“This is not going to go the way you think.” Oh boy, does that sum up Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Strap in, everyone — this movie is a ride. (Oh, and worry not if you haven’t seen it yet. There are no spoilers in this review.)
If you’re a diehard Star Wars fan with very specific expectations, this is (probably) not the movie you’re looking for. While the previous film in the Skywalker saga, The Force Awakens, was criticized for being somewhat repetitive of A New Hope, The Last Jedi takes the story in new and surprising directions. The film picks up where Episode VII left off, but it’s almost immediately clear that Episode VIII is very much its own beast.
This is the first film I’ve seen of Rian Johnson’s so I can’t really speak to his usual “style” or directing sensibilities, but his approach to storytelling is noticeably different than J.J. Abrams in a number of ways. For one, The Last Jedi is longer than The Force Awakens and all other Star Wars films so far. It clocks in at about two and a half hours, and I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t feel that long. Johnson really takes his time here, which I appreciate, but I do wish the film as a whole was as focused and as consistently engaging as The Force Awakens is. There’s a lot going on in this film, and though most of it is very good, some of it doesn’t work so well in my opinion.
There are a number of new characters introduced in The Last Jedi, and they’re all played by very likable and capable actors. Unfortunately, it feels like Johnson can’t quite figure out what to do with most of them and how to properly integrate them into the greater narrative. This is especially true of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and DJ (Benicio Del Toro), whose inclusion is really justified. I would have preferred for this film to have introduced fewer new characters and instead spent more time developing the characters we already have, like Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac).
Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) get a good amount of screen time, however, and I was happy with how much they developed as characters by the end of the film. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that many of their scenes in The Last Jedi are among my favorite scenes in any Star Wars film, and I was totally captivated by them in a way that I never really was while watching the previous film, which I think speaks to their talent as actors and to Rian Johnson’s talent as a writer and director.
The true star of The Last Jedi may actually be Carrie Fisher, whose final performance as Princess Leia does not disappoint in the slightest. Fisher’s tragic passing in real life adds so much more depth and meaning to her scenes in the film, and it’s wonderful (but also heartbreaking) to see Carrie really give it her all here. Mark Hamill is great in this, too, and he pulls off the role of an old, grouchy Luke Skywalker much better than I thought he would, if I’m being honest.
On a technical level, the film is, as you’d probably assume, incredible. The worlds of Star Wars feel much bigger and more tangible than ever before, and everything is expertly crafted from top to bottom. There are so many different sets and creatures (Porgs!), both practical and otherwise, in The Last Jedi that I can’t begin to imagine how Rian Johnson and everyone else involved made it all happen. I was especially impressed by how real Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) looks — the guy is downright terrifying to look at. The film is so rich with detail that I would definitely advise seeing this on the biggest screen possible because there’s so much there for you to take in.
Normally, I wouldn’t expect a two-and-a-half hour movie to have much replay value, but I think The Last Jedi has enough surprising and satisfying moments, especially in the third act, to warrant repeat viewings. I don’t think it’s quite as good as The Force Awakens, which is still my favorite Star Wars movie so far, but it’s a strong follow-up and a solid middle chapter for this new trilogy of films. I’m honestly not sure where J.J. Abrams will take it from here for Episode IX, but I can’t wait to find out.