It is a dark time for the Resistance, if ever there had been a good time, as with dwindling resources they abandon their base on D’Qar and prepare to flee from the might of the First Order, while on the distant planet of Ahch-To the young Jedi novice Rey seeks the spark of hope which could reignite the battle for peace, the legendary Luke Skywalker, now the last Jedi.
Written and directed byLooper‘s Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi continues immediately where The Force Awakens left off and while that film was, to put it kindly, a derivative work, so the The Last Jedi seems initially to follow the The Empire Strikes Back, paralleling the exodus from Hoth and the search for the reclusive Jedi Master Yoda.
The Force Awakens having been the hunt for Luke Skywalker, here Mark Hamill at last returns to the galaxy far, far away as a man burdened with the consequences of his actions, who knows that with a power as great as his comes commensurate responsibility, his exile which matches that of his own former mentor Ben Kenobi an act of self-enforced penance for his perceived failure to stop the rise of Kylo Ren.
Despite having the Resistance on the run, the man once known as Ben Solo is not having a good day, his daddy dead, Supreme Leader Snoke supremely disappointed in him and his own temper not having improved, and Adam Driver is given opportunity to make Kylo Ren a far more interesting character this time around, a vastly powerful pawn who is growing tired of being pushed around at the whim of others.
Her already formidable connection to the Force increasing, Rey is almost isolated for much of the film as she echoes the trials Luke Skywalker went through a generation before, yet with moments of memory and mystical reflection her journey is at times more akin to something experienced by Harry Potter rather than a scene from Star Wars, but the defiant strength of Daisy Ridley’s performance shines in her every action.
John Boyega’s charm making him an easy pairing with anyone, Finn is principally teamed with Kelly Marie Tran’s former maintenance worker Rose Tico while after his initial contribution to the evacuation Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron once again drops in and out of a narrative which too often feels like a holding pattern for something epic which never quite arrives despite this being the longest Star Wars film.
In keeping with The Force Awakens‘ mandate that in this sequence everything must be bigger, following on from the planet sized Starkiller Base the First Order now reveal their Dreadnought ships, designed to intimidate rather than actually be effective in battle, oversized, clumsy and ill-equipped to attack or defend themselves, the overconfidence and lack of foresight of the First Order confirming them as the true heirs to the fallen Empire.
Every small victory coming at the cost of a larger sacrifice by the Resistance, what should be their most desperate two and a half hours lacks urgency despite being told as one extended credulity-defying chase sequence with unsatisfying diversions, the mission to Canto Bight a return to the opulence of the prequel trilogy which adds little which could not have been achieved by more efficient means other than Benicio del Toro overacting to compensate for an underwritten role; considered next to the ceaseless tension of Christopher Nolan’s similarly themed Dunkirk this is a poor imitation.
Delivering speeches which recall the wordy days of the Senate rather than rousing the troops effectively, Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo never establishes authority as a military rather than an administrative leader and while Carrie Fisher’s final appearance as General Leia Organa gives her more screen time than in The Force Awakens it is not a more significant contribution, but make no mistake, while General Organa has never used the name she is a Skywalker.
While the main Star Wars sequence had been the story of that family, particularly in the context of the prequels, Han Solo had always been the more interesting and entertaining character in the original trilogy and Johnson has attempted to compensate for the absence of the acerbic humour provided by Solo by throwing jokes through the script of which precious few fit naturally, and with slapstick antics and an indulgent overload of digital characters this is a step backwards from the practical effects of The Force Awakens.
It has already been established that Rey, Finn and Poe can carry a film and Rose is a welcome addition to their roster of heroes, Kylo Ren is a more interesting and rounded character than his grandfather Darth Vader ever was even before he was undermined by the embarrassment of Anakin Skywalker, just as well as even in person Snoke remains a generic villain whose animated identity never convinces.
With the whole of the galaxy instantly accessible via hyperspace, though with the First Order inexplicably unable to call reinforcements to cut off the Resistance fleet’s escape route, The Last Jedi never explores that vast space to reveal something new and while it is certainly better than any of the prequels it fails to capture the joyful exuberance of the original films and offers nothing unique to compensate, an adequate rather than an essential next chapter in the saga.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is on general release and also screening in 3D and IMAX 3D