Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes a completely new direction, but it works wonders
The franchise’s excellent eighth “episode” is the most unpredictable yet.
Writer and director Rian Johnson offers twists, red herrings, shock deaths and one very unexpected resurrection.
After the fun but very familiar The Force Awakens, a much-needed element of surprise has been returned to the galaxy far, far away.
The biggest shock is Skywalker (Mark Hamill) himself.
When Harrison Ford returned to the franchise two years ago, his mission was to supply retro thrills to overexcited fans.
Mark Hamill’s return as Luke Skywalker sees some interesting character development
A lot has happened to the swashbuckling Luke since that weird party at the end of Return Of The Jedi
But a lot has happened to the swashbuckling Luke since that weird party at the end of Return Of The Jedi.
When we finally catch up with him he’s a cranky hermit who is convinced that the heroic age of the Jedi has to come to an end.
After stewing over his mistakes, he’s now decided it was the idealism of Obi Wan Kenobi that started the trouble with the “dark side” in the first place.
When new student of the force Rey (Daisy Ridley) catches up with him on the remote planet of Ahch-To (bless you), his first act is to toss away the lightsaber she has trekked across the galaxy to deliver.
Later on, conflicted arch-villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) goes one step further by smashing up the Darth Vader-influenced helmet he sported two years ago.
Johnson knows that if he’s going to move the multi-billion-dollar franchise forward, he can’t be in thrall to its past.
This isn’t all about the smashing of icons. After the moody trailer, it was widely predicted that the film would have the darker tone of The Empire Strikes Back.
It has its mournful moments but it’s the sly, self-mocking humour that really sets it apart from the rest of the series.
An early gag involves a hero pretending to be stuck on hold whilst calling the dastardly General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) on the bridge of his battle cruiser.
Kylo Ren’s helmet destruction symbolises the new trilogy separating from its past
Later, an evil costume that JJ Adams spent an entire film establishing as sinister will be branded “ridiculous”.
The Looper director doesn’t take this winking comedy as far as the recent Thor film but this tone may prove divisive with Britain’s sizeable (according to the last census at least) Jedi community.
Rey’s attempt to persuade Luke to rejoin the fight is one of the three main strands that power this rollicking 152-minute adventure.
The main plot is a standoff between the battleships of the fascistic First Order and the last remnants of the rebel fleet.
As the fleeing rebel ships are running low on fuel, time appears to be running out for General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher).
So pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) conspires to launch another subplot. He’ll keep an eye on Leia’s second-in-command (Laura Dern) while storm trooper-turned-rebel Finn (John Boyega) joins up with engineer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) for an off-the-books mission to the Casino City of Canto Bight.
Again, this doesn’t quite go they way we expect. This time, the macho men of action don’t have all the answers, it’s the clear-headed women who can see the way out of a crisis.
But it’s not all space battles and brooding Jedi.
Directing a Star Wars film also involves entertaining children and flogging merchandise and alien creatures the Porgs do enough here to earn their place on millions of Christmas lists, even if they do occasionally stray over the line that separates quirky from cutesy.
John Boyega and series newcomer Kelly Marie Tran set off on an enjoyable sub plot
Thankfully, the fluffy space puffins don’t get in the way of the spectacular, surprisingly touching, and thrillingly unpredictable finale. All that’s missing is a touch of romance and the laid back swagger of Harrison Ford.
The new generation of heroes is shaping up nicely, but they are beginning to feel just a little too earnest.
There’s still room for a wisecracking cynic on board the Millennium Falcon.
Hopefully, the vacancy will be filled in time for “Episode IX”.
Ferdinand is a light-hearted story which sees John Cena voice a gentle bull
Based on US writer Munro Leaf’s 1936 picture-book, family animation Ferdinand tells the story of a flower-loving Spanish bull who refuses to step into the ring.
This marks him as “soft” at the “Casa del Toro” but our hulking hero (voiced by former wrestling star John Cena) proves he’s braver and a lot smarter than his fellow beefcakes.
After all, when your fate is either death by sword in the bullring or death by mincer at the “chop house”, rebellion is entirely rational.
The animation is bright and very breezy, the dialogue is witty and the cast is packed with lovable side characters.
WWE legend John Cena voices the gentle bull
There’s a lovely sequence that involves our gentle hero tiptoeing out of an old lady’s china shop.
Although I did wonder where we were heading when he climbed behind the wheel for a car chase through the streets of Madrid.
Thankfully, we are back on track in time for the tense finale.
Dark forces were gathering when Leaf published his parable and his message – use your heart, your head and be prepared to break with the herd – is just as vital now.
Jasmine Hyde and Richard Flood star in ‘The Outside’ a ‘slow burning thriller’
It isn’t the first film built around the death of a child, but a twisty script and nuanced performances help keep the clichés at bay in The Unseen.
Gemma and Will (Jasmine Hyde and Richard Flood) are a happy, wealthy couple whose life is turned upside down when they lose their toddler son in an accident.
Their grief manifests itself in profoundly different ways.
Gemma starts suffering from bouts of temporary blindness which her doctor attributes to stress.
Meanwhile, Will becomes convinced he can hear his son in the walls of his empty bedroom.
Simon Cotton’s character signals a major mood shift for the film
For him, this isn’t the effect of grief but proof of something otherworldly.
Then things take an even more unusual turn after a former pharmacist called Paul (Simon Cotton) starts to inveigle his way into their lives.
Seemingly moved by their tragic story, he hands them the keys to his holiday cottage near Windermere.
It’s here that the tense psychological drama turns into a slow-burning thriller.
The final twist won’t be for everyone but it’s the guessing game that kept me gripped.
(U, 106 mins)
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Stars: John Cena, Kate McKinnon,
The Unseen ★★★
(15, 106 mins)
Director: Gary Sinyor
Stars: Richard Flood, Jasmine Hyde,