The Last Jedi (2017) – Review by Matt Fox (May The Toys Be With You)
I had tickets safely booked in several weeks before release. I’d be watching The Last Jedi at the local Curzon with my family, including two young daughters who’d both very much enjoyed The Force Awakens. However, as a keen Star Wars poster collector with a completist streak, when I heard news that Odeon were giving out an exclusive poster on opening weekend to those who saw the film in 3D I hastily scrabbled together a second viewing, this time with friends. So I’m writing this review having watched The Last Jedi twice on consecutive nights! I’ve only ever done that once with a movie before (Back To The Future, and that was indeed way back as a 13 year old in 1985).
Despite The Last Jedi being longer than any Star Wars movie to date, the older me thoroughly enjoyed every minute. The length, and the episodic structure of the movie, gave it the feeling of watching a box set TV show. Those evenings when you watch two episodes and really ought to go to bed, but then you look at your partner and go… shall we do just one more?
The opening crawl has never had less to do, as the action follows on so closely from The Force Awakens. Rey is holding out the lightsabre plaintively to Luke (his response drew howls of laughter from the audience on both nights – this movie has belly laughs throughout and is comfortably the funniest of all the Star Wars films), and up in space above the evacuated Rebel Base (we get just a tiny glimpse of Greenham Common) the Rebels are doing a runner after exposing themselves by their assault on Starkiller Base.
Here we see more of the lighter tone as Poe first trolls General Hux to buy time for the rebels and then runs rings around an old warhorse type First Order General who is piloting an enormous Dreadnought Class Star Destroyer. I’d have liked to have seen more of this General as he seems competent and professional in the military manner that we’ve come to expect from the Empire – Hux really does not, and is generally played as the butt of the joke in every scene he’s in, which does reflect back on the First Order and makes them seem a bit toothless and unthreatening.
The bomber run on the Dreadnought is a bravura opening set piece, the James Bond tactic of giving the audience some major action right from the off. Really well delivered sequence, which achieves the tricky balance of evoking the mayhem of battle whilst retaining clear geography and audience understanding of what’s going on. On first viewing I did wonder why the camera lingered so much on the Asian bomber pilot with her unusual necklace, but that small query was answered soon after as she is shown to be the sister of Rose – a new character who would act as a foil for Finn and provide the film with a moral centre. She is a character that might be viewed as ‘sappy’ by some, but to balance her – and balance is certainly a strong theme throughout – she shares many scenes with another new character, DJ played by Benicio Del Toro, who represents the absence of morality altogether.
However Finn, Rose, and DJ’s story is a side dish to the main event (in fact it could be excised altogether with little impact on the rest of the tale, however for me that would be a great shame as there is much to enjoy in the Canto Bight sojourn and I’d much rather have more Star Wars rather than less). The meat of the story is Rey’s journey, and the pull she endures between Kylo and Luke. Daisy Ridley remains a magnetic presence to watch, and is an actress that effortlessly takes the audience on a journey with her, just as Mark Hamill did in Star Wars. The two of them have some wonderful interactions, and the rocky crags of Jedi Island (I know it has a proper name but it’s always going to be Jedi Island to me) provide a great backdrop to their spiky and unpredictable relationship. The monastic environment also allows for the mystical mythos of Star Wars to percolate and brew in a way that it hasn’t done since Dagobah. Nature is the Force and the Force is everywhere. It elegantly retcons the mistake of Midichlorians, and the Force is no longer a medical condition that can be measure by a blood test… a product of your genes. Once again those childhood dreams of anyone being able to become a Jedi through dedication, meditation and hard work are back on the table.
Throughout her stay on Jedi Island, Rey also builds a relationship with Kylo. Like a creepy internet romance they speak remotely through the force. When Rey eventually goes to him, and the two of them stand before Snoke, as an audience you really don’t know how this encounter is going to play out – beautifully handled by Rian Johnson. And then… the sequence that the film has been building towards. Played out in Snoke’s blood red chamber – never forget that cinema is a visual medium – the fight sequence between Rey, Kylo and the Royal Guards is one for the ages. A real stunning treat for the eyes, and the highlight of the film for me.
Whilst on highlights it would be remiss if I didn’t mention lowlights. For me, BB8 in the Scout Walker didn’t work, either conceptually or in execution. And story wise I would have preferred for Admiral Ackbar to occupy the role that was given to new character Admiral Holdo.
I would put The Last Jedi on par with both The Force Awakens and Rogue One, and all three of these new films would sit slightly below the Original Trilogy. It’s my favourite film of 2017, and I am thrilled to have new Star Wars content to enjoy and rewatch. As Kylo says, ‘let the past die’, and we are now all set for the new cast of Star Wars to do battle in the final act of the trilogy.