At the time of writing I have seen The Last Jedi twice. While my thoughts about the movie are fractured and puzzlingly contradictory, I can without a shadow of a doubt say that for the most part, Episode VIII takes the series in a bold new direction. It is this boldness, this decision to treat characters who are undoubtedly icons at this point with reckless abandon that I have the most issue with however. The Last Jedi is an incredible action film, a funny one too. But as a Star Wars film, it misses the mark completely.
I’d stayed almost radio silent in the lead up to the release of Episode VIII. Bar the first trailer and a few screenshots here and there, I genuinely had very little idea about what the main plot would be. One piece of pre-release information had caught my eye however; and that was Mark Hamill’s thoughts on the script upon reading it. For those who didn’t catch it, Hamill fundamentally disagreed with the direction that director Rian Johnson had chosen for the character of Luke Skywalker. This is perhaps the most telling indicator of how the film ended up and is what will no doubt split the fanbase into two distinct camps.
On one side, there will be those who will praise the movie and in many ways, rightly so. From the outset the movie delivers scene after scene of excellent action and character development. Recently established characters like Poe go through genuinely stirring arcs which are a joy to watch. Brand new characters like Rose fit right in with little exposition needed and provide the movie with a bucket load of heart. There are space battles, twists, turns and even moments of agony. So why then do I feel so wholeheartedly empty having just finished my second viewing?
This is where the second camp will no doubt come in to play. These viewers, myself included, are likely to be more immersed in Star Wars than a more casual fan. It is to these fans that Episode VIII will leave a sour taste. This ultimately comes down to the treatment of several of the film’s central characters, specifically Luke. The decisions made in the movie, while no doubt shocking and interesting, go against everything we know from the series thus far. Several of the new mysteries set up are also cast aside too in aid of shocking and tantalising the audience. I will commend the director Rian Johnson for his boldness of vision at least. To make some of the decisions made here requires real guts and belief in your vision so I am at least excited by the news that he will be handling a new trilogy with all new characters.
It’s this nagging feeling at the back of my mind that really puts a downer on the whole thing because on paper, this is a great movie. Whenever Rey and Kylo share the screen, the chemistry is electric and watching Finn and Rose team up in a last ditch mission to save their friends from imminent annihilation is thrilling from start to finish. There are plot holes galore, sure, but what Star Wars movie is watertight?
My biggest question upon leaving the cinema was what comes next? 2015’s The Force Awakens raised a handful of genuinely intriguing mysteries which set the internet ablaze in fervid debate. Episode VIII does no such thing; Instead, it throws out answers at light speed. The final third is exhilarating, beautifully filmed action, but does little to create a buzz around its successor. Hope has always been a central theme in Star Wars and this is no different. While Episode VIII ends with very few loose ends untied, there is at least a hint at what is to come, a new hope, again.
Tonally, this is probably the most comedic Star Wars movie yet with General Hux, Finn and even Kylo providing comic relief at times. Some of the jokes don’t work, especially considering the levity of what is happening to the characters at large, but most settle into that nice, family friendly Hollywood blockbuster sweet spot. There has always been humour in Star Wars, from Master Yoda riding Luke through the swamps of Degobah, to Poe calling Kylo out on his dumb, muffled voice. Here however, some of it is unwelcome and mishandled. Luke, for example, is much more of a comedic character than necessary and in the final battle in particular, just comes off as cocky.
The best part about Episode VIII is the individual character arcs present throughout. Rey finishes the movie in a very different place than where she starts. As does Kylo who, thanks to another excellent performance from Adam Driver, keeps the audience guessing right up until the final moment. Carrie Fischer is an absolute delight on screen and Leia is a much larger part of the film than I think any of us were expecting.
The action is also a real strong point of the film. The opening 15 minutes are pure Star Wars bliss, featuring a space assault on a huge Star Destroyer and a real stand-out moment for Poe. Often though, the actions of many of the characters end up being completely meaningless in the grand scope of the plot. Poe, Finn and Rose are all involved in plot lines which by the last battle, really amount to nothing at all. A Star Wars film wouldn’t be complete without a lightsaber action sequence and here we are treated to a real gem. I won’t ruin it here but once again the film does something a little different to what we’re used to (there’s a theme here) and ends up being completely thrilling as a result.
The main theme set up in the trailers was the idea of light and dark, and more importantly balance. The film plays with these themes but never truly invests in them fully. Skywalker’s attitudes towards the Jedi seem forced, and his hesitance to help and instead go into hiding while the galaxy crumbles around him even more so. The key turning point in the movie comes in the form of a scene we have been waiting for years to play out. First glimpsed briefly in The Force Awakens, the destruction of Luke’s Jedi Academy should be a poignant and important moment for this new trilogy. The reality though is a confusing mix of out-of-character motives and disappointing reveals. If you were hoping to leave the movie knowing more about why Kylo is the monster that he is, move along.
Thrilling space battles, a lightsaber action sequence to end all and excellent character development for some, cannot outweigh the missteps this film takes. By taking characters we know and love and forcing them into an underdeveloped and risky direction just to elicit a feeling of new, Episode VIII commits some real atrocities to the Star Wars universe. There are some who will look past these glaring errors, choosing to enjoy the film for what it is on the surface, an excellent action film with a whole lot of heart. But for many, these decisions will be unforgivable and as far as Episode IX goes? I have a bad feeling about this.
Verdict 5 Out of 10