Rian Johnson’s strategy for The Last Jedi was simple: identify everything that’s great about the previous Star Wars films, use those things sparely as Easter eggs and not main plot threads, and craft a brand new storyline that goes in a bold and adventurous direction full of wonder, thrills and discovery. It makes The Last Jedi the most enjoyable blockbuster of the year.
The best way to enjoy The Last Jedi is to go in without knowing absolutely any plot details, but I’ll present you a spoiler free description.
Episode VIII, unlike most Star Wars films begins a few seconds after the events of The Force Awakens. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is on the mysterious island with Luke Skywalker trying to establish contact with the Jedi legend. The Resistance led by Leia (Carrie Fisher) is still fighting against General Hux’s (Domnhall Gleeson) increasingly dangerous First Order, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is carrying out his plan under the orders of the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) stumble onto their own adventures.
A chain of events is set off that requires another heroic effort from everyone involved to battle evil – leading up to spectacular action sequences, a string of immensely crowd pleasing character moments and perhaps the best space ship explosion ever filmed.
But the greatest quality about The Last Jedi is the ability to surprise constantly, pulling the rug under you when you lest expect it.
Unpredictability is so seldom seen in mainstream blockbuster cinema nowadays, so allowing Johnson to indulge in such a twisty script sandbox feels like a ballsy decision by the studio. This is a classic Star Wars film, with all the familiar elements, but also something we’ve never seen before in the canon – a balance that works astonishingly well.
For a brief moment in the second act The Last Jedi fools you into thinking it’s going to become a predictable mess – but the third act is packed to the brim with colossally epic moments that you’ll never see coming. There is a transfer of power, kind of like passing on the torch both in characters and actors, and it’s seamlessly executed. The brilliantly placed humour makes things all the more fun, but Johnson’s handling of the action is a more interesting than Abrams’ in the previous film.
The geography of the action set pieces is more clear and there’s a fluidity in the way he shoots the lightsaber fights. There’s one battle against bright red backdrop which almost feels like a neo Samurai movie, and we see the use of The Force in what seems like a ballet of martial arts moves – you’ll be clapping in glee by the end of this sequence.
Many questions that were posed in the previous film are answered in The Last Jedi – and, unless you have a sixth sense of sorts you’ll be wonderfully surprised by the subversive direction Johnson takes in revealing those elements. And that is what makes this a great film – it is not just about the visual grandeur of blowing things up, it’s more about the people in the story and the capricious relationships between them that is more powerful than the CGI made with a seemingly bottomless fund.
There’s also a lot of thought that went into the sci fi stuff that makes it believable enough for you to care about the intricacies that the characters are faced with. These intricacies are also cleverly intertwined with the thematic bond between the characters themselves, forming an undercurrent that renders a story that becomes more than just a battle between good and evil.
This is a rousing, sweeping epic that runs faster, sometimes darker but at most times more fun than Episode VII, and it lays the groundwork for what could be one of the biggest cinematic conclusions of all time in 2019.
Johnson has the keys to making a whole new trilogy after Episode IX, but I wish he were the one directing the next film as well.
Oh, and in case you had any doubts about Adam Driver being the very best on screen contemporary actor, his amazing performance in this film should clear it. May the force be with you in the biggest possible theater near you, preferably in 2D.