04 January 2018
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
A film by Rian Johnson
Reviewed by Adam McCormack
Star rating ****
Radio 4’s Never Seen Star Wars gets people to do something that they have not done before even though most of the population has. I do not quite fit that mandate for Star Wars itself, but am by no means a real aficionado; hence much of the back-story is a grey area. This then does give me some scope to help those who have not seen any of the previous episodes to decide whether to take the plunge to see the eighth. Having seen the seventh film, The Force Awakens, which suffered from poor acting and a plot that seemed remarkably similar to the very first film, I went to this latest offering with some trepidation. The goods news is that most of the shortcomings from the previous film are not evident and The Last Jedi is actually a thoughtful, well-constructed movie that delivers for the newcomer as much as it does for the regular sci-fi geek.
Perhaps the most important improvement is that the story does actually progress in this movie, and works as a standalone tale. There has been a problem with people giving spoilers so, as I am no Holly Willoughby (“Yoda”-thought she would have known better), I will desist from giving away too much. Suffice it to say that The Resistance is in great peril, facing imminent attack and annihilation from the evil First Order. They desperately need to convince Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to leave his isolated hermit existence to return as a Jedi warrior to save them. Skywalker is disillusioned by his experience in teaching the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who has gone to the dark side (or has he?). The plot has many twist and turns, but (not withstanding some developments that are just a little too convenient, and some clunky dialogue) there are some strong underlying messages of the fine line between good and evil, fight or flight and the ability of faith to move mountains.
A further significant positive is the performance of Daisy Ridley as Rey, who is charged with the task of turning Skywalker and being trained by him to become a Jedi Knight. Ms. Ridley was little short of irritating in the previous film, but has really grown into the role and is not only credible but manages to generate some depth for her character. Some of the others may be part of a box-ticking exercise – Oscar Isaac as Poe fills the Han Solo maverick/loose cannon role, and Kelly Marie Tan as Rose Tico appears to have been written in to broaden the geographic appeal of the franchise. However, John Boyega, who was one of the few positives of the previous film, again excels as the former First Order stormtrooper Finn, and while Mark Hamill’s Skywalker might be a frustratingly Garbo-esque Skywalker (I vant to be alone), it is nonetheless a strong performance. Carrie Fisher (Leia) shows us just how much she will be missed and there are new additions that really add weight. Laura Dern is a good example of the prominence the film gives to strong female characters, as Vice Admiral Holdo, and Bernicio del Toro delivers an entertaining cameo as the mercenary thief, DJ.
Is this a movie that can stand alone for those that have not seen any of the previous seven? Yes it is. We get the usual well-constructed action sequences, reassuring archaic titles and robotics, and the plot is strong enough to make people want to return appreciatively to the back-story.