*Spoilers within this article*
Star Wars has reinvigorated the event blockbuster. In a time of cinematic universes and sequels scrambling for space on a crowded schedule, audiences are spoilt for choice; no longer is the event actioner a treat for the summer – the multiplexes roll them out all year round. While these huge multi-part franchises can be good, sometimes even great, it robs audiences of the anticipation that ensues when you’re forced to be patient.
Enter The Last Jedi: the eagerly-awaited sequel to 2015’s The Force Awakens, Disney’s first foray into the Skywalker saga. It was refreshing to be treated to that familiar musical sting and title scroll, after waiting for a solid two years to find out what had would happen next. Would Rey, standing on an island opposite the Legendary Luke Skywalker, finally get to hand the old Jedi that lightsaber? Would Finn snap out of his coma, ready to fall into the strapping arms of one Poe Dameron? Would C3PO and R2-D2 have something to do?
To say the film was bearing the weight of lofty expectations would be an understatement. Not only did The Force Awakens’ J.J. Abrams end the previous instalment on a whopping cliffhanger, but his trademark “mystery boxes” were rife: Rey’s parents, Snoke’s identity, the details of Kylo Ren and Luke’s shared past. The masterstroke at play here comes from Rian Johnson’s handling of the material and subversion of tropes inherent to the franchise since 1977. There’s a good reason why almost every review mentioned Luke’s line ‘This is not going to go the way you think.” Almost every lingering question from The Force Awakens is answered here, or more accurately, subverted. It honours everything that came before it, but also tears down the staples that have made the franchise feel safe and uninspired in the past.
One of the tightest aspects of The Force Awakens was its ability to strike a perfect balance between servicing its new heroes while paying homage to its legacy characters. The Last Jedi is no different. Whereas Awakens was undeniably Han Solo’s movie, here Luke Skywalker is given the chance to shine, finally getting to inhabit the old space-wizard persona so iconic to Obi-Wan and Master Yoda. It’s a shame that Carrie Fisher’s untimely passing means we won’t get the same for General Leia in Episode IX, in which she was reportedly planned to be an essential component; what she is given to do in this film is all too brief, but it is touching to see her one last time.
The action in almost every instance is rooted in suspense and character; an early highlight sees the Resistance attempt a bombing raid on a First Order dreadnought. Ship-to-ship combat has never felt quite so grubby, so dangerous, and it brings a much-needed level of grit to what can often turn into a weightless CGI frenzy. Any fan left shortchanged by the somewhat underwhelming lightsaber battles in the previous instalment should be suitably satisfied here, as Johnson gives us some frenetic and vicious choreography; one sequence even evokes classic film westerns, in a fight that deviates from what we’ve come to expect from a lightsaber battle.
Some of the gripes amid reactions to the film are understandable. The excursion to a high-class casino planet does seem extraneous to the narrative, even if it is cool to see what Mos Eisley looks like to the 1%, and one character in particular makes a fleeting appearance that does little to capitalise on their all-too-brief role in The Force Awakens. That’s no cause to believe the handful of detractors creating bot accounts (yes, really) just to downvote the film on Rotten Tomatoes. This is a bold direction for the Star Wars mythos. It pivots each and every single one of the characters to a place that makes the prospect of Episode IX something very exciting indeed. For perhaps the first time since Lord Vader muttered those immortal words at the climax of Empire, Star Wars has pulled no punches and given the audience something truly daring. Whether you finish the film feeling the risks taken have paid off or not, there’s no denying a concerted effort to pull the rug out from under the audience’s feet whilst doubling down on the spectacle and compelling characters the saga has always been known for.
If you’re someone who doesn’t think the Original Trilogy can be topped then this is about as close as you can get to that level of greatness in a Star Wars movie… for now. With as much care and consideration put into the subsequent movies as this one, the franchise has a bright future ahead of it. There’s always hope.
N.B. As our site is UK based, we work off the selection of films released in cinemas in the UK in 2017.
So to recap, here’s our Top 20 to 3…
20th – LADY MACBETH
19th – JACKIE
18th – LOGAN
17th – O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA
16th – PADDINGTON 2
15th – A GHOST STORY
14th – THE BIG SICK
13th – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
12th – BLADE RUNNER 2049
11th – THOR: RAGNAROK
10th – THE DEATH OF STALIN
9th – CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
8th – TONI ERDMANN
7th – THE HANDMAIDEN
6th – LA LA LAND
5th – DUNKIRK
4th – THE FLORIDA PROJECT
3rd – STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
We’re almost there! Stay tuned each and every day for the remainder of 2017 to read more on our Top 10 films of 2017!