There are a lot of commonalities in The Last Jedi’s reviews: It’s better, or at the very least more daring than The Force Awakens, the performances are great, it’s much funnier than the marketing would have you expect, the franchise has changed forever but who cares, the middle sags a little… But even the negative review(s?) still maintain that this is a fun one. (With or without a hefty dose of “best since Empire!” which become the cliche back when The Force Awakens was still racking up ticket sales.) So head under the cut for my favorites (unless you’re scared of even the tinest spoiler, in which case, move along. Yes, some of these do hint at plot points.)
My favorite thing about The Last Jedi is the way it boldly reclaims some of the core concepts of the series, throwing off any number of ideas that have irritated fans over the years by simple brute storytelling force. Johnson has made big choices here, and those choices are going to resonate through any film that comes after this.
There is catharsis aplenty, something the Star Wars movies are designed for, encouraging us to cheer when our favorite characters show up on screen and letting us thrill to the chases and the romance and the vistas and the explosions and the lightsaber battles. (This installment has one of the most purely perfect lightsaber battles the series has yielded thus far.) But as written and directed by Rian Johnson, The Last Jedi doesn’t just feel like a well-executed Star Wars movie — it feels like a well-executed movie, period, one that keeps its eye on the relationships between characters, and how they communicate with one another, in addition to the bigger picture.
The movie is chock-full of moments that put these characters, the new ones and the old ones, up for scrutiny: To truly look at what they believe, and the difference between evil and good, between black and white, between hope and fear. What’s remarkable is how it this complexity doesn’t darken our characters and the series we’ve loved for 40 years: It sharpens them. It makes them sing in a way they haven’t before.
The Last Jedi is Driver’s to rule as much as Force Awakens was Ridley’s, and he’s awesome in it — Kylo is blockbuster cinema’s most magnetic and unpredictable antagonist since Heath Ledger’s Dark Knight Joker. Just as good is the original Star Wars hero: Hamill lends gravitas, warmth, power and even humility to old Luke in a memorable performance.
It’s an emotional roller coaster that takes you, one twisting turn at a time, into a place you never expected to find yourself. It’s everything you’d expect and nothing you’d expect, all at the same time.
There are moments in Rey’s journey toward enlightenment that are genuinely thrilling, from the sweeping shots of the rocky seabound island where she does her training to her intense mind-meld conversations with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, deepening and clarifying his conflicted villain), which come laden with a troubling, intriguing chemistry. The Force is, to me, still silly Star Wars mumbo jumbo, but Johnson finds a way to underscore it with humanity, with a classical Greek rumble of true pathos.
There is a welcome attempt, in The Last Jedi, to depict characters and their motivations in less stark and increasingly nuanced terms. This is both smart and inevitable, for a franchise that has hung around long enough for its themes and plot-beats to become as pervasive as these have. Yes, sure: Joseph Campbell, monomyth, Good and Evil, blah blah blah. These films do require a stark, easily apprehensible symbolic underpinning — but they also need to work as films, and that means having characters whose every choice we won’t see coming, whose behaviors are not dictated by the color of their space-couture.
Going into Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there were a number of huge things that I didn’t think would ever happen in this film, stuff that they might save for the final installment of this sequel trilogy or possibly later than that. There were so many moments that left me sitting on the edge of my seat left, breathless. Otherwise, you may have heard the words “holy shit” come out of my mouth. And these moments are expertly handled and thrilling. Mostly.
…Parts of the film are very funny—like, almost too funny. The humor can, at times, feel overboard from what we’re used to in Star Wars. And yet it works. Then there are parts of the film that are incredibly weird and almost surreal—moments that seem more fit for an avant-garde movie. But they work too, because the very nature of Star Wars is that anything is possible. From scene to scene Johnson is basically saying, “Look, if we can have talking slugs, laser swords, and lightspeed, why can’t I do this?” And then he does it.
What’s important in The Last Jedi is what happens to, and what we find out about, all of these characters along the way. In retrospect, The Force Awakens feels like a short introduction to these characters. After The Last Jedi, I feel like I’ve gone on a week-long road trip with them all.
Even nostalgia goes down better when it’s laced with a healthy dose of the unexpected, and while it hardly skimps on callbacks and fan favorites, The Last Jedi has a flowing moment-to-moment unpredictability that rises, on occasion, to genuinely thrilling peaks of surprise.
The most controversial review is from Variety’s Peter Debruge – not because it’s among the least positive (though it’s hardly a complete pan,) but because it reveals a fairly large spoiler.
Don’t see your fav? Feel free to link in the comments.