This review contains NO spoilers for The Last Jedi.
The best thing sequels have going for them are that a lot of the heavy-lifting has been done. They’re free from establishing characters and winning over the audience.
The Last Jedi takes full advantage of its sequel status and delivers a follow-up to The Force Awakens that expands upon that film’s characters and stories in exciting and frankly shocking ways.
All Hail Rian Johnson
Writer/director Rian Johnson deserves immense praise for taking big, bold moves with the narrative that feel subversive without being disingenuous to the story that’s come before. It’s a masterful balancing act in giving the audience what they want — a rousing adventure with compelling and fun characters — while simultaneously giving the audience what they need: a story that doesn’t adhere to predictability in order to please the widest possible audience.
But even then, Johnson delivers the crowd-pleasing action, endearing humor, and epic scope fans want out of Star Wars. Freed from the more reverent and fetishistic tendencies of J.J. Abrams, Johnson’s filmmaking style feels more like a natural evolution of the original trilogy than The Force Awakens. He still nails the grandiose moments like Abrams does, but he reserves being showy for moments that count.
Get Ready to Be Surprised
And boy, are there moments that count in The Last Jedi. There are striking story beats that, while they do echo The Empire Strikes Back and even Return of the Jedi, manage to twist those familiar bits into twists that had me reeling backward into my seat.
The Last Jedi goes places that feel like the end of a saga rather than a middle entry. That actually helps make everything feel momentous and impacting. Instead of pulling punches for later entries, Johnson’s script holds nothing back and it pays off in enormous ways.
There is also a real sense of darkness and complication at the heart of The Last Jedi. This film explores the sacrifice of war in a personal way that Rogue One didn’t quite understand. Instead of drenching itself in griminess and a surface desire to muddy the moral waters like Rogue One did, The Last Jedi lets its complexities and dilemmas come naturally from the characters instead of the larger plot. This also helps make some of the jaw-dropping moments hit harder.
I won’t spoil any of the big stuff but I will say that as someone who considers Luke Skywalker one of his favorite fictional characters, this movie more than makes up for his absence in The Force Awakens. Luke’s arc in The Last Jedi is fraught with regret and despair, and it’s great to see Mark Hamill return to the character with a new angle with which to play him. It leads to some of Luke’s best moments in the entire series.
If I had one significant complaint, it’s that the movie is a bit overlong. There are some deviations the story has to take that feel like they could be trimmed without losing a whole lot of necessary plot points or character progression. This is especially true of the section where Finn and Rose visit Canto Bight. I dug this part for some cute bits and the plethora of alien species, but it is the only part of the movie that starts to feel a tad sluggish.
Is The Last Jedi Good?
It’s the best of the new wave of Star Wars films by far, encapsulating everything that’s great about Star Wars as a story: hope, friendship, rebellion, conflict, and sacrifice. Without feeling like the $200 million dollar fan films that we’ve recently gotten, Rian Johnson has given us a Star Wars film that actually is a genuine evolution of the series in style, narrative, and emotion. Never before have I been as excited to see where Star Wars will go next.
Oh, and you know that brand new trilogy Rian Johnson is working on? Just give him all the Star Wars. Just do it. Disney, if you’re listening, give Rian Star Wars. Please? Thanks.