Hope never dies in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Wow oh wow! Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Wow, that’s what I say! And Rian Johnson – kudos! The writer / director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (otherwise known as Episode VIII) has brought us something really special which quite took my breath away. A movie that exists within the iconic Star Wars saga but one that feels bold and a little bit daring and different.

After the delirious excitement of Episode VII The Force Awakens and following in the footsteps of Gareth Edwards’ dark and clever Rogue One: A Star Wars story, I thought Johnson’s new instalment was out of this world. The wit, the action, the emotion and the storytelling are all magnificent. Feeling as though you’ve been waiting really since Return of the Jedi (sorry prequels) for another proper Star Wars film, I can’t quite believe how much controversy The Last Jedi has stirred up amongst ardent fans and regular movie-goers – some adore it, some really, really don’t.

Obviously based on my comments so far, I’m clearly in the former camp and so all I can say is be prepared for some twists and turns and a whole lot of surprises in the course of the movie’s 2 hours and 32 minutes, making Luke Skywalker’s line from the trailer a key indicator of what to expect – “This is not going to go the way you think.”

You’re right there Master Luke! The film just keeps delivering moment after moment of eventful action and emotion that people have already started debating and will, I’m sure, talk about all the way until Episode IX rolls around in May 2019.

So what happens? Well, I’m not going to be divulging any spoilers or major plot points in this review but suffice it to say that we pick up where The Force Awakens left off on the literal cliffhanger which saw feisty young scavenger Rey (a first-rate Daisy Ridley) returning the long-lost lightsaber to its master Luke Skywalker (the masterful Mark Hamill) on his remote island Ahch-to.

From there, we encounter some great new characters, principal among these are Kelly-Marie Tran’s terrifically gutsy resistance mechanic Rose Tico who partners up with John Boyega’s similarly plucky ex-stormtrooper on a daring mission and Laura Dern’s impressively steely Vice Admiral Holdo, who finds herself butting heads with Oscar Isaac’s marvellously heroic (and hot-headed) pilot Poe Dameron on the Resistance’s next strategy to evade the First Order.

But really, from the image above, the key third element in the movie is Adam Driver’s fantastic Kylo Ren. Or should I say Ben Solo? Watching how Rian Johnson moves this character forward in The Last Jedi is as thrilling as anything we’ve seen in these new episodes so far. That’s partly because Driver is such an astonishing actor but everyone always loves a villain don’t they and you’re just riveted to see what he’s going to do next. The scenes between Driver and Ridley, including a gob-smacking sequence in the centre of the movie, are terrific and I can’t wait to see them again.

It has to be said this is also Mark Hamill’s film. He owns every moment here in his most iconic part. Luke Skywalker is like a colossus in this movie, towering over each scene he’s in with a gravitas that grounds the story. I called him masterful earlier and that’s exactly right because he so deftly plays this character as almost the elder statesman of the Star Wars universe. The farm boy from Tatooine has grown into the Jedi teacher but over the intervening years since Return of the Jedi, he’s not without his idiosyncrasies – at times he’s grouchy, at others, displaying whip-smart black humour. It’s sublime stuff.

There’s an inherent sadness to the movie too and that’s from every sequence containing Carrie Fisher as Leia. Watching her final scenes on film are almost unbearably moving and her loss to the saga and cinema in general is huge. She has some wonderful moments in the film though, particularly trading quips with Isaac’s Poe Dameron but there’s a line she has at one point which seems like the talisman for the episode,

“Hope is like the sun. If you only believe it when you see it you’ll never make it through the night.”

The original Star Wars was re-named A New Hope on its re-release in 1981 and the word holds an immense power in the saga. No more so than in this movie, where it proves a telling last moment which will propel us towards the finale in just over 17 months’ time. God, I’m excited. I wonder if I can hold my breath until then?

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