Star Wars: The Last Jedi has finally arrived after two years of rampant speculation and hype building with the huge questions following The Force Awakens. Despite generally strong reception one of the big criticisms that The Force Awakens faced was accusations of playing it safe as merely of a rehash of A New Hope.
Any fears that The Last Jedi would attempt to do the same with The Empire Strikes Back can quickly be allayed as new writer and director Rian Johnson brings his own stamp and voice to the Star Wars Universe. What really stands out in The Last Jedi is the characters. We got a lot of Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren in the first film, but they never really got complete arcs or stories in The Force Awakens. But now all three, as well as Poe Dameron and Luke have brilliant journeys through The Last Jedi. Finn is a character who has always run away from his problems whilst Poe is someone who would dive in and act before thinking. They both need to find their place in the Resistance, Poe as a leader and Finn learning to not run from his problems. But it is Rey and Kylo Ren’s relationship that shines in The Last Jedi. The way that Johnson incorporates this relationship is fantastic, and Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are magnificent in the roles.
On top of all these returning characters there are several new ones added. Kelly Marie Tran, Benicio del Toro, and Laura Dern all join the cast in various roles. Tran and Dern offer new perspectives on life in the resistance, especially Tran’s character Rose who plays a minor resistance figure, one who works in maintenance, that the high up figures such as Leia, Poe, or Finn wouldn’t have known. All three slip into the wonderful cast brilliantly, and that could have been a big ask given just how on top of their game the entire cast is. Hamill in particular has never been better as Luke Skywalker as he delivers a powerful, emotional, and at time funny performance.
Obviously a Star Wars film wouldn’t be complete without great action set pieces, and boy does The Last Jedi deliver some of the best. From an epic opening space battle, to some of the greatest lightsaber action ever, and a beautiful final battle on the planet Crait. What really makes the action sequences is just how different they all are. We have two very different full scale battles, one in space and one on land, with the latter really delivering some truly epic moments, both visually and for the characters.
But it is more than just action sequences that make The Last Jedi, this has some of them most thematically interesting of all the Star Wars films. Whilst Johnson clearly has a great love of the old Star Wars films, he handles calls backs and nods to them far more subtly than Rogue One or The Force Awakens managed to, he isn’t afraid of breaking away from the ‘Jedi and good, Sith are evil’ approach to morality that the previous films in the franchise have taken. Instead the Johnson actually turns a more analytical eye on the former Jedi order. This is definitely something new for the franchise, and for Johnson to be able to take such risks and have it pay off is a great testament to him.
One thing that The Last Jedi excels at more than any other Star Wars film is in visual splendour. Cinematographer Steve Yedlin delivers some of the most beautiful shots that you will have ever seen from the franchise. The bold use of colours, particularly red, in key scenes, such as on Snoke’s ship or during the battle of Crait make this the most striking, and pleasing to watch, Star Wars film of all time. When you couple that an excellent blend of CGI and practical effects this adds up to a truly beautiful film.
But The Last Jedi is not a perfect film. At two and a half hours long it is comfortably the longest Star Wars film, and that will bother some people. Some of the middle portion of the film, particularly around the Canto Bight sequence, have divided people, with some believing that it begins to drag there. Personally I enjoyed this part of the film as this was where The Last Jedi was able to get into some of the more interesting social issues around war, as well as giving Boyega and Tran an opportunity to shine together.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is proving to be a divisive film, and given that this is probably the riskiest film ever. Rian Johnson has taken some bold risks with the film and as far as I am concerned he has created one of the best Star Wars films of all time, right up there with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.