'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Review Round-Up: Rian Johnson Delivers In A Huge Way

After a two year wait, Star Wars: The Last Jedi finally arrives in theaters this week. How does writer/director Rian Johnson's sequel measure up to what's come before in a galaxy far, far away? You can read our review from Josh Spiegel right here, Peter Sciretta wrote his own extended spoiler-free review, and Chris Evangelista has a spoiler review coming soon, but in the meantime, check out our huge round-up of Star Wars The Last Jedi reviews to find out what the rest of the critical community thinks.

Before we get started, Rotten Tomatoes points out that the movie is currently the highest rated Star Wars film of all time, sitting at 96% on the Tomatometer:

Now let's kick things off with an excerpt from the home team. /Film's Josh Spiegel says The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, and he praises Rian Johnson's writing choices as a big part of the reason for its success:

The Last Jedi is at its best when it aims to upend expectations. Rey's desire to get answers from Luke is quickly thrown into disarray as it becomes clear how he's become used to isolation over time, as punishment for his past misdeeds. But even in early moments like when the Resistance tries to pull a fast one on the First Order, Johnson proves most adept at poking holes in any perceived self-seriousness in this sometimes operatic franchise. Even without the series' constant source of quips (Han Solo), The Last Jedi is disarmingly funny even as it depicts dark, intense situations.

And while the rest of this article will largely be pulling out positive quotes from various outlets (it's not our fault most people liked it!), Peter Debruge's review at Variety stands out as the most negative I've seen so far. (Warning: the full review contains a significant spoiler for The Last Jedi, although this excerpt does not. We just want to warn anyone who hasn't seen the film yet that if you head to Variety to read the full piece, you're going to have a big moment spoiled for you.)

As it turns out, although "The Last Jedi" meets a relatively high standard for franchise filmmaking, Johnson's effort is ultimately a disappointment. If anything, it demonstrates just how effective supervising producer Kathleen Kennedy and the forces that oversee this now Disney-owned property are at molding their individual directors' visions into supporting a unified corporate aesthetic — a process that chewed up and spat out helmers such as Colin Trevorrow, Gareth Edwards, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. But Johnson was either strong enough or weak enough to adapt to such pressures, and the result is the longest and least essential chapter in the series.

Even Variety's negative review is peppered with compliments! That alone says something about the quality of this film.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Featurette

Our old pal Germain Lussier at io9 speaks to some of the reasons you keep seeing people refer to the movie as "surprising" and "different":

...parts of the film are very funny—like, almost too funny. The humor can, at times, feel overboard from what we're used to in Star Wars. And yet it works. Then there are parts of the film that are incredibly weird and almost surreal—moments that seem more fit for an avant-garde movie. But they work too, because the very nature of Star Wars is that anything is possible. From scene to scene Johnson is basically saying, "Look, if we can have talking slugs, laser swords, and lightspeed, why can't I do this?" And then he does it.

Thankfully, all that quirk and surprise never comes at the expense of spectacle, and The Last Jedi has plenty of it. Epic lightsaber fights, huge space battles, one-on-one duels—there's rarely a moment when something amazing isn't happening onscreen. And yet, that Star Wars iconography is always punctuated with Johnson's personality. John Williams' excellent score can be soaring on the soundtrack, or some familiar setting or ship can show up, and Johnson still manages to put his own unique spin on it.

Uproxx's Mike Ryan also wonders if the movie's comedic moments may be too much for some fans, but reminds us that the original trilogy had its fair share of humor as well:

I suspect, once the dust settles, The Last Jedi might be divisive – at least in the way that Empire was in that it doesn't follow the traditional structure of a Star Wars movie. Where The Force Awakens felt like a movie by committee, The Last Jedi really does feel like one person's vision of what a Star Wars movie should be. It doesn't tick off the corporate studio boxes that are surefire, go to "crowd pleasers" (even though there are many crowd-pleasing moments). In a lot of ways, The Last Jedi is a weird movie. And I'm sure the word "dark" will be thrown around, but it's not "dark." Just like The Empire Strikes Back isn't "dark." Now, A Serbian Film, that's a dark movie. The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi are both well-made Star Wars movies with a lot of humor, where also some bad things happen to characters we like. In fact, The Last Jedi is so funny at times, I could also see that element being divisive. But people forget how funny the original trilogy actually is. In Empire, Han Solo and C-3PO are basically doing a vaudeville routine.

Manohla Dargis's review at The New York Times gets to the heart of something I haven't been able to put into words myself since seeing the film – that Johnson actually seemed to have a good time making the movie, and that comes across in the film itself:

Mr. Johnson can make you forget about those issues as well as the franchise's insistent obligations; it also seems like he had a good time at work. He brings lightness to his banter, visual flair (not simply bleeding-edge special effects) to the design, and narrative savvy to Rey and Kylo Ren's relationship. Mr. Johnson's use of deep red is characteristic of how he turns ideas into images, most vividly with a set that looks like something Vincente Minnelli might have dreamed up for a Flash Gordon musical with Gene Kelly. When that set becomes the backdrop to a viscerally exciting fight, all the red abruptly evokes the spilled blood that this otherwise squeaky clean series insistently elides.

star wars the last jedi kyloVanity Fair's Richard Lawson, who still enjoyed the movie quite a bit, points out what some (myself included) see as one of the movie's flaws – that the story sometimes feels a bit unbalanced in terms of the journeys of its characters:

The narrative involving Luke, Rey, and Kylo is so big and consequential that the film's other plots—involving Oscar Isaac's hotshot pilot Poe Dameron, John Boyega's former storm trooper Finn, and new characters played by Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran—sometimes struggle to hold their own. I've no doubt that Johnson understands a crucial Star Wars balance—the calibration between goofy creature gags, starship melees, and high-minded fantasy. But that doesn't always mean he gets it right. Or maybe he's made one section of the story just so good that all others feel that much less weighty in comparison.

Alyssa Wilkinson at Vox draws the distinction that The Last Jedi doesn't just feel like a well-made Star Wars movie, it feels like a well-made movie, period:

There are images in this movie that provoke awe and delight, and creatures that feel lifted out of half-remembered childhood dreams. And though it briefly appears to lose steam in the middle, that's short-lived, with a third act harboring sequences that feel like a maestro conducting a concerto the size of the cosmos.

There is catharsis aplenty, something the Star Wars movies are designed for, encouraging us to cheer when our favorite characters show up on screen and letting us thrill to the chases and the romance and the vistas and the explosions and the lightsaber battles. (This installment has one of the most purely perfect lightsaber battles the series has yielded thus far.) But as written and directed by Rian Johnson, The Last Jedi doesn't just feel like a well-executed Star Wars movie — it feels like a well-executed movie, period, one that keeps its eye on the relationships between characters, and how they communicate with one another, in addition to the bigger picture.

Glen Weldon at NPR praises the film for introducing some shades of grey into the proceedings:

The other thing Johnson introduces is something the various Star Wars offshoots (novels, games, animated series, etc.) have explored, but that has been assiduously kept out of the main series' simple, rigorously Manichean, Dark Side vs. Light Side infrastructure: grayscale. There is a welcome attempt, in The Last Jedi, to depict characters and their motivations in less stark and increasingly nuanced terms. This is both smart and inevitable, for a franchise that's hung around long enough for its themes and plot-beats to become as pervasive as these have. Yes, sure: Joseph Campbell, monomyth, Good and Evil, blah blah blah. These films do require a stark, easily apprehensible symbolic underpinning — but they also need to work as films, and that means having characters whose every choice we won't see coming, whose behaviors are not dictated by the color of their space-couture. In The Force Awakens, Adam Driver's Kylo Ren was evil, but (we were told, repeatedly) conflicted; here, he's conflicted, but evil — and this time we see and feel him struggle. (When he's not lashing out at underlings, or elevators — long story — Driver's Ren is amusingly albeit chillingly understated; he's your Bad Space Boyfriend, forever space-gaslighting you.)

Luke Skywalker blind

One of the things I was the most worried about heading into the movie was Mark Hamill's performance as Luke Skywalker. I've seen Hamill in some bad movies in the years between Return of the Jedi and now, and honestly didn't love his work in the original trilogy. But as Jason Guerrasio says in his review at Business Insider, Hamill is up to the task here:

Hamill's return as Skywalker does not disappoint, either. The master Jedi has tried to block himself entirely from the legendary life he once lived, and the tipping point was Skywalker's failure to train Ren (aka Ben Solo). This is explained to Rey by both Skywalker and Ren, with Johnson cleverly using a "Rashomon"-like storytelling style to do it.

And this isn't the only time in the movie when Johnson uses the feel of classic Asian cinema to influence his storytelling. The sections that involve Skywalker's story have the feel of old samurai movies, with Luke as the elderly teacher who has nothing left in his life but the past, and the knowledge of his craft, neither of which he wants anymore.

ScreenCrush's Matt Singer also has nice things to say about Hamill's work in the film:

It's also very clear that this series has never had a director as good with actors as Johnson. Hamill's performance in The Last Jedi may be the best in any Star Wars movie. Audiences barely got to see Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens, but he's front and center throughout The Last Jedi. Years of mistakes have hardened the hero we once knew, along with Hamill's features, although Luke's humanity sneaks through in beautiful close-ups that linger on his moist eyes as he talks about Han Solo or reconnects with his old pal R2-D2 for the first time in decades. The fall of Luke Skywalker, and the way Hamill plays this spoiled icon of youthful heroism, is exactly what makes these new Star Wars special. There's a lot of fantasy and fiction in these films. But what time has done to Hamill's face, and the way his idealism has given way to something sadder and more realistic, couldn't be faked with special effects. It requires the wisdom of age.

Carrie Fisher's performance is much better than in her comparatively limited appearance in The Force Awakens, and Alan Cerny from ComingSoon hones in on some reasons why:

No less compelling is Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa, wracked with guilt and grief over the death of Han Solo and the monster her son, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, has become. Leia, through all her pain and struggle, still must make the hard choices that will push the Resistance forward. The loss of Carrie Fisher last year fills many of her scenes with sadness and melancholy, and there will be many tears shed over her work here, no doubt. But this is also some of the strongest work she's ever done in the character. She shows us all what true leadership is, the risks and heartbreak that are involved, and Fisher reminds us all of how great an actress she was when she was given good material. Rian Johnson gives both Luke and Leia the proper attention and respect, and it's not just based on nostalgia for their other Star Wars films, either. Hamill and Fisher are given rich opportunities to explore Luke and Leia in unexpected, rich emotional ways.

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Matt Miller's review at Esquire makes an especially good point that I hadn't considered before: in a franchise that's kind of always been geared toward children, this movie feels like a Star Wars movie for adults:

So here is Rey, lightsaber in hand, ready to bring the hero back to save the day. But it doesn't always work that way. A Luke struggles with the Jedi, Rey is trying to figure out who she is and her place in this fight. It's not necessarily good or bad; it's what she feels is right. While these are more demanding concepts than kids might be equipped to deal with, this is the Star Wars that adults deserve—one that deals with human emotions more complex than those found in the binary world of a storybook.

Ira Madison III at The Daily Beast calls The Last Jedi the best Star Wars movie in decades, and believes it bodes well for the future:

As the film hurtles toward its conclusion (but not before several dizzying climaxes come to fruition), you might be left wondering where the series will go next. Our characters aren't left in the kind of mortal danger that their predecessors were in their Empire Strikes Back cliffhangers, they're instead faced with psychological dilemmas — and it makes for a new, exciting foray into what it means to be trapped in this endless war of light and dark. Johnson has already been tapped to create a new Star Wars trilogy in the coming years, off the predicted success of this film. It seems that for the near future, amid the lightsaber battles and love triangles among the stars, we can also look forward to science-fiction that looks into its characters' souls just as much as it speeds toward galaxies far, far away.


I saw the film at a press screening last night, and was shocked at the sheer amount of movie Johnson was able to make here. The amount of stuff that happens in this film is astronomical. It's going to take fans weeks to fully digest the implications and consequences of everything that goes down in this story, and while it does feel like a second entry in a trilogy, it leaves things is a fascinating place – for both the heroes and villains – and changes our perception of what a Star Wars film can be in fundamental ways. This is definitely a movie fans will want to see more than once.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in theaters on December 15, 2017.