A few months ago, in a cinema not very far, far away… Star Wars stirred up quite a storm with the eighth entry in the Skywalker saga. Some loved it, some loathed it – and that’s putting it mildly. But with the film now available for home viewing, is The Last Jedi worth a second chance?
It’s fair to say that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a divisive film. Pre-release, hype for this latest instalment was at an all-time high. The franchise was still riding on the wave of success from 2015’s The Force Awakens, which wasn’t perfect, but a marked improvement on Episodes I to III. Then, in December 2017, the sequel released. Initial reception was really, really good – or at least it was to start with. Early reviews had been hailing this as the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back… but fans? They were beginning to tell a slightly different story. One glance at the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes scores says it all: 91% from critics, 47% from the audience. Yikes. It seemed as if we’d found ourselves the cinematic equivalent of Marmite.
What makes The Last Jedi such a polarising proposition, though? The answer to thatis simple: Rian Johnson. Best known for movies like Looper and Brick, it comes as no surprise that the writer and director would want to leave his own stamp on the Star Wars universe. And indeed, he certainly did so, by creating one of the most unexpected, unpredictable entries in the franchise so far. Everything you thought you knew, or thought was going to happen? Forget it. It’s been repeated a thousand times, but there really is no better way of putting it – to quote Luke Skywalker himself: “this is not going to go the way you think…”
Now, if you’re willing to just sit back and let the story take you, The Last Jedi makes for one heck of a ride, with twists and turns around every corner. On the other hand, if you’d spent the last two years intricately theorising about how one character relates to another, only to have the rug pulled out under you without warning… well, we can understand your frustrations. But how do things hold up on a second viewing, when the movie’s shock intentions can no longer surprise? Regardless of what you thought of it at first, we hope you will agree: things can only get better.
Powerful Light, Powerful Darkness
Let’s start with the positives, because when The Last Jedi gets to shine, it’s a breathtaking sight to behold. As you would expect from a visionary director like Rian Johnson, the entire film is spectacularly shot. Luke’s island hideaway on Ahch-To exudes a whimsical majesty, the space battles have never looked better, and every last aesthetic on Crait dazzles with ingenuity. Many sequences even pay tribute to some of cinema’s finest – the lightsaber showdowns are particularly influenced by the wide-angled beauty of classic samurai films. Everything is also underpinned by yet another winning score from the legendary John Williams, offering up a truly captivating experience for your eyes and your ears.
In fact, there’s not really anything to complain about when it comes to presentation. It’s the script (and the characters within it) where the issues really lie. After all, a lot of plot points built up in The Force Awakens are (rightly or wrongly) thrown away – quite literally in one instance. Some mysteries are cut down (again, literally) before they can be answered, while others do receive a resolution – just not necessarily in the way you might expect. Your mileage will vary, and it’s all going to depend on what you wanted this film to be. For the record though, we really enjoyed it. Even more so on the second viewing. Sure, there are definitely changes we would still make. But on the whole? It succeeds in telling the story it sets out to tell. That said, we think we can all agree that Canto Bight, well, (Canto) bites.
What They Grow Beyond
None of this is especially new though. You’ve probably already formed a strong opinion on how you feel about The Last Jedi. If you liked it: great! If you didn’t: that’s fine too! Each to their own. But what about the bonus features? Are they as controversial as the movie itself? Thankfully, we think they’re more hit than miss. There are the obligatory Deleted Scenes – both with and without director’s commentary – which make for rather compelling viewing. (Note: if you’ve read The Last Jedi novelisation by Jason Fry, you’ll already be familiar with a few of these sequences.) There’s also a short feature, “Balance of the Force”, that explores Rian Johnson’s interpretation of the Star Wars mythology. For anyone struggling to understand some of his creative decisions, maybe this will answer your concerns.
In terms of ‘behind the scenes’ extras, there are three features that give an in-depth look into a few key sequences from the movie. “Lighting the Spark” details the opening space battle, “Showdown on Crait” breaks down the final fight, and “Snoke and Mirrors” unmasks the sequel trilogy’s answer to Emperor Palpatine. You also get “Andy Serkis Live! (One Night Only)”, which lets you watch the Rey/Snoke confrontation scene with Andy Serkis in full motion-capture gear. It’s quite incredible how much of his original performance translates over to Snoke’s CGI, and a testament to just how good an actor Serkis really is.
The headline of the bonus features though is undoubtedly “The Director and the Jedi”. This feature-length documentary gives an unrivalled insight into the making of The Last Jedi, which might just sound like pretty standard stuff, but it’s actually a surprisingly intimate affair. The weight of the Star Wars world was really resting on Rian’s shoulders, and in this feature you get to see just how he coped. Across this 90-ish minute journey, you’ll see how Rian’s vision unravelled out before him: warts and all. It’s no secret that Mark Hamill fundamentally disagreed about his decisions for Luke Skywalker’s character, and that’s not shied away from here. Getting to see how Rian tackled all these pressures and responsibilities is fascinating, and it only made us respect him even more.
The Greatest Teacher, Failure Is
So, love it or hate it, you can go out and you can buy The Last Jedi now – and if you’re a Star Wars fan, you probably already have. But, at least where the extra content is concerned, we think that it offers a little more value beyond just needing it for your collection. If you didn’t like the film in the cinema, maybe you’ll like it a bit (or a lot) more now. And even if you don’t, maybe the bonus features will help you to understand the creative processes behind it.
Whatever your stance though, it’s hard to argue that you’re not getting some decent bang for your buck here. A two-and-a-half hour movie, plus about another three hours in extras? That’s not bad for £15. (The Blu-Ray steelbook is especially nifty, if you’re able to get your hands on it at a decent price.)
We’ll conclude with a quote that sums up this whole situation perfectly: “darkness rises, and light to meet it”. Whichever side you fall on, may the Force be with you. Let’s just hope we can all agree on Episode IX, eh?