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Stars Wars: The Last Jedi does not start well.
The exposition plods, the editing jars, and the dialogue feels unnatural. Just as emotional moments pull you in, director Rian Johnson rips you away to comic relief. Every time you try to reconnect with the characters you’ve missed, you’re met with a quick two-second shot of some (albeit very pretty) landscapes.
But as I caught myself thinking the worst (could this film be bad?), Rian Johnson hit his stride so brilliantly I couldn’t help but stare in awe for the remaining two hours. Because The Last Jedi — despite its clumsy open — is entertainment at its finest.
The film begins right where The Force Awakens leaves off: Rey has found Luke Skywalker; Finn is recovering from his fight with Kylo Ren, who recently killed his father, Han Solo; Poe Dameron and General Leia Organa are left to protect the rebel base.
What happens after is a whirlwind of adventure that feels exactly like Star Wars and somehow nothing like it at all. Rian Johnson weaves the traditional Star Wars themes (Light vs Dark, family, hope) with fresh new storylines and characters that stand on their own.
Johnson refuses to simply recreate the acclaimed Empire Strikes Back, and the risk pays off. The Last Jedi is a wild mix of adrenaline, nostalgia, and unpredictability — but the film elevates itself with intricate character work. And the star of the show? Kylo Ren, one of film’s most interesting villains.
Kylo Ren is one of film’s most interesting villains
The son of Star Wars darlings Han and Leia was shipped off to Jedi training with Luke Skywalker when he was just a boy. There, he grappled with the immense power inside of him — until he was eventually pulled to the Dark Side by super-villain Snoke.
In The Force Awakens, we get pieces of Kylo’s story: we learn of his pride, his Vader ambitions, his need to prove himself. The Last Jedi takes this characterisation even further. It lays Kylo out on the table, refusing the audience space to look away — and Adam Driver nails the tortured soul performance. The Last Jedi reminds us that it’s easy to dismiss evil as irredeemable, but it’s harder to imagine how far we could be pushed until we contemplated the same.
In Kylo, too, we have the perfect foil for Rey, whose emotional arc dances alongside his in a twisted ballet. Their stories weave and twirl with one another, reaching out and slipping back. But it isn’t graceful: their dialogue is often too cheesy even by Star Wars standards, and Daisy Ridley’s performance struggles as her character is given little more substance than her ties to Kylo.
Kylo and Rey’s emotional arcs dance alongside one another in a twisted ballet
Alongside Kylo and Rey, though, is a cast of loveable and flawed characters. Newcomer Rose is a delight; she’s funny, smart, strong-headed and a great partner for the survivalist Finn. It’s their relationship that feels the most distinctly un-Star Wars — and it reminds the viewer that war doesn’t only affect the heroes.
And of course, the Jedi Master Luke Skywalker is battling his own demons, hesitant to fight in another war that he can’t envision ending. Here, Mark Hamill shines. The veteran actor embraces the meatier work with ease, and it’s fun to watch him improve since his original work as Luke in the 70s.
The Last Jedi treats its main characters with care, and though the film may skimp on some in favour of others, it does an exceptional job at humanising and endearing every one of the characters on screen.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a film for everyone
Perhaps the best part about The Last Jedi, though, is that it’s not only a film for Star Wars fans. Sure, there may be some inside jokes you miss — or even some sentimental art direction — but, really, it’s a film open to all. The Last Jedi is the universal tale of good vs evil, of balance and hope, repackaged in a way that will please fans and casual viewers alike.
The film is frenetic, powerful, and a joy to behold.
Feature image: Screenshot, Star Wars via YouTube