The new Star Wars heroes of The Force Awakens come of age in the second instalment of the new trilogy masterminded by J. J. Abrams. The Last Jedi, however, is written and directed by Rian Johnson (Breaking Bad, Looper) who delivers a story which begins to deviate decisively from the beats of the original trilogy. Johnson’s film is a long crescendo which takes up immediately after TFA as the Resistance attempt to flee from the First Order, while Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) each go on separate missions to help the fight.
The Last Jedi clearly defines its three central story arcs at the beginning of the film. The Resistance jumps to hyperspeed to evade the First Order, only to find that a tracking device has been placed on them so that they cannot escape – they can only run out of fuel. Finn realises that he could destroy the tracking device if he could break onto the First Order ship, but he must first find a code-breaker with the help of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). Lastly, Rey tries to learn all she can about the Jedi from the jaded Luke Skywalker, who insists that the Jedi must be allowed to die out.
The eighth film of the Star Wars saga had the burden of justifying this latest trilogy – The Force Awakens gave us a lovingly updated version of A New Hope, introducing a slew of new characters in familiar archetypes, but The Last Jedi had to make a statement of originality. Even on this merit alone, I would consider the film to be a resounding success. There is a reoccurring line delivered by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – “Let the past die” – which becomes the film’s central message. Kylo and Rey both obsess over their heritage, with the latter desperate to discover her parents’ identity while the former is determined to dispense of every mentor he ever had. The most significant reveal of the film is that Rey’s parents are completely insignificant to the wider saga, dispelling rampant theories that she must be related to the Skywalker blood.
This lack of deference for the Star Wars canon has earned The Last Jedi serious backlash from the saga’s devoted (toxic) fanbase. A series of pedantic criticisms have been repeated endlessly about minor plot points which has led to the film having the greatest disparity between fan and critic score on Rotten Tomatoes in 2017. These are precisely the fans that The Last Jedi is seeking to disturb with its brazen statement of originality, forging a new story. If these fans can’t handle that, then I’m sure Rian Johnson and co will happily shed them like a bad case of fleas.
The Last Jedi is a bold middle film which makes a tough job look easy – it makes a statement for originality which has riled up lots of hardcore fans but convinces the rest of us that this new trilogy will tell an original and exciting story.