Hello everyone. I can’t review this bad boy without spoilers. That said, I have no interest in spoiling anyone so don’t read this review until you’ve seen the movie. Maybe wait a while after seeing the movie to read it. Maybe don’t read it at all and see the movie again. You do you.
The Last Jedi is a complicated beast, following up the plot-light Rogue One an largely re-hashed Force Awakens, episode VII finds director Rian Johnson charging forwards with a new energy and fervor. This is a film that is indebted to the original trilogy (specifically the Empire Strikes Back) but can never be mistaken for a tribute act. For better and for worse (mostly for better in my humble opinion), things get weird and ambitious here in a way that is guaranteed to irritate purists but thrilled me to my core. More on that in a little.
Let’s start with some of the flaws of the movie. It’s too long and has too many endings. A series of thrilling battles in the third act become less thrilling as they pile on top of eachother without really building to a crescendo. Also, the middle of the movie is weighed down by a trip to a casino planet that never really feels fully developed (it’s heavy on social commentary and light on atmosphere…not a good fit for Star Wars). Some plot beats are over-sentimental or clunkily obvious (special mention goes to the kindergarten lessen that Poe goes through and a really awful moment between Finn and Rose in the finale). Most of these flaws are hallmarks of the franchise though and don’t quite hurt the film enough to dampen its madcap energy.
Far outweighing these flaws though are some of the highest highs the franchise has yet achieved. Rian Johnson brings a visual creativity and plot ambition to the Last Jedi that’s hard to deny. Moments like blindingly silent hyperspeed crash or a kamikaze mission on red and white mineral planet are indelible addition to a mythos that has desperately in need of new life.
In the same vein, Johnson seems to have taken JJ Abrams signature puzzle box plot elements and recognized them as burdens instead of strengths, choosing to charge off in a new direction that works in the case of Rey’s Parentage but makes certain other plot elements feel like red herrings or anti-climaxes.
The character work here is on-point. Poe Dameron gets a bit more to do and and Oscar Isaacs delivers on raw charisma even where his sunday school lesson character arc feels a bit forced (most of the tension would be removed if the resistance just told their plans to eachother). Rey is developed a bit more and her innate talent is explored and deconstructed a bit, retroactively justifying her over-perfect role in Force Awakens. Finn feels a bit out of place here but his plot is bolstered by newcomer Rose Tico who counterpoints his enthusiasm with surly world-weariness. And a new character played by Benecio Del Toro is slight but significant as a stuttery amoral criminal.
But the heart of the film lies in two inextricably linked characters: Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker. Adam Driver continues to bring a weird, sympathetic depth to his bi-polar Sith Lord. In moments where he’s at his most snarlingly nasty, a vulnerable sadness is still visible behind his eyes, making him feel like he is, deep down, a scared child…and all the more dangerous for it. Luke Skywalker meanwhile has dropped his boyish original trilogy optimism for the world weary cynicism of a man whose grown past his own legend. I questioned occasionally his arc only to find, with a brilliant third act twist, that it all fit together into a beautiful sendoff for the franchises second most iconic character.
And the third act is, in general, where the pieces come together. A series of incredibly smart twists cover-up some of the pacing issues I mentioned before, leading to a final ten minutes that rivals anything the series has produced before. For a number of reasons (ambition, additions and changes to the mythos, sudden swerves, and character changes) the film is destined to be divisive for longtime fans (a quick google search shows this already to be the case), but for this casual Star Wars fan it’s an injection of new life into a franchise that desperately needs it.
Lastly, Laura Dern still can’t act.
Final Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.0