STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (10 out of 10) Written and Directed by Rian Johnson; Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domnhall Gleason, Laura Dern, and many others; Rated PG-13f or sequences of sci-fi action and violence. Running time 152 minutes; In wide release December 15.
This review endeavors to be as spoiler-free as possible.
My first reaction to seeing this film was stunned silence.
I sat throughout the credits with my mouth slacked open and my eyes wide. The blood had run from my face and I was sure I looked like a ghost.
I couldn't decide if I'd just seen an incredible Star Wars film or something else entirely.
For two days, I struggled with the film. The morning after the premiere, I was standing there in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, replaying moments from the film in my mind and I just burst into tears.
It's an affecting movie.
Two days after my first viewing, I was able to see the film again at a press screening and was finally able to come to terms with my feelings for it. A lot happens. It's a dense film. Not a single frame is wasted. Even moments that seem as though they're throwaway jokes have important action happening in the background. I'm not sure how this film could be a frame shorter because it's an intricately woven story that is at once simple--the Resistance just needs to escape--and at the same time a story that is incredibly complex and metaphysical.
It deepens the mythology of the Force in a way I wasn't expecting. It rewards a knowledge of the supplemental material, but also pays respect to everything that's come before it. Like every middle chapter of a Star Wars trilogy in the Skywalker Saga, we have a student given a choice between their master's wishes and the warning in their heart, and like every chapter in the film, the student follows their heart, consequences be damned. But as much as this film is like Attack of the Clones and The Empire Strikes Back, truly it's a sister film to each of these, it's also a very close cousin to Return of the Jedi.
Every major character in the film has an arc, hero or villain, and the film focuses in on these interpersonal relationships while a story (that echoes some of the best parts of Battlestar Galactica) plays out. Unlike The Force Awakens, Rian Johnson doesn't take any nostalgiac liberties (with one exception and, yes, that part should have been rendered in CG), and offers us a film free of fat.
George Lucas made six marvelous Star Wars movies that were all alike and so drastically different. He brought something new with every outing. JJ Abrams was only able to hint at that needed newness with the choice of characters he brought to the table, but that was appropriate table setting. Johnson pushes it to the next level with The Last Jedi. It really is a successor to Empire in the sense that it takes what Force Awakens built, breaks it in some way, changes our understanding of everything that came before, and offers us new locales, characters, and situations. The scenery is gorgeous, the fight sequences are spectacular. In fact, despite the emotion that the film evokes, there are at least six sequences that people will want to be coming back to watch again and again.
And that's the thing about the film. There is just so much working on you.
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.
Every single person involved in this film brought their A game. From the effects artists to the actors. The standouts, however, come from Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher. They form the emotional core of the film and deliver surprising moment after surprising moment. There's never a time where things are going to go exactly where you think they might, but the actors make it believable. By the end, you'll know why Luke wanted to end the order and find his actions believable. You'll know so much more about Ben Solo and his turn. You'll understand Rey's longing and what she's looking for. But none of it is how you'd expect, but the actors make it seem so plausible that once you've seen it, you can't imagine it going any other way.
The visuals of the film are stunning. This might be the most gorgeous film in the saga. From the casinos of Canto Bight to the mineral surface of Crait and all points in between, this film is breathtaking to behold. And it brings us new things. The ski-speeders on Crait take the formula of a battle from The Empire Strikes Back and give it to us new and improved. The space battles offer a World War II vibe in a way we've never actually seen in Star Wars before. The lightsaber fights are... well... you're just going to have to see them.
That's the brilliance of Rian Johnson's work here. He gives us things that are as familiar as they are new and so it all works beautifully, but that's also the struggle of the first viewing.
The first viewing twists you up in knots and you're not sure where things are headed. You're not quite sure how to feel about things because the pace of the movie is so brisk you're onto the next thing so quickly. Something devastating will happen and it will make way for a joke. And in the background of that joke is another moment happening that's advancing the plot. And then in short order, you're devastated again. The movie gives and takes so much that it is, hands down, the most simultaneously bleak and hopeful Star Wars movie to date.
I didn't notice any of the filmmaking issues in this film that caused me to drop the score on The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi is heartfelt, fun, funny, beautiful, operatic, sad, and brutal. It is all of these at once.
And if this review feels vague, it's because this film is packed to the brim with things I wouldn't want to discover in any way other than seeing it in the film. I want you to see it, but I want you to see it twice. The first viewing is going to take you for a ride you won't be able to breathe through. The second viewing is much more enjoyable, but emotional.
But, like Master Luke says, "Breathe. Just... breathe..."
For being perhaps the most beautifully photographed Star Wars film, for bringing new ideas to the table and deepening the mythology of the Force, for bringing sterling performances and a flawless pace to the longest Star Wars film, Rian Johnson earns top marks for The Last Jedi. 10 out of 10.
We will be back later in the week for a spoiler-filled roundtable. There will also be a discussion on the Full of Sith podcast. A spoiler-free review is live now, and a spoiler-filled review will be available on Saturday.