In May of 1977, George Lucas’ Star Wars hit theaters, and changed the face of blockbuster film-making forever. Ground-breaking special effects, epic storytelling and the introduction of that elegant weapon from a more civilized time, the light saber, barely begins to describe what Star Wars offered moviegoers, who at the time were lining up around the block to see the space epic. The third highest grossing movie of all time today (adjusted for inflation), the film in its day had no trouble building a cult fan following, and was even nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Three years later, the franchise hit an all time high with the release of The Empire Strikes Back (1980), which is still considered the best Star Wars film to date, and is currently ranked #13 on IMDb , holding a score of 8.7 on 10. Fans were given even more of Darth Vader (arguably one of the best cinematic antagonists to have ever graced the silver screen), and an infamous twist ending that currently holds the number 1 spot on IGN’s list of the top 100 movie moments.
The original Star Wars trilogy came to a successful head with The Return of the Jedi (1983), and George Lucas’ brainchild firmly established itself as one of cinema’s most popular and beloved trilogies.
Forty years later, the legacy of these films still lives on — such is the impact they have had on pop culture. Apart from reinvigorating the science fiction genre beyond the usual dystopian flick, Star Wars was what an entire generation of young moviegoers grew up on. Traces of it can be found in films being made even today, as the cultural phenomenon that was Star Wars continues to influence and shape how blockbusters are made in the 21st century.
Despite the disappointment that came in the form of the Prequel Trilogy (released towards the end of the 1990’s and the early 2000’s), fan enthusiasm and faith in Star Wars did not dull. With a vast reservoir of intricately crafted worlds and stories, Star Wars fans had, by that point, dozens of spin-off novels and comics inspired by the original trilogy, from which to pick and choose for a quick escape into the beloved world of Stormtroopers and Death Stars.
Fans, however, kept demanding more, and those demands were met with the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in 2015. A direct sequel to The Return of the Jedi (1983), this was the Star Wars sequel fans had been waiting for for over 30 years. With several callbacks and references to the original films, The Force Awakens delivered both critically and commercially, and many were overjoyed that it was more in vein with the feel and tone of the original trilogy than with the prequels (a returning cast comprising Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill also helped).
Following the success of the 2016 spin-off film Rogue One, audiences have waited impatiently for the much anticipated Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Speculation regarding the fate (and, in one case, the origins) of the heroes of Episode VII resulted in a massive number of fan theories being circulated and debated on-line, each more bizarre and far-fetched than the last.
Amidst rising demands in terms of both entertainment value and quality storytelling, director Rian Johnson manages to pull off with The Last Jedi what almost none of his predecessors have been able to do – break the mould. Without revealing spoilers, it can be said that in more than one instance, rather than give in to the temptation of pure fan service, the film aspires for greater heights, and tries to be more than what is simply expected from a blockbuster franchise these days. And it is precisely in this very act of exceeding expectations by boldly defying them that The Last Jedi succeeds so spectacularly on so many different levels.
To say that it is the least Star Wars-ish of all the Star Wars movies till date goes without saying. That’s not to say that all the familiar elements aren’t all there; lightsabers, Force-wielders and space dogfights abound, and the traditional opening crawl does a good job of giving viewers a brief recap (primarily for the benefit of those who haven’t watched any of the other films). But director Rian Johnson seems determined to leave a mark on the franchise by using all the good old stuff to tell a new, different and exciting story, and succeed at leaving an impression he does.
With a runtime of 2 and a half hours, this is the longest Star Wars film to date, and while it does tend to meander at times, the pace is brisk and snappy for the most part, alternating between two geographically separated plotlines.
The first follows the film’s primary protagonist Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she tries to convince the now reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to train her in the ways of the Force (much like Luke had once asked Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back). Audiences expecting this interaction to go smoothly, or at least the way it did with Luke and Yoda are in for quite the shock; this is the most cynical we have ever seen Luke Skywalker’s character. The film takes its time to flesh out his motivations, and while there are gags aplenty, seeing this new, darker dimension to a beloved character isn’t easy to digest at first.
The second plotline is an elaborately staged galactic cat and mouse chase between the evil First Order and the Resistance. While the central protagonists are supposed to be Oscar Isaacs’ Poe Dameron and John Boyega’s Finn, it is ultimately the late Carrie Fisher who steals the show. Appearing in her last ever film (she passed away post production), the heart-wrenching realisation that this is the last time we’ll ever see her character Leia on screen no doubt adds a certain emotional heft to her every move and action.
Another driving force behind the film is a powerhouse performance by Adam Driver who plays Kylo Ren, the film’s primary antagonist. At the heart of this character lies conflict, and this is reflected perfectly in Driver’s tightly wound performance as an aspiring Sith Lord who vaccilates between immense regret over what he’s done and unbridled rage to fuel his actions.
There is no mistaking that The Last Jedi is a dark movie, but those expecting it to be a rehash of the Empire Strikes Back in the same way that The Force Awakens paid homage to A New Hope (1977) will be in for a pleasant surprise. The film wastes no time jumping straight into the action, and leaves you with no choice but to be pulled along for the ride. There are a number of truly surprising narrative twists and turns, a feat all the more impressive considering how increasingly difficult it is becoming for films to truly succeed in taking their savvy audiences by surprise these days.
It is ultimately, however, the third act of this film that is its greatest triumph, with an action-packed and emotionally-fuelled finale that you cannot help but be blown away by. Whether you are a die-hard Star Wars fan or completely new to the ways of the Force, this is one movie you shouldn’t miss.
-Contributed by Prithviraj
Picture Credits: starwars.com