Film review – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Last Jedi

(No spoilers)

First, I should get my biggest disappointment out of the way: that the film does not in fact open with Luke Skywalker singing “You’re Welcome” to Rey.

Talking seriously, this was another film I was more curious than seriously excited about. I’ve always considered myself a casual Star Wars fan: I like it, but I don’t love it. I’d gotten pretty hyped up for The Force Awakens two years ago – a new Star Wars film for a new generation – but the buildup for The Last Jedi didn’t inspire the same feelings in me; perhaps the novelty had worn off. And then came the reviews when the film was released: critics seemed very impressed, but general audiences were divided, with many diehard fans (including a guy in my office) declaring outright hatred for it. So what did I think, now I’ve seen it? Honestly, I was one of the disappointed ones.

The Last Jedi begins soon after where The Force Awakens left off; the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), are forced to flee their base after being tracked down by the evil First Order, only to find themselves being chased through space by massive warships while unable to escape via lightspeed travel. With fuel and time running out, Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) come up with a daring plan to hit back against their pursuers and enable the Resistance to get away. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has tracked down the last Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and tries to persuade him to train her in the ways of the Force, while also learning more about Luke’s student who turned to the Dark Side, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

The film starts off very strongly, with an action sequence as Poe Dameron leads an attack on a First Order dreadnought: it’s exciting even by the standards of our modern age which has been over-indulged with CGI, and has a few effective comedic moments too. Things carry on in a solid manner for a while, but gradually the film begins to unravel. Rather like with Thor: Ragnarok, the filmmakers seem to be trying to add as much comedy as they can – maybe, given the influence of Marvel is bleeding through via the franchises’ shared ownership by Disney – but there are more misses than hits in this regard. A lot of the humour is little more than slapstick, and the antics of BB-8 the droid gradually escalate until they become almost as ridiculous as Legolas in the Hobbit movies. Sometimes the jokes feel out of place: at one point, Rey is having a serious conversation with Kylo Ren about his history with Luke, but still feels the need to ask him to put something on as he is shirtless at the time. There’s also more emphasis than is really necessary on bizarre CGI wildlife, such as the puffin-inspired Porgs; personally, I find their black, saucer-like eyes to be more creepy than cute.

Some aspects of the story feel poorly constructed. Most notably, the plan to help the Resistance escape from the First Order involves Finn and Rose heading to a casino to find a codebreaker; this doesn’t help convey the urgency of the rebels’ situation, instead feeling more like a video game fetch quest. Later on, there are certain actions taken by the heroes which appear to render earlier ones completely pointless. You can also tell that the script is trying hard to subvert the audience’s expectations and surprise them. That in itself is a commendable thing, but such subversions should still provide a worthwhile payoff – and when it comes to developing and resolving some of the loose plot threads from The Force Awakens, the ultimate outcomes seem weak and anticlimactic.

As far as acting goes, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are the strongest players. Hamill gives us an old and grouchy Luke Skywalker, traumatised by his past failure, and still with things to learn despite having years of experience behind him. It’s pretty sad seeing Carrie Fisher onscreen given that this was her final film before her death last year, but her last outing as Leia is a good one. The other main players from The Force Awakens – Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega – are all fine; Kylo Ren continues to have an interesting character arc after the last movie, and I liked that by the end of this film, he hadn’t gone down the most obvious route. Funnily enough, one of the performances I liked most was Domnhall Gleeson as General Hux, one of those enjoyably evil characters who likes to chew on the scenery and bark out threats wherever possible.

While The Last Jedi has plenty of entertaining moments and deserves credit for trying to do things differently, it gets more things wrong than right, and I can see why many of the more devoted Star Wars fans are unhappy with it. Rating: 2.5/5.

About R.J. Southworth

Hi there. I've been blogging since January 2014, and I like to talk about all sorts of things: book reviews, film reviews, writing, science, history, or sometimes just sharing miscellaneous thoughts. Thanks for visiting my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you!
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