Thursday, 4 January 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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Jedi of the Tiger

Director: Rian Johnson
Running Time: 152 Minutes
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnal Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro

With his biggest works being time travel thriller Looper, and some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad, Rian Johnson was far from an obvious choice to deliver the next story in a Galaxy Far, Far Away. The inspired piece of hiring more than pays off though, as what's been delivered is not only a phenomenal chapter in one of the biggest franchises, but one of its best entries.

Picking up where the last film left off, Rey (Daisy Ridley) intends to develop her newly discovered abilities under the guidance of the revered Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who's unsettled by the strength she holds within. While this is occurring, The Resistance prepare to do battle with the First Order.

What's key behind Rian Johnson's work is the importance of characters, and that is abundantly true here. This isn't a case of personal developments and arcs being sacrificed for big action spectacle, the two are treated with as much significance as each other. This is also done with a willingness to subvert expectations, to go a different path from the most obvious route, and even to expand upon what's already been established. All of this is done in ways which fit the story, and feel at place in this long-established galaxy.

File:Rey in Falcon Turret TLJ.pngAs The Force Awakens was a showcase for Harrison Ford, this film is Mark Hamill's show. Complete with a more embittered viewpoint on the Jedi, and more lines since his last appearance, this is a Luke Skywalker who's lost hope in what he believed in. Johnson doesn't want to treat Luke like a revered hero who can do no wrong, but is more interested in deconstructing the character, and showing him to be as flawed and human as the rest of us. It's a tragedy we'll never get to see Carrie Fisher's own showcase, but what's been delivered to screen is a wonderful performance, and a fitting farewell to the actress, and her long beloved character.

Daisy Ridley continues to be an engaging presence, perfectly capturing Rey's want to fight the dark forces, her drive to learn the ways of the Jedi, and her determination to understand who her parents really were, and by extension, learn more about her place in the grand scheme of things. On the other side of the force is Adam Driver, who phenomenally captures his inner conflict, as he remains unsure about what's the right thing for him to do. Driver and Ridley's best scenes are when they're in conversation, as their back and forth captures their own insecurities, highlighting how they're not confident about what the right path is for them.

Joining the fray is Rose, a maintenance worker who finds herself paired up with Finn. Kelly Marie Tran gives a wonderful likeability into this engaging new character, and acts as a wonderful counterpoint to Finn, as the two take their own mission onto a casino planet of Canto Bight. While the scenes set on here may feel extraneous, it brings forth key themes, such as war profiteering, and backs up important aspects introduced into the picture. It's also a great showcase for John Boyega, as his character does his best to help triumph over those The First Order.
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Back with the Resistance, Oscar Isaac butts heads with Laura Dern's Admiral Holdo, as the two differ on what's the right direction for the group. It's wonderfully played by the two terrific actors, managing to confront the "renegade hotshot" archetype films love to reuse, and take this subplot in interesting directions.

From a stunning throne room brawl, to vehicular assaults in space, the action sequences are wonderfully brought alive by a visionary eye, and spectacularly rendered effects. But they all pale in comparison to a solitary moment, delivered in complete silence, that's nothing short of utterly breathtaking. There's also a abundance of humour, which often proves welcoming in the laughs it delivers, to help lighten things while never undermining the serious moments. Included in this are the much publicised Porgs, which may not hold much of an impact upon the plot, but prove to be an adorable addition to the franchise,

To say Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a far cry from its nostalgic predecessor is understating things. This instalment takes the popular franchise to brave and unfamiliar places, a gamble which pays off by the time it reaches the hopeful ending. Whatever Rian Johnson devises for his own original trilogy, it's ever more highly anticipated.

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