That middle episode tension, echoes of nostalgia with twists of new tales and new characters that bind together a renewed excitement in a lasting franchise. ‘Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi’ truly delivers.
The second instalment of a trilogy is always the most eventful. Our characters and indeed, world, is very much established so we can really get to work. The Empire Strikes Back works so well as an overall Act II for the original trilogy, and The Last Jedi does just that for this new period of Star Wars movies.
This film was a sci-fi rollercoaster where narrative points were thrown out to a wider field before looping back into the overall arch making a successful continuation in a story that we can’t help but soak up.
With battles both in space and planet side, there are some gorgeous and familiar callbacks to the original films that are so ingrained in the psyche; you can’t help think that war is the same, but the players keep changing. This is a passing of the baton for the franchise, where our the new characters truly come into their own.
We finally see Mark Hamill reprise his legendary role as Luke Skywalker to it’s fullest. And not in a way you’d expect. His opening moments with Rey, on the Island with no name, set the tone for how we see his this version of Skywalker. This shabby Luke slightly closes the loop from the Return of the Jedi Luke to now, and his dealings with a younger Kylo Ren, to which Adam Driver brings a more personable side to this Vader aspirant, push the story forward beautifully. Finally we see what happened to Kylo for him to leave Luke’s tutelage.
There are some lovely character development devices that open up the powers of the Jedi more than what we’ve seen before, and these are subtly played with to leave a feeling of pure satisfaction and acceptance. Rey and Kylo’s galactic FaceTime was so different for Star Wars, and felt very private for us an audience to see.
There is a lot more to Daisy Ridley’s Rey this time round. She emerges out of the new girl in the Galaxy mould, who is asking questions to help a new audience into a very much-established world, to start making that world her own.
Newcomers to the brand come in the form of Kelly Marie Tran as Rose, who is a Rebel Fighter serving aboard General Leia’s ship. This character, like in The Force Awakens with the introduction of Finn, brings humanity to the others serving in the military, away from the Jedi-Sith Lords fun of the Lucas prequels. Tran shares a lot of her scenes with the terrific John Boyega, as they are sent out on a seemingly side ways plot to a casino based planet, which sounds odd and literally otherworldly to Star Wars. It’s a good contrast to a lot of the sandy or ice worlds we see normally in Star Wars, and I like to thing it’s a bit of a jab towards the prequels and how every republic planet was like a European city break.
“Rey and Kylo’s galactic FaceTime was so different for Star Wars.”
An odd and somewhat jarring addition to the fold is Laura Dern’s character Vice Admiral Holdo. She’s thrust upon us, and looks dressed for a ball that the First Order delay her getting to. This storyline seems one of the sticky points in what is a rush of a pleasure, and I couldn’t help think “Who is she?” throughout the film. I did feel that all of Holdo’s scenes could have been completed by Princess Leia. It would have been a very heroic and fitting end to Leia.
The late great Carrie Fisher pacts a powerful punch as General Leia and lights up every scene she indeed graces. Her performance does not disappoint and neither does the plot when it comes to the Princess. Especially when she reignites that Leia fiery attitude dealing with hot-head flyboy Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), in scenes so reminiscent of her feuding with Han Solo.
There’s a lot of comedy is laced through this movie and one has to wonder if this is the Disney trait, in making the franchise more family friendly. Thor: Ragnarok was a laugh a minute, and although The Last Jedi doesn’t quite have that gag ratio, performances by Domhall Gleeson playing Kylo Ren’s stress-doll, General Hux, straddle the comedic and the sinister.
You have to hand it to Star Wars, they stay so true to their aesthetic and that ‘lived in future’ look. The “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” feels like it’s carved on a wooden affirmation in the writers’ office. All the ships, costumes, sets and props have similar design styles to the original trilogy. It’s where Star Trek: Discovery missed a trick. (I love Trek, don’t get me wrong..!) but once we hear that familiar blaster noise, let a lone a TIE fighter screeching past, we know exactly where we are.