Ten minutes into Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi — the eighth instalment of the Skywalker saga — you know it’s different from every other Star Wars film you’ve ever seen: There’s more unexpected bravado, violence, humour, loss and grief packed in there than a Star Wars fan might generally be comfortable with, and I mean that in a good way.
Johnson (Brick, Looper) seems to have found the right formula to kick-start a new era in Star Wars storytelling without seeming formulaic. While all of us remember JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens and how lovingly he refashioned the Star Wars lore for a new generation of fans, the film also didn’t escape that strong sense of deja vu it invoked: a new Rebellion vs Empire storyline, a new Luke Skywalker-type (orphaned, living in a forgotten part of the galaxy, strong in the Force) and even a new Death Star.
And if The Force Awakens was A New Hope redone, it only follows that The Last Jedi will channel Empire Strikes Back, one of the most successful sequels in the history of geekdom. And if you’d have watched the trailers (which we all did, over and over again), a healthy dose of misdirection and their overtly dark themes and tone would have all but confirmed those suspicions.
Johnson, however, breaks all rules and truly creates something boldly original. While the fanboy in him dug deep into Star Wars canon to fashion new battlefields for our heroes to fight their timeless wars between right wrong, good and evil (with a capital E), love and hate; he also entirely changed the rules of the game.
No longer is the world so black and white, (even if all the villains must wear black). There is a healthy dose of grey, which lets characters make choices that are not governed by their place, station and rank in the story; and which also leads Johnson to pile on a body count that could make the best of us squirm in our seats.
But what is the film about? Without getting into spoiler area: The Rebel fleet, led by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), is desperately trying to outrun the evil First Order, led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). Joining him on this quest are Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis CGI’d beyond recognition, as always) and his conflicted apprentice, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver), and fresh off murdering his own father, Han Solo (Harrison Ford).
In another far-flung part of the galaxy, things pick up right where we left them at the end of The Force Awakens. Rey (Daisy Ridley), the scruffy orphan kid from a desert outpost nobody cares about, has united with her unwilling mentor and Jedi-in-exile Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
Characters such as Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) are given their own arcs as they must complete mini-missions and go on mini-adventures (not all of them altogether necessary but tend to provide some political angle to a story that’s mostly about things that go pew-pew-pew in the deep trenches of space, glorious space).
New characters such as Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico, Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo and Benicio Del Toro’s amusing hacker are all welcome additions, and receive their own moments of glory, but could have benefited from additional depth.
The film over and over again tells us to let go of the past and look to the future — something as literal as handing over of the lightsabre takes place — and while all of this makes us look forward to the final sequel of the trilogy, a clear cliffhanger was conspicuous in its absence, going to say that The Last Jedi is a film intent on tying up loose ends and starting afresh. The fact that the film has managed to add more to the Force lore than ever before (without ever having to mention the dreaded midichlorians) is testament to this.
The Last Jedi is not a film for the faint of heart. But courage, a sense of wonder, a resounding faith in the strength of love, and a healthy dose of hope will take you far.
Don’t miss it
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is now showing in the UAE.