There’s a certain quantum state of being when you’re sitting in a new Star Wars movie, where you’re letting every single little moment and beat and line wash over you as you ride a sense of how the universe is expanding and what the new status quo will be. The Last Jedi‘s runtime is the longest in the series to date and it certainly felt like a lot was going on, but as the end credits struck with that familiar and always chill-inducing fanfare, I mused to myself: “Did I… did I just watch the best Star Wars movie?”
This, of course, is a question we’ll be debating for a very long time, ad infinitum, but writer-director Rian Johnson has succeeded in a way I think fans have been hoping for since the new trilogy was announced, and a way which we all feared would never happen following The Force Awakens and Rogue One; he’s shown us something different. It’s the universe we love and the characters we love both new and old, but it’s played out in a fashion its recent predecessors seemed afraid of. People will argue whether The Last Jedi is as good as, or better than, The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s unquestionably the best Star Wars movie since that 1980 masterpiece.
Picking up immediately from where The Force Awakens left off, The Last Jedi finds our heroes in the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), without time to revel in the destruction of Starkiller Base because the Republic is in tatters and the First Order is still on their heels. Their only hope is Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the hero of the former Rebellion, who has gone into hiding. He’s found by Rey (Daisy Ridley), who strives to convince him to return to the fray and help her learn her true place in the galaxy. Luke, however, fears her raw Force abilities, likening her to his last protege-gone-awry, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega) and new hero Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) leave on a secret mission to help the Resistance gain the upper hand while hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) wrestles with duty and comes to a difference of philosophy with Leia’s second in command, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).
First and foremost, The Last Jedi blazes its own trail. While The Force Awakens was too beholden to the structure of A New Hope, Johnson’s film doesn’t feel the need to worry about anything but the story it’s telling, here and now. It feels incredibly fresh for the ninth film in a franchise that’s 40 years old, and much of that comes down to approach. Characters behave believably, both in action and in emotion, and nothing feels like an afterthought.
I confess to having seemingly had my fill of stories about Jedi and Sith and light and dark sides, hoping for more space action and freedom fighting, but I must admit that while The Last Jedi has some excellent space battles and ground combat, the thread that works the strongest involves the Force-wielding characters. Rey continues to be the lifeblood of this series and her confusion about what to do next mirrors a young Luke’s in a really fitting way. That The Last Jedi‘sÂ Luke is so unlike how we’ve seen him before might be jarring to some fans, Johnson’s writing and especially Hamill’s performance make sure you realize he’s the same character, and his reasons are justified. Kylo Ren is maybe more terrifying here than any previous Star WarsÂ villain, even when standing side by side with the gnarled Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) in his full glory.
There are six or seven moments in the movie where I clapped or “woo-hooed” and they were almost always things I didn’t see coming. The Last Jedi keeps the audience guessing in a way that feels kind of dangerous and it expands the lore of the Star Wars universe in a natural, welcome, sustaining way. It’s not a perfect movie by any means; some of the comedy is a little too silly and one or two of the plot threads feel a bit less important than the others, but these quibbles were minor when compared to the parts that work. Those REALLY work.
The Last Jedi feels epic in a way these movies ought to and not just like a commercial for the next one. This is a staggering achievement of a sci-fi blockbuster and something I think most fans will be lining up to see again and again.
Please look for our SPOILER FILLED rundown after the movie’s open.
4.5 out of 5