johnson has indeed achieved a remarkable balance between novelty and nostalgia, and that ‘The Last Jedi’ is probably right up there with arguably the best one of them all.
A quick refresh of the characters and events of ‘The Force Awakens’ would probably be wise in order to keep up with the many moving parts of Johnson’s narrative, but as the time-honored info-crawl informs us at the start, the rebel Resistance has found themselves outmatched by the superior technology and sheer firepower of the First Order despite successfully destroying their Starkiller base in the last movie. The thrilling opening battle further confirms this – despite the derring-do and quick-wittedness of hothead fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the Resistance loses all the rest of their fighter jets and bombers taking down just one of the First Order’s Dreadnought warships, and have simply no counter-measure against the First Order’s newfound ability to track vessels travelling at light speed.
So while what’s left of the Resistance try to figure out their next move with the First Order on their tail, the reformed ex-Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) steals away with a ship maintenance worker Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to a swanky casino planet in search of someone whom they hope can help them sneak on board the First Order’s main ship and disable the tracking device. Instead of their mark, they meet a wily mercenary named DJ (Benicio Del Toro) who may or may not be on their side. Meanwhile, back on the Resistance fleet, Poe comes into conflict with the risk-averse Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), who is placed in charge after General Leia (Carrie Fisher) is rendered unconscious following an attack on the Resistance by Kylo Ren himself. While Poe favours action, Holdo appears to have no other intention than to prolong the standoff as long as possible, their tension culminating in a mutiny orchestrated by Poe and other like-minded members of the Resistance.
But perhaps the most compelling of the three inter-woven plotlines which exist in parallel for a good two-thirds of the film is that which continues from the last movie, following the Jedi-apparent Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she seeks to convince the self-imposed recluse Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote island to join the Resistance. As Rey soon finds out, Luke has his own inner demons to overcome, and is very much entwined with her arch-nemesis Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) choice to embrace the Dark Side. At the same time, Rey discovers a hitherto untapped connection with Kylo, aka Ben Solo, setting up a series of telepathic exchanges between them over meaning, morals and motivations.
It is no small feat juggling so many characters, new and familiar, at the same time, but Johnson achieves the near-impossible of giving each his or her due by treating them as an ensemble. Even better, the dynamics between and among them feel genuine and profound. The potent cocktail of resentment, kinship and destiny that binds Rey, Kylo and Luke is the main act here, playing out first as a psychological battle-of-wits and subsequently as a physical battle-with-lightsabers. There is also the camaraderie that grows between Finn and Rose, reinforced by their mutual belief in the Resistance for the oppressed and downtrodden and reaffirmed by their willingness to sacrifice their lives for each other as well as for the cause especially as the stakes grow increasingly perilous. And last but not least, what starts out as animosity between Poe and Holdo evolves into mutual respect for their commitment to the Resistance, in one of the many effective sleight-of-hands that Johnson pulls here.
More so than in any other ‘Star Wars’ movies, there is a constant frisson of moment-to-moment unpredictability here that keeps you at the edge of your seat. Part of it has to do with where the characters have come from and what they are about to do next – such as Rey’s family history, or the origins of Luke’s profound disappointment, or Kylo’s inner stirrings. Part of it has to do with the plotting itself – will the Resistance be able to evade the First Order; will Finn and Rose succeed in disabling the tracking device on board the First Order’s main ship; and perhaps most significantly, will Rey be lost to the Dark Side or will Kylo choose good over evil? Like his previous movies, there are surprises big and small here, and while some are not necessarily crowd-pleasing, there is no doubt ‘The Last Jedi’ is ultimately much better off for them.
What further defines ‘The Last Jedi’ is its sequences of pure visual and visceral beauty. A lightsaber duel in Kylo’s master General Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) throne room has Rey and Kylo doing battle with First Order guards dressed in bright-red robes, the chamber’s luminous crimson walls eventually giving way to reveal an endless star-field. The climactic confrontation on a mining planet of white salt and red dust is jaw-droppingly striking, particularly as the straight red lines etched by the Resistance’s combat vehicles turn chaotic by the First Order’s onslaught and the inevitable bloodletting thereafter. From the digital effects, to the production and costume designs, to the creature designs, and certainly John Williams’ ever-invigorating score, the artistry is simply top-notch and wondrous to behold.
Considering the legacy he’s needed to uphold, the expectation he’s required to fulfill and the promise he’s supposed to generate, Johnson has done exceedingly well with ‘The Last Jedi’. Like we said at the start, there is a perfect balance between the new and the old, so as much as it retains the age-old themes of Oedipal rage and sibling rivalry in an eternal struggle between the light and the dark side of the Force, it isn’t afraid to acknowledge the traditional ‘Star Wars’ elements by upending them. Just as crucially, it never loses sight of the spirit and emotion of the franchise even through two-and-a-half hours long of pursuit, evasion, mayhem and explosions. Oh yes, its ominous title may portend Kylo’s own proclamation at one point “It’s time to let old things die”, but ‘The Last Jedi’ is indeed a new hope for the ‘Star Wars’ canon.
(Perfectly pitched between novelty and nostalgia, 'The Last Jedi' is a remarkable new hope for 'Star Wars' in ways alternately thrilling, surprising, emotional, and ravishing)
Review by Gabriel Chong