With the release of The Force Awakens (2015) came the resurgence of the first major franchise in film history, the mighty Star Wars, to the tune of nearly $1 billion worldwide at the box office. With the latest instalment, The Last Jedi, director and writer Rian Johnson has taken huge and revolutionary narrative risks in an attempt to make this chapter the definitive one in the saga.
To give a spoiler-free synopsis, I'll remind you of what you most likely already know. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the hope of becoming a Jedi, and Finn (John Boyega) is desperately seeking a return to battle with General Leia (the late and wonderful Carrie Fisher) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) against the daddy killer Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, oddly looking like the larger, mummified brother of Gollum, one of his former roles) and their well oiled First Order army. With those formalities out of the way, I will emphasise that they have done a fantastic job in the trailers to make you believe that is the film you will see, but, within about twenty minutes, those notions are abolished.
The question on everyone's lips is whether The Last Jedi is the best episode yet. The answer? Not based on the first hour of the film, as funny, fast paced and enjoyable as it is. It strangely reminded me of Season 3 of Sherlock (2010). There are outrageous, self-deprecating quips at inopportune moments early on, almost like they released the bloopers with the actual movie. It's hilarious, but after the hair raising music, the classic reel, and an exciting X-wing, Tie Fighter, and Star Destroyer opening, it really should look to maintain that tension. Harry Potter also seems to have been an odd source of inspiration early on: recurring scenes are reminiscent of The Order of the Phoenix (2007), when Voldemort and Potter connect telepathically through their linked destinies.
However, coming from a big Star Wars fan, the hour and a half that succeeds it (still mind, a film has no excuse for being 152 minutes long) is the best stretch of film any such franchise has seen so far. The mind boggles. The cinematography will be remembered as iconic. The twists, and there are several, are far less predictable than a Dutch translation.
Laura Dern, who plays Vice Admiral Holdo is a tactful, skilled actress who deserves the limelight alongside her recent TV award nominations for Big Little Lies (2017). Kelly Marie Tran, Gwendoline Christie and Benicio Del Toro provide enjoyable cameos to the plotline of Finn (Boyega), with Del Toro's mysterious and wildly entertaining criminal a highlight of an exciting segment of the film. The four figureheads of the new trilogy, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver, really prove to be bona fide movie stars, and I don't say that lightly. Boyega and Ridley both have a natural poise and ability in tough dramatic and comedic scenes, while Isaac shows a willingness to add intense, physical acting to his already outstanding resumé. It is Driver, though, who very much drives (apologies) the magnificent second half of the film with his unreadable portrayal of the conflicted Kylo Ren. It is simply a joy to see a truly mesmerising cast performing in front of an astonishing multitude of worlds, cities, and creatures.
The two remaining stars of the original trilogy, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, in her final performance, put in hefty, difficult shifts to support the youngsters. The choppy editing and three plot structure of the film means both Luke (Hamill) and Leia (Fisher) endure long stints away from the action, but, as always, they are right at the heart of the Star Wars story.
Expect to be shocked by the many climactic points in the last hour, to be awestruck by the imaginary visuals of the landscapes and consistently brilliant John Williams soundtrack, and to argue for the next two years, until Episode IX, whether the final act means The Last Jedi edges The Empire Strikes Back as the greatest Star Wars film yet.