Sunday, December 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Thinking back to the very first Star Wars film (1977), who could have imagined that the best thing for this legendary franchise was to have the director of the original films changed. George Lucas’ Episode I, II & III was a bitter pill to swallow for long time fans. Although the films were undoubtedly quintessential Star Wars films at heart, they were severely lacking in various departments. And although fans remained hopeful that the latest trilogy would redeem the franchise, the world couldn’t help but be optimistically sceptical about the future of the world’s most renowned sci-fi film franchise.

Back in 2015, the world experienced a massive sigh of relief though, when JJ Abrams reintroduced the world to Star Wars in spectacular fashion with Episode VII. Abrams did an amazing job bringing the franchise to a new generation, whilst still managing not to alienate longstanding fans of the franchise. Thanks to the massive box office success and critical acclaim of Episode VII, the sense of hype around the next instalment of the franchise was at an all-time high. But the big question on everyone’s lips: Was Abrams’ Episode VII a mere fluke and would Episode VIII falter, especially considering another change in director?

The good news is that the force is stronger than ever in the latest instalment. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is not just another amazing entry into the series, but one that in my opinion, improves on Episode VII in almost every way.

Whereas Episode VII had the relatively laborious and challenging task of re-contextualising the Star Wars world from a chronological perspective (without disrespecting the rich plot legacy), The Last Jedi was not constrained by the same responsibility – and it really does show in the end product. Seeing as most of the new generation Star Wars protagonists and antagonists were already ‘coloured in’ during the previous film, The Last Jedi could jump right into the thick of things, allowing for an intensely thrilling and exciting sci-fi action adventure that doesn’t get bogged down in extended characterisation work.

We see a more determined and confident side to Finn this time around. 
This is not however to say that there isn’t some great and meaningful character development in this entry of the franchise. All of central cast members are allowed ample screen time to illustrate how they have grown and matured since the previous entry, leading to a slightly darker and more serious Star Wars film. Without giving anything meaningful away, let’s just say that the Resistance is on the proverbial back foot in this instalment and director Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) does a commendable job in maintaining a sense of tension and vulnerability amongst the cast – there is a constant feeling that the ‘good guys’ are hanging by a thread and Johnson masterfully utilises this as a tension and thrill multiplier throughout the film. Daisy Ridley returns as a slightly more mature and confident Rey, masterfully commanding the screen in each and every scene she is a part of. Here’s an actress with an acting capability far beyond her years and an amazing range for believably portraying various emotional states.

The great thing however is that this same sense of vulnerability is also reflected in the opposing force: Although Kylo Ren and his lackeys clearly outnumber the Resistance in terms of sheer numbers and firepower, they are not as mentally stable and unified as one would imagine. To this respect, Adam Driver does another amazing job as the film’s main villain, as he constantly struggles to battle the Resistance as well as his own inner demons. There is once again a beautiful intensity and visceral aspect to Driver’s performance, as he takes us deeper into the psyche of a very troubled man. This is not to say that Driver’s character is portrayed as a complete madman – some of the film’s most intense moments comes from when Driver speaks with complete calmness about his undeniably coherent resolve.

..."some of the film’s most intense moments comes from when Driver speaks with complete calmness about his undeniably coherent resolve."

It’s via this mechanism that director Johnson does a fantastic job in illustrating one of the main themes of the Star Wars franchise: the balance between good and evil is a constantly shifting one, allowing for many grey areas between heroes and villains.

The rest of the cast are all really good too, with special mentions going to Benicio Del Toro as a charismatic and shady coder; Domhall Gleeson as the desperate General Hux; Mark Hamill in the best portrayal of Luke Skywalker ever; John Boyega as a more confident ex-storm trooper and Laura Dern, who plays a surprise role as the highly resolute and no nonsense Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo.

Kylo Ren is once again one of the highlights of the film.
And 700 words into this review, I haven’t even gotten to my favourite part of the film yet. To be honest, I’ve never been a massive fan of the space battles of the Star Wars franchise, feeling as if they always seem to come out lacking, ever so slightly. I have to admit though, The Last Jedi’s ample sprinkling of galactic space action completely took my breath away. Never before have I enjoyed these scenes as much and found them as exciting. Better yet, they don’t just feel like mindless space aerobatics – thanks to some surprising plot twists and unconventional tactical decisions (brought on by the Resistance’s desperate situation), these scenes are all enthralling and grippingly intense. This is not to stay that the franchise signature hand-to-hand combat scenes are not also captivating (especially when referring to a fight scene in Supreme Leader Snoke’s inner sanctum), it’s simply that the space fighting scenes outshine all others action scenes this time around.

Finally, it’s also important to mention that one of the best aspects of The Last Jedi is the fast moving plot, serving up numerous surprising plot twists that will keep the audience guessing up until the last scene of the film. This might sound like one of the smaller praises, but considering how easy it is for sci-fi films to fall into genre conventions, this really is a stellar achievement by Rian Johnson, who is not just responsible for directing this instant sci-fi classic, but also for writing the exceptional screenplay.

The Last Jedi is my favourite Star Wars film to date and arguably, also one of the best films in the entire franchise from a technical perspective. Every Star Wars fan or fan of sci-fi films needs to see this movie. Thanks to The Last Jedi, the case for investing the time into watching each and every Star Wars film is stronger than ever – even if it’s purely for the reason of seeing how much this legendary franchise has evolved since 1977.

Highlight: The climax of a fight in Supreme Leader Snoke’s inner sanctum and a space battle where Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo takes very desperate measures to save the Resistance.