Mark Hamill stars as Luke Skywalker in the hotly awaited Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
It’s a long trip from Down Under to practically anywhere else – but there are some perks. Thanks to the International Date Line, you sometimes get to see blockbuster movies before your friends in Europe and the Americas. Like The Last Jedi, which I got to see a day ahead from all of my stateside friends. If you’re worried about spoilers, don’t worry – the spoiler version of this review will run on Friday.
First-off: The Last Jedi is worlds better than any of the prequel films. It’s no Empire Strikes Back, but I’d argue that it’s superior to Return of the Jedi. It helps that we’ve already gotten to know most of the characters, but the action unfolds with a stronger sense of story progression than The Force Awakens, whose planet-hopping often felt rushed in the latter half. It is also, unexpectedly, much funnier than you might expect from a Star Wars film. That’s not a bad thing, just a little different.
The script of The Last Jedi was penned by director Rian Johnson, whose visual aesthetic is a little less flashy than J. J. Abrams (not that many were complaining about that in the last film). It’s also very red – a nod, perhaps, to the looming evil. As expected, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) returns for a major role; worried fans might take some heart that Leia (Carrie Fisher) has a very substantial role, without the distracting CGI of the character’s Rebel One appearance.
Much of the most compelling parts of The Force Awakens involved the creation of new team dynamics – Poe and Finn in the first arc, Finn and Rey in the second, and Finn, Rey, and Han (sorry, Chewie) in the third. This is something that thankfully continues in The Last Jedi, which breaks up the central trio of new characters for much of its length. We get to know them better, as well as the Supreme Leader Smoke and a few notable new characters such as Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). Also continuing a theme from The Force Awakens and Rebel One is an increased emphasis on the female protagonists as story drivers and featured leads. There’s even more screen time for the female rogues, like Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) and Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) – both of whose backstories were only barely hinted at in the previous installment. It’s a welcome change and causes no dissonance with the franchise.
The prequel trilogy was arguably the low point of the Star Wars saga’s alien designs. The creatures are probably much closer to George Lucas’s prequel visions, especially the cuddly Porgs. (Porg toys are going to sell like Minions and Ewoks.) Like the creatures, the cinematography is impressively beautiful and exciting to look at, without falling into visual excess. The editing is also tight and coherent, making strong use of extended shots versus jump cuts.
It’s always hard to evaluate a pop culture juggernaut like the Star Wars franchise, but The Last Jedi should please fans and newcomers alike. It’s not a tonal clone of The Empire Strikes Back, instead striking out in a new and compelling direction. That movement’s been a long time coming – but if Hollywood is learning anything this season, this film’s advances will not be the last.
The Last Jedi opens in local cinemas starting at 7 PM on Thursday, 12/14.