Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi follows on from the events of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015), which left Rey (Daisy Ridley) taking Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and the Millennium Falcon to come face to face at last with the uber-reclusive Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
Finn (John Boyega) was unconscious in the rebel med facility and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, RIP) was grieving, but regrouping with Commander Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), BB8 and the rest of the Rebel Alliance. We are still in mourning for the loss of a major character (Han Solo – Harrison Ford), in our opinion for no better reason than to secure a sweet ride for a new character.
The Last Jedi (Episode VIII), written and directed by Rian Johnson (writer-director of Looper, 2012, Brick 2005, and 3 episodes of Breaking Bad 2010-13), pays homage to Episode V The Empire Strikes Back (1980), beginning with Rey trying to convince Master Skywalker to help her understand the Force within her and for him to return to help the Rebel Alliance. The unexpected conflict between them mirrors both their internal struggles and the wider war between the Rebel Alliance and the First Order. Rey is tested with distinguishing between light, dark and control of her impulsiveness, and an exhausted Luke is brought full circle in his own seemingly unending battles.
Ridley maintains the intense optimism of an ingenue Jedi Knight, in all probability painfully reminding Luke of himself. We are treated to some great choreographed lightsaber sequences from her and later from Luke and even Ren. Hamill manages to pull off some great comedic moments through Luke’s bitter self-rapprochement, and gets to show just what greatness he has achieved as a Jedi Master.
Meanwhile, as the Alliance prepares to continue the fight against the First Order, Finn awakens from his coma worried about Rey. Meeting Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) whose sister Paige (Veronica Ngo) commits a significant act of bravery, Finn begins his not insignificant internal battle between light and dark, mirroring Han Solo’s journey to decide what to believe in. As ever, Boyega is a joy to watch. He is still the comic heart of this chapter, but he begins to show a maturity which hints at great things to come from him, not least in the way he handles seeing his former boss (and possible first female stormtrooper) Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) again.
Despite the heinous act he committed in Episode VII, Kylo Ren, once Ben Solo (Adam Driver), is still conflicted and desperate to prove his loyalty to his master, Snoke, mysterious First Order Supreme Leader and Dark Lord of the Sith (played by the king of CGI characters, Andy Serkis). Both show the immaturity common amongst megalomaniacs with an unbridled lust for power. Snoke, in his arrogant manipulation of his Sith apprentice Ren and the Jedi novice Rey unwittingly gives them a helping hand to the next phase of their development. Ren, in thinking he can be a master manipulator and command the vast armies of the Order.
If you ever thought you wanted to see more of Leia’s development as a Jedi, there is a great chance here, enhanced by some fantastic special effects.
Johnson holds true to the strong female leadership embodied by Skywalker’s mother Princess/senator Padmé Amidala, previous Rebel Alliance Commander/ senator Mon Mothma, and of course Leia herself as a Princess, senator, and General. Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (a very svelte Laura Dern) adds to that distinguished lineage, as well as repeatedly butting heads with Poe.
Poe doesn’t have much to do, but Isaacs nails what this would do to a grounded ace pilot.
It was reported that Johnson made the crew watch Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Twelve O’Clock High (1949) ahead of shooting. But, Episode VIII generally feels like a more challenging The Empire Strikes Back! Whilst generally enjoyable, long-time fans may feel a little let down at what has been done with the legacy of the canon and characters.
Yes, the special effects are amazing, which is unsurprising, as George Lucas created Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) to create the special effects he envisaged for Episode IV which simply didn’t exist bin the mid 1970s. ILM soon became, and remains, the leader in SFX technology and achievement. Various critters are as gorgeous and engaging as ever and even have some great comedy turns.
But, after acquiring Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise in 2012, the Walt Disney Company revived it but have chosen to largely ignore the 6 previous films and hundreds of books by critically acclaimed sci fi and fantasy authors, which created a minutely detailed universe. These new sequel stories feel somewhat unoriginal, though not in a cosmic, karma-fuelled those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, kind of way. There is not much resolution here – not much is revealed about Snoke; we are none the wiser as to why Ben Solo really became Kylo Ren; there is still uncertainty about Rey’s parentage; Skywalker’s storyline feels strangely out of character; Leia is given very little to do; C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2D2 (Jimmy Vee, replacing Kenny Baker who died on 13th August 2016, RIP), Chewie and Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) have little more than cameo roles; and we felt that there were more questions raised about Finn’s origins than were answered: if he worked sanitation, which is used to his advantage here, what was he doing in the armed ranks of the military enforcers as a stormtrooper?
You will have heard that the production value is immense, and it is breathtaking. The score, as ever, is beautifully done by John Wiliams. But, it is not enough to distract long-time fans from a burgeoning sense of disappointment. Johnson piles on so much loss and failure, that the persistence of rebel hope is beginning to appear slightly delusional, rather than faithful.
There are some memorable blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos from British Blacktors: rebel X-Wing pilot Kevin Layne, bridge officers Michaela Coel and Aki Omoshaybi in the opening scenes, and rebel medical transport pilot, Danny Sapani. Also, keep an eye out for Justin Theroux (Mr. Jennifer Aniston) as a casino patron, and Benicio Del Toro as another affected, stuttering character – master hacker DJ. Other cameos you won’t be aware of are Princes William and Harry and Tom Hardy as stormtroopers!
It’s difficult to envisage where they will take Episode IX, but we can only guess they won’t be paying homage to Return of The Jedi (1982). It should have been Princess Leia’s film, as arguably Episode VII is Han’s and VIII is Luke’s (we disagree with this view, but that’s what has been reported). After Fisher died on 27th December 2016, her brother Todd and her daughter Billie Lourd (who plays Lieutenant Connix) claimed that they granted Lucasfilm rights to use recent footage of her, but Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy confirmed that Fisher will not be in the film, even after her remarkable CGI re-creation in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016).
JJ Abrams, who directed and co-wrote 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, returns to direct from a script co-written with Chris Terrio (Argo, 2012, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 2016; Justice League, 2017). He replaced Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, 2018) who left the project in September 2017, after creative differences. Episode IX will be the third and final film in the Star Wars sequel trilogy and is currently slated to hit theatres on 20th December 2019.
In other news, Lucasfilm announced in early November, that Johnson will also create a brand-new Star Wars trilogy, the first of which he will write and direct, with long-time collaborator Ram Bergman onboard to produce.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi had its world premiere in Los Angeles on 9th December, hits UK theatre on 14th December 2017 and US theatres the day after. Running time is 152 minutes.