In this eighth instalment of Star Wars franchise, Rey (Daisy Ridley) joins Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) alongside the rest of the existing and new heroes on an epic adventure that unlocks the mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past.
Before I proceed with my review, I have a few confessions to make. Prior to the screening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I have little anticipation with this eighth instalment of the Star Wars franchise. Perhaps it has to do with that dreaded feeling of franchise fatigue, especially given its one-Star–Wars-movie-a-year policy since J.J. Abrams revitalized the franchise with Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 and followed by Gareth Edwards’ first spin-off, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story the year after. Then, there were the trailers. I hate to say this but they were surprisingly underwhelming. In fact, they hardly generate the kind of excitement that The Force Awakens trailer did successfully the first time around.
Fortunately, director Rian Johnson (Looper) proves to be a worthy addition to the Star Wars franchise. Although this is his first big-budget blockbuster filmmaking, he shows plenty of confidence in his direction. From the dazzling space battle sequence to the thrilling set-piece on the mineral planet of Crait featuring a row of V-4X-D Ski Speeders blowing a cloud of red dust that perfectly contrasted the white background, Johnson does a great job staging the action with verve. As a result, they are both epic and spectacular enough best experienced in the IMAX cinema. The lightsaber duels are more engaging than the ones seen in The Force Awakens, though they are still no match for The Phantom Menace‘s three-way showdown between Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul.
Technically speaking, the visuals and Rick Heinrichs’ production design are all top-notch. Kudos also go to Steve Yedlin’s stunning cinematography, while veteran John Williams continues to impress with his rousing score that has been one of the hallmarks in a Star Wars movie.
Now, let’s talk about the length of this movie. At 152 minutes, The Last Jedi easily upstaged George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (142 minutes) as the longest Star Wars movie so far. Stretching it this long can ultimately make or break a movie. I sure remember how protracted Attack of the Clones when I watched it 15 years ago. This begs me a question: does The Last Jedi suffers the same fate? Let me put it this way. If you’ve seen Looper before, you might remember how draggy that movie was during the second act. Yes, The Last Jedi does drag in the middle and the pace tends to move erratically. But at least, it wasn’t draggy to a near standstill. I can understand Johnson is trying to tie up some of the loose ends previously hinted in The Force Awakens. And yet, I guess he tries too hard at times, focusing one story arc after another.
Still, Johnson’s screenplay (in which he receives the sole writing credit) is ambitious and even manages to spring some surprises that I did not see it coming. Sure, there are elements of Empire Strikes Back here and there but at least, it wasn’t as nostalgia-heavy as J.J. Abrams did in The Force Awakens.
As for the actors, Johnson handles the ensemble cast with equal flair. Recurring characters like Daisy Ridley’s Rey, John Boyega’s Finn and Oscar Isaac’s Poe are each given ample room to shine with their respective performances. Mark Hamill’s much-anticipated return to his legendary role as Luke Skywalker following his minor turn in The Force Awakens, is a welcome sight. Gone is the impulsive and reckless Luke Skywalker we used to know him in George Lucas’ original trilogy. What we get here is an appropriately different Skywalker, which is an older, wiser and world-weary Jedi Master and Hamill carries that role well. Carrie Fisher, who was unexpectedly passed away last December, appears in her farewell performance as General Leia Organa. It was no doubt an emotional goodbye, seeing her on the big screen for one last time.
Adam Driver, whose antagonist role as Kylo Ren was sadly a disappointment in The Force Awakens. However, he fares better this time around and that’s saying a lot. The introduction of new characters is decent enough, which includes appearances from Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, Benicio Del Toro as DJ and Kelly Marin Tran as Rose Tico. Then, there’s the new (cute) creature in the form of a hamster-like bird species known as Porgs. Initially, I was worried that Porgs’ adorable presence might annoy me somehow. But Johnson has thankfully shown good restraint in handling their appearances, in which he doesn’t go too far with their cuteness overload.
After a promising start from J.J. Abrams in The Force Awakens, I’m glad to see Rian Johnson took over and built a better yet improved foundation in this middle chapter of a new Star Wars trilogy.
Several shortcomings aside, The Last Jedi is the kind of Hollywood blockbuster deserved to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Now, let’s see if J.J. Abrams can live this up when he returns to close the final chapter of the trilogy in the still-untitled Star Wars 9 in 2019.