The Christmas season is fast becoming associated with popular movies, such as the Star Wars franchise, and this year is no different. The Last Jedi, the eighth chapter (and ninth movie) was released earlier this week, and I was lucky enough to see one of the first showings, at 0100 on Thursday morning.
I’m not sure I’ve felt quite as nervous and excited going into a film. I had no idea what to expect. I stayed free of spoilers (as this article will do), if there’s one movie to avoid spoilers with, it’s this one.
I’m glad I had no preconceived ideas of what it would do, because director Rian Johnson does an excellent job of turning all of them on their head, in what is an epic addition to the Star Wars saga. It’s the longest film in the franchise, but it earns its length, and the pacing and story are strong enough to keep you engrossed all the way through – I barely noticed the time passing.
The previous chapter, The Force Awakens, now feels more like what it was, a gentle re-introduction to the franchise, based on a familiar formula. This is where the real story begins, where we begin to see a real progression in the story – and it’s worth the wait.
The Last Jedi bears no resemblance to any predecessor. This is a great thing, and makes the film a real game changer. Johnson takes the franchise in new, bold, and interesting directions, and there are no rules he won’t break to do so.
The film begins with the resumption of hostiles between the First Order, the successor to the Empire, and the resistance – now led by General Leia, Organa, played by Carrie Fisher in what is a phenomenal and deeply moving last performance – with final scenes tenderly and beautifully handled by Johnson.
But the real story, of course, is happening down on the island, where Rey meets Luke Skywalker, and goes on a journey of her own. Without giving the game away, as time goes on we begin to understand more of why Luke has disconnected himself from the world, and Rey begins the journey into her own identity and exploring her powers, and her past.
And the other big story arc is Kylo Ren, fresh off killing his father Han Solo in The Force Awakens. Kylo – or Ben Solo – is a dark, conflicted, tragic figure, struggling to find his true path and the call to darkness.
In many ways, both Rey and Kylo are both on the same journey – trying to figure out their place in this story, both powerful with the force and wrestling with the call to explore their powers, tempted by the raw power of the dark side.
We see more of the history of both Kylo and Rey in this movie, all linked together by Luke, brilliantly played by Mark Hamill in arguably his best performance yet in the franchise, in the middle of it all – in many ways a broken man also wrestling with his own demons, yet trying to bring wisdom and guidance to Rey.
One thing which impressed me hugely in this movie is the balance between light and dark in it’s tone – and this balance is in many ways an underlying theme of the entire movie. It’s one of the darkest Star Wars films, but it combines this well with, mostly earned, laugh out loud moments, and tender, intimate and deeply moving scenes.
This movie had me scared, in fits of laughter, and in tears of both joy and sadness, all kept in perfect balance. It’s very rare for a movie to combine these three experiences without going too extreme into one area, but The Last Jedi does this perfectly.
The Force Awakens feels like mere prologue to the events of this movie. The Last Jedi is without doubt the biggest, most epic Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back. It’s also one of the most spiritual and mythical of the Star Wars franchise, exploring deep philosophical and spiritual questions, without becoming too self-pretentious. But it combines this with lots of action, great fight sequences and lightsaber duels, and the amazing visuals we’ve come to expect from Star Wars – and some surprises too.
The real genius of this movie though, is how Rian Johnson takes all the fans questions and expectations and predictions of what will happen in this movie, and about who the characters are and what they will do, and turns them all on their head. He also, with great subtlety, takes the audience down what looks like one path, only to turn a completely different way to what we expect.
Some hardcore fans won’t like where this movie goes, simply because it shifts the franchise in a whole different direction. By the end of this movie, we’re in new territory for Star Wars, yet there is no doubt that to be true to the heart of what Star Wars is, it’s where the story needs to go.
Many criticised The Force Awakens for being too much like a predecessor – I suspect some will apply the exact opposite criticism to this movie. But such criticism isn’t justified in my eyes.
The Last Jedi is the Star Wars movie we’ve been waiting for – a truly fresh addition to the story, which takes the saga into new places. It’s an epic, thought provoking, innovative, action packed, sometimes funny, mythical and at times deeply moving addition to the Star Wars franchise, and will leave you with many more questions for J.J. Abrams to answer in Chapter IX, in two years time.