Star Wars is a generational thing. Younger fans will have met the original cast at the same time as they were introduced to Darth Maul, young Anakin Skywalker, and Jar Jar bloody Binks. For older fans our fondest memories are linked almost exclusively to a different generation, with moments that included the simmering romance between Han and Leia, the impression left on Luke by Obi-Wan, Vader striding imperiously to The Imperial March, lightning bolts from the tips of Palpatine's fingers, Chewy's roar when he's losing to C-3PO, Lando's swagger on Cloud City, Boba Fett's scene-stealing menace, lightsaber duels, Jedi mind tricks, starfighter dogfights, and exploding stars of death. The original trilogy told a sweeping story that offered lots of memorable moments along the way, a feat that the second trilogy somewhat failed to match. Star Wars VII, on the other hand, was a return to form, thanks largely to overflowing cups of homage and a structure that riffed heavily on that of the original.
Rogue One took things in a slightly different direction, but we're back on the main track for The Last Jedi, which picks up exactly where The Force Awakens left us in terms of both story and style. Like its immediate predecessor, The Last Jedi also nods constantly to those films that came before it, not just through story beats that echo the past but also in terms of overall tone. It's the middle entry in this new trilogy, and there's a darkness to parts of the narrative that evoked memories of Empire, but also a silliness that had us recall Return of the Jedi. There are parallels to draw everywhere you look.
The Empire Strikes Back wrapped things up on a knife-edge; the Rebellion on its knees in the wake of overwhelming odds, with Luke and friends aboard the Millennium Falcon as it beat a hasty retreat. The Last Jedi tries much the same trick, but instead of questions about what's coming next, we had more things to ask about what we'd just seen. We can't tell you what these questions are because that would spoil the movie, so we'll just leave things by saying that several key moments happened during the story involving characters like Snoke and Rey, and after the fact we're left with little in the way of clarity. Instead of looking forward to finding out what happens next, we're left frustrated that we didn't get the kind of resolution we wanted from subplots that were started with plenty of fanfare in The Force Awakens.
Much has been made of the length of the movie, and it's true that writer-director Rian Johnson takes his sweet time getting to the film's climactic battle, but it was just about worth the wait and we were entertained throughout. Some of the space battles are truly epic, and if that's your favourite part of the Star Wars experience, you'll no doubt enjoy watching First Order star destroyers rain hellfire down on Resistance cruisers. In fact, the space combat plays its most prominent role since Return of the Jedi in terms of overall plot importance. However, the further we got from the film's central war in the stars, the less convincing things got overall.
There are sequences, such as one set in a casino, that feel more like The Phantom Menace than A New Hope, and there's plenty of slapstick comedy, some cheesy one-liners, and enough cute critters to make a grown adult feel a little nauseous. Star Wars films have always had these elements, it's part of the package after all, but most people will probably agree that it's exactly those moments, the cutesy light entertainment if you will, that holds certain films back. People in general struggle with Jar Jar and the Ewoks and the overly-slapstick humour, but Johnson's script pays homage to these aspects with as much reverence as it does the more serious themes of love and loss and personal growth.
One thing that we should commend is the continued attitude towards equality in A Galaxy Far, Far Away. Once again Disney has served up a balanced cast of characters, full of women and actors of different ethnicities in strong roles. In fact, the casting is pretty good across the board, with capable performances from those characters that we've already met, and with both Benicio Del Toro and Laura Dern among those making solid debuts. It's also worth noting that Hamill's return to his most iconic role works pretty well, and once again Luke is portrayed with an interesting duality that makes him more interesting than ever before (although more could and should have been done with the character). Leia's presence is obviously an emotional one, and it's going to be even more gut-wrenching watching the next film in the series.
While the performances and stories involving the old guard definitely justify their inclusion, the future success of Star Wars is going to rest on the shoulders of Rey and Finn and the rest of the newer additions. On the Resistance side of the equation, characters like Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) do a fine job, but we still have a hard time being fully convinced by the villainous First Order. Adam Driver's raw hatred as Kylo Ren makes him feel like an emo Vader, and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) just feels too young and fresh-faced to hold such a senior position. Snoke, here played by Andy Serkis, is a great villain, yet he just doesn't feel like a complete character. While he has the evil presence of Palpatine, the character just isn't given enough room to shine, nor is Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie).
There's a lot to like about The Last Jedi. Visually it's an absolute feast for the eyes, and the CGI is top class once again. It's also a very funny movie, but almost to a fault because when the jokes are fired almost as regularly as the blasters it's hard to take the whole thing as seriously as the thematically dark story suggests we should. Star Wars has always had these elements, but here they're taken a touch too far if you ask us, and it's the over-reliance on comedy and the unsatisfying resolution of certain subplots that left us a tiny bit frustrated come the roll of the credits. This could have been the perfect Star Wars movie, but it needed more of its own identity. Instead, it felt like a showcase of Star Wars themes and plot twists, taking elements from all of the films in this ongoing saga, even some of the less brilliant ones.