Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes with a heap of expectations and questions. How will it continue the story set in motion by The Force Awakens? Can the series maintain its momentum? Will any of the questions raised in TFA be answered?
I will keep this spoiler free – well as much as possible. We start with the First Order hunting the Rebels with their surrogate Death Star ship. A ship with weapons that can totally destroy just about anything, Rebel bases included. Launching a daring (and wonderfully shot) counter attack Poe Dameron inadvertently causes the Rebels fleet to be decimated albeit after destroying the Death Star powered ship. Still in the path of the First Order, the rebels try to out run them. Meanwhile, we join Rey and Luke Skywalker on his island of solitude, to break it down for you – Rey wants Luke to come back to the fight but Luke ain’t having any of it. The film sits in this holding pattern for quite sometime with the Rebels holding off the First Order and Luke and Rey having a battle of wills, like a samurai film where the student follows the teacher around until he imparts his knowledge and despite a number of things happening around these two main plots, the story is fairly stagnant until it starts to pick up its pace when we get to the middle of Act II of both plots. The rebels hatch a plan to hide what remains of their fleet from the First Order and Rey feels she must try and confront Kylo Ren. The two plots do converge but it is rather predictable.
First off, the acting from everyone in Star Wars: The Last Jedi is good with newcomer (to the Star Wars Universe) Kelly Marie Tran as Rose is probably the stand out. It helps that her character arc and motivations are well defined and her and John Boyega have great chemistry. Driver and Ridley play their parts well, Driver makes Kylo his own and is far more memorable in Star Wars: The Last Jedi than The Force Awakens. Overall, everyone does what they need to without being spectacular. The writing is decent in terms of the kind of dialogue you want to hear in Star Wars, but as a story it leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, there are very high stakes, but you never feel them. It is as if any of the danger in the story has been muted or gets taken care of very, very quickly. There is no ‘moment’ in this film. In The Force Awakens it was Han’s death that packed a punch, but with the many things that could have and should have carried some heft, all seemed flat and muted as if they weren’t trying to upset anyone. You want (well, at the least I do) films to do that, to make you feel the danger, the thrill and the release when the heroes do heroic things. Unfortunately, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has none of these moments to make you feel. Also, for a lot of setup in The Force Awakens, there are two payoff moments that are so underwhelming you wonder why they bothered setting it up in the first place
Rian Johnson directs the film well, excelling in the action sequences. However, in the non-action scenes, there is nothing outside of your usual Star Wars film, but that is understandable given the pressure involved and the reluctance to colour outside the lines from the studio. Johnson to his credit does weave in some commentary that is quite on the money for the current climate. Whether it be the rich feeding off the poor or the exploitation of people and animals, there are very unsubtle comments on this. The other is that for people to get along, both with themselves and each other, is that you have to have balance which I believe is actually quite a good message to try and get out there, given the extreme views that leak out through social media and the like.
For a film that still has a third part coming to tie up the story, this film seemed like a soft reboot for the last thirty minutes, things were put in place and they basically almost said we are starting over. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is entertaining enough, but with the studio seemingly afraid to give these films their own personality, unfortunately, the new crop of Star Wars films will never go beyond being muted tent-pole films. With Johnson taking the reins for the new trilogy, hopefully this can change.