Although this gawjuss thing isn't the poster you'll likely have seen - it is an official poster, not fan art.  It's by a fella who, if you ask me, is the heir apparent to Drew Struzan ... Paul Shipper, ladies and gentlemen.  Find him here:

There’s gonna be some spoilerage in this review.  Serious spoilerage.  So, if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet, go away and do so.  I’ll see you after ...

These days, the first few moments of a Star Wars film make me tense ... Is it going to be Empire good, Phantom Menace bad, or Force Awakens okay?  ...  The first few minutes usually tell.

Where J.J. had to spend some time, with The Force Awakens, introducing a whole new cast of characters and a (slightly) different galaxy - Rian Johnson, in this film, gets to hit the ground running. 

Interesting, then, that he sets off by offering us some mixed messages: The opening line is delivered by ... Ade Edmondson.  Really?  They have Sir Adrian Dangerous on a Star Destroyer?  What could possibly go wrong.  And he’s answerable to Domhnall Gleeson, who’s still playing Hux as an eye-swivelling maniac with a light sabre stuck up his ass.  But, thankfully, writer/director Rian Johnson takes care to do what J.J. failed to do - and that’s let the audience in on the joke:  Hux is meant to be ridiculous.  Phew.  That’s a relief.

Throughout this film, there is interplay between genuine humour, knowing nods to the audience, and edge-of-the-seat drama.  It’s quite a balancing act but, as Luke tells Rey, the secret to The Force is that’s all about balance.

Ehm ... Nope.  I got nothing.
When Oscar Isaac turns up as Poe Dameron, he’s just one guy in an X-Wing, facing off against an entire Star Destroyer.  And, when he talks to Gleason, it’s still hard to reconcile these performances with the ones the two actors gave in Ex Machina (2015) ... But that’s good, it shows the range they both have.

After this comic moment - suddenly there’s flying and shooting and shouting and lots of explosions.  The opening ten minutes is frantic seat of the pants stuff during which, they essentially restage the entirety of Rogue One (2016).

So, after the first few moments - the nerves are singing, the senses tingling - and things are looking good!

The film manages to successfully balance several tones - from tragic to comic by way of dramatic - and several different plot threads, which proceed at wildly different paces and often in entirely different directions.  Yet, it is to the credit of the writing and the editing, that it is all perfectly explicable.

There are visual and thematic contrasts here ... Snoke’s audience chamber is a sterile red and black affair, while the landscape over which the Rebellion stages its last stand is sterile red and ... white!  The last film began with us following Rey, all alone, living life by her own terms, and surviving on her wits - yet full of hope for the return of her parents.  This film brings her into contact (finally) with Luke Skywalker, who is all alone, living life by his own terms - but full of despair. 

The contrast, and the emotional affect Rey and Skywalker have on each other, is the emotional crux of the story - as Skywalker’s training was the emotional crux of Empire.

This week on 'Escape to the Country', legendary Jedi, Luke Skywalker and Miss Rey Nosurnameyet have picked out this secluded and detached residence on the planet Ah-Choo.  Don't they look happy.
Over in the Rebellion’s part of the story, Dameron’s gung-ho attitude, which a younger Leia tolerated in Han Solo, stretches her patience and she is constantly reining him in.  They’ve done something interesting with Leia.  Firstly, they’ve given her hair which isn’t nearly as silly; but they’ve also given her genuine authority over her troops.  Secondly, they have created a brilliant and heart-breaking moment for her - which pays homage, wonderfully, to the legacy of Carrie Fisher.  It shows the power Leia has been restraining all these years.  I actually wept.

But then, they unravel it all and proceed as though the sequence never happened.  That was an odd choice.  They create the perfect send-off for the character, then have her come back from it.  Odd.  However, this does feed into a motif which runs through this film more obviously than it has through the others (although, it’s really always been there) which is the way in which, for those who are strong with the Force, death is a temporary inconvenience, rather than a permanent state of affairs.  Bear that in mind when you see a certain person cut in half by a light sabre.

Where Force Awakens was, essentially, a tribute remix of A New Hope - which slavishly reproduced most of the first film’s key elements, from the desert planet beginning, to the Death Star Trench ending - this film mixes in ingredients from both Empire and Jedi, too many of them, if I’m honest, but does so efficiently and energetically.

To the untrained eye, this might appear like a restaging of the Battle for Hoth but, no, nothing could be further from the truth.  Oh, okay, yes it is.
There’s two (count ’em) restagings of the attack on Hoth, there’s the Jedi training in a primeval environment, there’s yet another Cantina scene (this time in a casino), there’s the obligatory we-have-to-turn-off-the-transmitter plot from Jedi and even the Millennium Falcon flying through the tunnels whilst pursued by TIE fighters.  But, y’know, as overly-familiar as these elements were while I was watching them, none of them are on screen long enough to spoil the fun.  With so many different plotlines rattling along, it’s not possible to get bogged down in any one moment.

It is ironic, of course, that Ren's major piece of advice to Rey is to abandon the past, because that's the only way to move forward.  Maybe that was Johnson subtly nudging J.J.'s elbow, now that Mr. Abrams is back in the director's seat for Episode IX.

While Kylo Ren, in Force Awakens, was essentially a spoiled brat long over-due a thick ear; here, Adam Driver gives the character some real depth and pathos.  There is a connection between him and Rey.  The film never explicitly says this, but it seems to be heading in the direction of revealing, in the next film, that they’re related.  Brother and sister, maybe.  That would be vintage Star Wars.  But Ren and Rey are conflicted, both trying to find themselves, both being given advice by Jedi masters they don’t entirely trust.  She is being told two narratives - one by Skywalker, one by Ren.  Which does she believe ... Or will she synthesise them and make her own mind up?

Watching Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens just made me want to put him over my knee ... But, here, he is thoughtful and serious and poignant, a really layered and nuanced character.
Ren and Rey's scenes together (even though they’re rarely actually together) are intense and soulful and aren’t full of the meaningless hokum they spouted at each other in Force Awakens, but actually develop the characters and push the story along.  And there’s a moment, when they are in Snoke’s chamber together, a moment of epiphany that is the equal, in its grandeur and drama, to the sword-fight between Vader and Skywalker at the end of Jedi.  Genuine hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff.

It’s worth mentioning - this year of all years - that the original Star Wars was notorious for the short shrift it gave its female characters (all one of her); well, the new films have done a lot to redress that, now we have the entire Rebellion being run by them.  Clear eyed and calculating, they are strategic and unemotional in their stewardship of the war. 

Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo - offering strong and stable leadership.  Ahem.
As Laura Dern's Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo says to Poe “Hope is like the Sun, if you only believe in it when you see it, you’ll never make it through the night”.  Which is a helluvan important message to soak up in these trying times.

Over on the side of the First Order, they have an entirely male command structure, and they’re constantly bickering, getting distracted, getting emotional, and trying to get one over on each other.  Hope, then, is female, while despair is conspicuously male.  Interestingly, when impetuous fly-boy Poe (briefly) takes over as commander of the Rebellion, his plan - whilst very noble - is really stupid and guaranteed to lead to lots of explosions and dying.  He is motivated by despair - he feels that he must act now to avert disaster.  Cooler heads have a plan that will take slightly longer to unravel.  It’s genuinely enlightened to have an alpha male be proven wrong and be sidelined in this way, by an alpha female.  Refreshing!

Wonder when they’ll let a woman actually direct one of these films?

Anyway, given the way the plots rattle along, they’ve managed to find time to shoe-horn in a huge amount of fan service - not much of which serves any purpose.  They bring back Yoda (see my previous comments about death not being permanent), so he can offer Luke a few well turned homilies such as “failure is the greatest teacher” (an important lesson all creative artists have to learn the hard way).  C-3PO is there, of course, taking up room.  R2-D2 shows up for one scene, simply so he can play Luke the original “Help me, Ob-Wan” hologram, which created a lump in Luke’s throat, and mine.  They even bring Maz Kanata back for about 30 seconds (presumably because Lupita Nyong'o had it in her contract).

Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Finn (John Boyega) blending in perfectly in the billionaire's playground of Canto Bight.
She sends Finn and new-recruit Rose on a side mission to the casino city of Canto Bight.  This sequence, in the middle of the film, is really just to give Finn something to do.  It's his chance to remember that he's supposed to be a hero, shamed into this revelation by Rose, a young woman who has no business giving a damn when it isn't her turn.  This whole sequence doesn’t add much to the film, but it is fun and delightful to look at and, of course, provides a plethora of new characters Disney can turn into toys.  It doesn’t really serve the narrative or the characters, but it will certainly serve the Disney coffers.  Funny, but I typically resent this - creating characters and locations as product placement - but, in this film, it takes up so little screen time, I didn’t really have time to mind.

Also, importantly, we return to Canto in the film's coda, and we see the impact that Rose and Finn's visit has had; how it has inspired the next generation.  Slave children tell each other of the heroics of The Last Jedi, and that will fuel their imagination as they grow to become the hoped-for future.  The spark of Episode IX is lit at the end of Episode VIII.

The character arcs between Ren and Rey intersect with him telling her: “Your parents have no place in this story,.  You come from nothing.”  He is instilling in her a belief that she is self-made, immensely powerful even without tuition - like he is himself.  But, to say the parents are irrelevant, is to fly in the face of The Monomyth, the story that all these epic narratives draw from.  So, I’m going to say that he was either wrong or lying.  If he is right, and she isn't any kind of chosen one ... That could be the single most radical creative decision in the whole film!

But there is an interesting development, when Rey looks into the black pit which represents the pull of The Dark Side.  Luke warns her that she went straight there, fearing that it might consume her.  Might that be a pre-cursor of the direction she chooses to swing in the final film?  More likely, is that she - unlike either Anakin Skywalker or Luke Skywalker before her - can access The Dark Side without being overwhelmed by it.  Both she and Ren are pulled by both the Dark and the Light ... And they don't see either of these as being right or wrong, just different.  That's the way to not be defined by the past; that's the way to shape your own future.

The story ends as it began, with one man, hopelessly out-gunned, facing down the First Order alone.  This moment also had tears pricking at my eyes.  And the resolution to this sequence is nothing short of genius.

The show-down on planet Crait is visually arresting, because it takes place on a battlefield completely unlike Hoth.  See, that's not ice - it's salt.  Totally different thing.  But, under it, there is a red crystalline substance which may very well be frozen blood.  How's that for a gothic Star Wars location?
This film is far from perfect, but then all of the Star Wars films have holes you could fly a Star Destroyer through.  It's part of their charm and has nothing to do with how much we love them.  Here, the characterisation is compelling, the broad strokes of the story feel right and, overall, The Last Jedi earns my respect.  Where Lucas’ prequels earned my contempt and The Force Awakens earned my disappointment, this film earns my trust and my enthusiasm.  It doesn’t proceed without a misstep and - clocking in at over two and a half hours - it certainly has a few too many fake endings and plot-reversals; but the wider sweep of the story is overwhelmingly positive.  It’s exciting where it needs to be, emotional where it needs to be and there are even one or two moments which are simply spine-tingling in their perfection.  I was twelve years old again, having my mind blown again, as I did in January 1978, when I first saw Star Wars.

It’s also worth mentioning that John Williams is on barnstorming form.  His music for Force Awakens was ... Okay.  But it lacked the epic heft and the hummable themes that one associates with his greatest work.  The music here has the heart that Force Awakens had, but it also has the drama of the original trilogy.  It is a delight when the old themes for Skywalker and The Force and The Falcon float through, like a memory, fleeting then gone, but leaving a warm sensation behind them.  I hope he is hale and hearty enough to complete his great work - by providing the music for Episode IX, in two years time.  When he’ll be 87.

So, how good is The Last Jedi?  Is it Empire good?  No.  As inconceivable as this may be ... After just one viewing, I’m pretty sure that The Last Jedi is not the best Star Wars film since Empire.  It’s the best Star Wars film.  Ever.

Annie Leibowitz' portrait for Vanity Fair is impossibly poignant now.

Written & Directed by Rian Johnson
Dur: 152 mins
Cert: 12A


  1. Well put my good man x well put x

  2. Thank-you. My ultimate response to it shocked even me!

  3. Great review! I have to say though, I found the film mediocre. The final hour or so, yes, great, loads of action, emotion, awesome visuals, awesome lightsabering, and some fab representation of race and gender. However, the middle was so slow. How many times can Rey ask Luke to help, and he just trudges off or say no? Yes, he's given up, we got it five scenes ago! The mission to find the code-breaker was just a time-filler obstacle so there was some action to break up Luke moping and saying "No" twenty-seven times. And what was with Leia trusting Poe MORE after his antics led to practically the whole rebellion being wiped out? She demotes him after his hot-headed refusal to follow orders leads to a successful attack that kills several pilots, but then when he does something even worse that fails AND kills almost everyone, suddenly she's all, "Don't look at me, follow him!" I also wanted it to open with Han Solo's funeral and it didn't, I think more mourning was in order. So, yeah, it was "okay", but my expectations were high (I loved Force Awakens) and this fell short. Discuss...

    1. Greetings.

      Right then ... Just went to see it again, today. My enjoyment of it remains undimmed ... But I am very aware of its short-comings. I didn't talk about them too much in the review, because I was trying not to spoil too much (I know several people who ignored the admonition about not reading it until after they'd seen the film).

      The whole code-breaker thing was, indeed, a time-filler. A side-mission, as game players might say. I think Del Toro's character, whilst amusing, was not fully realised and some of his actions simmply didn't make sense.

      The whole sequence - as pretty and as enjoyable as it was - could have been replaced with a few lines of dialogue. But, as per the rules of Save The Cat ... We have to have a ticking clock ... So the diversion served to emphasise that.

      The Rey on the island stuff did outstay its welcome A BIT ... But not nearly as much as the Dagobah sequence in Empire. That really does flag. It did in 1980, it still does. But this is, in part, deliberate ... Johnson was deliberately mixing as many elements from Empire and Jedi as he could ... So he could reposition them and redefine them when everything changes in the Snoke's throne room. (still trying not to be too spoilerific).

      As for Leia - Her character has been poorly written throughout the series - here, I think, she was better written and put to better purpose than in any of the other films. I'm not saying it was great ... Just better. Also, she has a soft spot for 'trigger-happy fly-boys' so, I was willing to forgive her for indulging Poe. She'd made her point, he'd made his mistakes. Like Luke, he'll have to learn from those mistake.

      There are times when the film is dumb, times when it is too silly, times when it wanders from the point ... And that is true of all of Lucas' films. Especially the good ones.

      So, intellectually, I can understand why people have been luke(!) warm about the film. For me - it worked emotionally. There were two moments when I cried. It's a fucking Star Wars film, and I cried! Having seen it again - I know that a lot of the blame for that lies with John Williams who, as the saying goes, played a blinder.

      It seems that the film didn't give the fans what they wanted. But that was deliberate. Johnson is moving the pieces around ... He's changing the narrative of the whole Light Side / Dark Side thing. He's challenging the Monomyth ... In a Star Wars film - the franchise that introduced us all to the Monomyth! That's bold and epic and I hope the J.J. has the nuts to continue in like manner.

      The film is lumpy and dumb and silly ... And I love it all the same.

  4. It was better than I expected but not as good as I had hoped. I agree with most points here, too. It was, once again, Star Wars by numbers and I noted many of the parallels to the previous films, specifically IV through VI. Plenty of unnecessary characters put there purely to sell toys (but what else do we expect from Disney?) I agree with Anjali about repetitive scenes and unnecessary plot threads as well. If it IS true that no editing of Leia's role was done after Carrie's death - the cynic in me says not - then it was a fitting, and emotional, way for her to leave the story. I also have issues with Skywalker passing over. Nothing seemed to be foreshadowed previously to indicate his 'force-holographic' appearance would even be risky, let alone fatal and, to my mind at least, seemed jarringly unexpected and put there purely for its emotional impact. Unless I missed something somewhere?

    1. Mark Hamill has said, in interview, that they didn't change the script re: Princess Leia, after Carrie Fisher dies. So, they intended for her performance to have two halves, with two crescendos. Structurally, that's a nonsense. But, the first sequence, in the spaceship, was also one of the moments that made me cry.

      The face off with the walkers ... that was the other one.

      It's very unusual for me to give a film a pass over so many flabby, unnecessary and just plain daft elements. It's extremely unusual for me to get this emotional about a movie. I must be sickening for something.

  5. Having said that, if we knew in advance Luke's appearance would be risky, it wouldn't have been a surprise when he sort of turned up. The aftermath was nevertheless a bit sudden for me though.

    1. Jase - Oh yeah, I forgot to throw in a complaint about the cute CGI creatures who were clearly there for toy sales.

      Re: Luke dying, I agree it was a bad move. I guess it was a nod to Obi-Wan - a battle with his naughty padawan followed by disappearing and leaving nothing but his cloak behind. Doesn't make it a good end, though!

      It was set up slightly, when Rey and Ben are communicating long-distance in the same way, Ben says that it can't be Rey doing it because the effort would kill her. Still, I didn't expect it to kill Luke and it felt like it was him getting back into the fight, not having one last battle before dying.

  6. Best Star Wars since Empire I say... scrap the entire casino bit... I thought Luke was the best thing in it.... disappointed that Snoke was not involved much and I fear Captain Phasma is just another Boba Fett. I think when Leia was saying... “follow him” it was because Poe had learned to think more before acting... Force Awakens was just a rehash of Star Wars... With Kylo Ren telling Rey to let go of the past it resonated with me... I don’t want a Star Wars film like the originals, I can just watch those again. The prequels were naff but at least they were telling a different story

    1. The prequels were, indeed, different. Gotta give George credit for that, at least.

      Force Awakens disappointed me precisely because it was such a careful re-hash of Star Wars. Some elements were inevitable, but SO MANY? At least with Last Jedi, they've mixed it up and thrown in elements from both Empire and Jedi. And then commented upon them, by changing the audience's perception of them.

      I, too, doubt that we've seen the last of chrome dome!

    2. I like Force Awakens because it was like ANH mixed with a contemporary action film and loads of Han Solo. Perfect!

      Maybe Poe had learnt something, I guess he does finally come up with a plan that doesn't involve blowing something up, like Leia suggested. Plus there's the whole reminding her of Han thing. Still not convinced, but maybe a second viewing would make it clearer.