Leaving the Midnight showing of The Last Jedi was a completely different experience than the Force Awakens. Applause and happiness were replaced by conversation. The Last Jedi is a film that inspires thought and feeling and improves long after your first showing. Naturally, some spoilers follow.
From the early minutes, this film focusses on the feelings and depth of the characters more than the spectacle of what is going on around them. Everything is on a very personal level and the effect is the same feelings being experienced by the audience. It is the opposite of Rogue One. Rogue One had spectacular scenes but because the outcome was already predetermined you didn’t care. With The Last Jedi, every scene no matter how funny has this gravitas in the background.
The first scenes of every character delve deeper into their personality than almost every Star Wars film before it. The whole story revolves around the fantastic Kylo Ren, and through him, we learn more about the rest of the core characters. He is an ever-present in this film and acted brilliantly by Adam Driver. Ren much more than Anakin or Luke from the original films sums up the conflict within him. This is even personified in his visceral Lightsaber, which like the first film crackles with raw, uncontrolled power. like Ren himself, it looks ready to impulsively explode at any time. Where Annakin’s dark side was like an angsty teenager Ren is dangerously unhinged. The conflict between the good and evil in him is only resolved in one of the great scenes that owes much to Return Of The Jedi. In almost scene for scene copies, Ren escorts Rey in an elevator to meet his master before striking him down. Despite the breathlessness of this scene and the hope, it gives the audience for a dream Jedi team it is more the fulfilling of the Sith prophecy. The student strikes down the master then takes his place. In doing so Ren becomes the supreme commander.
Rey, by contrast, shows a more aggressive nature as she explores her dark side under the teachings of a reluctant Luke Skywalker. The film does an excellent job of subverting the stereotypes of Ren and Rey from the Force Awakens so you wonder which one will turn to the other side. Daisy Ridley comes across perfectly as well as she lets her raw emotion out as she pleads with Ren to turn and with Skywalker to teach her the Jedi ways. This draws out a proper story arc for Luke Skywalker as well. Gone is the one-dimensional character from the original trilogy, replaced by a more logical and human character with flaws and emotions. The flashbacks of how Ren came to be and the part Luke played in this show Luke as he should be. Conflicted, full of regret and cut off from the force. The payoff in the last hour for all these storylines lifts the film far above any other Star Wars film to date.
With any payoff there has to be a build up and here is where there are some flaws in The Last Jedi. Characters like Captain Phasma, Supreme Commander Snoke and Admiral Akbar are shown to be ridiculously disposable in the grand scheme of things. Phasma, in particular, is completely pointless and is as underused as in The Force Awakens. Snoke, by contrast, is not explained in the slightest. Who is he? Why is he a Sith and how does he appear more powerful than Palpatine and Vader? All unanswered until he is involved in the catalyst moment of the movie.
There is also an awkward middle section on a Casino planet where the comic relief characters of Finn, Rose and BB8 go to recruit a master codebreaker who turns out to be scoundrel Benicio Del Toro. Del Toro steals all the scenes he is in and is surely set for a spin-off in the future. The casino planet section is slow and quite like the ‘muppets in space’ criticism that Return Of The Jedi was infamous for. The actual new creatures the Porgs, are handled brilliantly. they provide genuine comedy and don’t interfere with the main plotline.
Other missteps are surely down to Disney. There are a number of scenes which may have sounded good on paper but on screen either fall flat or seem out of place. Leia’s escape from deep space is straight out of someone’s imagination, Lukes final decision loses it’s momentum because it is his final act and the last scene is so cheesy and Disney that it hurts.
These, however, are minor distractions from the most logical Star Wars film since Empire. Characters on the light and dark side take actions that are believable and make sense. There are twists and turns but when reasoned out they make perfect sense. Usually, these moments lead to spectacular scenes which hammer the emotional resonance home. In these moments Leia, Poe and Luke shine. Leia is wary of her responsibilities but knows what she has to do. Luke’s eventual pivotal moment is never guaranteed and when it happens it energises both the Rebellion and the watching audience. Poe finally shows he is more than an ace pilot and is perhaps the only character to completely realise his potential by the end. The contrast between his actions at the beginning and at the end may be missed among the other dramatic moments, but on reflection, they bear the most weight.
This, in fact, is a metaphor for the whole movie. On reflection, it may rise to be the best Star Wars film ever made. By ignoring the simple crowd-pleasing choices of The Force Awakens and the predictable, poorly acted plot points of the prequel trilogy director Rian Johnson has made a Star Wars film that isn’t cheered or applauded but studied and reflected upon. It leaves many questions unanswered but in combining the best elements of Empire and Return The Jedi, it leaves the trilogy perfectly primed for the finale.