Cert 12A 152mins Stars 5
This spectacular addition to the long running sci-fi action adventure series is wonderfully exciting, funny and moving, and often at the same time.
Totally committed to providing top drawer popcorn entertainment for the casual cinema goer, hardcore fans will love it for it’s respect it has for the franchise history and for what it promises moving forward.
There is self sacrifice, light sabres and space battles. Characters develop and yes, are killed off. Old crowd favourites unexpectedly return and new ones are introduced.
Younger fans will love the cutesy penguin-like Porgs, and droid BB-8, has a starring role. Plus there’s no new version of mega weapon the Death Star, which is a huge relief.
It begins in traditional fashion with John Williams hair-raising fanfare and text crawling up the screen.
Following immediately on from 2015’s The Force Awakens, the legions of the evil dictatorship the First Order have imposed a reign of terror over the galaxy far, far away.
Played by the majestic Carrie Fisher in her last filmed role before her death, General Leia Organa carries herself with dignified authority while organising a desperate retreat for the decimated resistance.
Ever the fighter and the flirt, Fisher can still handle a blaster and keep a mischievous eye on Oscar Isaac’s swashbuckling space pilot, Poe Dameron. The swaggering hotshot has an endearing propensity to blow things up as a first response in a crisis.
Meanwhile Fisher’s real life daughter Billie Lourd has a minor role as a resistance lieutenant. They share a poignant moment and more than one scene, and Lourd is presumably being lined up to play a bigger role in the next film, due in 2019.
Laura Dern is full of forthright steely elegance as Organa’s Vice Admiral. It’s refreshing to have two women of a certain age in key roles in major film.
Organa is convinced her self-exiled twin brother and Jedi master Luke Skywalker will return to bring a spark of hope to the resistance, and has sent Daisy Ridley’s Rey to recruit him.
However Luke is reluctant to teach Rey the ways of the Force, the mysterious and powerful energy which connects all life. Mark Hamill embraces his return to the character which made him famous he’s never been this much fun on screen. Age suits him.
I’m not sure I believe what we’re offered as the truth about the orphaned Rey’s parents, as many different versions of the truth are provided during the story.
The script delights in teasing us and wrong- footing us, and constantly toys with our knowledge of what’s gone before and plays with our expectations. While respectful to the mythic past, it keeps puncturing the legends which have congealed around these famous characters, none of which are perfect.
Many characters are conflicted and/or cagey in their motives and we’re never sure which way they will turn. All of this snowballs into an avalanche of doubt in the audience’s mind, making the finale all the more nail-biting.
For a huge film it’s surprisingly nimble. So many conflicts are set up its astonishing there’s time enough for them all to successfully pay off in the way they do.
Ridley developed a brilliant chemistry with John Boyega in The Force Awakens. He returns as Finn and this time is teamed with Kelly Marie Tran as Rose, a member of the resistance who works in maintenance.
Meanwhile Adam Driver’s emotionally unstable servant of evil, Kylo Wren isn’t trusted by anyone.
His commander Lord Snoke is no longer a hologram but a flesh and blood being whose bold gold fashion sense suggests decadence has crept into the dark side.
This is a big improvement on last year’s prequel Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It was visually stunning but often flat and downbeat.
By necessity of being the middle part of a trilogy, this is not a triumphant film and is closer to the spirit of my favourite Star Wars episode, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.
Princes William and Harry visited the set during filming but we can’t tell if their much reported cameos are on screen. It’s not as Star Wars needs the publicity.
They reportedly dressed up as stormtroopers who are the evil nazi soldiers of the galaxy. As Prince Harry has form in this sort of dressing up, it’s probably just as well they can’t be identified.
Writer director Rian Johnson keeps the film fresh while working within rigid constraints laid down by existing Star Wars lore and the dictates of the powerful Disney empire.
He sneaks in comments about exploitation, oppression, poverty and who fuels the wealth of arms manufacturers.
Although dark at times, the film is a hymn to the power of stories to encourage us to dream, to believe we can change our world for the better.
This is a very Disney ideal and very in keeping with the optimistic ethos of the original series. Oh, and the identity of the last Jedi is revealed but I just can’t say whom. The Force has just got stronger.