A homage that isn’t repetitive
After “The Force Awakens” was released in 2015, fans saw parallels between it and “A New Hope.” Many wondered if “The Last Jedi” would similarly pay homage to “The Empire Strikes Back.” Tasha Robinson, at The Verge, said the new movie “uses their familiarity to play against expectations and subvert viewers’ nostalgia, instead of paying it off.”
There’s been some fan concern that “Last Jedi” might mimic “Empire Strikes Back” too closely, down to the dark tone and open ending. Instead, Johnson’s film feels remarkably close to a coda for the new trilogy, a platform for a radical departure from canon when the untitled sequel arrives in 2019.
At Polygon, Susana Polo said the movie succeeded at “being its own thing.”
It concludes with an overwhelming note of hope. It sets its ambitions high and follows through. And it walks the tricky line of surprising a savvy audience while also following its franchise’s familiar symmetries and tropes.
At TechCrunch, Anthony Ha called it “the most moving Star Wars movie — and the funniest.”
Where “The Force Awakens” usually moved too quickly to deal with the bleakness of its core conceit (which saw the Rebellion undermined, then nearly wiped out, and its heroes scattered), “The Last Jedi” actually embraces a sense of futility and defeat. The movie’s final act mixes hope and despair nearly perfectly — I don’t want to admit that this is the first “Star Wars” movie to make me cry, but here we are.
A new director enters the field
Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune praised Mr. Johnson’s turn at the helm.
Johnson’s first visit to LucasLand darts and zigzags with an unusual lightness of touch for an effects-heavy franchise title. It’s swift but not monomaniacal in its pacing. Characters both old and new, of various earthly and intergalactic ethnicities (spoiler alert: white supremacists will not like “The Last Jedi”), all enjoy a little elbow room, and their fair share of the action.
Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post said the film “unspools like a one-movie binge watch.”
Johnson adroitly maneuvers his characters through a story that, admittedly, often feels more convoluted than canonically necessary, with extravagantly reckless tactical gambits, nail-biting tick-tocks and ludicrously protracted standoffs providing excuses for action and incident more than narrative drive. Still, “The Last Jedi” honors the franchise’s chief values of idealism, loyalty and self-sacrifice that made the original “Star Wars” so beloved, with a similarly appealing ragtag team of hotheads and cockeyed optimists to root for as they try to save their galaxy from totalitarian domination.
Praise was not universal
The reviews were not uniformly positive. Peter Debruge, writing at Variety, said the film was “ultimately a disappointment.”
That doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. Rather, despite the success of “The Last Jedi” at supplying jaw-dropping visuals and a hall-of-fame-worthy lightsaber battle, audiences could presumably skip this film and show up for Episode IX without experiencing the slightest confusion as to what happened in the interim. It’s as if Johnson’s assignment was to extend the franchise without changing anything fundamental, which is closer to the way classic television and vintage James Bond movies operate than anything George Lucas ever served up.
At CNN, Brian Lowry said the film “feels like a significant letdown.”
Running more than 2 ½ hours, the eighth “Star Wars” movie built around the Skywalker clan is the longest under that banner and showcases an abundance of action. But despite the enormous scope and visual spectacle, too many key components of the film — including those that have kept die-hard fans guessing and debating — prove unsatisfying.
It’s not short
You might want to have some coffee before heading to the theater. Chris Nashawaty, at Entertainment Weekly, said it was too long, though “the climactic last 45 minutes of the film is as thrilling and spectacular as anything ‘Star Wars’ has ever given us.”
I’d stop short of calling director Rian Johnson’s undeniably impressive initiation into the “Star Wars” fold the masterpiece that some desperately want it to be. The film simply drags too much in the middle. Somewhere in the film’s 152-minute running time is an amazing 90-minute movie.
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It boasts a diverse cast of characters
At USA Today, Brian Truitt said Adam Driver excelled in an expanded role for Kylo Ren.
“The Last Jedi” is Driver’s to rule as much as “Force Awakens” was Ridley’s, and he’s awesome in it — Kylo is blockbuster cinema’s most magnetic and unpredictable antagonist since Heath Ledger’s “Dark Knight” Joker.
At Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson said Lucasfilm had “admirably followed through on its initiative to introduce more diversity into the main casts of its films.”
That Boyega and Tran, who plays a Rebel tech named Rose, get an adventure together is exciting. Seeing a black man and an Asian woman put toward the center of a huge franchise film like this is encouraging — because representation matters, yes, and because it gives a more thorough sense of what a rebellion like this might look like. It’s wholly more inspiring to see an array of different faces (and bodies, and species) banding together to fight oppression. That’s how it should be.
Esther Zuckerman, writing for Marie Claire, said Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, no longer “had to serve as the primary female representative among a gaggle of dude heroes.” She also called Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran, “easily the most exciting addition to the franchise.”
She’s an example of how the conflict has resonance beyond what we’re seeing play out on screen, and her presence adds a depth to the fight. Tran herself is also groundbreaking. Never before has an Asian-American woman been a protagonist in these films, and she breaks the spate of white brunettes who have been cast as heroines. She plays Rose with an effusiveness that doesn’t surmount her resolve or her sorrow.
Let’s talk about Porgs
But enough about humans. Let’s get to the question a lot of people have at the top of mind: What about the Porgs?
Ms. Dargis, of The Times, said they were “saucer-eyed mewling creatures with plump, puffin-like bodies that are mainly on hand for easy laughs,” and wished more had been added.
Mr. Larson, of Vanity Fair, described them as “chirruping little chipmunk/puffin things that are adorable and amusing and employed with just the right amount of restraint.”
But Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times was not aboard the Porg train.
I myself could have done with fewer reaction shots of the Porgs, those infernally moist-eyed little winged critters that have already fueled a Disney merchandising bonanza. (They somehow look cute, tasty and completely disposable, like Ewok McNuggets.)