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The jury's out

FILM REVIEW: Star Wars:The Last Jedi

Charlie Masters

Reporter:

Charlie Masters

The jury's out

Star Wars The Last Jedi (15)
Running time 2hr 32min
Rating: ***

THE middle child is always the dark, contemplative one. Between A New Hope’s rent-a-thrills and the intergalactic excess of Return of the Jedi, we had The Empire Strikes Back, an altogether slower, less immediately satisfying experience, yet possessed of an epic majesty that has since ensured it cinematic immortality. Attack of the Clones dialled back the creature-feature hijinks of the dreadful Phantom Menace, offering audiences a tentative glimpse at Anakin Skywalker’s descent into
darkness; it’s crude, hammy and overwrought in every respect, yet it just about functioned in bridging the troubled prequel trilogy.

The unenviable task of directing The Last Jedi, second in the Star Wars sequel saga, has fallen upon the shoulders of Rian Johnson, the little-known brains behind a string of popcorn-friendly headscratchers (Looper, Brick, The Brothers Bloom); put simply, it would be akin to JJ Abrams handing the reins of the Star Trek franchise to Christopher Nolan. In terms of artistic continuity, it’s a peculiar case – while Disney no doubt micromanaged this production all the way, it plays like a very different movie to The Force Awakens, more ponderous, complex and sobering than its peppy, triumphant predecessor. As one would expect, it makes for a positively extravagant CG actioner – we get land and space battles on an unprecedented scale (namely a final-reel showdown on a gigantic salt flat) – but substantially loses out in the story department, being a segmented, frequently confusing work that FEELS quite a bit longer than its runtime.

The Skywalker-Yoda interplay from Episode V gets a redux here, as Luke (Mark Hamill) gives Rey (Daisy Ridley) a schooling in the Jedi arts. Unfortunately, this throwback makes up what is arguably the least engaging stretch of the film,
dramatically flat, awkwardly scripted and replete with the sort of Western Buddhist claptrap that has spawned many a Star Wars parody through the years. Rey has a telepathic hotline to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver); their exchanges, taut mind games in which the two parties take it in turns to try and lure the other over to their side, is one of the more thematically compelling things Star Wars has attempted of late, but it’s constructed without any regard to grace or subtlety, significantly tempering its impact. Driver, nevertheless, is a marvellous thing, bringing a tragic equivocality (vulnerability, even) to his role that you wouldn’t expect of Darth Vader’s self-appointed successor; at times, he even dares us to EMPATHISE with the Dark Lord.

Finn (John Boyega), meanwhile, finds himself separated from Rey on a planet-hopping mission of his own, aided by Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a maintenance worker hungry for adventure. Their travails take them to a ghastly extra-terrestrial Monte Carlo, where the film toys giddily with class war themes; this section is one of the most straightforwardly absorbing, even if it comes dangerously close to reprising The Phantom Menace’s fetish for cutesy monster-mashery. In Rose, the Star Wars saga, with its cast of knights, nobles and interstellar rogues, finds its plebeian soul; like Rey, she’s a tough, unglamourised figure. While these guys are Star Wars’ future, its past finds its inevitable embodiment in the late Carrie Fisher, who moves and thrills in one of her final screen roles; it couldn’t have been easy dealing with her scenes post-production, but the film’s mournful tone respects her legacy.

The Last Jedi is as aesthetically splendorous as we could’ve anticipated, then, showcasing the technical state of the art in that uniquely shameless way only Star Wars films can, but it really does come across unfinished – the riotous third act, in particular, mostly fails in its efforts to weave together the various plot strands. The completion of the trilogy (Episode IX is slated for 2019) is likely to put this instalment properly in perspective; in its current form, it feels more than a little disjointed, threadbare, directionless, like a boatman navigating uncharted waters. We’ll see about this one...

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