There’s a scene near the end of The Last Jedi, the second in Disney’s rejuvenated world-eating trilogy, when Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the floppy-haired bastard prince whose crackling Oedipal resentment makes him the most fascinating of the new batch, has pretty much had enough of the whole Star Wars thing.
Rey (Daisy Ridley), the heir apparent to the ways of the Light Side, is talking about The Resistance, but he cuts her off, launching into a speech of delicious, weary iconoclasm. The Jedi, the Sith, the rebels, Luke, Leia… he wants to torch the whole thing, this over-loaded mythology on everyone’s lips. In a series obsessed with heritage, in story and in marketing, Vader’s grandson and Luke’s nephew experiences parental legacy as a poisoned inheritance, an intolerable inner conflict to be scrubbed out through an external mania for annihilation. As fun as it is to watch another round of TIE fighter lasers, Kylo’s revolutionary dream is seductive, thrilling and totally impossible under Disney’s IP-conscious supervision.
The title is a dodge. In Star Wars there is no “last” anything. Everything seems to linger or survive in some way, a complicated, frustrating irresolution that makes it harder to build compelling arcs with the new characters, a key problem with The Force Awakens, whose heroes zipped around the franchise’s greatest hits like fans at a branded theme park. This ambiguity is internalised by the new Force heavyweights, Kylo and Rey, as a sense of placelessness, their search for answers and clarity driving The Last Jedi‘s meatier, but desperately in need of nuance, plotlines.
The film is at its best when it’s cynical towards the worthiness of its own legacy. The prime dispenser of this is, as teased, the return of Mark Hamill as a reclusive Luke Skywalker, hiding out on an Irish piece of rock with a bunch of puffin Furbies for company. He’s the galaxy’s most wanted man. The First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (thankfully life-size this time), his protege Kylo and Domhnall Gleeson’s sneery fascist General Hux, have got The Resistance on the back foot. General Organa (the late Carrie Fisher’s Leia), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) can’t outrun the First Order’s Star Destroyers, so Rey heads off to enlist Luke in the good fight and turn the tide.
The only problem: the retired Jedi Master, nursing guilt over an undisclosed past failure, isn’t much interested, and seems content to tie up the Jedi line. Against Rey’s breathless solicitations, Hamill does a good turn at garrulous disillusionment, and the more anti-romantic The Last Jedi is, the better, even if it’s an antagonism that proves ultimately unsustainable. While Rey begs Luke to be her Yoda, the last ships of The Resistance are running low on fuel and time and inching just out of Hux’s reach, forcing Poe, Finn and engine monkey Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) on a rogue mission of sabotage, a disposable bit of Solo daring-do.
After the catch-all shininess of J. J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, writer and director Rian Johnson’s track record with distinctive genre work (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper) brings to the series a more exact and creative visual style. A sequence of a meditating Rey tapping into the island’s elements is a lovely piece of soil and grass realism amidst the swooping zero grav combat, and her cross-cutting symbiosis with Kylo, a fellow broken child of the wars, is at the core of the film.
Ridley is fine (her character suffers from permanent externality) but Driver’s livewire, unpredictable performance is, again, the rawest thing on display, all the better for being so temperamentally unsuited to the prestige earnestness elsewhere. The less The Last Jedi looks and acts like a Star Wars film, it better it works. Conor Smyth
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is on wide release across this and all galaxies.