sun 21/01/2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - a bold new chapter | reviews, news & interviews

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - a bold new chapter

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - a bold new chapter

Visually stunning and narratively shocking, Rian Johnson challenges expectations in the latest instalment

Disney gives director Johnson free reign with the Star Wars sandbox

It’s impossible to view The Last Jedi independently from its predecessors. It’s the second instalment of the third trilogy of cinema’s greatest space opera. And it’s very much a product of what came before, but not in the way you might expect.

After the ambitious but deeply flawed prequels, The Force Awakens traded originality for nostalgia; a plot driven by coincidence and luck, all to serve reassured thrills. With the franchise safely re-established, Disney has now turned to indie auteur Rian Johnson (director of Looper and Brick) to shake things up.

Unusually for a Star Wars film, we pick things up immediately from its predecessor. Rey faces the haggard Luke Skywalker on his island retreat, while the Resistance prepare for confrontation from the First Order, furious following the loss of their Starkiller Base. This is where the pieces begin; and to reveal any more plot is punishable by Sarlacc Pit.

The motto here is innovation not commemoration

After JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens gave Star Wars lore the respect it earned, Johnson gives it the polite disregard it deserves, not worried to ruffle some feathers to push innovation. It’s far more daring and subverting than previous entries, challenging both character and audience expectations. Established rules of engagement are questioned, sometimes downright mocked; even the dialogue constantly spouts “let the past go” and “this is not going to go the way you think.” The motto here is innovation not commemoration, leading to some of the most inspiring and exciting ideas seen in the series.

Character development comes front and centre: every action is caused by what came before and has consequence going forward. For most of the film, the characters are driving the story, not the other way around. Leads Rey, Finn, Kylo and Poe are more nuanced, questioning their instincts and struggling to define right from wrong. The older faces have become wiser, less naïve, and more surprising. Carrie Fisher’s final bow as Leia is another touching and stoic turn, and Mark Hamill’s tortured yet sassy take on old Luke puts Harrison Ford’s sleep-walk performance to shame.

The Last Jedi tackles the bigger questions that the morally sure previous entries did not. The Light and Dark side become shades of grey; good and evil become subjective. It keeps you guessing more than Return of the Jedi ever did, and offers a more convincing argument than Revenge of the Sith. The profits of war is a surprising new theme for the series, giving an intellectual depth rarely seen in blockbuster cinema outside of Nolan.

Johnson also brings a visual panache to the Saga: vibrant colours spark from the screen as speeders skim across salt flats; lightsabre battles feel grounded while scenes burn around in epic scale; the creature designs are imaginative if not twee, leaning heavily on Studio Ghibli. It finds new and unexpected places to put familiar models, similar to Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One.John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran in Star Wars: The Last JediWhile a lot of innovations hit, there are misses. The rules of the Force are stretched to breaking point, with a couple of moments leading to puzzled looks around the cinema, even for a film about space magic. The script is flabby; every scene has purpose, but certain aspects feel overlong and jarring. Just like Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, it also suffers several endings too many.

Whether you enjoy The Last Jedi will be down to taste. There’s a surprising amount of comedy in the film, quite a bit at the expense of beloved characters or series law; it’s funny, but not respectful. Those who hold the series dear might also struggle with how it plays fast and loose with character and plot twists. Nearly 35 years after the original trilogy, this film will ruin some long imagined happily-ever-afters.

Perhaps The Last Jedi is the most unique Star Wars film – it certainly feels different. The Force Awakens was practically a homage, borrowing plot points and constantly referencing fan favourites. However, Johnson’s Jedi much more resembles the original trilogy’s boundless imagination and reckless storytelling. They were never perfect films; cold examination reveals the narrative and logical flaws just the same. But when they hit their heights, there was nothing better in the galaxy.

@OwenRichards91

Nearly 35 years after the original trilogy, this film will ruin some long imagined happily-ever-afters

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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