It’s been two years since Star Wars returned to the cinema with The Force Awakens, and the follow-up to that franchise-reviving effort, The Last Jedi, might be the best film the series has ever produced.
The Force Awakens left us in an exciting, uncertain place. After the slow defeatist march towards an inevitable conclusion that was the prequel trilogy, for the first time in a long time we are in a galaxy where nothing is clear, anything is on the table, and we genuinely care about the fates of the characters.
Who is Rey and where does she come from? Will Kylo Ren stick with the dark side or come back to the light? What happened to Luke?
Will Rey and Finn get together? Or Rey and Kylo Ren? Or Finn and Poe? The internet is a creative and audacious matchmaker.
The Last Jedi doesn’t answer all of these questions – there’s another film left in this trilogy in which to do that – but it does answer a few of them, and manages to do so in a way that for the most part is thrilling and comes naturally.
The transition from the heroes of the original trilogy to our new trio of Rey, Finn and Poe that began in The Force Awakens comes to fruition in The Last Jedi. All three go through significant character development, as does Kylo Ren.
They go through largely separate plots however and The Last Jedi, in truth, could stand on its own purely looking at the storylines of Rey and Kylo Ren if it wanted to. And maybe it would be better if it did because the inclusion of significant plotlines for both Finn and Poe does wind up detracting slightly from the crucial details of the overarching story and leaves The Last Jedi feeling a little – only a little – misshapen.
There’s undeniably a bold and different approach in The Last Jedi to what you might expect going in – Luke Skywalker’s words from the trailer, “This is not going to go the way you think”, are a fitting preparation for the film.
The upside of taking a few risks is that it makes for a more engaging film where it is genuinely difficult to predict what will happen next. It’s easy to look at in hindsight and find areas that could’ve been tightened up, or further expanded upon, but the willingness to go out on a limb is what makes The Last Jedi great, even if not every roll of the dice proves to be a winner.
The vast majority of them do.
The film does spend a lot of time playing fast and loose with making you think characters are about to die, or have just died, when they actually haven’t (or maybe they have). It’s like a horror movie jump scare – it works the first time, and it still works the 100th time, but it risks starting to feel cheap.
The Last Jedi doesn’t quite get into that territory, but it flirts with it pretty aggressively.
Those who felt The Force Awakens borrowed too much from A New Hope will find things to complain about here too if they insist on looking for them. You could draw plenty of parallels to Empire Strikes Back if you really want to. I’d be lying if I said they bothered me even slightly, but others may feel differently.
Do you remember getting a few good laughs out of The Force Awakens? You will get plenty more here. It’s that kind of relatable humour that you will also find in Disney’s MCU movies – the sort that fits in well even against a dark background because life is just kind of funny sometimes, and so should be the lives of people in movies.
The migraine-inducing slapstick of Jar Jar is a distant albeit still painful memory.
In particular, the inclusion of Porgs is done about as well as you could possibly hope for when it comes to a Star Wars film bringing in some merchandising material. They’re cuter than Ewoks and cause fewer plot problems because no one ever tries to convince you that they would stand a chance in a fight against Stormtroopers if they tried to.
The soundtrack has always been one of the best parts of any Star Wars flick and The Last Jedi produces another moving instant classic – an engaging blend of callbacks to older entries in the series with new twists.
Those who like their movies to pass the Bechdel Test will be extremely happy too.
The Force Awakens put a smile on my face by making Leia a general – about time, given that they were handing out the title like free trial gym memberships in Return of the Jedi – and director Rian Johnson’s installment continues that good work, showing a number of strong female characters across all levels of authority who make up the backbone of the Resistance.
The cast is appreciably diverse, too.
More than anything though The Last Jedi is simply an exhilarating, exuberant rollercoaster ride through the Star Wars galaxy complete with enough highs and lows to break your heart and put it back together at least half a dozen times. Some of the most badass moments in the history of the galaxy happen here – and that’s just what the minor characters are up to in between the heroes making waves.
Is it the best Star Wars movie of all? I’ve seen a few suggesting as much in the wake of its release, but of course, it’s hard to make any kind of definitive judgement.
The Star Wars franchise has existed over generations in such a way that each age group will probably always love their era of it most (except the prequel generation, you poor bastards).
Yet trying to be as objective as possible about something that is inherently subjective, it would be hard to argue that The Last Jedi isn’t at the very least a serious contender to be considered pound-for-pound the best 152 minutes of Star Wars you’ll ever see.
It’s genuinely difficult to imagine IX managing to go to such a level as to be a fitting conclusion to what have been two knockout punches in a trilogy so far. But who knows – both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi have managed to subvert my expectations in the most delightful way possible, so I’ll back the team in to do it again when the time comes in December 2020.
In short: The Last Jedi is bloody magnificent. If you haven’t seen it yet, drop whatever you’re doing and get to the cinema. And if you’ve already seen it, go see it again. 9/10.