Helming a new Star Wars movie is no easy task, what with millions of voices crying out in terror with any decision you make. Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson – of Looper and Brick fame – bring his hardcore sci-fi pedigree to the Star Wars universe, and what results might be … the most Star Wars movie yet.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi reunites the cast from The Force Awakens (sans Han Solo), as the franchise continues to juggle nostalgia and the expansion of new storylines to fuel the juggernaut. The multiple storylines from The Force Awakens continue, from Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) journey on the dark side, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her meeting with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). And there’s still Leia (the late Carrie Fisher), Finn (Jon Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), joined by Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) – all with their own aims to complete.
Rian Johnson has an eye for the epic, and there are many, many fantastic moments in Star Wars: The Last Jedi where it’s mind-bogglingly beautiful. One moment had the audience gasping – many others will leave you cheering. From space battles to lightsaber duels – and more, there are quite a few scenes which will rank among the best moments in the Star Wars series.
Another lovely touch is just how 80s Star Wars it feels, from the use of wipes (that never feels contrived), to using anamorphic lenses and film for that filmic quality. Many of the creatures and characters are also developed with Neal Scanlan’s creature shop, which adds to the Star Wars vibe.
And as the plot twists and turns it attempts to take us to new places. The Force Awakens might have flown too close to being a clone of A New Hope, and here Johnson tries his best to make things his own, while still leaving space for some heavy nods to past installments. It’s a balance that works – most of the time, anyway. And with two years for us to discuss every single question raised in Episode VII – Rey’s parentage, is Luke married, who is Snoke, what is a Porg, who the Last Jedi is – Johnson doesn’t attempt to feed fan speculation, oftentimes opting to sweep such supposedly important questions aside (or give a quick answer) and focus on his own plot.
Because as we’re jumping from scene to scene, we’re oftentimes left gasping as we barely have time to get to know a new character better, or to spend time revisiting an old one. This is a pity – Kelly Marie Tran does as awesome job of being the ultimate Finn fangirl, while Larua Dern plays Holdo with wonderful complexity and Benecio Del Toro smuggler character just chews scenery. Maybe if we’ve had more time to appreciate each victory or defeat, some things would have hit harder.
And while Johnson does take some of the lead from The Empire Strikes Back or even Return Of The Jedi, Rian eschews the three-act structure and gives us a film with constant ebbs and flows. There’s also no real climax, instead, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has multiple high points that any other movie would have ended on. It does help add to the dramatic tension, as characters toy with having various shades of grey morality, and while you might guess the major plot points (The Empire Strikes Back or even Return Of The Jedi fit a classic hero’s story for a reason), how they get there is part of the fun.
Yet, Star Wars: The Last Jedi finds time to be funny – even oftentimes unnecessarily so. Part of it is due to the porgs, which thankfully aren’t gungan-level irritants. (Porgs? The kids will love them.) Meanwhile, Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux makes full use of Lucasfilm’s ragdoll physics budget, with his barely suppressed rage and disdain a great source of pratfalls. And all this levity helps add to the space opera, especially since it can edge too close to being too self-serious, especially with Kylo Ren raging against the machine as the emo-est boy in the world.
A NEW HOPE?
It’s little wonder Disney has decided to hand director Rian Johnson the keys to a whole new Star Wars trilogy. His eye for the epic and willingness to pay respect to what came before him without being beholden to it might be just what Star Wars needs, even as it shakes off being under the shadow of the Skywalker Saga all these years.
And what’s happened in Star Wars: The Last Jedi leave enough for us to wonder what is next for our heroes heading into what might be the final installment of the Skywalker saga. Carrie Fisher’s graceful screen presence can only be tinged with sadness, and moving to Episode IX one wonders how Mark Hamill will be left waving the Skywalker flag. And with Rey and Finn and Poe and Rose and BB-8, there’s proof that there’s enough energy in this series yet.
The Star Wars vibe is strong in this one (I think there’s a better phrase for this). Whether it’s the wipe or the way things are filmed, or how adventure takes precedence over tight, cohesive plotting with the other parts of the series. At 2-and-a-half hours, you won’t really feel how long the movie is thanks to the pace, but one wonders if a longer runtime would have benefited some of the emotional scenes. Nonetheless, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as the middle part of this trilogy, works to bring things throttling towards the finale.
There’s a lot to love in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The touches of humour, the sense of the epic, the performances by actors we’ve loved for a long time – or recently. If only we got the chance to stew things through. And you know what that means – oddly it’s become the sort of movie you might want to watch a few times to really appreciate it.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in Singapore cinemas Dec 14.