I know many of you are worried about spoilers. This review will be very light on them to preserve the experience of seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi for the first time. But let’s begin with what you really want to know: Star Wars: The Last Jedi is awesome. I laughed. I cried. I screamed and cheered so much that my throat went raw, and I left the theater on a high of exhilaration.
Now, let’s fill in some details.
The Last Jedi picks up right where The Force Awakens left off. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has sought out Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in hopes of turning the tide of the Resistance’s war against the Empire and Supreme Leader Snokes (Andy Serkis). Meanwhile, General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and her forces are on the run from General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) gets plenty of dashing screentime in this thread, and Finn (John Boyega) awakens from his coma in time for a side-quest with a courageous maintenance worker named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). Other colorful new characters are portrayed by Laura Dern, who is radiant, and Benicio Del Toro, whose signature quirk was born to be in a Star Wars movie.
Writer/director Rian Johnson was handed the keys to the one of the coolest franchises in cinema history, and he’s made an epic adventure destined to have fans exultant. The screenplay shows a great care for the saga’s longest-running characters, meaning Luke and Leia feel wonderfully familiar, yet never stale. In her final Star Wars performance, the late Fisher is fiery as ever, yet regal, and all around glorious, whether she’s smirking at headstrong Poe or urging her fellow rebels to dare to hope. Meanwhile, Hamill’s long-awaited return to the franchise is suitably spiked with bravado, pathos, humor and the smug smile that makes a cameo at the best possible moment.
Those who grumbled over The Force Awakens feeling structurally like a New Hope reboot will be happy to learn Johnson’s no longer retreading or playing it safe. The Last Jedi expands the cinematic world of Star Wars, introducing a telling new location. More crucially, he answers a big question fans have been asking since the introduction of Rey. With both, he has cracked open a brave new path for this franchise that I’m sure you’ll see plenty of speculation pieces about in the coming weeks.
Johnson seems to have devotedly studied the response to The Force Awakens, for there’s great care in crafting the continued stories of Rey, Kylo, Finn and Poe. It’s not only their courage that is tested, but their hope, vanity and motivations, urging each to pivotal realizations. Johnson offers some fun fan service as well, giving a winking scene to Poe/Finn shippers, and plenty of fuel for Rey/Kylo shippers. Basically, The Last Jedi is exploding with moments that will have fans cheering and squeeing.
The new wave of Star Wars stars is divine. Wielding her staff or a lightsaber, Ridley is stalwart and inspiring. In moments of inner conflict, she is vulnerable and riveting. Driver pushes the wrathful Kylo to new corners of angst and ambition, and lights up the screen with the fire in his eyes. Boyega is once more a winsome wonder, bounding about the galaxy with a boyish charm. And Isaac is once more a delicious blend of cocky, sexy and funny, offering new depth as his roguish rebel pilot learns a hard lesson in heroism.
Johnson’s savvy writing does right by the characters we love, and pushes them to new places, both thrilling and disturbing. The performances of a sprawling and compelling cast make each moment sing, and John Williams’ bombastic, classic themes make our pulses race to their rhythm. That Johnson has delivered breathtaking action sequences on top of all this means The Last Jedi is true to the very best of the Star Wars legacy.
There’s a special magic when you’re seated in a movie theater packed with an audience giddy to experience a film. There’s a sense of joyful reverence in the air, and through watching the film, you become one. Together you gasp. Together you cheer. Together, you drop jaws at the wonders spilling forth before you. As a critic, I go to a lot of movies, and this sort of cathartic community experience is rare. But I felt it at Star Wars: The Last Jedi, where the audience throbbed as if we shared the same heartbeat.
Every action sequence in this movie is outstanding, from the opening spaceship battle, to a beautifully choreographed Kylo/Rey fight, and the spectacular ground war on a planet where kicked up dirt looks like sprays of blood. (It’s very a clever way to get the impact of gore without incurring the censorship of the dreaded MPAA!) But there’s a single moment where Johnson knows he has you in the palm of his hand. As it plays out, the sound drops out. Gone are the sound effects of lasers and tearing metal. Gone is the cry of our beloved characters. Gone is John Williams’ booming score. It’s silence on screen, and all you’ll hear are the gasps and whimpers of the audience around you, awed by the majesty before them.
Last night once I walked out of the screening, someone dared me to find a fault in The Last Jedi. I’m sure they exist. No movie is truly perfect. But this morning, as I reflect on what I witnessed, I am only in awe.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits theaters December 15 and stars Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke, Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata, Benicio Del Toro as ‘DJ’, Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico, Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, and the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa.