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


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.

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

With a December 2017 release date, the eighth instalment of the main saga might seem a long way away. But as we know from recent experience, these dates can rapidly creep up on us and we’ll be at the midnight screening before you can say “Sans Han Solo”.

The Star Wars Celebration Europe event was very Rogue One-focused and as such there wasn’t a great deal of information handed out. That didn’t deter the legions of fans from repeatedly asking for snippets of information and this meant one or two pointers were revealed.

I’m not going to apologise for spoilers but I will apologise for the speculative nature of the post, especially if I’m wide of the mark. Let me know if I missed anything!

Starting Point

Let’s have a Luke around

The opening scene of the film will take place exactly where we left our heroes, with Rey holding out her lightsaber-wielding hand to Luke and Luke responding with a knowing stare. 

Director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) confirmed the filming took place on Skellig Island off the coast of Ireland over a two day period before any pre-production had taken place.

Presumably the opening line will therefore be Luke saying “I’m sorry, but there was a hand attached to my lightsaber.”

Han’s Funeral?

In Carrie Fisher’s bizarre Princess Diaries panel with Warwick Davis, she misunderstood a question about what had been going on between Han and Leia between Episode VI and VII, answering as if the question was about VII and VIII. 

At this point she seemed to mention Han’s funeral, thus either ruling it completely in or out depending on what she thought the question meant (she was busy with her dog Gary at the time). I initially thought it was a joke but given there’s no time gap between the two films it seems plausible that it would appear.

If there’s a funeral, then surely some of his closest friends would show up. You know, like Lando?

Finn is Awake

John Boyega joked with the various filmmakers in the final panel discussion about the state we left him in VII.

Director Rian Johnson fuelled the joke: “We did at some point think it would be cool to have him in a coma for the whole film… You just keep coming back to him.”

I’m pretty sure he’ll feature quite prominently.

BB-8 will appear!

Not a big surprise but during a segment on the Star Wars Show Live!, Matt Denton and Josh Lee stated that for the Celebration event they “brought along one of the real film versions [of BB-8]… that came straight from filming Episode VIII”. 

So that’s that cleared up then! Phew!

Kelly Marie Tran

Kelly Marie Tran has a key role in Episode VIII

A complete unknown for the new film is Kelly Marie Tran. Her name was mentioned again in the final panel. 

Director Rian Johnson had this to say:

“I’m so excited for you to meet Kelly… In good time. I don’t want to say too much because I want her to come out and present herself properly, down the line. She’s really something special.”

Cinematic reference points

Arguably the most revealing comment was the cinematic reference points mentioned by the director. These included two World War II films: ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ and ‘Twelve O’Clock High’. Both of these films involve tension due to an individual with control/seniority issues and may point to a psychological struggle for one of the characters in VIII.

Also mentioned was Japanese ‘Three Outlaw Samurai’. This was an interesting film to bring up. Hideo Gosha’s 1964 samurai battle film has been reissued and restored by Criterion so can be picked up and enjoyed in its best quality. This film will likely influence the fighting style seen in VIII, with plenty of location shots of samurai battles that would serve as a perfect reference point for some large-scale battles involving teams of Jedi.

Check out the trailer here:

‘Letter Never Sent’ is a Soviet survival drama about a team of geologists being isolated by a forest fire. Perhaps Rey and Luke are isolated together for longer than they planned and Luke is going to show off some Ray Mears survival skills. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched – Johnson stated that they filmed a lot of the film on mainland Ireland after the Skellig island shoot had finished. This would help create a vaster planet than achievable if the shoot remained solely on the small tourist attraction.