So…there’s not much doubt I’m going to like this one, is there? I am not the kind of hard core Star Wars fan who reads all the novels and comics, but I have read a few and I’m a fan. I also loved The Force Awakens, comparisons with A New Hope be damned. I will try to avoid spoilers.
If The Force Awakens was the new trilogy’s version of A New Hope, The Last Jedi should be the new Empire Strikes Back. And it is…but it also isn’t in some important ways. While TFA ended in a hopeful place for most of the characters, the opening of this new film reminds us that before StarKiller base was blown to bits, it was used to wipe out most of the new Republic. It leaves the Resistance on the run, despite their victory. And the victory doesn’t feel like much when all the villains survived: Kylo Ren, Snoke, Hux and Phasma are all back.
So we begin in a dark place, and things get progressively darker; in that respect the film does parallel Empire. But in other ways it’s closer to Return of the Jedi. Now I have very strong views on what’s forgivable and what isn’t in fiction as much as real life and Ren’s act of murder at the end of TFA puts him firmly in my “unforgivable” box. This is the arc in the movie I was most worried about because Star Wars is all about that turn from dark to light. I think this film handled it brilliantly. I won’t spoil. I’ll just say that everyone around Kylo – Rey, Luke, Snoke and even Leia is perfectly in character in their reactions to him and his arc plays out beautifully. And boy does Adam Driver sell it! He’s an amazing actor. It’s a great tease: you are not sure which way he will flip until the moment he does and that’s why, when that moment comes, it works so well.
There are things in this one that don’t work as well. Poe Dameron has apparently had a personality transplant between movies; I didn’t like what they did with his character at all. The sub-plot with Finn and new character Rose, while it has a lovely payoff in the very last scene, feels redundant and I wish they had given Finn something better. Luke is…I don’t know. He has some amazing moments but I guess I feel ambivalent about his storyline as a whole. It doesn’t feel right for the Luke I remember.
Although, there is a lot that’s good in Luke’s story here, too. What’s lacking is his backstory. It’s there, but only the bare bones and what we know raises more questions that I suspect won’t be answered.
Rey’s arc had few surprises. She’s learning to be a Jedi (and if that’s a spoiler you must have missed the first movie). Not the way she expected and with some twists that I really hope the next film picks up, but the beats are predictable.
Leia…oh captain, my captain. I knew it would be hard to watch, knowing Carrie Fisher is gone. All I can say is she has the perfect ending here. I’m not sure how they will transition to the next episode without her but although Leila isn’t in this film a lot, she is absolutely brilliant in all of her scenes.
Although it’s fundamentally a dark story, there are some hilarious moments. Particularly on Luke’s island, and with General Hux who is brilliantly over-acted by Domhnall Gleeson.
What else? The battles are amazing. Watching the trailer I thought that the planet with the bright red soil was, well, it looks good but I thought it was created to look good rather than to enhance the plot. I still think that, but it does make a neat plot point if you pay close attention during that fight.
Oh, and the Porgs! No, I’m not a fan, but I’m open to persuasion. There’s a certain scene where they ruin Chewbacca’s dinner which was particularly hilarious and given the way they infested the Millenium Falcon I think we’ll be seeing them again.
And now I’m edging into spoiler territory so I will stop there.
All in all…a good film. Perhaps not amazing, but definitely a worthy addition to the saga.