Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – Film Review by David Minogue
Directed and written by Rian Johnson
Music by John Williams
Cinematography by Steve Yedlin
Editing by Bob Ducsay
Stars: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Benicio Del Toro, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran
In the 1970s and early 1980s George Lucas and Steven Spielberg set in place the age of the blockbuster that has dominated popular culture ever since. Of all of the many film franchises since then the Star Wars universe is the most well loved. In 2015 the top two films of the year were ones that originated with Lucas and Spielberg. Part of the reason for the success of The Force Awakens and Jurassic World was that they individually contained and celebrated elements of the iconography and imagination that made Star Wars (1977) and Jurassic Park (1993) perfect cinema. In The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams seamlessly reintroduced the original trilogy’s great characters of Han, Leia, Luke, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C3PO while also establishing new heroes and villains. The Force Awakens was beautifully structured but also so well written by Abrams working with Laurence Kasdan and Michael Arndt. The Force Awakens in many scenes pays reference to Star Wars: A New Hope so there has been great optimism that The Last Jedi would be as equivalent in terms of story and character development as The Empire Strikes Back was in 1980. Rian Johnson as director is also credited as the only screenwriter in The Last Jedi so this new episode is more of a singular vision.
The anticipation of the story ahead in any Star Wars episode is set in place by John Williams’ triumphant music and the information in the opening crawl. In The Force Awakens the opening crawl stated the importance of the search to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in order for him to help restore hope to the Resistance’s fight against the First Order. That film cleverly featured Luke as a key character throughout the storyline even though he only appears in character in a now iconic scene. Of the characters of Luke, Han and Leia it was Han who had the most screen time in The Force Awakens. In The Last Jedi the importance of the characters of Luke and Leia and their central roles in the Resistance is reinforced and expanded. Star Wars brought separate character’s storylines together and in The Empire Strikes Back they were given separate sub plots while all fighting for a common cause. The same story structure is applied in these new films. The Force Awakens worked so well in terms of characterisation because of the bond that forms between the old and new characters but especially between Finn and Poe and then soon after when Finn meets Rey. If there is a common goal between the new characters of Rey, Finn and Poe it is steadfast determination. This drive in each of them is much amped up in The Last Jedi. Rey’s core value of hope dominates her every action, Finn continues to be resolute in protecting her and Poe is more hot headed than ever as the X Wing pilot who will nearly always do it his own way. If any actor should be a part of the new Top Gun movie it is Oscar Isaac.
What also made The Force Awakens a success for fans that saw the original trilogy when they were first released and new fans since then was the way in which the original three films were referenced. The Last Jedi focuses to a large extent on the artillery and spacecraft of those films including the X-Wing Starfighters, TIE Fighters and Imperial Star Destroyers. There are several fights between the Resistance and The First Order and there are some that are as thrilling as any from previous films. The battles and fights in Star Wars films often felt breathtakingly realistic but in The Last Jedi they sometimes feel like a video game. What is also a definite change in terms of the story is how and at what points humour is injected into the storyline. In the original films much of the humour came from the interplay and wisecracks from Han Solo. In this film humour comes at unexpected moments. This is similar to what has happened in the screenplays of some of the recent Marvel films and it is something that will have mixed reactions from fans. The Force Awakens had a much more linear narrative. Everything that was said or done had direct relevance to what happened later in the story. Rian Johnson’s style as both a filmmaker and a storyteller is definitely applied here as the narrative jumps around. In science fiction and fantasy films there is the crucial aspect of making the unbelievable believable but there are several ridiculous moments in The Last Jedi.
Of the new characters Kelly Marie Tran as Rose and Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo are the most significant of the rebels. Like Leia and Rey the emphasis is rightfully clear about female characters being as equally important in the Resistance’s fight. In The First Order Kylo Ren is still the most significant of the new villains. Supreme Leader Snoke features in a more central role who tries to be similar to Emperor Palpatine. In The Force Awakens he was seen depicted as a huge hologram. In The Last Jedi he is in human form and played in a motion performance by Andy Serkis who commits fully to the role but he could have played the part in costume and prosthetic make up. There is a vast array of new creatures created for this film with the porgs being the most memorable. Thankfully there is nothing Jar Jar Binks about them. BB-8 who is now one of the most beloved characters in the franchise is shown to be extremely versatile. The Last Jedi should have been a solid continuation of the new characters and stories that were firmly established in The Force Awakens. It does that to an extent. The Last Jedi like several films released this year would have benefitted greatly from having a separate director and screenwriter. It is great that of all of the performances two of the most solid are by Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. There is a respect and reverence to the history of their characters that they imbue regardless of what dialogue or actions they are given. There is poignancy both on screen in their performances and also in the film being dedicated to Carrie Fisher.