The Best Star Wars Film Yet?
I was five when I first watched Star Wars: A New Hope. I remember sitting down in my home with snacks for a family movie, with the famous soundtrack blasting as the title began to roll up the screen. I watched with fascination as a Star Destroyer flew after the Tantive IV, not knowing any of the technical names for these fancy spaceships. And then Darth Vader walked across the screen, and I was help captive by the presence of one of the great screen villains. Fortunately for me, once A New Hope finished, I could watch The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in short succession through the power of home cinema and video cassettes. It was not until two years ago when The Force Awakens marched into cinemas that I found that same cinema magic from a Star Wars film. And now, how does The Last Jedi match up against a long-legacy of the epic fantasy-space-opera saga?
The answer is, incredibly well. In many ways The Last Jedi may be the best Star Wars film to date. I am reluctant to state this as the best without a second viewing. However, I do believe that the qualities of this particular film are truly worthwhile. For what Rian Johnson does in this film is to create a work of beautiful visual art that consists of a series of narrative sequences which: 1)Build the character development. 2)Drive the overall saga. 3)Create clever and unpredictable twists.
The plot of The Last Jedi is equally predictable as it is unpredictable. Rian Johnson delights in teasing the unfolding narrative, before quickly shocking the audience with unforeseen moments. Yet these moments feel as organic as they are bold – driving the overall theme of the film. As with many other Star Wars films, The Last Jedi opens with a hook-sequence which sets up the events that will unfold within the film’s scope.
The film then essentially follows a few main core storylines. First, following the Resistance and the First Order from where they were left after The Force Awakens. Secondly, following Rey from where she was left meeting Luke Skywalker for the first time. And yet, every preconceived notion you may have about how this film will run may very well be wrong. The narrative runs at a breakneck pace, with so many twists and turns. There is incredible action, there are plot twists, there is love and loss. Essentially every element of the best Star Wars stories exists in some form in The Last Jedi.
The characters of Rey and Kylo Ren are well-developed here as opposite sides of the force. While others have called Rey a ‘Mary Sue’ to do so ignores what she represents in the story here: the flawed naivete of a young hero. She is the female form of the ‘farmboy’ Luke Skywalker of the original films. And yet she is far more than that. Kylo Ren similarly is far more than just a Darth Vader knock-off. Adam Driver conveys an incredible mix of anger, pain, fear and youth in his nuanced portrayal of a young man with incredible power. A boy seeking to find his way in a world that treats him as a monster.
Then you have Finn and Poe Dameron. Each works hard within the narrative to find their place in the Resistance. Finn as the hero who left the First Order. Poe as the trigger-happy ‘flyboy’ – who again is far more than a simple Han Solo ring-in. Each character becomes more fleshed out, with their motivations and actions becoming greater clarified across the plot.
Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher deliver powerful performances as Luke and Leia. They serve as reminders of the past films, and symbols of the future to come within the expanding Star Wars universe. Other symbols of this universe are the new characters, or the characters we truly meet for the first time. Characters like Rose, a Resistance fighter, and Benecio Del Toro’s ‘DJ’ add to the greater sense of the universe. It is a shame however, that some of these characters for all their quirks receive limited screentime in the overall scheme of the story.
Let the Past Die
Ultimately, the reason audiences continue to absorb Star Wars’ films, books and media is down to the power of archetypes. Viewers need the power of hope as seen through literature and media. And The Last Jedi delivers on these themes of hope – like many Star Wars films it is at its strongest when its characters seem to be in the most dire of circumstances. And like all Star Wars films, Rian Johnson directs a film with a clear focus on exploring the dichotomy of good versus evil. What truly makes this such an excellent film however, is that he spends time exploring the grey areas of these moral forces through the light-side and dark-side. He challenges the notion of capitalism and explores the fabrication of war – tying this narrative into current issues in modern society.
Most strongly, this is a film about releasing the past. Rian Johnson answers many questions within this film that were posed by The Force Awakens. Often suggesting that the answers themselves do not matter, only their effect upon the characters and viewers. In many ways The Last Jedi targets the fans of the Expanded Universe who criticised Disney for their capitalism. It is a self-aware film, focused on providing a rollicking adventure but sharing something true and important. It balances the fun and serious sides of this science fiction canvas, achieving something rare: true hope.
It would be easy to dismiss The Last Jedi as a re-working of both Episodes V and VI. In many ways, it takes elements from these films and does rework them into something new. It subverts them – even from the very beginning of the film. And while this film has its weaknesses (a large runtime, and some odd stylistic choices in certain scenes), it is difficult to consider what could have been changed from a narrative point of view to improve it.
The Force Awakens was a love-letter to the past, criticised for being A New Hope in a remade form. Yet The Last Jedi is a map to the future, tearing down the audience’s understanding of the Star Wars mythology to pave a new way for the saga to continue. And that is a beautiful and powerful thing. The Last Jedi is a modern masterpiece and even as it paves the way for the future it is difficult to see how J.J. Abrams will manage to improve on this tale. For The Last Jedi moved me in a way that few films have since I first watched A New Hope nearly twenty years ago.
The Last Jedi
- Great continuation of the Star Wars saga
- Inventive, ingenious, a masterpiece
- A brisk pace with incredible balance
- Character development is spot on
- Possibly the best Star Wars film to date
- Some odd stylistic CGI choices/moments
- A long running time