The Resistance is on the backfoot against the might of the First Order. Darkness is rising. Time is running out. Does the galaxy need a legend?

The new Star Wars trilogy was initially deigned to be a passing of the torch of sorts between generations, with our older heroes clearing the way for a new hope to take the reins and steer the galaxy to a new era. The endless cycle of a dormant darkness once again bubbling up from the depths, with light rising to meet it and balance being restored at the end was all but promised amidst the warm nostalgia of the first chapter. Time for expectations to go out the window, then.

kylo
Adam Driver returns as Vader-wannabe Kylo Ren.

The Last Jedi takes a hard left, and most tantalising plot threads that were left dangling away are either dead, or clinging on for dear life from the Millennium Falcon’s thrusters. The Force Awakens left our heroes in a pretty good place all things considered (RIP Han), with the planet-annihilating Starkiller Base successfully destroyed, the First Order left licking its wounds in the wake of its ruin, and the plucky Jedi-to-be Rey embarking on a journey to find and train with the legendary Jedi Master himself, Luke Skywalker. Picking up steam immediately after those promising endings, a bruised and battered Resistance is once again on the backfoot against Supreme Leader Snoke’s army, with the sneering General Hux preparing to snuff out what remains of Leia Organa’s rebel fleet.

Snoke and mirrors

It’s got all the hallmarks of its predecessors, from thrilling space dogfights to glorious celestial vistas, impossible creatures, nods to the series’ sprawling mythology, and a few clear homages to famous moments from Star Wars history. A darker second entry this is, but The Empire Strikes Back it most certainly isn’t. For writer and director Rian Johnson (responsible for the excellent time-travel thriller Looper), Empire would be an easy template to follow, with everything simply going to hell, heroes pushed to their limits, and revelations and twists being dropped like microphones after an Arctic Monkeys acceptance speech. Instead, we take a more introspective look at the Star Wars universe, at the heroes we deify, and the series’ inherent concepts of good and evil, destiny, and legacy.

luke2.jpg
“This is not going to go the way you think!”

Luke Skywalker (the iconic role reprised by Mark Hamill as an infinitely more entertaining jaded old hermit who now spends his time milking sea monsters and brooding) has faded into legend since the end of Return of the Jedi. He has no interest in joining the fight and picking up a lightsabre for another bout: he has resigned himself to an unfindable island on an unfindable planet to die. If the question on everyone lips during The Force Awakens was “where is Luke Skywalker?”, the question this time around is surely “what the hell is up with Luke Skywalker?” How easy it would have been to see a begrudging Luke train young Rey (played with wide-eyed wonder and conviction by the excellent Daisy Ridley) in the ways of the Jedi, but instead, we are met by a disillusioned Luke, now a very different man to the Jedi we saw overthrow the Galactic Empire 30 years ago. Haunted by his failure to stop Kylo Ren’s descent to darkness and the rise of the First Order, he vows to his eager new Padawan that the ways of the Jedi must end.

Luke who’s talking too

The more we learn about Luke and what became of that twinkly-eyed rebel farm boy from Tattoine, the more convinced I am that the changes Rian Johnson has made are brave, bold, and absolutely necessary to the story, and the evolution and future of the entire Star Wars saga. And it’s not just Luke. Characters and situations defy expectations at every opportunity, and we’re forced to take a deeper look at what’s actually happening. Poe (a wise-cracking Oscar Isaac on top-form once again) defies orders and leads an electrifying interstellar assault on yet another First Order super-weapon in one of the best opening scenes in the entire series, but General Leia (the late, great Carrie Fisher) reprimands and demotes him for getting good soldiers killed in his recklessness.

Blowing up Death Stars and cutting through bad guys with a lightsabre looks badass, but with lives and relationships at stake, a reputation as a totally rad space samurai or a shit-hot fighter pilot doesn’t get you a free pass to do whatever you want. We’ve been watching stories about chosen heroes fulfilling their destiny and “bringing balance to The Force” for 40 years now, but peace never lasts, and the cycle always repeats itself. Why carry on doing things the old way if the old way is broken?

poe.jpg
Name a more iconic duo.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver conjuring the kind of raw emotion and conflict we should have seen in the corruption of Anakin Skywalker) urges Rey to “let the past die”, while a much wiser source tells us that failure is “the greatest teacher”. Failure is at the very core of The Last Jedi, from the crushing guilt carried by an old man, to mistakes and missteps made by everyone from Resistance fighters to the twisted Kylo Ren. It’s here, in how the characters learn from and act on their failure – and even how they don’t – that The Last Jedi breaks out from the shadow of The Empire Strikes Back, and we leave the cinema not in shock and despair, but with a spark of hope in our hearts.

Elsewhere, former Stormtrooper and newly-minted Resistance hero Finn (the riotously entertaining John Boyega) enters into an exciting partnership with engineer Rose (newcomer Kelly Marie Tran effortlessly melting hearts everywhere), as they abscond to a Monaco-esque planet that acts as a surrogate, upmarket Mos Eisley Cantina. The film stumbles as it takes less delicate stabs at the arms trade, slavery, and animal cruelty here, and while it provides some eye-popping chase scenes and a solid appearance from Benicio Del Toro as a deceitful codebreaker, it doesn’t really service the story as a whole.

“The spark that will light the fire”

Star Wars is reborn today. Shrugging off the shackles of audience expectations and unceremoniously slashing ties to its own destiny, with The Last Jedi, the Star Wars saga has spread its wings and set course for star systems untravelled. The runtime is over two and a half hours, and though it inevitably stumbles in the run-up, its aim is true. Boasting some of the most visually arresting sequences in the entire series, digging deeper and darker into the lore than ever before, and making some of the series’ bravest storytelling choices since 1980, The Last Jedi is a dazzling space epic that will prove to be a timelessly relevant addition to the Star Wars legend.

5/5

Advertisements