Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

If asked to rank my favorite Star Wars movies based on how many incredible things happen in them, this might well be my number 1 over Empire. Rian Johnson just puts together banger (bomber sequence) after banger (the triple-header of the throne fight, Finn vs Phasma, and Holdo vs the flagship) after banger (Luke Skywalker challenging the entire First Order with a laser sword). As a whole film, though, it still feels as if Rian Johnson just wanted to incorporate every Star Wars idea he'd ever had into one film, so at times the thing can get unwieldy. Great as the entire Crait sequence is — visually perhaps the most stunning thing in the entire franchise — and especially as great as Luke's hero moment is, it's hard to shake the feeling that the movie climaxes with the throne room/"rebel scum"/Holdo maneuver trifecta, and that continuing on for so long after leads to a diminishment of returns.

At the same time, some of the things that might tighten up the movie story-wise — I am looking at you, Canto Bight sidequest, even though you incorporate both Justin Theroux in full International Assassin mode, as well as Benicio Del Toro just Benicio'ing it up and down like only he can do — would water down the thematic arguments Johnson is making about both crippling nostalgia and the notion of the Force as a universal power that applies to everyone, and not just the elites, princesses, chosen ones, etc. So I think it just has to be a whole lotta movie, even if it can be a messy one.

Watching this again for the first time in a while felt bittersweet on a few levels. The first is that the story, like in Empire, ends fairly darkly, with nearly all of the Resistance wiped out, Kylo in full control of the First Order and the First Order in turn in full control of the galaxy. The closing scenes (both Leia with Rey and then Broom Boy silently summing up the lessons of the film) suggests there should still be hope, but our heroes take a lot of losses along the way — many of them caused by their own attempts to act like the characters from previous trilogies. The second is that we lost Carrie Fisher not long afterwards, and before she got a chance for a sequel spotlight farewell like Mark Hamill (who is MAGNIFICENT in this one — both as funny and as poignant as he has ever been) did here, or like Harrison Ford got in Force Awakens.

And the third is that Rise of Skywalker so clumsily took a machete to almost everything Johnson tried to do here. (Honestly, I'm amazed Kylo didn't have a throwaway line at some point about murdering a little kid with a broom.) TLJ detractors have argued that it's no different from all the ways that Johnson undid ideas introduced in Force Awakens. Here's the difference, though: most of the things Johnson was undoing was the kind of hollow mystery box stuff that JJ Abrams has leaned on a bit too often in his career, and Johnson's unexpected answers to the questions Abrams asked say interesting things about the characters and the franchise. Rey's parents being nobodies, like Broom Boy accessing the Force, is a reminder that heroism and greatness can come from the most modest of places, rather than everyone having to be connected to a handful of pre-existing characters. Rise of Skywalker just hit the reset button because Abrams wanted to stick to his original plans — and because the movie was made in such a rush, nearly all of it is gibberish. So for as much hope as Leia tries offering Rey on the Falcon, I watched the end knowing that things were about to get much worse — creatively, at least, even if the last film of the saga largely ends well for our heroes.

But, man, does TLJ cook.