STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Daisy Ridley (Murder on the Orient Express), Mark Hamill (Kingsman: The Secret Service), Carrie Fisher (When Harry Met Sally…), Adam Driver (Frances Ha), John Boyega (Detroit), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Andy Serkis (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), Domnhall Gleeson (Ex Machina), Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), Benicio Del Toro (Sicario)

Writer/Director: Rian Johnson (Looper)

Runtime: 2 hours 32 minutes

Release Date: 14 December (UK), 15 December (US) 

Star Wars is back and it’s probably not going away any time soon. As much as both The Force Awakens and Rogue One have received praise for recapturing the magic of the original trilogy in ways the prequels never managed, they have also been criticized for relying too much on nostalgia instead of carving out their own identity. As a result of this, The Last Jedi has an incredibly fine line to tread on; it has to move the franchise forward whilst maintaining that classic Star Wars feel. The final result is probably not the movie you wanted, but one that makes you realise what you wanted probably wasn’t the best idea.

Picking up right where The Force Awakens left off, The Last Jedi wastes no time in getting the ball rolling on an extended but exhilarating and tightly paced adventure. Despite being the longest film in the franchise to date and filled with plenty of emotional character moments, the film never feels like it comes to a complete halt. Much like The Empire Strikes Back, the film follows a multi-strand narrative with our heroes off on separate adventures, but all the storylines parallel and converge with each other much more smoothly; they compliment each other in a way that makes the narrative feel more cohesive. The second act is perhaps stretched a little too far, especially in regards to Finn and Rose’s storyline, but the movie knows when to cut away and progress another story when things start to drag. But what really makes The Last Jedi stand out is how it plays with the core tenants of the Star Wars franchise, making strong use of canon and nostalgia but twisting it to its own means rather than just making cute references. It lovingly questions what fans know and have come to expect, making it the first film in the franchise since Return of the Jedi where I genuinely didn’t know where it was going. You could almost say it’s intentionally unsatisfying in how it plays with your expectations, but what it delivers in return is superior upon reflection and is ultimately what you really came for: Star Wars for a new generation.

Though some get more focus than others, every major character in The Last Jedi gets a moment to shine and the entire cast puts in everything they have throughout. Daisy Ridley gets ample room to explore the character of Rey, giving her an internal conflict far more intricate than any previous Star Wars protagonist and dissuading those Mary Sue arguments that erupted from The Force Awakens. John Boyega continues to excel as Finn, and pairing him with newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico makes for a sweet new double act. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is given a more important role here and the character now feels fully fleshed out, with a character arc unique to the franchise so far and promises that Poe will continue to be a key player throughout. Adam Driver really gets to sink his teeth into Kylo Ren, proving himself to be easily the most complex villain in the franchise thus far; not necessarily the most imposing or badass, but that vulnerability is what makes him so fascinating.

Mark Hamill’s return as Luke Skywalker is more than worth the wait, showing the character in a drastically different light but who still has echoes of the plucky farm boy we once knew and loved. This is easily Hamill’s best performance in the series, perhaps even his entire live-action career, and his role perfectly encapsulates the film’s themes of uncertainty and breaking the cycle. The late Carrie Fisher’s swansong performance as General Leia is also fantastic, giving the character a grandiosity and world-weariness but retaining her perseverance and sense of humour; the franchise will never be the same without her. Domnhall Gleeson’s General Hux remains a lot of fun, and Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke is used sparingly but brilliantly. Gwendoline Christie still ends up with the short end of the stick as Captain Phasma, but at least she gets involved in the action this time around, whilst Lupita Nyong’o has little more than a cameo this time as Maz Kanata. Laura Dern really shines as Admiral Holdo, a character begging for more stories in the extended universe, as is Benicio Del Toro’s DJ; both new characters are somewhat familiar archetypes, but with a complexity and motivation you wouldn’t expect from a typical Star Wars film

The Last Jedi looks and feels like a classic Star Wars movie, but Rian Johnson more than injects his own unique flavour into it. The film offers far more new elements from a design perspective than its predecessor with unique planets, new ship and creature designs, and other aesthetics that feel fresh but still very much within the Star Wars brand. The film’s cinematography moves and breathes on a different wavelength to previous films, bathing the visuals with richer colours and playing with the camera work in a more modern but controlled way. The sound design is absolutely fantastic, using and revitalising classics sounds from across the saga whilst also creating new ones that slot perfectly into the canon. John Williams’ score this time around reuses a lot more themes from the previous films, but they all have a new edge to them and all the new tunes are more memorable for the most part than his compositions for The Force Awakens.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi does what no film in the franchise has done in 34 years: it genuinely surprised me. The film breaks many franchise traditions on all levels, but it does so with a lot of respect and with the ambition to build something new and exciting from what remains. It really is the Empire Strikes Back of this new trilogy, but not in the same way The Force Awakens was essentially A New Hope. It is structurally and tonally similar to that movie, but the meat of it is wholly new material to the franchise. It’s certainly the best film in the saga since Empire, and perhaps with time it may even surpass it. Rian Johnson sets a new precedent for what you can do with a mainline Star Wars film, one I fear JJ Abrams won’t live up to in the next instalment, but I’m excited for it all the same simply because we are now moving into uncharted territory. The franchise no longer feels burdened by the traditions of the past and, in a sense, now feels truly reborn.

FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!

 

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Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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