Well, here we go again! In what has become my new favourite biennial Christmas tradition, Star Wars is back with another instalment of its main franchise series. Back in 2015, The Force Awakens reignited by passion for the galaxy far, far away, and last year’s first spin off picture Rogue One might just be my favourite Star Wars film to date, so it’s safe to say that Disney have done a stellar job of righting the horrendous wrongs of the prequel trilogy so far. Could they continue the amazing streak with Episode IX: The Last Jedi?
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. It was never in any doubt. The Last Jedi picks up right where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) making contact with the long lost Luke Skywalker (Luke Hamill), and Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and co. engaging in intergalactic battles with the dreadnoughts and ships of the First Order. Bridging the gap between the two plot threads is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), still torn between his mastery of the dark side and his call back toward the light, and the narrative progresses at break neck pace to combine each and every character and subplot in a thrilling tale of self discovery, heroism and history altering decisions.
The Force Awakens was compared to A New Hope, and it would be fair to say that The Last Jedi could certainly be compared The Empire Strikes Back, and what the hell is wrong with that!? High praise indeed to be aligned with one of the very best Star Wars movies. The film has everything that one could possibly want in a grade A Star Wars film. Stunning set piece actions sequences, genuinely likeable characters, obstacles to confront both large and small, effective humour to break the tension, and of course, a few plot twists here and there.
I love love loved it, but it must be said that The Last Jedi is not completely flawless. Sure, some set pieces work better than others and some side plots are more successful than others, but I only have to think back to the dark days of 56 hour long pod race scenes and any small sins are soon forgiven. There have been a few wider criticisms that some of the humour doesn’t quote fit with the universe, but I have to say that it all worked just fine for me. Those looking for absolute perfection are those who are setting themselves up for disappointment. My head says 9 out of 10 but my heart won’t let me give anything less than full marks. I love cinema, you can find me in an empty daytime theatre at least two days out of every week, and it is safe to say that nothing, nothing gives me the nostalgic, childish, wistful sense of wonderment that these new Stars Wars instalments have been giving me for the past two years. In a cinematic universe so big and a fan base so large, pleasing 100% is an impossible task, but believe me when I say that The Last Jedi is so good that it absolutely has the potential to do so.
This new generation of Star Wars cast member continues to bring it in every single scene. As Rey, Daisy Ridley is carving out a place for herself alongside the likes of Sigourney Weaver as a sci-fi/fantasy icon for the ages. The mixture of strength and vulnerability that Ridley balances as Rey makes for a really endearing and relatable character. She is far away the leading star of the current franchise. Joining her as a front runner is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, giving a much more involved and nuanced performance in this second instalment as we see more of the old Ben Solo start to emerge from the dark. Together, the two share some great chemistry, and I’m really excited to see where the Rey and Kylo Ren connection goes next.
Not to be ignored is the chemistry that Ridley also shares with Mark Hamill. As the former poster boy of the franchise, Hamill gives arguably his best performance as the iconic Luke Skywalker. Transformed in to almost a reluctant Obi Wan Kenobi figure, Luke’s old enthusiasm and heroism is transformed into fear and dread thanks to his history with Kylo Ren, and it takes the infectious righteousness of Rey to bring him back from the wilderness to play an important role in proceedings.
Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron continues to be suave and impulsive in all of the best ways, taking over that cheeky rogue mantle that Harrison Ford’s Han Solo left behind. John Boyega as Finn and new cast member Kelly Marie Tran as Resistance maintenance worker Rose Tico both give great performances, even though they are given the task of executing arguably the least impactful and effective plot thread in the film. Further solid turns are given by the likes of Laura Dern and Domhnall Gleeson, with Andy Serkis and Lupita Nyong’o adding some flavour with their CGI work.
The film though, for me, at least, really belongs to the late great Carrie Fisher. Much more involved in proceedings that in The Force Awakens, Fisher is at her kickass best through the course of the film, and given the tragic event of her death almost one year ago today (on my birthday, to be exact), each and every scene feels in hindsight like a bittersweet and melancholy goodbye. It breaks my heart that we will never again see Leia on the big screen, the Princess, the General, the ultimate badass. Both Fisher and the character will be sadly missed.
Overall, as you can clearly tell, The Last Jedi is a triumph for me. I concede that I might not be the most neutral voice when it comes to Star Wars, but the hype train is still well and truly steaming ahead thanks to the quality of these new instalments. Each one is better than the last, the only problem being that we have to wait so long for the next! Happy Christmas, and may the force be with you, always.