The Last Jedi: Beauty, Battles, And A Growing Universe

Of the many wonders and triumphs of Star Wars: The Last Jedi—and there are many—perhaps one of the most surprising is its beauty and grace. Director Rian Johnson, in this eighth Star Wars episode and ninth overall film in the connected universe, has made the most gorgeous and beautifully cinematic film yet.

In this sleek and stylish chapter of the saga, there are more than just a handful of viscerally arresting moments that are buoyed by stunning visuals  and I’m not talking about special effects. Action scenes, particularly one mind-blowing lightsaber battle, evoke such great and beautiful action films like John Wick and Skyfall.

For all the many things to keep track of—a narrative filled with surprises, adherence to Star Wars essentials, character development, humour, tension, and mysticism—the fact that there is so much visual wonder to embrace is a testament to the filmmakers and crew involved. Here’s what to look for.

(As a disclaimer, none of what follows isn’t referenced in the trailer or media photos, but should you want a cleanslate experience, watch the film and then return to read.)

The Praetorian Guards

The four guards protecting Supreme Leader Snoke are more like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Clad in red, shiny armour that nods to the Samurai, the guards have a majestic and terrifying look about them. Somehow they are simultaneously chic and murderous — if ever an anonymous group of deadly guards could be called chic. They are given spears and swords, which get electrified so that they can face off against, let’s just say, someone with a lightsaber. Of course this happens, and the ensuing battle is another feast of visual wonder. That’s in part because they are given a fitting environment, with red, silver, and black in the background — a sparse, cold, and unforgiving playing field.

The Mining Planet Crait

One of the new planets introduced in the film may be cherished as much as the famed ice planet Hoth. There is a memorable and important battle on the surface of Crait; similar to that planet featured at the top of The Empire Strikes Back, Crait has a unique characteristic. Its surface is covered in white salt, and caverns and mines litter the now-abandoned planet. And that allows for a simple, almost cheeky effect that enhances the battle by staggering margins: when touched, the white salt turns a blood red colour. It’s unnecessary, but its inclusion makes a tense sequence even more eye-opening. As Ski Speeders race on the surface, they churn up the red ground, making a battle in what is an otherwise bloodless franchise imply the carnage we all know exists.

All of this makes for one of the best battles in the Star Wars franchise, an effect that never borders on gimmicky, but instead elevates a pivotal narrative moment. What’s more, we sure do get a fast-paced fighter chase with the Millenium Falcon through the crystalline caverns. 

Captain Phasma

While we met Captain Phasma for the first time in The Force Awakens, she didn’t have as much to do, and certainly nothing particularly gripping. Alas. And of course she ended up being caught off guard by our rebel heroes and then thrown into a trash compactor. Well, she is back—which shouldn’t be surprising, since actress Gwendoline Christie has been a known part of filming and promotion—and she has a more impressive turn. 

The character’s shiny, metallic chromium armour is more lustrous this time around, presumably after getting a fine polish and refurbishing. This time she fights, and again, it’s not just how she looks when doing so — it’s how the entire scene is set up during her mighty battle. Like the Praetorian Guards fighting against a backdrop of red, Phasma battles in the metallic hold of an exploding ship, with chunks of scrap falling and breaking around her. Once again, though, we can’t help wanting more of her notable look, complete with ahalf-cape? Shawl? This time around, Christie’s tall frame is used to menacing effect when in battle; it’s clear she is a warrior at last.

Adam Driver 

Giving a forceful performance that grounds both his character and the film, far less an archetype and more a singular, conflicted individual, Adam Driver is flawless (and better than we necessarily deserve). And while in the first film his look was something of a reveal, in The Last Jedi he forgoes his chrome dome and appears in most of the film without a mask. It’s both a narrative decision and an aesthetic one. While the former involves the character trying to find his true self and move away from the past, the latter ploy enhances a figure who is emotionally introspective and torn while physically sinewy and intense. His long, black locks match those of his form-fitting attire, which is completed with a flowing cloak. In a film franchise with plenty of rugged heroes and hidden, affected villains, Driver’s Kylo Ren is different both internally and externally a brooding, beautiful, almost gothic figure of confusion, hate, and determination.

The Creatures

While the porgs—furry, big-eyed, and responsive little critters—are the most noteworthy of the new creatures added to the Star Wars canon, there are several others that make their brief appearances equally as appealing. Gone are the likes of Jar Jar Binks, thank goodness — but introduced, if only for a fleeting encounter, are a handful of creatures that are beautiful and haunting, including the porgs.

There is a maternal, walrus-like creature that populates the island where Luke Skywalker is holed up — there is even a momentary glimpse of a sea monster off in the distance in one shot. These additions aren’t forced, nor are they just for a laugh or marketing. They fit in with the worlds created and the beautiful scenery, be it the lush, cliffside Jedi abode or the barren surface of Crait, where crystal foxes roam. Most interesting perhaps are the horse-like creatures forced to race for the wealthy citizens of a Monaco-like city called Canto Bight. They are sympathetic, tortured creatures with size and elegance, and however seemingly extraneous this entire side-quest seems in the film, it’s still imbued with beauty in what otherwise is a grotesque city.

From start to finish—nearly two and a half hours in lengththere is plenty to digest and a great deal of beauty to behold.

Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.