Peter Sciretta's 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Spoiler-Free Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi left me speechless and shaken. I was not prepared for the "holy s***" shocking turn of events, the underlying emotion, the laugh-out-loud humor, the occasional ballsiness, and the bonkers weirdness. With Rian Johnson at the helm, I knew it was in good hands, but I was surprised to find it might be one of the best looking Star Wars films to date. It's bold, it's weird, it's excellent. There are so many instantly iconic shots and so much to chew on.

I saw the film only a few days ago, and I'm still thinking about it. I definitely need to see the movie again, but for now, here are some spoiler-free thoughts.

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This is a Rian Johnson Film

The look of The Last Jedi is even more distinctly Rian Johnson than Force Awakens was J.J. Abrams. Every shot has a distinct purpose, and in that respect, this might be the best looking Star Wars film to date. The opening action sequence is edge-of-your-seat spectacular. The choreography and geography of the action, the distinct eye for presentation, the escalation of the screenplay, the precise editing, the build of the John Williams score – together, it all feels like a masterclass in filmmaking.

The Force Awakens had so many cool-looking shots, but so much of what makes the action in The Last Jedi great is that every single shot is in service of the storytelling. While it's unmistakably Johnson's modern visual sensibilities, it also feels like a return to a more classic presentation of action storytelling.

And while Abrams' films asked a bunch of questions and allowed us to speculate for years, Johnson's film is more about answers and pulling the rug out from underneath you when you're least expecting it.

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The Movie is Not the One You're Probably Expecting

The marketing for The Last Jedi certainly gave off an Empire Strikes Back vibe, but the movie is not comparable. It's so very different, but I think if you had to compare it to any previous Star Wars film thus far, I'd probably compare it to Return of the Jedi.

People complained that the worlds and story in The Force Awakens were more of the same and Rian Johnson has done the complete opposite. The worlds and stories in The Last Jedi are entirely different than what we've seen before, and sometimes that is a breath of fresh air and sometimes that is jarring.

It's interesting because Abrams likes to maintain his "mystery box" and lock down everything about his movies, but The Force Awakens may have been the leakiest big film I've ever seen. I know or had some idea of almost all of the big plot points going into that first screening. The Last Jedi, however, was very different. Sure, you can piece together some things from the trailers, but most of it was not what I was expecting at all. The marketing had some excellent misdirection and I think it helps that (as my friend and former /Film writer Germain Lussier has pointed out), Johnson makes himself accessible, and thus fans don't look at learning plot points as a game of solving a puzzle.

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The Last Jedi Goes to Some Weird Places, and That's Wonderful

Star Wars is now owned by the big corporate mouse, and it would be easy for them to hire a filmmaker who isn't going to take big chances or try interesting things. But Rian Johnson seems very interested in pushing this film to the limits, often times going in the direction you might least expect it to go.

For instance (very minor vague details in the next sentence), the film touches on the concept of mistreatment of alien creatures in this far away galaxy, the Force is used in strange trippy ways we've never seen before, and Luke Skywalker's argues that the "Jedi", a brand that earns Disney so much money, must die.

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Canto Bight Feels Right Out of the Star Wars Prequels

While Johnson mostly succeeds with his approach to creating different worlds and new challenges for our heroes, sometimes he takes a swing for the fences and gets a miss.  This is a spoiler-free reaction, so I won't say much, but I will provide one example: the casino planet of Canto Bight.

The sequence looks like something out of the Star Wars prequels, which isn't necessarily an insult as the prequels had an exceptional design, it's just a very different aesthetic from the original trilogy palette. I suspect the design alone will result in a divisive response, but the story on this planet is probably my least favorite aspect of the film.

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While Last Jedi is Different, It Follows George Lucas' Original Playbook

Rian Johnson made a conscious choice not to play to nostalgia or reference previous episodes, and while it's probably much different than anything Star Wars creator George Lucas would have done with the franchise today, it's worth noting that the core of the story could probably be credited to Lucas' storytelling inspiration. Luke Skywalker's struggle with Rey is directly out of the Hero's Journey, the storytelling formula that Lucas explored in the original trilogy.

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This is More of a War Movie Than the Previous Skywalker Films

At the press conference for the film, John Boyega made the claim that The Last Jedi is more of a war movie than the previous Star Wars installments and he wasn't lying. Rian Johnson's opening and closing action sequences feel so much like a classic war movie, just set in space.

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So Many Holy S*** Surprising Moments

Going into Star Wars: The Last Jedi, there were a number of huge things that I didn't think would ever happen in this film, stuff that they might save for the final installment of this sequel trilogy or possibly later than that. There were so many moments that left me sitting on the edge of my seat left, breathless. Otherwise, you may have heard the words "holy s***" come out of my mouth. And these moments are expertly handled and thrilling. Mostly.

On the other hand, the canon-changing consequences of these moments are sometimes retconned moments later, which makes me wonder if they are more gimmicky than spectacular. I've only seen the film once at this point, and I imagine I'll see it many more times over the next month, and I'm not sure how I feel about this. In the context of my first screening, it was a total blast, but the more I think about the big swerves and twists along this journey, the more I wonder if they work without the significant consequences to series canon.

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The Last Jedi is Emotional

The Force Awakens leaned on the legacy characters and nostalgia for emotion as it introduced a new batch of heroes and villains to this galaxy. The Last Jedi has the benefit of already having our investment in all of these characters going into the film and Johnson expertly plays with our expectations. I think "plays" is the best word for this, because I imagine Johnson is having fun toying with our emotions in this story.

By splitting up the team, Johnson has set each of the characters on their own journeys of self-realization. And because this story takes place seconds after the end of The Force Awakens, the film immediately grapples with a number of compelling questions. How will Luke Skywalker find out about Han Solo's death? When or will Finn reunite with Rey? And then there are speculative questions like will Luke reunite with his sister Leia before the end of this film (AKA the last chance they have to share the screen together)?

And if it wasn't already apparent, every moment with General Leia is way more emotional because of the real-life death of actress Carrie Fisher. And we can talk more about this once everyone has seen the movie, but I'm surprised they didn't change this film after Fisher's passing, as I can easily see two ways in which they could have sent her character off and dealt with the tragedy of her passing.

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The New Cast

I really fell in love with Kelly Marie Tran's Rose Tico and think she will be a great addition to this series. The way she makes Finn reflect upon himself is a great bit of writing. I only wish she was in a better storyline, as I wasn't so much a fan of the Canto Bight sequence as a whole.

Benicio Del Toro's character, DJ (a nickname that is not said in the film itself directly), felt like something out of a different movie. I love the idea of a character that plays to both sides, whoever pays him better, but I didn't particularly love the way del Toro decided to portray the character and especially the inclusion of his stutter.

Oh, space Laura Dern is fantastic. That is all I will say about her character at this time.

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The Film is Unexpectedly One of the Funniest Star Wars Movies

The marketing has doubled down on the big dramatic nature of this sequel, but the film actually has a lot of humor. I'd even venture to say that my screening at the World Premiere in Hollywood had more and louder laughter than any of the Star Wars films to date.

While J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan's script for The Force Awakens was trying to recapture the humor of the original trilogy, Rian Johnson is not afraid to insert his own sensibilities. I think some longtime Star Wars fans will feel some of this humor breaks the reality of this universe. The best example I can give you is this: remember that moment in The Force Awakens when Kylo Ren throws a fit and then we see a shot of stormtroopers reacting to it from a hallway? It was probably one of the biggest laughs in the movie, but some have felt that it felt too modern for the franchise's classic sensibilities and almost felt like it was breaking the fourth wall in a way that SNL or a parody like Spaceballs might have. Well, be prepared for more like that.


Don't Worry; The Porgs Aren't the New Ewoks

I think some people have been hesitant to join #Porgnation before seeing the film, fearing the cute aquatic bird creatures might be the next Ewoks or Jar Jar Binks. I am happy to report that the porgs are the exact right amount of cute and funny without being an annoyance. Sure, they are in the film to provide comic relief, but in the right moments.

That's not to say that all the comic relief moments in the film are stellar: there is a moment featuring BB-8 that seems like something out of George Lucas' prequel trilogy and will probably get groans from Star Wars diehards.

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It's a Big, Long Movie

At over two and a half hours in length, it is the longest Star Wars movie to date – and it feels it. Not because there is ever a moment to look at your watch, but just because it's so jam-packed with characters, each with their own storylines alongside their own perfect moments. It's in this aspect that I think people will compare the film to The Force Awakens. The momentum of Abrams' film was just incredible and I think The Last Jedi could have learned from the pacing of that film.

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Disney, Please Stop Selling Us Characters Who Are Barely In The Movie

One of the big pushes for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a new droid named C2-B5, a black colored Imperial astromech droid. But in the final film the new droid, which came with a bevy of action figures, was seen for only a split second in the background of a shot. This annoyed me and other Star Wars fans, as the droid was built up and marketed as a significant new addition to series canon. Star Wars: The Last Jedi introduces us to an evil black First Order BB droid named BB-9E, complete with a line of figures and toys. And while BB-9E has more screentime than C2-B5 and Constable Zuvio, it's not much at all.

Imagine how all the kids who bought an expensive Sphero iPhone controlled version of this droid must feel after seeing the film. Listen, I know part of the reason Disney bought Lucasfilm was to sell Star Wars toys, but how hard is it to create new characters who actually matter and play a role in the film?

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Where Do We Go From Here?

I mentioned above that The Last Jedi feels more like Return of the Jedi than Empire Strikes Back. I also noted that Abrams' Star Wars film was more about setting up questions and Rian Johnson's film was more about answering them in ways you didn't expect. I left this movie wondering where Abrams could possibly take Episode 9, not because there is a big cliffhanger (because there is not), but because it's so unclear where this story is going. What I long assumed would be the conclusion doesn't seem to be in the cards. A lot of what I had assumed would play into the final act has mostly been resolved.


How Does Last Jedi Compare to The Force Awakens and the Previous Star Wars Movies?

It's not a competition, but I know many of you will want to know where this film falls in the ranking of Star Wars movies and how it compares to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I've only seen The Last Jedi once at this point, and I'm still very much formulating my opinion and already have tickets to see it a couple more times, so I don't think it's fair at this point to make a definitive ranking, but I can compare my feelings for it against The Force Awakens:

  • Let me first say that I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and I know many of you had problems with how the film purposely echoed A New Hope. I was, for the most part, not bothered by this (third "Death Star" aside), and Abrams' film currently stands very close to the top of the franchise in my heart.
  • This movie has higher highs than The Force Awakens. I mentioned there are more than a few "holy s***" moments that are better than anything in The Force Awakens.
  • But as a whole, I think I enjoyed The Force Awakens a bit more. I remember having fewer initial nitpicks with Abrams' film. The Last Jedi relies on an intricate story that weaves and twists, while The Force Awakens was more about character introductions, asking intriguing questions and fun moments. For that reason, I think (and again, I've only seen this film once) that The Force Awakens is probably a more rewatchable movie than The Last Jedi.

    But I probably need to see it 10 more times to find out for sure.