There’s nothing quite like going into a Star Wars film and experiencing that feeling of nostalgia, wonder and adventure.
This is one of those franchises where there’s something for everyone, and where everyone - no matter their age - has seen every installment. Every new film is a real occasion and no other franchise comes close.
Every film is also quite different from the last, and The Last Jedi does differ from JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens. It isn’t as much a nostalgic experience as that was in 2015. You don’t get the feeling of goose bumps and “nerdgasms” witnessing the Millennium Falcon take flight, or when a lightsabre is drawn after the long wait. That was that film. The Last Jedi deliberately moves things forward, at least on the surface. You may have had complaints that the Force Awakens revisited too much familiar ground, but you won’t here.
In fact, this latest offering has set off a massive petition to erase it from the Star Wars canon, not least because it actively tries to set itself apart from what came before, and offers plenty for us nerds to talk about.
It’s been over a week, so let’s talk spoilers that really matter.
Picking up where we left off
After the wave of nostalgia came more objective reviews of The Force Awakens, which was criticised for being another rehash of a New Hope. Thankfully, the Last Jedi does bring the rebooted films into its own narrative.
It picks up almost immediately after the Force Awakens. We catch up with the Resistance, but suddenly it’s the Resistance as we’ve never seen them – as whoever’s left at the end of the Force Awakens is literally blown up in the opening sequence and fleeing on a puny Resistance convoy. To make things worse, this single convoy is pursued by an army of Star Destroyers and Snoke’s massive Dreadnought. Low on fuel, they stand little chance of escape. They’re in absolute tatters; something we haven’t seen before in Star Wars.
Other conventions include the dynamic between Luke Skywalker and Rey. We’ve seen the reluctant teacher/keen pupil relationship far too many times in fantasy films (take Luke and Yoda for example), but The Last Jedi swiftly handles this in quick summaries, and moves on to its own narrative. It quickly establishes Rey’s shocking sensitivity to the Force and the danger she poses, and why Luke is afraid. Director Rian Johnson demonstrates great awareness in skimming past these clichés and moving on to the plot points that truly matter.
Directing a Star Wars film is a mammoth task; a balancing act of many characters, plot points and traditions that need to be honoured, not to mention hordes of rabidly critical fans. The Last Jedi is a masterclass of time management, as every character seems adequately explored and you never get confused about what their task or mission is.
Star Wars never looked better
Another department that Johnson has absolutely nailed is the film’s visuals. Star Wars has never looked more beautiful and vibrant. Everything from space battles to physical sets are gorgeously designed.
For once, you get a real sense of the geography of battles too. In the opening Dreadnought battle, the camera pans out to quickly establish where the Resistance bombers are headed toward, and the obstacles in their way. Viewers get it – fast – and the entire setpiece rolls on with a real sense of what’s at stake.
The film also has a fantastic visual palette, opting for dramatic contrasts that create images that stick. Take Johnson’s choice for the red mineral planet that’s covered by white salt – the exciting Millennium Falcon chase sequence was given that much more oomph thanks to the glistening red. The image of the speeders and the trail of blood-like earth left behind is also a strong one, reminding you of their minimal odds.
But perhaps no spectacle was as impactful as the one of the Resistance Cruiser splitting Snoke’s Dreadnought into two at lightspeed. It’s got to be one of the most beautiful scenes in the entire Star Wars canon.
Blurring good and evil
Unlike the six films that came before, this new trilogy holds great promise with a darker, less defined take on good and evil. Now, it's no longer just about “joining the dark side” or turning good. There are plenty of people who have left the system, ignorant of the whole “balance of the force”. While the whole Canto Bight sequence served little purpose to further the plot, it at least presented the argument that those the Resistance deemed evil, the weapons dealers, were also ironically providing their very own weapons. Finally, some grey to the mix.
Luke is also back, graced by Mark Hamill’s best performance as the beloved hero. This is a damaged Luke, affected by the events of The Return of the Jedi, and what came after. He also complicates matters, insisting the Jedi must end. The Jedi Order have been about nothing but hypocrisy and failure, giving birth to Darth Vader - and now, as is revealed, Kylo Ren.
Luke never answers the important questions, however: the Force may not be controlled by the Jedi Order any more, but what’s to be done about the baddies running rampant and killing off the Resistance? Is there any point resisting? The Force may bring balance, but individuals still need to rise and do their part which Luke seems to discourage. It’s a massive plot hole that leaves plenty to question about his morality.