REVIEW: The Last Jedi moves Star Wars forward by breaking new ground (No spoilers)
"I don't like sand. It's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere" - Anakin
A piece of dialogue in Attack of the Clones that caused more despair in the Star Wars galaxy than the destruction of Alderaan and Han Solo being frozen in carbonite combined. Hope appeared to be lost but for the most part, George Lucas managed to redeem himself with the crowd-pleasing Revenge of the Sith.
A decade passed before J.J. Abrams faced up to The Force Awakens and his task was harder than you think.
Here's what we imagine his checklist looked like.
- Introduce new characters while giving the fan favourites sufficient screen time.
- Avoid the CGI clunkfest and awful dialogue that plagued the prequels.
- Tick the nostalgia boxes for old fans of the original trilogy while simultaneously making things feel fresh and new.
- Leave enough breathing space for new writers/ directors to kick-on with the story.
All this without mentioning the fact that every single Star Wars fan has an idea of what their film should be.
Bearing this in mind, The Force Awakens did a fine job of balancing expectations and hopes but as the credits rolled, fans instantly started thinking where Rey, Kylo Ren, Finn, Luke, Leia etc were headed.
On that note, The Last Jedi is a completely different Star Wars film to what fans have seen.
If you're one of the people that felt TFA was too eager to copy the plot of A New Hope, you'll be pleased to know that Rian Johnson's film is very happy to be its own adventure.
As we start The Last Jedi, we learn that The First Order is rabidly hunting down any rogue strands of The Resistance. Elsewhere, on Ahch-To, Rey is eager to take her first steps towards becoming a Jedi but as Daisy Ridley has said in various interviews "it’s difficult when you meet your heroes because they might not be what you expect.”
Star Wars fans will be delighted to know that Mark Hamill is an absolute tour de force throughout The Last Jedi. This is a very different Luke from the wide-eyed boy that was staring at the twin suns of Tatooine though.
It's clear that he's carrying scars - both physically and mentally - and Hamill imbues the Jedi Master with a rugged and cantankerous wisdom. This being said, there's still plenty of that wit, cheek, and heroism that we all love so much. In terms of emotionally-charged performances and scenes, there's a particular moment in The Last Jedi that comes close to rivaling Ian McDiarmid's sinister speech to Anakin during ROTS.
Mark Hamill, Adam Driver and a sequence that every Star Wars fan has had visions of. We'll say no more.
As for the other new faces, Domhnall Gleeson goes into giddy OTT villainy as General Hux chews up every frame that he's in. Adam Driver's Kylo Ren perfectly maintains that balance of petulance, violence, and conflict while Daisy Ridley's journey as Rey is at the heart of the story.
In terms of its tone, The Last Jedi is markedly different to any other Star Wars film that came before it. Themes like mythology, sacrifice, hope, destiny, ambition, what defines true leadership, and the follies of following heroes are all prevalent throughout. To his credit, Johnson rarely gives an easy answer to any of them.
While this all sounds darker than Darth Sidious on a bad day, there are some breathtaking sequences that adhere to the Star Wars tradition.
To begin with, we're hurled into the action with a scene that's reminiscent of the 'holy s**t' opening of Revenge of the Sith. There's also a lightsaber duel that's unlike anything we've seen in the saga and as for that battle on Crait, it's clear that Johnson has been brushing up on his WWII films because the camerawork and cinematography are stunning.
Much like The Force Awakens, there's also a clear effort to keep the CGI to a minimum but where The Last Jedi excels is in the performances. For hardcore Star Wars fans, there are moments in The Last Jedi that will break you down and then build you up - the scenes with Carrie Fisher are particularly poignant and moving.
It's not all serious stuff though. The Porgs lighten the mood, Poe Dameron continues to adequately fill that Solo-sized hole in our hearts (nothing will replace Han though) and Benicio del Toro's new character is like some bonkers mix of Brad Pitt and the taxi driver from Scrooged.
The Last Jedi doesn't match The Empire Strikes Back levels of greatness - what can?- and the film does have its flaws. For example, John Boyega is largely sidelined, some plot points are poorly developed and it's about 10 minutes too long - but The Last Jedi does something that very few Star Wars films have managed to pull off, it lingers in your head.
As the credits roll, you'll know exactly why Disney have trusted Johnson to kick-start their new trilogy and after Ron Howard's Solo: A Star Wars Story is released next year, all eyes turn to Episode IX as J.J. Abrams gets to finish this particular saga.
Johnson's work on The Last Jedi means that Abrams is "all clear, kid. Now let's blow this thing and go home."
Right now, the Force is in perfect balance.