Though a riotously entertaining return for cinema’s most treasured franchise, The Force Awakens could be accused of playing it somewhat safe. A nostalgia trip of sorts, it proved to be a crowd-pleaser that played all of the greatest hits, bringing back our favourite characters and allowing them the platform to deliver our favourite lines. But now, Rian Johnson takes over the helm of The Last Jedi, and what transpires is a far more mature piece of cinema, far more concerned with the narrative and the characters that inhabit it; and the film benefits greatly as a result.
For the synopsis, there’s very little that can be said given how important it is audience members can indulge in this production without having it spoiled for them beforehand – but let’s just say that Rey (Daisy Ridley) is vying to convince Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to teach her the ways of the Jedi, though as they progress, he becomes overwhelmed, and a little frightened, by her powers. In the meantime, the resistance, led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Po (Oscar Isaac) is readying themselves for a monumental battle against the First Order, while Finn (John Boyega) is caught up in a tricky situation of his own, with new friend Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). Oh and let’s not forget Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – he’s still pissed off with the world, and so in turn, inclined to go out and destroy it.
Johnson has presented a more ambitious film than his predecessor J.J. Abrams offers, as one that takes risk – and fortunately for him, they pay off. Injecting a vital, indelible comedic edge to proceedings, presented moments of light-relief through, it doesn’t compromise on the more bleak, profound elements of the narrative, as a film that is more than just a throwaway piece of escapism, studying themes such as legacy, play a big part. It’s even emotional too, particularly concerning the old guard, as it’s hard not to feel a little overcome when seeing the likes of Luke and Leia adorn the silver screen yet again. But it’s the new generation of characters that impress most, and Ridley feels far more comfortable in the role of Rey than she did first time around, and she’s been tasked with a subtle performance here, for Rey is battling inner demons, and trying to come to terms with her newfound abilities – which, as we’ve so often seen in this franchise, if not harnessed properly can lead you towards the dark side. Driver steals the show too, with a remarkably nuanced display here, and most vitally, he’s still terrifying – carrying the film’s tone on his shoulders, for he seemed a little goofy, flawed and petulant in the first movie, but he’s also formidable and nefarious, and we capture every essence of his personality.
Unfortunately, there are some characters with unsatisfying arcs, none more than Finn, who was one of the very best characters in The Force Awakens, and here has less to do, and hos whole sub-storyline feels superfluous in its inclusion, as if the writers had no idea what to do with him. Instead, the crux of this piece is the ongoing internalised conflict within both Rey and Kylo Ren, and the former’s relationship with Luke is paramount to this too. Reminiscent of the latter’s meeting with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, there are certainly similarities to be found in The Last Jedi to that picture, and that is by no means a bad thing. However, one big difference is that this title does lag somewhat in the middle, badly structured and edited and with a long-winded, tedious middle act that ensures you really feel the run-time. Thankfully, it’s one that is redeemed with a compelling finale, and that sets up the final feature in this trilogy. Good luck J.J, it won’t be too easy to top this one.