As the modern revival of Star Wars continues, director Rian Johnson takes the reins for the eighth episode of the space-opera saga. The Last Jedi picks up where 2015’s The Force Awakens left off, as the dwindling Resistance prepares to do combat once again with The First Order. As Rey (Daisy Ridley) tracks down Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to ask for help with the impending battle, her fellow fighters including defector Finn (John Boyega) and pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) remain at base, with General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) fronting the army. Meanwhile, the First Order, led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) plan an attack to wipe out their enemies once and for all.
Aside from the seven episodes of cinema produced previously, other areas of the Star Wars expanded universe have long been explored through mediums such as novels, comic books and video games. A series of stand-alone spin-offs are now planned which are being referred to as the Anthology, and the first of this kind is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Directed by British filmmaker Gareth Edwards, it is set in between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, shortly before 1977’s Episode IV – A New Hope. The plot follows rebel fighter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a societal outcast who is approached by The Alliance to assist with their mission to thwart the Galactic Empire’s plan to build a deadly super-weapon. Reluctantly, she agrees, teaming up with fellow rebel Cassian (Diego Luna) and reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), but the merciless Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) will stop at nothing to see his assignment through to the bitter end.
A decade has passed since the last lightsaber battle on the silver screen, and the anticipation around the latest instalment of the franchise has been rife. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is the seventh episode so takes place approximately 30 years after ‘The Return of the Jedi’, revisiting the characters of the original trilogy as well as introducing a host of new faces. British rising star John Boyega stars as Finn, a stormtrooper who rebels against his master Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to assist captured fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) escape from the clutches of the dark side. Following this, Finn meets Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the planet Jakku and together along with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), they join forces to track down the missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and overturn the First Order.
Straight from the iconic opening titles, there is an air of nostalgia that is ever-present in director J.J. Abram’s foray to a galaxy far, far away, and John William’s recognisable score is used to good effect in key moments which hark back to previous incarnations. The plot has a familiar structure and retreads themes of inner conflict and ‘good versus evil’, but still feels fresh in its rejuvenation. The team of writers superbly handle the combination of using old and new characters, the story never feeling cluttered or convoluted despite there being so much going on between the grandiose action sequences and the more intimate dialogue driven duels.
A lot of pressure lies on the young shoulders of Boyega and Ridley to deliver their in their pivotal central roles, and I am pleased to say that they do. Finn, or FN-2187 to give him his stormtrooper title, is far from the stereotypical hero. He has his flaws but has a good heart and Boyega captures this depth well. Daisy Ridley is equally excellent, Ren carrying the torch for the trend of strong female characters in film. Harrison Ford brings playfulness and exuberance to proceedings, Han Solo and Chewy working well with the youngsters and recreating the team dynamic on the Millennium Falcon first established back in ‘A New Hope’. There’s an abundance of solid turns from the cast including Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson among others, each making the most of their given opportunities but Adam Driver stood out in particular in his complexly villainous portrayal of Kylo Ren, his performance putting him up there with my favourite cinema baddies of the year.
‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ lives up to the almighty hype and does enough to tick the boxes for fanboys as well as welcoming a generation of new fans along for the ride. The sentimentality might be a tad indulgent for some, but it wasn’t overdone and looks forward to the future as much as it looks back into the past. J.J. Abrams has revitalised the classic series for the 21st century, directing with bravery and skill, and with respect for the enormity of the task at hand. The force is strong with this one.
See the trailer: