Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Last Jedi.

That title scene gets me every time. When those yellow letters pop up on screen and the music kicks in I feel a catch in my throat. Every time. I've grown up with Star Wars. Been watching it for 33 years now. On the basis of this film I'll probably be watching for the next 33 years as well.

After the events of Episode VII, the rebel alliance is in trouble. The First Order is on a seek and destroy mission led by Kylo Ren, General Hux and Supreme Leader Snoke. Finn, Poe and Leia try to outrun certain death while Rey has gone in search of Luke Skywalker to try and convince him to return and fight. The force works in mysterious ways though.

I thoroughly enjoyed this installment of the series. Sure it has it's issues but Jesus it hit the spot. You'll laugh, cry and if you're a fool like me, cheer out loud at regular points throughout the film. It's absolutely exhilarating in places while finding plenty of time for quieter introspection too. The last hour of this is as good as anything in the saga so far. it's jawdropping, heartbreaking and surprising, very surprising. It gets very dark too but there's enough flashes of fun to keep us laughing. One scene of a furry fella eating dinner will give you a deliciously dark giggle. In fact between that and Dameron Poe's punking of a certain character this could be the funniest installment yet. And thankfully the humour isn't forced either. The balance between light and dark is pretty much perfect. We get the saga's most violent kill and it's best laugh. It's visually stunning too. Luke's refuge Ahch-To is a wild, beautiful place. The salt planet of Crait gives us the best looking battle scene so far as salt blows away revealing the blood red soil under it. And speaking of red, the lair of Snoke is a stunning bit of design.  

Like The Force Awakens it just feels right. Like an addition to the original story in a way the prequels never did. The dogfights, force chokes, the light sabre fights, the sounds, the little whirrs, a few welcome callbacks to the originals ( The term Rebel scum will always makes me laugh). But director Rian Johnson brings a freshness to proceedings too. Certain visual cues like the one during a vision of the force felt new and exciting. He's also done away with the screenwipes. At least I think he did. Rashomon style flashbacks appear. Trippy visions of finger clicking. Moments that deepen and darken characters and that might piss off the die hard purists but to me felt like a breath of fresh air. You gotta keep it fresh folks.

It's Luke Skywalker's film. With him missing from Ep VII until the last scene you'd nearly forget how good a character Luke is. He brings a gravitas to the film no other character can match. The weight of the world has always been on his shoulders and its no different here. It's just so goddamn cool to see him back in action. He gets some humorous scenes too which was deadly because his scenes in the original trilogy were always serious. On the flipside it's heartbreaking seeing Leia knowing Carrie Fisher's real life fate. You'll be nervous for her every second she's onscreen. She has a big part thankfully. It's great seeing her in action, all regal, dignified, majestic, powerful and brave. Rey grows in this too. We knew she was strong but this strong? The film gives her more depth too. We find out more about her background, the reason she has her powers, her naivete. Dameron Poe is far more of a presence here as well, not just a hotshot X-Wing pilot. And a bit of a mansplainer too in a fun scene that sees him get swatted down. We see other sides to Kylo Ren. He's a very troubled boy. But maybe he has a reason to be. Finn, out of them all gets the most unmemorable storyline but gets a fight scene near the end that feels very satisfying. We meet a few new characters too. Rose Tico, a maintenance worker for the rebel who turns out to be extremely handy and in need of vengeance against the First Order and Vice Admiral Holdo who is initially anoying but she's really just doing her job and she gets a brilliant scene that answers a question I've asked for decades about the specifics of light speed travel. Finally we get to meet Snoke. Yeah, he's a CGI character but he feels far more substantial in the flesh, a bit Emperor-ish dare I say. The power and danger of the dark side radiates from him.

One of the main criticisms of The Force Awakens was that it was a rehash of A New Hope. Thankfully The Last Jedi isn't a rehash of The Empire Strikes Back like a lot of people assumed it would be. People will point to the similarities like Jedi training or AT-AT's but they are clutching at straws. It's a whole new story and one that goes in ways you'll never imagine. Those theories the net has been hypothesizing for the past two years are all out the window with this one. All bets are off.

Th acting is top notch. It's always nice when there's no weak link. Of the large cast, two dominate. Mark Hamill as Luke is in great form and Daisy Ridley more than holds her own in her scenes with him. The little bits of awkwardness she displayed in the previous film are gone. I'd have happily watched two hours of them on a cliff edge talking about the Jedi religion. New additions to the cast Kelly Marie Tran and Laura Dern slip into the cast seamlessly. Tran especially. Her character Rose is a lovely addition. 

Now for the downsides. The cutting between storylines has always been a problem for me in Star Wars and it continues here. It's necessary when you have a film about characters millions of miles from each other but it does disjoint the tale in places. Especially when it cuts away during an action sequence. It's too long as well. 153 minutes is a bit mental. A casino set sequence felt like a rejigged Cantina scene. An excuse to pack more wacky aliens into a film already packed with wacky aliens. The aftermath of this same sequence again feels like a reason to pack more action into a film already full of it. And all in aid of a storyline that really when you think about it, goes nowhere. It makes the middle of the film feel bloated and sluggish. It's like the Kanjiklub sequence in Ep VII. It's extraneous. Plus it adds a pretty crappy new character who I've a feeling we'll be seeing again. That said it does lay the groundwork for a sequence of hope at the end of the film. A new hope.

For all it's death and darkness though it's a hopeful film. It's optimistic. It's full of people seeing the best in others. Hoping for the best in others. Every moment in it feels earned too. It's an emotional rollercoaster. If you're a lifelong fan you won't get through this without a bit of dust in your eye.

It's really good. It's not excellent but it's really good. 


BB-8 rocks.

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