Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
"It's that old magic again."

The essence of the Saturday morning serials Lucas loved so much was that as soon as your heroes were off the screen you were counting the hours. The Force Awakens so ably and completely captured the feeling and tone and intent of Star Wars that it was almost too much to hope that the lightning recaptured in a new bottle could be retained, even as another took a draught. We need not have worried. The Last Jedi is great.

At just over two and a half hours its canvas is wide. Buster Crabbe's Flash Gordon used 12 parts to fill space with adventures that lasted less than 90 minutes more. In its first few scenes this, an episode VIII, fills space with adventures that delight and amuse and entertain. Rian Johnson's turn as the keeper of the Star Wars flame is as satisfying as those of Gareth Edwards and JJ Abrams, as confident a synthesis and homage and tribute and act of constrained creation.

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John Williams' score soars and calls forth and back and in key moments is still and silent, mute testament to sacrifice. This is the dark middle chapter, the Empire Strikes Back of the stations of the cross-guarded lightsaber. This is a dark middle chapter, with its losses and misfortunes and grave peril. This is a dark middle chapter, one dedicated to 'our Princess', Carrie Fisher.

Fisher's legacy is writ large across The Last Jedi. Though both she and her twin in the Force, Mark Hamill, give performances that seem to cut to the heart not only of what it must be for their characters to grow old, but how it is to have grown old having played these characters. Luke, back, in anger, is here expected to guide Daisy Ridley's Rey. Yet it's Rey's course to act as prism, the meditation and discussion on the force, dark and light, lends itself to introspection, self-reflection, and moments of gravity. Levity, though, was ever Fisher's legacy, and this The Last Jedi has in abundance.

There is humour of resistance, stalling, holding, defiance. There are moments that are wry, when things go awry. There is a strong indication that the Empire's diligent tradition of wilfully ignoring the excesses of the Sith is a proud martial precedent for the First Order. There's also a playfulness, repeatedly, a willingness to go back to opportunities for humour that other Star Wars media has mined - there are moments that will feel familiar to those who have consumed series like Rebels or the Freemaker Chronicles, even moments of power that make the excesses of Genndy Tartakovssky's Clone Wars seem like groundwork to grander illusions.

There is a duel between laser swordsmen that is at once High Noon and Lone Wolf, subtleties of footwork and tone that are compelling. It's in the small moments, in looks, background detail, small noises in the complexities of sound design, that Star Wars has ever shone. Shine here it does. The ground beneath those swordsmen may change as they act upon it, but even as they are wrongfooted so too the audience. This never feels like cheating, however - the cards do not fall as we might expect them too, but it's in service of magic.

The length (and even in a midnight screening it was not felt) is in service to satisfying arcs for various characters. John Boyega's Finn is still growing as a person, Fisher's Leia carries both the burdens of command and family, Hamill's Luke is a hermit disturbed in his place of worship. Oscar Isaac's Poe must grow, Adam Driver's Ren still has conflict in his heart, and then there is another. Daisy Ridley's Rey is source of several revelations, about and around her. Questions are answered. Questions are unanswered. John Boyega might have the best line of the film, but Domhnall Gleeson's General Hux is destined ever to be second. There are technical achievements too - Andy Serkis isn't seen on screen, but as Supreme Leader Snoke he luxuriates upon the screen, a deep pile Palpatine, a velour Voldemort. Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma is an imposing presence on the screen, and silver armour and all she has a chance to shine.

There are smaller, valuable turns from Benicio Del Toro and Kelly Marie Tran (whose Rose is in part grown from a seed of rebellion). Laura Dern's intermittently admirable admiral is a key to the conflicts of command. In all these journeys for characters there are lovely moments, echoes of the message from Rogue One, of A New Hope. There are moments of astonishing beauty, as painterly as the heavy metal album covers hidden in Thor: Ragnarok, as compelling as the borrowings from movie upon movie upon movie past. Star Wars has always had a scoundrel's heart, a willingness to borrow and repurpose, and this is a fitting continuation.

From opening crawl (my favourite phrase within it being 'merciless legions') with Williams' score, a fourth dot in the ellipsis, the camera panning down to a planet, space battle imminent, this is Star Wars, again. There are metatextual delights like the line "they have no place in your story" and the constant tension of the Leia question. The universe continues to be drawn, broad strokes here, implication scattering like broken glass from detail there, and all of it in service of onward drive.

There are new ships, old ships, new old ships, old new ships, the Falcon's reputation continues to precede it. The gold dice that hang above Han's chair still do, but you might notice the pips of the originals have been replaced - this is the essence of these new films, to be a Star Wars of ideals rather than the Star Wars that was. There are occasional rumblings that Disney's grip of the franchise is such that these are films in part by committee, but the mission statement is clear. Here again are things that walk, like but not the same as things that have walked before, here again are things that float to fly and fight them, but not the same as those that sped before them, and then there are creatures.

Aliens abound. Porgs are the headline here - on a planet with monkfish nuns and background dragons they entertain with penguin puffin stuff - but there are creatures all over. The strength of modern effects technology allows for constant invention and incidental detail, I'm halfway convinced I saw a tribute to Mr Magoo, but there are other figures who will be more familiar, more intentionally. BB-8 continues to delight, a warning to R2-D2 sheds new light on past dialogue, and Chewbacca once again shows how even the smallest details of performance and presentation can create character. These are not the only characters returning, but this would be going into spoiler territory. You do not need any forewarning - the surprises do not feel unearned. It's that old magic again. To borrow again (and it seems appropriate), The Last Jedi does not try - it does.

Reviewed on: 14 Dec 2017
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Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past.
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Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson, George Lucas

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Marie Tran, Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, Billie Lourd, Andy serkis, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro

Year: 2017

Runtime: 152 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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