Spoiler Review: The Last Jedi | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Spoiler Review: The Last Jedi

Film Editor Patrick Box can't resist getting involved in the furious debate surrounding Star Wars The Last Jedi

I hated this movie when I first saw it. After years of waiting and speculation The Last Jedi seemed to be a film that aggressively failed to fulfil its potential: The heroic Luke Skywalker was reduced to a sad old man who did nothing but die; Supreme Leader Snoke was shuffled off screen to disguise the fact Lucasfilm couldn’t think of an interesting backstory; Rey became a Jedi knight after one meditation lesson; the plot was nonsensically based around the slowest chase sequence ever committed to film; characters were either given seemingly nothing to do (Finn) or had their appeal robbed of them (Kylo Ren); and the end battle promised by the trailers was called off before it could even begin.

I hated this movie when I first saw it
I left the cinema empty- I remember thinking that this must have been how older fans felt after watching the prequels. It felt like Star Wars had been ruined for another generation. But then I realised something: I was only thinking about the things the film hadn’t done, not what it actually had done. I’d joined the pantheon of  fanboys indignant that the film wasn’t what they decreed it should be. As I reflected on what I’d seen, it started to dawn on me just how impressive, bold, and emotional the film had truly been. A second viewing confirmed this, and abolished the majority of my previous complaints. Star Wars has changed in the most shocking of ways; not all of it works, but what does is breath-taking.

Amazingly, this is the first Star Wars film to follow on immediately from its predecessor. After the destruction of Starkiller Base, the Resistance led by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) is forced to evacuate their base as the ascendant First Order arrives to exterminate them. When Leia is wounded in the attack, Captain Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and First Order defector Finn (John Boyega) hatch a plan to escape their pursuers with the help of lowly engineer Rose (Kelly Marie-Tran). Meanwhile burgeoning force-user Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to convince a jaded Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to return to the fight, whilst also having to confront her own issues regarding her past. MEANWHILE, fallen Jedi Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) finds himself all the more conflicted after murdering his father, especially when he and Rey begin to experience a mysterious connection.

If it isn’t obvious from that synopsis, there’s a lot going on in this film. Its greatest achievement is that it manages to juggle all of these plot-strands and characters successfully (for the most part). Every character gets their own arc and ends the film having grown in some way, with the the characters of Rey and Kylo getting the most attention. Daisy Ridley, whilst still struggling in some scenes, really manages to sell Rey’s desperation to find a hero whether it be in Luke Skywalker or Kylo Ren. She serves as the audience’s surrogate: convinced Luke will heroically save the day or that Ben Solo is buried underneath the monstrous Kylo. However by the end of the film this naivety has been bludgeoned out of her; she learns that she needs to become the hero of her own story. It’s the subtler moments where Ridley excels, whether it be the sly smile on her face as she practices with a lightsaber, or the pain in her voice as she begs Kylo not to commit to the dark side. And whilst the reveal of her parentage is clearly going to be infuriating to some, it encapsulates the theme of the film perfectly. She makes herself special, not anyone or anything else.

As light rises, darkness must too- and Adam Driver proves again that he is always the most talented performer on screen at any given time. His Kylo Ren is a creature of pure emotion, flicking between enraged and assured in a heartbeat. Rejected by both his former master Luke and his current master Snoke, his connection with Rey reveals just how appealing they are to one another.

Adam Driver proves again that he is always the most talented performer on screen at any given time
Both offer the other an end to emotional isolation; a sense of belonging and understanding. Like Ridley, Driver excels in the small moments: removing his thumb from the trigger of his fighter when he finds his mother in the sights, or the way his eyes flick to Rey in the middle of their fight with the Praetorians. It’s a credit to the script and the actor that you manage to feel a certain amount of pathos for him; like Rey you want to believe he can be saved, and it’s truly heartbreaking when this proves impossible. He has given too much to the Dark Side to turn back now. By the end of the film the two have emerged as the antithesis of each other: Rey the last of the Jedi, Kylo the true heir to Darth Vader. Hopefully JJ Abrams will find a conclusion for this character that dodges the finality The Last Jedi seems to suggest. Driver has created such a compelling character that to have him die on the side of a volcano cursing Rey, or falling down a bottomless shaft, would be a gross disservice.

Outside of the two leads the other characters all get their chance in the spotlight to varying degrees. Rectifying the lack of focus on him in the previous instalment, The Last Jedi takes time to focus on the character of Poe as he goes from hot-headed pilot to Rebel leader. Oscar Isaac is so effortlessly charismatic in the role that, like the character, you never stop to consider he might have the wrong end of the stick. His surrogate mother-son relationship with Leia was perhaps the most pleasant of all the film’s surprises, and the pair had strong chemistry together. Carrie Fisher herself emerges as the film’s moral centre, making it all the more tragic that this is the last time we will see her in this role. However this is a fitting send-off for the character: she’s as brash, witty, and compassionate as ever. Although he takes a bit more of a backseat this time around, John Boyega’s Finn also has a solid arc of his own. Still primarily concerned with saving himself and Rey, he learns over the course of the film what it means to believe in a cause.

Carrie Fisher herself emerges as the film’s moral centre, making it all the more tragic that this is the last time we will see her in this role
His confrontation with his former commander Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) leads to the film’s most smile-inducing one liner and finally completes his transformation into a Resistance hero. Other characters however, could have done with more fleshing out. Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose and Benecio Del Toro’s DJ are both welcome presences but feel like they’re there more to aid Boyega’s arc than add to the narrative. Rose seems only to to be there to show Finn the importance of believing in a cause whilst DJ offers a brief but intriguing insight into the futility of the cyclical warfare that drives the Star Wars universe. Laura Dern’s Vice-Admiral Holdo fairs better. Deftly matching the script she manages to make us hate her before pulling back and revealing her true moral fibre. She also gets perhaps the film’s standout moment visually as she simultaneously saves the lives of our three protagonists. Concerning the returning characters, Domhnall Gleeson seems to be biding his time as Hux, whilst Lupita Nyong’o’s cameo as Maz Kanata was frankly toe curling and should have been left on the cutting room floor. Andy Serkis really sells it as the voice and motion-capture behind Snoke but perhaps a line of exposition would have been good, just to explain who the hell he was before he got split in half.

There’s one character I’ve been dancing around thus far. Luke Skywalker’s return to the fold is perhaps the most shocking element of the film and easily its most divisive. Those who, like me, were expecting or longing for a heroic moment of lightsaber action or force mastery will be deeply disappointed. This just isn’t that sort of movie. What we do get is a stellar performance from Mark Hamill, who is finally able to make his  career’s most iconic role (outside of voice acting) truly interesting. The plucky farm-boy is dead, replaced with a selfish, embittered, self-loathing-failure waiting to die alone. He’s a tragic figure; never having managed to restore the Jedi to their former glory he instead has once again brought about their destruction. The reveal that in a moment of weakness, he ensured Ben Solo’s fall to the dark-side is a master-stroke.

What we do get is a stellar performance from Mark Hamill, who is finally able to make his career’s most iconic role truly interesting
To those it angers or disappoints: that’s kind of the point. However the old Luke still manages to shine through: the wry humour he developed in Return of the Jedi persists and he gets to deliver all the film’s best jokes. Also, I defy anyone who claims they didn’t get a lump in their throat at his reunions with R2 D2 and C3P0. The moment where Yoda gives him one last lesson is cinematic perfection and the one scene where the film bows to its fans’ desires. Because of this, his confrontation with Kylo allows the character to finally complete his growth into a true Jedi Master (combing Luke’s own youthful arrogance, Yoda’s playfulness, and Obi Wan’s class) allowing him to aid the Resistance one last time in a way only he can. At the end he manages to be the Luke Skywalker of legend, the one he derided Rey for expecting, one last time. Although I’m still on the fence whether it was time for the character to die (the film hints he will return in the future as a force-ghost so fingers crossed), the binary sunset sequence is the perfect way to send the character off. He’s finally able to look to the future with the same wistful hope of his youth. Like his heart-rending reunion with Leia, it won’t leave an dry-eye in the cinema.

So much of the film is character driven it’s not surprising that the plot sometimes can be accused of treading water. Like Empire Strikes Back before it, nothing really happens narratively other than we watch the rebels run away. That being said, sequences that dragged on a first viewing (mainly the mission to Canto Bight) were more enjoyable a second time around. Also, unlike its predecessor, The Force Awakens, it sometimes struggles with pacing and tonal shifts. The Director himself has revealed that he struggled with the humorous aspects of the script and not all the jokes land (particularly those involving BB8). It’s also unavoidable that if we’re all being truly, deeply honest with ourselves it could stand to lose twenty minutes. Yet whilst it fails to deliver on the climatic ground battle seemingly promised by the trailers, and few and far in-between they may be, the actions sequences when they come are spectacular. The WWII inspired bombing run that opens the film is delightfully tense, whilst the fight scene between Rey, Kylo, and Snoke’s Praetorian Guard (as well as the standoff between Luke and Kylo) boasts the franchise’s best fight choreography to date. Sod off prequel era flips and spins, it’s Star Wars going full samurai and it’s about damn time. Even the CGI heavy escape through Canto Bight, and the brief scuffle between Finn and Phasma deserve a fist pump but maybe I could have done with one more sequence a little more… pew pew.

Akira Kurosawa’s influence has never been more prominent in the franchise

It’s also easily the franchise’s best directed film to date. Director/screenwriter Rian Johnson switches between the macro (ski-speedsters kicking up red dust) and the micro (a gloved hand picking a lightsaber off the floor) with such ease you just want to stand up and applaud. His marriage of images to both new and old music ensure goosebumps will be felt throughout: the moment that got me was the sight of a blazing blue lightsaber flying into Rey’s hand, as it bisects Snoke on the way. Akira Kurosawa’s influence has never been more prominent in the franchise: the rain, wind, fog, and lightning that dominate Luke's island is straight out of Throne of Blood or Seven Samurai whilst the blood red curtains of Snoke’s throne room and mineral dust of the planet Crait seem to be lifted directly from the visuals of Kagemusha and Ran. Not to mention a subtle narrative homage to Rashoman that is utilised to great effect. Like Kurosawa, Johnson is a man who understands the primacy of visual story-telling: a red streak in the dust coincides with Kylo’s murderous charge at Luke, Leia  twice endures a solitary moment of contemplative silence. At several key moments he pulls the sound out of the film completely and lets the visuals do the talking such as Poe bellowing over his radio as a Gunner kicks repeatedly at a ladder, or Holdo’s kamikaze starship carving a path through enemy ships. This high-quality isn't 100% consistent throughout however, especially towards the end as it becomes a bit too reliant on green-screen. Also there are certain moments where dialogue could have done with a bit more polishing, but these are minor quibbles. It’s no wonder they’ve given this guy his own trilogy.

Johnson has created the Star Wars film he wanted to make and that above all else is something to be admired. Its almost aggressive dedication to subversion and its refusal to deliver on fan expectations is initially very jarring and will probably be too much for many (the film has already proven highly divisive online), but it ultimately emerges as stronger and more engaging because of this, regardless of how hard that is to admit. Yet Johnson never loses sight of what Star Wars has always been about: whether it be the balance between light and dark, the potential of the downtrodden or forgotten, or just plain-and-simple hope. Johnson has created a Star Wars more nuanced and complex than a franchise film has any right to be. Because of him Star Wars is new and fresh once again, with a blank canvas ahead of it. Hopefully JJ Abraham’s followup in 2019 will be able to continue this bold new direction, and bring a satisfying end to this chapter. Either way, they’ll be arguing about this one for a long time, maybe even forever.

Verdict: More divisive than a house-chat about politics, The Last Jedi is not the crowd-pleaser you’d expect. Director Rian Johnson chooses instead to deliberately avoid delivering on fan expectations. What he does do is deliver a character-focused drama, more nuanced than Star Wars has ever had a right to be, whilst boasting the franchise’s most impressive visuals to date. Star Wars is dead. Long live Star Wars.


If Indiana Jones had a kid with Han Solo, I'm the guy who sat behind him in school.


24th December 2017 at 9:00 am

Images from

IMDB and slashfilm