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Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi – “absolutely tremendous”

Episode VIII of the Star Wars saga – The Last Jedi – is written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper). The film sees the return of Daisy Ridley (Murder on the Orient Express), John Boyega (Detroit), Adam Driver (Paterson) and Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), alongside original trilogy stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, and newcomers to the ‘verse Benicio del Toro (The Usual Suspects), Kelly Marie Tran (XOXO) and Laura Dern (Jurassic Park).

Minor spoilers ahead.

The rebels are on the run from the First Order. Their escape ships are zipping through the galaxy to try and find a new base, but as the First Order have developed the technology to track them through hyperspace – there is no escape. Finn (Boyega) and Rose (Tran) set off to find “DJ” (del Toro) – the one man who can get them onboard the First Order’s dreadnought so that they can disable the tracker. This leaves Poe (Isaac) with General Organa (Fisher) and Admiral Holdo (Dern), where the hot-headed pilot’s just-blow-everything-up attitude jars with Holdo’s calm and secretive approach.

Isaac’s Poe Dameron is as charismatic as ever, and his solo attack on a seemingly insurmountable foe makes for an incredible beginning to the film. The effects and battle choreography are jaw-dropping, while Johnson’s glimpses within the cockpits attach us to the pilots so that every death and sacrifice is an emotional sucker punch. Johnson’s space battles are not just eye candy – he has truly put the war into Star Wars: heightening the stakes and the emotions so that you become genuinely so anxious and invested that you are on edge throughout the film.

Meanwhile, Rey’s (Ridley) attempts to persuade Luke (Hamill) to come back with her to join the new rebellion show Johnson’s other core strength – unpredictability. From the first scene where we meet Master Luke the unexpected happens, and Johnson spins our heads with his narrative unpredictability throughout. Being shown that anything can and will happen so early on leaves you pondering side switches and reveals and possible demises that in any other blockbuster you would never seriously think would happen as all too real and terrifying possibilities.

Consumed with guilt, Skywalker wants nothing to do with the rebels or this powerful young force user; but he grudgingly eventually relents, teaching her the history of the Jedi and how to truly harness her power. Hamill provides a wonderful performance as a haunted hermit hippy, unable to move forward after the fall of his former pupil Kylo Ren (Driver), and Ridley’s eagerness to learn is tempered by frustration and a creeping undertow temptingly pulling her to the dark side.

Kylo Ren remains conflicted himself about which side he should take, and is enraged and emotionally manipulated by Andy Serkis’s horrifically evil Snoke. Driver is excellent as the short-tempered apprentice whose path is not set and whose actions are impossible to predict. He and Ridley also showcase their terrific physicality and athleticism during their involvement in what is the best Star Wars fight scene we have seen so far.

Finn and Rose’s drawn out scenes on a casino planet as they track down DJ drag though. The criticisms of capitalism are too on the nose, the kids are too twee and the whole endeavour feels extraneous until a pay off at the end of the film which is frustratingly schmaltzy. The porgs prove to not be an issue, thankfully. Frequently featured, but always cute and funny; as are the caretakers on Luke’s island hideaway. The script could do with cutting back some of the pithy one-liners though, with a a barrage of Whedon-esque one liners sometimes not relieving tension, but undercutting the emotion. These zingers are expected and beloved from Poe – but shouldn’t be part of absolutely everyone’s dialogue.

Still, The Last Jedi is absolutely tremendous – full of heart and action and emotion. Johnson’s grasp of this galaxy, and his masterful mix of known elements and his own new ideas and directions feels fresh and exciting – never just a retread of previous films and moments. Rian Johnson is truly the right choice to take the franchise forward in a new trilogy that will follow JJ Abram’s Episode IX.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is released in the UK on the 15th of December.

You can also read Sarah’s review here.

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