The Last Jedi cements a move towards a new kind of Star Wars film that began with Rogue One. It’s a move that understands that what worked for the original trilogy was the mysticism of a galaxy far, far away. While the prequel trilogy focused on the tragedy of one man, the success of the originals stemmed from their depiction of a people about to be crushed beneath the jackboot of a regime about to gain absolute power. The Last Jedi returns to those ideas, and while it flounders, it’s a beautifully-imagined, refreshingly-different take on what Star Wars can be.
There are things The Last Jedi does that are not wrong, but feel quite strange. The most obvious, and sometimes jarring, is the humour. In a way that the series has never tried to be before, The Last Jedi is funny. Smart-ass flyboy quips seen from Obi-Wan or Han return with Poe, but there’s also slapstick, fan service, parody. There are actual jokes, moments played for laughs that otherwise would have been played straight, and might have seen John Boyega or Daisy Ridley consigned to the same Hollywood grave as Hayden Christiansen. These moments, for the most part, do not feel very Star Wars, but they are actually funny, and illicited genuine laughs from the audience each time I saw them.
There are also some flaws with the story-telling. Never has plot armour felt so thick as in a scene when the entire main cast are fleeing a cannon bombardment from the First Order. After that, some helpful Deus Ex Machina kicks in to make sure everyone is in the same place at the same time, despite spending most of the film deliberately apart. A wonky performance from Daisy Ridley seemed in part due to a desire to portray her as the pious Jedi that clogged up some of the sequels. Her early scenes needed some significant course-correction, but thankfully she seemed to settle into her role more later on.
A lot of The Last Jedi struggles because it spreads its wings extremely far across the galaxy, and despite its nearly 2.5 hour running time, it doesn’t quite have enough time to develop its three major arcs as much as it might have liked. After a magnificent opening sequence, Poe remains aboard a fleeing rebel transport vessel, while Finn and Rose head to the capitalist Utopia of Canto Bight to find The Master Codebreaker. While all that’s going on, Rey is learning about the Jedi from Luke on a remote island.
Poe’s story tries to tell an escape story, but the central thrust of it is that while the Rebels can’t run away, the First Order can’t catch them up. They can’t be destroyed unless they run out of fuel, which would always have been a pretty lousy way to wrap the story up, so Poe seems in little danger, and I feel more could have been done to add to the tactical intensity of his story. While Finn and Rose have a cool plan, they’re nearly constantly sidetracked, meaning they don’t succeed in hitting the checklist style of Rogue One, but nor do they ever really settle on the anti-Order, pro-resistance (and anti-capitalism) message they set out on. Rey’s scenes with Luke mostly revolve around him trying to avoid teaching her anything, and there’s none of the impact of the latter’s training scenes on Dagobah. Instead, we’re supposed to accept that she just sort of knows how all this works. Other than finding a way to bring Luke back into the story, you have to wonder what he really adds here. He’s no Yoda or Obi-Wan – instead, he simply has to ride the wave of the fact that he’s the Luke Skywalker, and we have to accept that that’s why we have to care.
When it all comes back together though, it’s a masterpiece. Much like Rogue One (which I hope not to mention again), the fumbles of the first half are entirely forgiven by the visual mastery of the second. For what must be an hour or more, The Last Jedi throws some simply incredible moments at you. Many of these were so stylish, so brilliantly-realised a portrayal of what Star Wars can be, that they caused the audience at my first screening to literally burst into spontaneous applause. A lengthy scene on Snoke’s ship between Rey and Kylo Ren reaches its climax with a moment of instantaneous brilliance. The red earth beneath the salt plains surrounding a rebel base are used masterfully throughout the course of an entire battle. An experiment with hyperspeed concludes with what may be one of the best shots I’ve ever seen on the big screen. The Last Jedi is the best-looking Star Wars film there’s ever been by an absolute mile, and that’s what I mean when I refer to the mysticism at the heart of the series. A New Hope gave so much on this front that the prequels never did, and while The Force Awakens moved in the right direction, The Last Jedi captures the space epic like nothing I’ve ever seen, despite the best efforts of the prequels.
It’s a film that conjures more questions that answers, but as the mid-point of a trilogy that’s probably ok. There’s some stuff to work on too – too long was spent on things that, especially on a second showing, felt relevant but overstretched, and while the new intergalactic brat pack do well, it’s a shame we don’t see them offered more power; many of the film’s greatest moments stem from the organisations built around them, not the characters themselves. But while The Last Jedi feels not quite right, it’s a brilliant set of experiments, and while they do so with varying degrees of success, each one largely comes off. After the relative safety of The Force Awakens and the surprise success of Rogue One, it’s exactly what the series needed, and I can only hope for more with Episode IX.