Call it Episode VIII or The Last Jedi, the newest instalment in the unfolding Star Wars saga is a feast for fan boys and fan girls of the space western franchise. The film, the second part in the Stars Wars sequel trilogy picks up from where Star Wars: The Force Awakens left off and can be confusing at times. But fans need not fret – Episode IX is expected to release in exactly two years.
Writer-director Rian Johnson’s story makes no consolations for newbies: you need to have watched The Force Awakens in order to truly understand the elements at work in The Last Jedi. The movie is a sequel, pure and simple, retaining the best of the past, but Johnson also brings in many new elements with inventiveness and humour. These include cute and quirky creatures, like the amphibious alien nun-like Caretakers, Porgs (miniature puffin-like creatures) and the Vulptices or crystal foxes.
Rey (Daisy Ridley), conflicted about her own identity and parentage, has found a mentor in Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Skywalker has exiled himself on a bleak and remote island. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has embraced the Dark Side and offered up his allegiance to Snoke (Andy Serkis), the leader of the First Order. Under the leadership of Leia (Carrie Fisher in her last performance in the role), the Resistance is on the run from a brutal attack by the First Order.
Most of the story tosses between the push and pull faced by these two characters who strongly feel the power of the Force. Indeed, emotion is the bedrock of The Last Jedi, whether in gently delivered tributes to Fisher (who died last December) or in the exploration of the complexities of identity and destiny.
The climax is visceral and wonderful, leaving you wanting more, in spite of an extravagant 152-minute run-time.
A fledgling romance seems a bit of a force-fit (no pun intended) and the contribution of a few characters remains on the fringe. But Poe (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew along with Joonas Suotamo) chip in with some funky cameos.
The styling, special effects, large set pieces and battles are mesmerising. There is a smart contradiction between the creaky old-school Death Star fighting machines – with a starring role for the Millennium Falcon – and the new age weaponry wielded by Snoke’s samurai-styled soldiers in stark red uniforms clashing a minimalistic hall. Droid BB-8’s role is amped up, and I loved it.
Ultimately, the story does revolve around succession and the last Jedi. Skywalker holds secrets and power: he’s part-Jedi warrior, part-trainer and part-guru. Adam Driver makes quite an impression as the beleaguered and conflicted Kylo Ren. He’s has the makings of an iconic villain, a fitting heir to Darth Vader’s legacy. With The Last Jedi, Johnson finds that sweet spot of reverentially seeing out the old to firmly make way for a new, perhaps final, space odyssey.