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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) directed by Rian Johnson

Episode VIII

This sequel picks up right where Star Wars: The Force Awakens left off. What is left of the Resistance, led by Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) evacuate their base when it is under attack by the First Order, led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). However, this proves difficult when the Order’s battalion unveils its latest weapon - the Dreadnought. Ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leads a perilous attack by taking out the vessel’s defence towers singlehandedly, allowing the Resistance’s bomber ships to pass over it and unleash their payload.

While they prove successful in taking down the huge ship the victory comes at the cost of a considerable loss of precious pilots. This upsets Leia, resulting in her demoting Poe. The remaining Resistance fleet makes a jump into hyperspace in order to lose the First Order’s Star Destroyers. To their surprise, however, their pursuers have managed to track them through hyperspace. With them rapidly running out of fuel, it’s only a matter of time before Hux picks off what’s left of them.

Finn (John Boyega) comes up with the idea of locating a man who can break into the First Order’s command vessel and jam the signal they are picking up from the Resistance, thus giving them time to escape. He teams up with a young pilot named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) who is devastated by the loss of her sister who was piloting one of the bombers that took out the Dreadnought. They head to the planet Canto Bight with BB-8 to complete their desperate mission.

Meanwhile, on the planet Ahch-To, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is trying to learn Jedi training from the now-reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The latter, however, refuses to teach her anything as he has seen too many Jedi turn to The Dark Side, with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) being the most recent example. However, Luke slowly begins to thaw and teaches her how to harness The Force. This has an unexpected side-effect as Rey finds herself able to communicate with Ren over space. She senses that there is some good left in him. Luke, however, has his doubts.

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A highpoint of the series?

The Force Awakens was heralded by many as a return to form for the Star Wars series. However, while it was indeed a lot of fun, it tended to grab at low-hanging fruit via nostalgia and by simply recycling the plot of the first film in the series with a few variations. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was also a lot of fun but ultimately felt like a sideshow to the main event with a bunch of characters who lacked any real arc.

The Last Jedi, however, isn’t just a highly enjoyable piece of nostalgia. It stands as the finest in the series since The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, with Rian Johnson in the director’s and writer’s chairs it (at the risk of using a reviewer cliche) isn’t just a great Star Wars movie, it’s a great movie full-stop. It’s a movie packed with excitement, tension, spectacle, great characters, poignancy, humour and even a dash of indie movie lyricism and intelligence.

Space battle in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The film starts off as most Star Wars films do: with a huge show-stopping extended action sequence. However, in amongst the CGI spacecraft destruction there’s an undeniable sense of carefully-orchestrated stakes and suspense. Amid the vast scale, we focus on moments of small heroism as the rash Poe weaves his tiny X-Wing around the huge hulks of the First Order’s triangular craft. Slightly later on, a frantic attempt to release a bomb track on top of the Dreadnought before its huge gun heats up becomes a scene of pure nail-biting suspense. The final 45 or so minutes of the film is a sustained period of pure heart-in-mouth excitement which surpasses that at the end of Rogue One and even makes it into the league of Mad Max: Fury Road. Amongst the highlights of this latter stretch are a fantastic sword fight against some crimson-clad guards and a wave of rusty craft skimming over the surface of a planet made of red salt towards yet another First Order super weapon.

An emphasis on character dynamics

In between the action-packed bookends, the film adopts a slower and more deliberate pace - allowing us to savour the performances, character development and dynamics. Oscar Isaac is brings effortless swagger as the rash and audacious Poe, who clashes with the more careful approach of Leia and her lieutenant, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). Mark Hamill gives arguably the finest performance of his career as an older, wiser and more cynical Luke - mixing grizzled world-weariness, fatherly affection and even a surprising grasp of comedy. The dynamics between him and his impassioned charge Rey (Daisy Ridley) provide a real heart to the story and, like many of the other onscreen relationships, really pay off towards the end.

Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

There’s also plenty of bounce and spark between the film’s true (but rather unsung) heroes - Finn (John Boyega), Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and BB-8. When they meet another mysterious character (played by Benicio Del Toro) things become even livelier.

On the other side of the coin, there’s plenty of underlying tension and power games between the three main antagonists: the cruel and manipulative Snoke (voice by Andy Serkis), the raw spite and rage of Ren (Adam Driver) and the militaristic pomposity of Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).

A vast tragedy

The whole thing is less of a simple good vs. evil tale than a truly Shakespearean, heartrending tragedy interwoven with wider themes that touch on today’s world - the perceived loss of male authority, the essential interconnectedness of all life, the unscrupulous nature of the wealthy elite and the inherent futility of overcoming the universe’s darkness via the paradoxically dark actions of violence. It’s the blackest, most complex and richly rewarding film in the series to date. Thankfully, the sheer emotional drain is tempered with just enough humour, much of it provided by those uber-cute (but not Ewok-annoying) Porgs and some neat cameos by C-3PO and… well, I’d better not spoil it.

However, while it’s an even more audacious and ambitious entry than The Empire Strikes Back, it’s arguably not quite as perfect. The slower pacing does feel laborious on occasion, while some CGI-heavy moments come uncomfortably close to the shiny, video game world of the prequel trilogy. However, these niggles feel so minor in comparison with the film’s triumphs that it’s easy to forgive them. Roll on Episode IX.

Runtime: 152 mins

Dir: Rian Johnson

Script: Rian Johnson, based on characters created by George Lucas

Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Where is it showing in Edinburgh and Glasgow?

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