Do We Still Need The Jedi?
Review: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Starring Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, and Gwendoline Christie.
Directed by Rian Johnson
For Christianity in the 21st century, debates centre on what faith traditions we might keep versus those that might be deemed less essential. This struggle comes to mind while watching The Last Jedi: One of the major themes is the call to jettison (or destroy) and start over. For example, the film directly asks whether or not the Jedi are needed (and whether Luke Skywalker will be the last). The Last Jedi is also an emotionally engaging and visually spectacular film, as its set pieces are paired with emotional gravitas.
Of all the mainline Star Wars films, The Last Jedi might just be the grimmest. The Resistance are constantly hounded by The First Order and are firm underdogs throughout. Training in the ways of the force with a weary Luke Skywalker, Rey is tempted by the dark side. Before all is said and done, there are answers to a few of the questions set up in The Force Awakens.
As was the case with Rogue One, The Last Jedi’s politics come to the fore. Star Wars has always been a franchise that reflects the political context into which its films are released. This was the case with the first film, released shortly after the Vietnam War. The prequels (especially 2005’s Revenge of the Sith) depicted the downfall of democracy in a post-9/11 context where freedoms were arguably curtailed in the interests of security. In a post-Trump world, The Last Jedi explores war profiteering and a climate of moral murkiness.
The Last Jedi’s cast have delivered a number of strong performances. Following on from her introduction in The Force Awakens, Daisy Ridley once again delivers in her portrayal of Rey, a performance that shows why she has been entrusted with the role of the series’ new protagonist. Adam Driver continues to add depth to the compelling and complex antagonist that is Kylo Ren. Mark Hamill’s portrayal of a weary Luke Skywalker also stands out. Finally, it should be noted that it is hard to watch The Last Jedi without feeling the weight of Carrie Fisher’s passing. Her character is thankfully more fleshed out than in The Force Awakens, and the film serves as a fitting send off.
Complaints are few, but it is worth noting that Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma is once again underutilised. Given that the character was recently the subject of a standalone novel, there is clearly interest in a female antagonist in the Star Wars universe, and her muted role comes as a disappointment. This will hopefully be remedied at some point, perhaps in a spin off film.
The Last Jedi might be already the most controversial Star Wars film, with a wide gulf emerging between audience and critic reviews. A partial explanation for this disparity is that The Last Jedi demands an emotional response and that it has received this from critics and viewers alike, albeit in different ways. This in itself might ironically be considered a comment on how effective Johnson has been in delivering a work that people respond to.
Given this large number of disparate takes, The Last Jedi needs to be watched and judged on its own merits.
For what it is worth, Insights’ view is that Rian Johnson has created a triumph. The Last Jedi is a bold statement, a film that sets up the new status quo for Episode IX (and Johnson’s upcoming new trilogy).
The Last Jedi will be available on DVD/Blu Ray and digital video on 28 March, 2018.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor