Film review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017)

CONTAINS SPOILERS – ONLY READ AFTER WATCHING THE LAST JEDI

Well, it’s finally arrived. After an almost-two-year wait, we finally got to see what happens on Ahch-To immediately after the infamous closing sequence of The Force Awakens. The highly-anticipated interaction between Luke and Rey was anything but grandiose – Luke simply tosses the lightsaber over his shoulder and walks away.

This may not have been the first thing we see in the film, but it certainly set the tone. There are some serious plot developments going on here, but they’re always delivered with a smattering of humour. Indeed, The Last Jedi may be one of the best examples of a script being so well-written that the overarching plot’s many loopholes can be forgiven.

In many ways, the tone of the script is essential to ensure the entire spectrum of potential viewers stays on board. Those expecting to see the darkest of dark sides of the force will certainly be pleased – it gets very dark –  but there’s a lighthearted feel to this film that means no fan will feel alienated.

The basic plot is split into three threads, essentially focused around the three main new heroes introduced in The Force Awakens: Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac).

Rey is wrestling with the dark and light sides of the force – a development that clearly has ramifications for the future of the galaxy. She spends the early parts of her journey with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), before taking off to see Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Our heroine is a truly engaging character and Ridley is the perfect actor to take on the role, taking us on a journey to find out more about herself at the same pace as the viewers.

Elsewhere, Finn wakes up from the coma we left him in at the end of The Force Awakens, before a chance happening sees him forming a bond with resistance mechanic Rose Tico (newcomer Kelly Marie Tran), herself mourning the death of her resistance fighter sister.

Poe Dameron is busy on the main resistance fleet ship attempting tactical dogfight missions to attack the First Order, before attempting a rescue/escape plan with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).

If great films are remembered so for their show-stopping visual moments, then The Last Jedi delivers them in buckets. The dogfights are absolutely real, comprehensible and exhilarating, clearly showing the influence of the film ‘Twelve O’Clock High’, which director Rian Johnson cited as a key reference point. The final fight sequence on the salt land of Crait contrasts the crystalline white of the ground with the kicked-up red chalk as the fighter vehicles slice through them towards the enemy.

A surprising and memorable fight sees Rey and Kylo team up together to wonderful effect. It’s a sequence reminiscent of ‘Three Outlaw Samurai’, with very few cheat editing or confusing cuts. It’s delivered masterfully. There are two specific deaths that really caused some great whooping and fist-pump scenes at the midnight screening: one involving a lightsaber-in-the-head death for a Praetorian Guard, and one involving the brutal death of a major character.

The McGuffin for Finn and his new partner in crime Rose allows them to develop something of a romance. It’s a romance that remains almost entirely unkindled by the end of the film – allowing plenty of  scope to further develop or completely nix their relationship before episode IX. The cynic in me believes this will probably depend on how popular Rose is as a character.

It must be said that the whole story thread for this pair of characters is mainly pointless. There is a largely disappointing sequence on the casino planet of Canto Bight that serves the sole purpose of introducing DJ (Benicio Del Toro). It is framed in a world that is wholly reminiscent of Final Fantasy on a plot level – casino-based planets are common in most games in the franchise, with Chocobo races being a clear inspiration for the Fathier creatures being forced to race for entertainment on Canto Bight. It’s also fairly identical on a visual level, suffering from a common issue in present-day cinema where physical sets and props are lovingly built and filmed, only to be touched-up in post with some less-than-realistic CGI, making for a wholly underwhelming result (see Unkar Plutt in Episode VII for a further reference point).. Fortunately there was no need to reproduce an entire human character a la Peter Cushing in Rogue One, but the visuals are so important after the failings of the prequel trilogy and it’s almost unfathomable that this can still go wrong.

As a side note, there is a wonderful tracking shot whilst we’re on Canto Bight that felt like a tribute to 1927 silent film Wings, which can be seen below.

Unfortunately, this Finn-Rose sideplot always feels like an unwelcome distraction from the Rey-Kylo thread. We were left hanging for two years and so most of the build up has been about what happens next to Luke and Rey, who Rey’s parents are (nobody, it turns out), how her training will play out and how she’ll defeat Kylo Ren. It’s frustrating that we keep getting the rug pulled from under our feet with unwelcome distractions from what is emerging as the main plot, and contributes to a sagging middle act. Indeed, should this have been missing from the film entirely, there would have been little impact on the outcome.

Poe’s character gets many of the best lines for laughs, but there are also big visual gags from BB-8 and some friction between Chewbacca and the furry little creatures called porgs. These porgs are destined to be something of a Marmite character for the franchise – I’m still trying hard to warm to them.

All is forgiven by the final act. If anyone was left unconvinced at any point, the film gets firmly back on track with a lovingly-balanced reintroduction of Yoda as a force ghost. It was surprising but absolutely welcome. Frank Oz provides the voice and yes, it is a real puppet operated by real people. This is how it’s done Mr Lucas.

This kick-starts a long stretch towards the end that is entirely satisfying, exhilarating and feels like a genuinely fresh take n the franchise. It sets up the Resistance in a perilous predicament that gives J.J. Abrams a meaty starting point for the final installation of this trilogy.

It makes the failings pale into insignificance and provides a perfect ending to a not-quite perfect film.

The clocks are officially reset and I’m now on countdown again for the next instalment.

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40 Years of Star Wars at Star Wars Celebration Orlando 2017

Kathleen Kennedy introduced a special panel yesterday at Star Wars Celebration Orlando 2017 yesterday. The entire day can be streamed online, as can today’s as it happens in Orlando, but the panel above is well worth a watch.

Why?

Well, I’m glad you asked…

George Lucas was there! Harrison Ford was there! Mark Hamill was there!!! Oh, there’s also Dave Filoni, Liam Neeson, Ian McDiarmid, Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, John Williams, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Billie Lourd and Billy Dee Williams. All hosted by Warwick Davis.

Just watch it. The atmosphere looks electric.

Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 – Day 3

Today was the third and final day of the Star Wars Celebration Europe event in London, and they really saved the best to last. In the build up to the hugely popular final panel, there was plenty on offer to keep even the most exhausted Star Wars fan happy.

Panel – Carrie Fisher: The Princess Diaries

Trumping even Anthony Daniels on the bizarreness levels, Carrie Fisher (with her equally loving and loved pet dog Gary Fisher) joined Warwick Davis on stage for an hour-long interview. Or so we thought. The real star of the show was Gary, and at times I wasn’t sure which one Warwick was having more time keeping an eye on.

Exhibition – ILM X LAB: Trials on Tatooine

This exhibit was a VR experience that was exactly what it says on the tin. Clearly this technology is in its infancy in terms of how general public will interact with what they see on the headset goggles, but it was a fun way to spend 15 minutes and provided a glimpse of the fun to come.

If someone can work out an affordable way to put it in everyone’s living room they’ll make a lot of money.

Panel – The Future Filmmaker Discussion

Fascinating panel discussion on future Star Wars films


There was so much discussed here that I put it in a separate article. Well, two actually with a third on the way.

Star Wars Episode VIII – What did we learn at SWCE?

Han Solo actor confirmed!

Panel – Closing Ceremony

And with that, Warwick Davis concluded the proceedings and the mad dash to the exit doors commenced. 

For a lifelong Star Wars fan, this weekend was a dream come true and if you can afford it it’s something you should try at least once.

Thank you for reading. May the force be with you.

Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 – Day 1

So day one of the Staw Wars Celebration Europe in London is complete and it has been a ridiculously good day. 

Whilst the highlight was the Rogue One trailer reveal and panel discussion, the rest of the day was literally a joy for all those in attendance.

Cosplay Competition

Cosplay is a mixture of costume dress-up and role playing, and has become a permanent fixture of the Celebration events and similar weekenders.

The cosplay competition was this year won by an excellent 9ft take on Grungar. I spoke to the creators and it took over 100 days to complete. In many ways, it is better than the costume from the movie, which itself couldn’t stand up and be moved around.

Across the board, it was phenomenal to comprehend how much time had collectively been poured into the competition. Even those that weren’t in the top 3 in their categories were great efforts, especially a near-perfect Kylo Ren.

An Hour With Mark Hamill 

An hour with Hamill was never going to be enough and it was sad to see him go. The format was simple – he just had people line up and ask him questions until we ran out of time.

There were some fascinating questions, not just about Star Wars but also his successful voice acting career, and his responses were candid and revealing.

At one point he confirmed the long-standing rumour that the opening scene of Episode VII was his hand floating through space holding a lightsaber. Cool? I think so.

I hope the whole discussion is made available some day soon.

Freebies

Want cool free things? Just walk around. There’s plenty there. My favourite was a Dengar Top Trumps card. I’m evidently easy to please.

I did spend some money too. I’ll be wearing my awesome German-language The Empire Strikes Back (or is that Das Imperium Schlägt Zurück?) t-shirt tomorrow for day two!!