Such is the nature of the mammoth that is the Star Wars universe, and its rabid fanbase, director Rian Johnson and co. was always going to be criticised for the franchises’ eighth installment one way or the other.
You do the same thing with bells and whistles attached, you’ll be accused of making a boring film. Change things up too much, and you run the risk of making a film that ‘isn’t Star Wars’.
So where does Episode VIII lie on this balancing act? Surprisingly, Johnson does a great job of putting it close enough to half way, but lingering flaws still exist that prevent this film from being a home run.
‘The Last Jedi’ picks up almost exactly where its predecessor left off; Rey is stuck on Skellig Michael with a despondent Luke Skywalker eager to learn the ways of the Force while Princess Leia, Poe Dameron, Finn and the sparse band of rebels battle against the might of the first Order. Sound familiar?
It should be, because while the overall arc of the plot may be more of a derivation to old films compared to how The Force Awakens paid homage to A New Hope, all of the old tropes are still here.
A jedi master training a young, naive pupil? Check. A small group of rebels fleeing through space to escape the baddies? Check. A master of evil attempting to lure the good guy to the dark side with the help of his apprentice? Check again. These are only the big ones too; any long-time fan would be able to name a dozen more.
Luckily, there is enough fresh concepts to prevent from feeling like another soft reboot, mostly thanks to the strength of the characterisation, the film’s saving grace.
Rey, Kylo, Finn and Poe; the new band of space heroes and villains that were introduced two years ago are examined further. Through their adventures and motivations, the bond we make with them (in particular the incredible chemistry between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo (Adam Driver) leaves the audience filled with suspense and excitement through every facet of conversation.
The fantastic character arc of the elderly Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is also a welcome surprise. While it may not unravel in the way audiences may have expected, his scenes with Rey and his journey up until the film’s dramatic climax makes Hamill’s return to the Star Wars universe more than warranted.
Attachments to the characters makes the film’s fight and action sequences mesmerizing. Suspense and drama mixed with the best CGI in the industry is something the franchise has been known for since the now-infamous prequels. The difference is now that the wonderful imagery is rooted with authentic conflict and characters we care about winning or losing.
So where does the film fall? To explain thoroughly would run the risk of entering spoiler territory. This is because while the events themselves cannot be questioned for excitement or thrills, decisions made in the narrative make you question whether it was the right, or even sensible choice.
Some characters are left with burning questions that will never be answered, others are relegated to subplots that have no overall bearing on the film’s conclusion and at the end of almost 2 and a half hours, you might be left wondering what has actually been resolved, won or lost.
The film’s runtime is another issue in itself. Again, while everything contained in the film is entertaining in itself, the editing and pacing required to fit all of these characters and their adventures results in something that feels bloated. The decision to give all our new heroes equal billing and importance comes at the price of 20 minutes that affects the cohesion of the film.
It’s easy to see why some hardcore fans will squint their eyebrows at this offering, but there’s no denying that ‘The Last Jedi’ offers more than enough entertainment and strong characters to make this a worthwhile addition to the saga.
Decisions made in the story will be the subject of debate and leaves doubts over where Episode IX will take the story, but for now the force is still alive in Star Wars.