Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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The lights go down, the ads are finished.  Above us the thwack-thwack-thwack of the projector in the booth above us takes us back to time long,long ago when people actually projected movies.  We feel the 70mm print working up, the iconic Lucasfilm logo appears before us, we take a breath and hold it, while wait for that fanfare to jolt us away to that galaxy we grew up in.  It happens, we read the scrolling text and we are back where we feel we belong, in my case, surrounded by friends, in that magic show of 24 frames per second.  The new Star Wars film has begun.

The Last Jedi starts almost where The Force Awakens finished.  The First Order under the command of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), has tracked the rebels to their base on D’Qar (or RAF Greenham Common if you are an #avgeek) and is determined to finish the job.  General Leia Solo (the late Carrie Fisher) is evacuating the Resistance fighters while crack pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leads an attack on the attackers.  Poe willingly sacrifices his force for the greater good, leading to confrontations with Leia.  Meanwhile, on Ahch-To, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has to convince Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to join the fight and train her to be a Jedi to be able to defeat his nephew, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).  There is cross galaxy racing as the resistance is chased by Hux and Ren, which forces Finn (John Boyega, who is having an absolute ball in this film) and his new friend Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) to go hunting for a master code breaker, but end up with the shady DJ (Benicio Del Toro).  The chase brings things to a head on an old rebel base planet where events cause what came before to be looked at in a new light.

 Daisy Ridley as Rey

Daisy Ridley as Rey

So, I think that is spoiler free enough.  But is The Last Jedi any good?  Before I get to that, it needs to be said that this a long movie, clocking in at 152 minutes.  Writer-Director Rian Johnson is clearly versed in Star Wars lore.  He brings in elements from all over the wider cannon and seeds his tale with gems for the fans (especially one moment for fans of Timothy Zahn’s The Thrawn Trilogy).  Johnson also makes sure to give us all something new.  In this balance, Johnson succeeds admirably.  But with so much going on, the second act is very woolly.  Juggling three main story lines between Rey and Luke, Finn and Rose and Poe and Leia, oddly it is the Luke story line that suffers.  Hamill is clearly relishing being back in Jedi garb, but other than reminding us that the Jedi’s bloated self worth caused the rise of the Empire and poorly executed reveal about what happened between him and Ben/Kylo, he doesn’t have much to do until the end of the film.  At times, the second act seems like drawn out snippets that are thrown together, then almost absentmindedly remembering that we need to check in with the others.  It is a pity really, because you could cut a good twenty minutes out of this and you would not lose very much over all.  As long as you don’t cut a moment of Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo.

 Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo

Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo

Dern’s Holdo is a pinky-purple haired hero of the Resistance, she takes command of the fleet and battles with Poe over the direction of the escape.  Dern and Isaac play wonderfully off each other and Dern brings a gravitas to the role that demands authority every moment she is on screen.  Of the newcomers, Dern’s Holdo is the standout, while the new addition to the gang, Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, a mechanic who’s older sister is killed in the opening escape, does as much as she can with an underwritten side-kick part.  Which is a pity because she really does bring a lot of heart to the role.  I’m sure we will see a whole lot more of Rose and what she can do in Episode IX.

While the above seems like I’m down on The Last Jedi, I’m really not.  I did like the film.  There are moments in The Last Jedi that, to my fanboy mind, stand head and shoulders above anything in the Star Wars canon.  Moments that took me back to the first time I saw that Star Destroyer or the X-Wings rolling into battle over the Death Star.  Honestly and truly, at least twice I put my hands to my mouth in awe of what Johnson and his crew had just put before me.  These are some truly iconic moments that will stand the test of the series.  That they were able to do that multiple times is why I was underwhelmed by the rest of the film.  The heart of The Force Awakens was Rey and Finn and in The Last Jedi, their missions keep them apart for much of the film and it is lacking because of it.  But, just when you think you are going to walk away indifferent from the film, a boy goes to sweep up…

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The Last Jedi, to its credit, does not follow the by the cookie cutter formula of The Force Awakens.  There is much in it that is lifted from The Empire Strikes Back, but Johnson does enough to give a new generation so much play with in their imaginations.  One of my friends at the screening today had brought his kids, I wish I could have experienced this film like them, even though Eris was reasonably nonplussed by Rey’s hair being up, it's better down apparently.

Is The Last Jedi a classic?  No.  But then, neither was The Force Awakens.  Johnson has thrown a lot of new ideas into this Star Wars mix and has given J.J. Abrams so much more to work with for Episode IX.  I do look forward to being awed in those few moments again soon, I just didn’t want out of the screening and book myself right back in this time.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is out now and is rated 12A.