When last we left the Star Wars Saga, Rey had finally tracked down Luke Skywalker to request his aid in fighting the First Order. So in a surprise to her and quite likely the audience, at the start of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke wants no part of this war and resents the legend that has built around him. Gone is the idealistic young man who faced down Darth Vader and Darth Sidious, replaced with a bitter hermit. That’s both good and bad.
Luke has turned into a Jedi master hermit, somewhat a mix of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. But while those two were waiting for the time they would train him, Luke has no purpose beyond self-imposed exile. In a way it’s quite sad, especially given Return of the Jedi showed us a Luke who had come to terms with certain Jedi hypocrisies and redeemed one of the most terrible Sith Lords in history. Indeed, some of what we learn about the unseen following years of Luke’s life really doesn’t feel consistent with how he was portrayed in that previous film. However, a lot of those concerns are tempered by Mark Hamill’s acting. In recent times he’s made a name for himself as a voice actor, but seeing him on screen once again as Luke sells how capable he is as an all around actor. Luke here is snarky and bitter and Hamill plays that well while still showing trauma and regret. Many of his scenes are shared with Daisy Ridley and they play off each other well.
The balance of hope and despair is a key element of the film, though not always in balance. It’s no stretch to say the film is partly modeled on The Empire Strikes Back but is stunningly bleaker than that. While the earlier film put the heroes on the run while getting everyone into position for the finale, The Last Jedi at times seeks to not just smash hope but crush it into a fine powder. Hope is definitely part of the film’s message though and in a way that makes this film feel possibly the most political Star Wars movie yet. When I reviewed The Force Awakens in 2015, I commented about the overt Nazi tones of the First Order. Since then we’ve seen the rise of Brexit and Donald Trump, with literal Nazis on our streets and in corridors of power. As such, there’s perhaps a responsibility to comment on the freedom vs fascism direction of the film. Much is made here of how average people are the lifeblood of resistance and that hope can’t die unless people refuse to stand up. I believe this is a message worth putting a prominent pop culture spotlight on right now, though at times the political commentary does seem to get in the way of story.
Finn’s role in this film sees him join new character Rose on a secret Resistance mission, with a major stopover at what is best described as ‘The Planet of The 1%.’ In a story sense it’s disappointing to see that Finn’s arc in this film involves him having to learn again why running away is bad and the Resistance is worth fighting for. Boyega was one of the highlights of the previous film, and although he does the best with what he’s given, it’s hard not to feel like Finn stagnates here. Even the return of Captain Phasma as an antagonist for him comes off as pointless.
Similar misgivings exist for Poe Dameron, who gets an entirely redundant subplot. His opening battle scene is awesome and hilarious (indeed, the comedy moments of the film are all solid, bar some CGI goofiness), but beyond that his role in the film is simply more high stakes in a story that already offers us plenty.
The ultimate centre of the film is Rey and Kylo Ren, as well as Supreme Leader Snoke’s plans for them both. Andy Serkis is on great form as Snoke, this time given the room to make him more than just a cheap copy of the Emperor. Some of his tricks with the Force do call to mind the embarrassing wizard battle from The Fellowship of the Ring but he proves to be a better villain than I expected. When the time comes, he really makes the cut.
With Rey and Kylo Ren, much is made of their flirtation with the opposite side. Will Kylo return to the light? Will Rey fall to the dark? This is where most of the film’s original ideas are to be found, and as someone disappointed with how Disney were forcing Star Wars to just copy what we’ve seen before, it’s great to be in territory where I’m honestly not sure where we’re headed.
For me right now, The Last Jedi currently stands as the best Star Wars content Disney have put out. It still has issues and a few cases of lifting earlier material, but overall this was a great ride that made me cry several times, both with joy and sadness. I’m still not convinced this is the future the original heroes deserved but the twists and turns mostly make it worth it and the commentary on the need to stand up to sinister forces when they’re here amongst us is welcome.The thread view count is 227