Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Rian Johnson's contribution to the Star Wars saga is an adventure of heart, humour and heroism that's so winning you'll leave disappointed the same filmmaker won't be back helming the next installment

Film Review by Joseph Walsh | 12 Dec 2017
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Film title: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro
Release date: 14 Dec
Certificate: 12A

At the core of all the Star Wars films is the battle between good and evil: the light against the dark, the Jedi against the Sith, the Rebel Alliance versus the Empire. But above all, it is about equilibrium, about bringing balance to the force. And a balancing act is precisely what Rian Johnson, the director of The Last Jedi, has on his hands. He, like JJ Abrams before him with The Force Awakens, has to imbue his film with enough of the franchise's dense mythology to please its dedicated legion of fans, but also drive the narrative forward and put his stamp on the space saga.

Fan theories have swarmed around Johnson’s project, for which he has the only writing credit. In the last year, a lot of digital ink has been spilled on news sites asking such questions as: Who are Rey (Daisy Ridley)’s parents? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis)? Who are the Knights of Ren? Well, it seems Johnson isn’t interested in fan theories. Instead, he has concentrated on giving audiences a nuanced, touching, humorous adventure, laced with thrilling derring-do space battles and some jaw-dropping visuals.

The narrative has been balanced wonderfully; Johnson offers up squeal-inducing references to the past, but isn't so beholden to the previous movies that he isn’t willing to poke a little fun at fans. The Star Wars universe is much-loved, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have flaws in past installments, and Johnson sets about correcting as many as he can while never losing sight of telling a good yarn.

The director, heretofore best known for his highschool noir pastiche Brick, takes every opportunity to haul us deeper into Star Wars’ universe in every sense. We dive into the guts of an X-Wing to see the tools of war in action as adorable robot BB-8 whizzes and beeps while fixing fried motherboards. Then we see what happens when it goes wrong, when pilots die – not with a Wilhelm scream, but with a lingering shot on the ill-fated soldier’s final moments, giving us a rare insight into the consequence of war and rebellion, more in tone with the final scenes of Gareth Edward’s spectacular Rogue One.

The Last Jedi may be dealing with the sins of the fathers, but it is the mothers, daughters and sisters who are there to pick up the pieces and guide the galaxy to peace; more than any other Star Wars film, Johnson puts women at the centre. There is the battle-hardened but world-weary Leia (Carrie Fisher in a touching final performance, to whom the film is dedicated); the eager Jedi-in-waiting Rey, and two new characters. The first is Rose, played by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, who steals the film as a tenacious Rebel engineer. Then there’s Laura Dern, who with soft-flowing purple hair and a steely gaze sits by General Leia’s side leading the Resistance as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo.

Mark Hamill as hermit Luke Skywalker

Then there are the men. As we know from The Force Awakens, Luke (Mark Hamill) has gone into hiding, and without giving anything away, he is still reeling from the betrayal of his best-pupil and nephew Kylo-Ren (Adam Driver). Hamill delivers the goods, with a performance laced with a wry sense of humour offering up salty lines like, “You think I’m gonna walk out with a laser sword and take on the First Order?” Ren is as much a rage-fuelled adolescent as ever, taken down a peg or two by Snoke, who witheringly describes him as a child in a mask.

In the final moments you might feel a twang of disappointment: not with The Last Jedi itself, but the fact that Johnson isn’t directing Episode IX, as he has proven himself more than worthy of leading this saga by crafting a film with a great sense of heart, humour and heroism.

Released by Disney