ibbi’s review published on Letterboxd:
2 years after JJ Abrams brought Star Wars back to the big screen under fire for narratively playing it safe and not doing much more than retreading plot points from the original trilogy, Rian Johnson (Maybe the finest director to ever helm a Star Wars movie? Certainly since the guy that made The Phantom Menace anyway…) continues the newest trilogy of this intergalactic saga with the longest Star Wars movie to date, and comes under fire for a whole other bunch of (largely stupid) reasons.
Certainly, the movie is not without fault, as noted it is the longest movie under the banner to date, and that to me seems wholly unnecessary. Example - it opens with a classic Star Wars space battle, followed by a jump to hyper space, and then… Another classic Star Wars space battle. Whole subplots seem massively dragged out for the relatively minor points that they have to make, a lot of character logic is not especially strong with this one, and to me most glaringly of all… It does the exact same thing that people attacked The Force Awakens for.
Indeed, anyone at least decently well acquainted with that first trilogy begun 40 years ago will surely be struck down by deja vu as the movie opens with the rebels seeking to escape their base under fire from the bad guys, or our young jedi hopefuls journey to an isolated world to learn from a jaded old master, complete with headstrong abandonment of training to dash off and play hero, not to forget all the throne room seduction stuff, sneaking onto an enemy ship to disable a tracker, and maybe funniest of all, in one of the movies many moments of (some strong, some less so) expectation subverting, bringing back the immortal parental reveal bit.
Still, if you can get past all of that, there is plenty on display here to love, even if it could all be tighter. On the one hand it is probably the funniest Star Wars movie, though most of the laughs coming through scenes set up and directed specifically to illicit laughs rather than just being woven naturally into scenes, reliant on the performers delivery, feels kind of inorganic, and one of the few approaches where I genuinely couldn’t resist having a ‘not my star wars’ moment. It is conversely also probably the most grown up Star Wars movie to date, give or take Episode III. There’s less of that movies focus on grand tragedy, more reliance upon ideological struggles, loss of hope, and all the doom and gloom it can entail, it manages even to weave as effective a commentary on the whole idea of arms trading as I can recall in a movie this side of Lord of War; in maybe the movies greatest moment of aforementioned subversion, setting up another potential Mos Eisley, only to go to the whole other end of the spectrum.
Beyond the storytelling ups and downs it is as polished and handsome a production as you’d expect by now, it does start to feel its length as it conjures up whole new acts just as you feel its winding down, but damn if the movie isn’t filled with some of the greatest imagery the saga has ever produced, some of it simply hang on your wall gorgeous, some of it deeper, communicating ideas through imagery. Once again, give or take Episode III it’s got the saga’s greatest final shot, one that could have comfortably ended the saga, or opened it up in whole new ways.
It also repeats the old Empire Strikes Back approach of going much more the ensemble route than the comparatively streamlined previous film. Said approach certainly lessens the amount of material with which Force Awakens breakout duo Daisy Ridley and John Boyega get to sink their teeth in to, the more dramatic arcs this time gifted to Adam Driver whose conflict this time is less defined by petulance, and Mark Hamill, who regardless of what he thinks of his characters direction is gifted with probably the big screen role of his life.
Oscar Isaac thankfully has more to do this time around, indeed his arc is one of the films real strengths, another of its grown up qualities with its ultimately something less than positive portrayal of his attempted heroics. Conversely Laura Dern’s random introduction is one of the greatest examples of the films excesses, but damn if she doesn’t get as great a final scene as any character in this saga has ever had, and somewhat awkwardly intertwined with her is the dearly departed Carrie Fisher, sadly sidelined for so much of proceedings, but with a killer couple of scenes towards the end to make up for it.
Though for me best in show, the one on display who goes as far as anyone can reasonably be expected to go in filling the Harrison Ford void is Benicio Del Toro. He goes to show that no matter how legendary you may be woven into the fabric of this universe, nor how bright and promising an up and comer, nor talented a thespian you may be, there is little that can match up to gigantic movie star charisma. In what is a totally periphery role, with less than a handful of scenes he fills every one of them out with his effortless charms. Not sure the guy has ever had a chance to really play a role quite like this, to have this much fun, but if they don’t bring him back in Episode IX it will be a crime.
Between them, and coupled with the classiness of the movie making they ensure that as is often the case with Star Wars, the good stuff generally outshines the bad, and Rian Johnson accomplishes the often difficult task of turning out a middle movie in a trilogy with the doubly or triply difficult task of crafting a blockbuster sequel in an age when the entire planet can hop online and concoct their own theories, and analyze every detail with which you have to deal in numbers large enough that lend them a degree of credibility for years before your movie ever sees the light of day.