Right where The Force Awakens left off, The Last Jedi picks the story up and introduces yet another episode in the sci-fi extravaganza called Star Wars. Episode VIII lasts two and a half hours and is a rich and highly entertaining addition to the saga.
The Last Jedi encompasses everything a Star Wars fan might desire; immense thrills, nostalgic references, emotionally-charged confrontations, burning questions, haunting doubts, crucial dilemmas, mind-blowing visuals and dynamic characters. It also lacks predictability to the extent where it makes you suspect Rian Johnson purposefully dismissed all the fan theories on the web while putting together the script.
The parallel narratives alternate smoothly and allow enough screen time to both familiar and new characters to develop and fulfil their distinct part in this war. Rey is in constant effort to persuade, Kylo is struggling to make decisions, Luke is learning how to be a better teacher, Leia is fighting for the cause, Snoke is arrogantly manipulating, Poe is leading manoeuvres against the First Order, and Finn is throwing himself in the fire. All the aforementioned span among three main storylines that merge beautifully into one at the end.
Rey, Kylo and Luke are the main draws of this film, delivering great scenes and triggering the most intense feelings. Scenes of the likes of the red-infested fight where Rey and Kylo join forces is gripping and utterly magnetizing as it combines character study, thrilling dialogue, crucial story developments and impressively choreographed action.
Another would be the visually stunning and aesthetically elegant scene of the aircraft explosion in the speed of light. Similarly, to the opening scenes where Poe is taking initiative in his mission, the CGI effects are tremendous. The scene where Luke gets yet another precious lesson from his wise Master in front of a flaming sacred tree is able to give you goose bumps, for obvious reasons.
I found particularly intoxicating the narrative device of telepathic connection that Rey and Kylo experience, as we are tantalised with the prospect of a great, unexplained connection between the two and we witness their genuine chemistry, pushing them a little further in discovering their true identity. By using this storytelling trick, Johnson enriches the dramatization of events and laces it with playful humour of wisely calculated dosages. Telepathy however, has never been more erotic and divisive as this one, with exquisite closeups, complete with seductive force and dramatic purpose.
As for the laughs that The Last Jedi provides, they are an invigorating addition to the franchise that has made only dry attempts in the past, and sit brilliantly among the dramatized sequences. Self-deprecating humour reigns here with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) representing a caricature of evil stupidity, Poe (Oscar Isaac) expressing his unquenched passion for blowing up stuff, Rey’s initiation to the Jedi lessons by an impatient Luke, and finally, even with Kylo Ren being overtaken by a vengeful fever that transcends into a ridiculous attack that reveals serious anger management issues.
Johnson’s script is smart and fresh by delving into his characters’ psyche, adding them layers and taking the story in different directions than the expected. His narrative has an impeccably tight flow, excluding only the ineffectual parts of Finn’s and Rose’s mission to find the Master Codebreaker and that of the Rebels’ internal upheavals around defence strategy. Those scenes lacked the energy and appropriate tension, feeling more like a break from the thrilling action. The reason for this is either that fans are not as invested to the characters involved, or that the anticipation for the film’s narrative backbone, involving the central trio was far too great. However, it’s worth mentioning that Johnson finds the right balance between action and dialogue thus, enabling us to identify with the characters and experience emotions of immense intensity instead of relying to explosions.
The Last Jedi is a fascinating, galactic ride that is simultaneously broad and personal. It is admittedly a classic fight between good and evil, light and darkness but as Rey quickly perceives, reality sits somewhere in the colourful middle. The film explores the limits of ambition, the tragic consequences of momentary mistakes, guilt’s ability to numb and dominate the spirit, the importance of having a mentor and the traits of a good one, the excruciatingly hard dilemmas and the amount of bravery one needs to face them, the majestic self-sacrificial tendencies of simple people and finally, it explores the idea that vulnerability resides even in the darkest existences.
Rey’s persistence and strength are effectively communicated in Daisy Ridley’s performance while she is attempting to trace her roots and secure a future for the Resistance. Ridley emits focus, compassion and inspirational strength. However, I find the most moving and emotionally-complex performance belongs to Adam Driver whose expression encapsulates beautifully and painfully the eternal clash between good and evil. Driver’s closeups are haunting and piercing as he powerfully communicates the conflict, the loneliness and the weight his father’s murder had on his soul.
Admittedly, the last hour of the film is a barrage of action, emotion, betrayal and confrontation with amazing visuals, where even the blood red fighting ground elevates the grandeur of the spectacle, and Joh Williams’s score dresses the dreamlike atmosphere. Apart from the dark, sensual cross-cutting dialogue, what stayed with me afterwards was how compelling and imperative women were to the storyline. It is rare to witness a film that allocates equal dynamism and importance to male and female roles, with the difference that the Last Jedi certainly skewed female.
Rey is a powerful, smart, loyal and determined person, an admirable survivor and a brave, passionate fighter. General Leia is an established leader and a powerful galactic icon, and Vice Admiral Holdo surprises with her pure, self-sacrificial mission. With Rose, being a fair and brilliant girl who manages to turn a corrupted city upside down and many other Rebel warriors featuring in the film, it’s evident that the Force is with women in Rian Johnson’s vision. Finally, part of this vision is to make clear that you can be a nobody and at the same time the most powerful creature in the galaxy.
After the film you might book for the next screening, take some time to process the overflow of emotion and spectacle while listening to the atmospheric score, realise how boring white salt is and catch yourself using the word ‘force’ a little too often. Also, you might have dreams about (a shirtless) Kylo Ren sobbing while talking to you about his childhood trauma and inner conflict, or you might dream about Yoda and Poe spending the night in jail after being arrested for arson.