One of the boldest films of the franchise, Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi not only is a gorgeous film visually, but has an incredibly humanised and enriching story - one which fans have not seen the likes of within the Star Wars saga, to date. What truly sets this film apart - from its immediate predecessor and (dare I say) ALL of its predecessors - however, is its unwavering fearlessness to take the audience to a place of comfortable familiarity, twist it and valiantly stand with both feet firmly planted in new territory.
The reverence of Star Wars and what it means to generations of movie goers needs no introduction, and it goes without saying that the 8th installment of this global franchise has been one of the most anticipated films of 2017. With a projected domestic opening of US$440m, and a leggy 3.7x multiplier estimation (on par with The Force Awakens), The Last Jedi is on track to be another multi-billion dollar success for Disney and Lucasfilm. With an entire 40 years worth of Star Wars lore behind it, this film could've easily fell into line with the existing formula of the others within the franchise.
One of the most divisive elements of its immediate predecessor, Episode VII, did (in some people's opinions) just that, by having an uncanny resemblance to A New Hope. This divided some fans and critics as to the validity of the first chapter of a new trilogy, begging the question of whether anything new had been brought to the table. Johnson has seemingly surged through this at lightspeed, striking the balance of respecting what has come before and shifting into a new and expansive plain without it feeling unnatural or jarring.
Considering this is the longest of all the films, with a running time of just over two and a half hours, the pace is methodically thought out and leaves no room for any kind of down period. Johnson, and his Director of Photography Steve Yedlin (who previously worked with him on Looper and Brick), begin to open up the space which the audience have already seen - such as the reclusive hideaway of Ach-to, home of Luke Skywalker - as well as new and exciting colour palettes which inspire fear and dominance - such as the throne room of supreme leader Snoke. Yedlin does a fantastic job at juxtaposing the light and the dark motif visually, with wonderfully warm colours used for the ragtag rebel resistance and a very cold, detached and mechanical shadow cast across scenes of the first order. This stark contrast of warm and cold, light and dark, is married marvellously by Johnson's directorial lens.
At first glance, it may look like The Last Jedi director is playing it safe by keeping the camera close to the actors and, ergo, not displaying the wide, encompassing landscape we're accustom to from a galaxy far far away. But it is within these close quarters that we begin to understand that this is a deeply personal story for each and every character, that their emotional journey is as (if not more) important as the physical one. This is not to say that it foregoes the classic tropes which every fan cherishes - there are still spectacular space battles, an outrageously good lightsaber fight, and all the familiar chase scenes accompanied by infamous Star Wars dialogue/banter that we know and love. It's when we're up close with Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver or any of the cast, that we see just how beautifully unique Johnson's storytelling is, as we discover an entirely new galaxy within these icons.
Having written the script for Ep. VIII, as well as directing, Johnson's vision of how these characters interact within the Star Wars mythos is unlike anything we've ever seen. He takes what we would expect of a character and literally throws it over the shoulder, adding modern reactionary humour to otherwise classic scenes and setting up the audience for an obvious plot point which subtly twists into a moment of breathless awe.
The heroic Luke Skywalker we last saw from Return of the Jedi has become a dejected old hermit, and the performance from Hamill is an absolute treat. The way Johnson has Daisy Ridley's Rey, optimistically bouncing with hope, combating the cantankerous Luke and eventually forcing (pun intended) him to begrudgingly train her is a joy to behold. The revelations and secrets which ensue, masterfully accompanied by John Williams' timeless score, are some of the best we will ever see in a Star Wars film - and the payoff, especially towards the end of the film, is extremely rewarding.
Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron, John Boyega's Finn and Kelly Marie Tran's Rose all have fantastic story arcs which feel important to the overarching story, a great feat in the face of characters such as Luke Skywalker and Rey. A riveting, and bittersweet, performance from the late great Carrie Fisher is the glue that holds the plot-lines together, but Adam Driver's Kylo Ren will (in my humble opinion) be the main fixation among audiences. His ability to peel back the layers of a tortured, status-obsessed grandson of Darth Vader and add yet another dimension to the character (without giving anything away) as the story unfolds, is incredibly well crafted - and, most likely, will be severely underrated.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a remarkable tale of belonging, the disparaging nature of fear counterbalanced with the gift of hope, and how forces beyond one's control do not dictate the path we walk, but rather the decisions we make, and how we choose to react to them, ultimately open our eyes to what kind of world we decide to reside in.