'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Spoiler Review: The Most Exciting 'Star Wars' Film Yet

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick...and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Rian Johnson's exciting, unpredictable Star Wars: The Last Jedi.)

With Star Wars: The Last Jedi, writer-director Rian Johnson takes the Star Wars saga into uncharted territory. Johnson resists fan service at nearly every turn, crafting the most surprising, most exciting film in the entire Star Wars franchise. A film that both rejects and embraces legacy; a film that takes characters we've grown to love and exposes their flaws, while also revealing that they're more than their flaws. Our The Last Jedi spoiler review takes a deep dive into this wonderful, unpredictable new entry in the Star Wars saga.

Spoilers follow, obviously.

Luke Skywalker tried to warn us. When the full trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi hit the web, there was particular emphasis given to one of Mark Hamill's lines: "This is not going to go the way you think." It was almost as if both Luke and director Rian Johnson were dropping a not-so-subtle hint about what was in store for audiences with the new Star Wars film: whatever it is you imagined would happen; whatever fan theory you obsessed over between the release of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi; whatever assumption you made – chuck them all into the trash, because this is not going to go the way you think.

With The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson attempts to tell Star Wars fans that it's okay to let the past go, that staying firmly rooted in one safe space is limiting, and that there's an entire galaxy out there to explore. Word broke recently that Johnson will forge a brand new Star Wars trilogy removed from the ongoing Skywalker saga, and The Last Jedi almost feels like a test pilot for that, a film that says there's so much more to this universe than sacred texts. That may threaten some, but to me, it's the most exciting development in the Star Wars saga for quite some time.

J.J. Abrams' endlessly entertaining Star Wars: The Force Awakens approached the Star Wars saga the way a really great cover band recreates classic songs for an admiring audience. Abrams' film hit all the right notes, played all the old familiar keys, and reminded audiences why they fell in love with Star Wars to begin with. But if Abrams' film is like a collection of well-known hits from a really tight cover band, Johnson's is like jazz fusion – a blend of styles and moods that reminds you of something familiar before going off into wild, unexpected new places.

It would've been easy, and possibly more digestible, for Johnson to emulate The Empire Strikes Back with his film the way Abrams borrowed from A New Hope. Instead, Johnson takes what the audience knows and expects from Empire and flips it on its head. The Last Jedi isn't interested in recreating the past. But it's not exactly adhering to the logic of the villainous Kylo Ren, who suggests that Rey "Let the past die – kill it if you have to." Instead, it's saying that it's time to let the past be the past, and try to think about the future.

The last Jedi rey

May The Force Be With You, Always: The Story

The Last Jedi opens with a jaw-dropping space battle that kicks-off with surprisingly funny banter. As hot-shot pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac; ridiculously handsome) hails First Order flunky General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, practically breaking a tooth as he chews on the scenery) over a radio and stalls him with a funny back-and-forth, The Last Jedi is wasting no time in cluing the audience in to the fact that this is not going to be like any other Star Wars film you've seen before. That's not to say the other Star Wars films lack humor. In fact, they're loaded with it. But the other films in the saga tend to work their way up to the comedy. Last Jedi hits you with it right out of the gate.

The humor gives way to a visually stunning battle sequence, in which members of the weary, outnumbered Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) war against the might of the First Order, Star Wars' version of the alt-right. The staging of this sequence wastes no time in revealing director Rian Johnson's considerable skill. In wordless moments, Johnson is able to create remarkable pathos with a group of doomed characters we barely know anything about, particularly Veronica Ngô, playing Paige Tico. Paige is a brand new character, but don't get too attached to her, because she's about to meet her end. But rather than having her be a casualty in the background, The Last Jedi gives her a heart-pounding, emotional moment of heroism as she does everything in her power to drop a series of bombs. We know absolutely nothing about this character, yet the combination of Johnson's direction, Ngô's performance, Bob Ducsay's editing, Steve Yedlin's cinematography and that unbeatable, iconic music from John Williams hooks us. As Paige fiddles with the medallion on a necklace around her neck right before things go south, we're drawn in and and invested into this character, and we feel a surprising sense of loss when she dies.

From here, The Last Jedi rockets off into multiple directions, yet keeps coming back to the same place. Like Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, this isn't so much a movie about battle as it is a movie about retreat. The First Order has the Resistance on the ropes, and Poe, Leia and company are forced to run for their lives. An attack leaves Leia in a coma, and puts the mysterious yet stylish-as-hell Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) in charge. Poe finds himself constantly clashing with Holdo, to the point that he sanctions a secret side-mission to possibly undermine her. That mission involves former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), freshly awoken from the coma he was in at the end of The Force Awakens, and hero-worshipping maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), sister of Paige.

Finn and Rose jet off to the casino planet of Canto Bight, which looks like something out of a James Bond film, only with more aliens. The pair are trying to find a master codebreaker, but instead team up with the weird, possibly crazy DJ (Benicio del Toro, doing what I'm 99% sure is a Tom Waits impression).

Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is on an island on the planet of Ahch-To, trying to convince Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker to come out of retirement to help save the day. But Luke isn't the noble hero Rey had heard of from stories; instead, he's a bitter, angry loner who wants the Jedi to die once and for all. While on the island, Rey's Force powers enable to her communicate with Luke's nephew and former student turned bad guy, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Ren is still dealing with emotional issues – stabbing your father with a lightsaber can do that to a guy. Rey is convinced that she can turn Ren from the Dark Side to the Light, thus giving the Resistance a much-needed ally. Luke doesn't buy it.

And Luke is right.

All of these threads eventually converge into a big, emotional showdown where Luke finally faces his fears, Rey accepts her place as a Jedi, and Kylo Ren becomes the angry, bitter, unredeemable new leader of The First Order. And nothing will ever be the same again.

Last Jedi Kylo Ren

Waving Goodbye To The Legacy: What Works

First thing's first: I don't know if I'm ready to declare The Last Jedi as the best Star Wars movie, but it's certainly the best looking film in the franchise. Rian Johnson brings an auteur's eye to this film, and crafts something that looks and feels remarkably different than the other Star Wars films. Here, Johnson is borrowing from both Akira Kurosawa and Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger – this is a samurai film crossed with a classical musical. The Star Wars universe should, in theory, have no real limits visually, and Johnson embraces that with gusto. There's a scene set in the throne room of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) where everything as far as the eye can see – from the walls to the guards – are a shade of sharp crimson. Then there are the planets – the stark, secluded loneliness of Ahch-To; the glitz and glam covering up corruption on Canto Bight; the planet Crait, with its salty surface covering bright red earth underneath.

Then there are the directorial flourishes Johnson employs – slow-motion used during the opening bombing run; the audio dropping out when Holdo sacrifices herself by ramming her ship at lightspeed through a First Order fleet; the anime-infused climactic lightsaber duel between Ren and Luke. The Last Jedi is visually thrilling, full of shot compositions that will floor and thrill you in equal measure.

The climax of The Last Jedi involves a moment when Kylo Ren and Luke face off in the shadow of looming AT-AT walkers, and it's just about the most visually stunning composition that's ever been created in a Star Wars film. It's as if the very legacy of the franchise as a whole is looming over this one climactic moment; a moment where Luke wins not by besting Ren in combat, but rather by telling him that his warped beliefs are flawed, and that his line of thinking will never truly result in victory.

The visuals aren't the only things here that are going to surprise you. Right from the start, Johnson is unapologetic in his quest to shake things up. Anyone who formed fan theories since The Force Awakens hit theaters in 2015 will quickly find all their theorizing was for naught. While sequels are, by their nature, the very definition of fan service, The Last Jedi isn't interested in trafficking in it. This might be viewed with hostility by hardcore fans, but that's not what Johnson is trying to do here. Instead, he's trying to tell a story about both embracing and letting go of the past. In the process, he's sending a message to every Star Wars filmmaker who comes after him: there are so many new stories to tell here. Go out and find them.

In the book The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Johnson says that when it came to making The Last Jedi, recreating things from the past weren't as essential as forging the future. "At the end of the day, it's not the documents in the archives," the filmmaker says. "It's not old interviews. It's not research. The only research that really matters is us reaching back to when you were six and thinking, 'What were the things that made Star Wars feel real then – that inspired me, personally?' And then following your heart with those things."

"The vibe was always, 'We all know this world in our bones from growing up with it. But let's make something new and exciting in it,'" Johnson continues. "That was something that we all shared, and we all very naturally felt."

In the same book, Neal Scanlan, who created the creature effects for The Last Jedi, sums this approach up succinctly. "We're waving goodbye to the legacy that is the original films and prequels, even to The Force Awakens," Scanlan says. "Rian is taking this film to a place that I hope the fans adore and is as successful as any other place that we've been. But it's definitely a place that we haven't been before. And that's liberating, isn't it – because where does Star Wars go from here? What a fantastic way to say, 'Goodbye.' And 'Let's go somewhere else.'"

"Let's go somewhere else," is The Last Jedi's mantra. That iconic moment from the end of The Force Awakens, where Rey hands Luke his old lightsaber? It was a setup for a hysterical scene where Luke chucks it over his shoulder and walks away without a word. You thought Snoke was going to be the ultimate big bad? Nope – he gets killed halfway through this film. Rey and Kylo Ren are obviously going to team up, since Ren is still redeemable, just like Darth Vader, right? Absolutely not. Ren is too far gone, and now he's the official big bad. Surely, Rey's mysterious parents must be some iconic characters we already know, thus making her the prototypical chosen one! Wrong again: they were nobodies, and they're dead now. Every step of the way, Johnson and The Last Jedi are reminding you, "This is not going to go the way you think."

Is that a cheat? No doubt some will think it is. And that's their right. But personally speaking, I found this approach to be refreshing. I loved The Force Awakens, but I freely admit that it was a collection of greatest hits moments. While there's nothing wrong with that, there's something inherently more exciting about a film like The Last Jedi; a film that doesn't want to hold its audience's hand but rather wants to push them head-first into a new, possibly dangerous direction.

The Last Jedi Holdo

The Last Jedi is a film about legacy: both honoring it, and also tearing it down. Tearing down a legacy can be scary, but sometimes it's necessary to move forward. They say you should never meet your heroes because they will ultimately disappoint you, and that's true here when Rey meets Luke. Rey has had an idealized image in her mind of Luke as this great hero, but instead she finds a broken, bitter man. A man who rejects the Jedi because, when you really think about it, everything the Jedi did ended in failure. Luke is haunted by this failure, particularly the failure surrounding his training of Kylo Ren, AKA Ben Solo. Luke thought he could train Ben to become part of a great new generation of Jedi, but he was unable to help his apprentice resist the Dark Side.

To Rey, Luke was the key to everything. If she could just get him to come back to help the Resistance, maybe all the pieces would finally come together, and the world would start to make sense again. But it's not that simple. What's true in real life is apparently also true in mystical space operas: everything is complicated, and there are no easy answers. Hamill is so good here, delivering a quiet, dignified yet somber performance; embodying both strength and weakness in equal measure. I sincerely hope he'll be back in the next film in some capacity.

Rey isn't the only person who ascribed to the belief that Luke was the key to everything. Early in the film, Snoke snarls at Ren, "As long as Skywalker lives, hope lives in the galaxy." In Snoke's mind, if they can kill Luke, the Resistance will fall. But The Last Jedi rejects this ideology. Instead, it has Luke tell Rey that the Force is bigger than just the Jedi. That the Force belongs to everyone. And so does hope. One person like Luke might become a symbol of hope, but if you tear that symbol down, it doesn't mean the hope has vanished forever.  

At one point, Luke, frustrated with just about everything, decides to burn down the sacred Jedi tree on his island that also houses books of the sacred Jedi texts. Before he can make this happen, the ghost of Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) shows up for a surprise visit. It's worth noting here that Johnson and company have rejected the cartoony CGI Yoda so prevalent in the prequels for a good old fashioned puppet, and the results are delightful. Yoda uses his powers to burn the tree down himself, which instantly shocks Luke. "The sacred Jedi texts!" he cries. When Yoda asks if Luke ever even read them, Luke stammers. Here is the philosophy of the film as a whole: it's okay to leave what you once held sacred behind. At the same time, however, The Last Jedi isn't entirely letting the past go. In a reveal near the end that happens so subtly and quickly that I'm convinced a lot of people missed it, we see that Rey has saved the Jedi texts and stored them away on the Millennium Falcon.

Like Dunkirk, one of the messages of The Last Jedi is that retreat is not the same thing as surrender. At the end of Dunkirk, a soldier feeling ashamed tells an old, blind man: "All we did was survive." "Sometimes, that's enough," the blind man replies. The heroes in The Last Jedi aren't winning battles; all they're doing is surviving. But for now, that's enough. The Resistance will live to fight another day.

The spirit of this message is most embodied by the series' most exciting new character, Rose, played with irresistible charm by Kelly Marie Tran. Rose and Finn are drawn together by chance: she catches him trying to escape at one point – an action she finds repulsive. Rose's sister Paige died for the Resistance, and for someone to flee when the going gets tough is unthinkable. Rose is also the most moral character in the film. When she and Finn end up on Canto Bight, Finn is seduced by the planet's glitz, but Rose reveals the seedy underbelly of it all. This is a planet of war profiteers; the richest people in the galaxy are those who gleefully sell weapons to both the First Order or The Resistance; it doesn't matter who, as long as they get paid.

One of Finn's character traits is that he tends to run away. His whole arc in The Force Awakens began when he ran from the First Order. Here, too, he tries to run several times, but Rose keeps drawing him back in. So much so that in the film's big climactic moment, Finn decides to finally take a stand by sacrificing himself by flying directly into a battering ram. Here, at last, he's showing Rose that he's not a coward who flees. But curiously enough, Rose stops him, ramming her ship into his, endangering her life in the process. I'm sure people will take issue with this: after all, Finn was possibly going to save lives with his sacrifice, so wasn't it worth it? Not according to the philosophy of The Last Jedi, which is also the philosophy of Rose. When Finn asks her why she stopped him, she utters one of the most powerful lines in this entire goofy, exciting, dramatic franchise: she tells Finn that this is how they win: "Not by killing what we hate but by saving what we love." I wanted more of Tran in this film, but the time we get with her is wonderful. Just like Ridley in The Force Awakens, the actress is a great find, and deserves a huge career.

Speaking of Ridley, she's once again a welcome presence here, although she too seems to take a backseat so others can step out in front. This isn't entirely a bad thing, since the other characters are strong, but I still felt her absence more than I would've liked. Nonetheless, Rey remains one of the franchise's most interesting protagonists. Rey is super-powered, but she's been alone so long that she doesn't quite understand her own strength, or her own place in this ever-expanding universe. She had been counting on two specific things to show her the way: Luke, and being reunited with her parents. But remember: this is not going to go the way you think. Luke does help Rey slightly, but not as much as she might've liked. She turns away from him with the belief that she can bring Kylo Ren over to the Light, and that they can perhaps find solace in each other. Ren is open to part of that idea, but he has no intention of turning to the Light. He wants Rey to rule by his side in the darkness. Rey rejects this idea, and Ren destroys the last element of hope she has: he reveals the truth about her parents. A truth that he says she always knew deep down inside.

So who are Rey's parents? Are they Skywalkers? Are they Kenobis? Are they Solos? No. They're nobodies. They were a pair of scrappers who sold Rey for money as a child, and ended up dead in a junk heap somewhere. "You have no place in this story," Ren tells her. "You are from nothing. You're nothing." Buried in these cruel words is a spark of hope: Rey may be from nothing, but she certainly is more than that. "I will not be the last Jedi," Luke says at the end, and Johnson quickly cuts to a shot of Rey. She's the hope for the future. There's something so refreshing about this. A generation of people raised on Harry Potter, and other Hero's Journey stories, have come to accept the chosen one narrative. Hell, the original Star Wars itself was guilty of embracing this narrative device. But Rey isn't a chosen one, in the grand scheme of things. She's just someone who happens to be extremely Force sensitive, and she can help be part of a rebellion that will burn down the First Order.  

Kylo Ren was a fun bad guy in The Force Awakens. There, he was an angry, sort-of whiny Darth Vader fanboy who hides behind a mask he doesn't even need. The Last Jedi turns him into something more dangerous. At the start of the film, he smashes that mask of his, which is a clever way for Johnson to suggest that the character is rejecting his villainous nature and will eventually turn back to the Light. Instead, the character is just transforming into something else; something darker. Time and time again, The Last Jedi keeps hinting that Ren will be redeemed. But one of the coolest things this movie does is reject that idea, and reveal that Kylo Ren truly is a villain. He's a complex, conflicted villain, yes. But he's still a villain. After an incredibly badass fight scene where he and Rey fight off Snoke's guards, the audience is keyed up – ready for Ren to embrace Rey and help the Resistance. But Ren instantly smothers the flames of that idea. He doesn't give a shit about the Resistance, or his mother, Leia. He just wants to be in charge, and he wants Rey to help him. When she rejects him, he's apoplectic. Adam Driver handles all of this masterfully, creating the most interesting movie villain since Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. I'm sure there will still be fans who want to theorize that Kylo Ren could still be redeemed in the next film. But Leia pretty much puts the nail in this coffin when she tells Luke that she accepts the fact that her son is gone for good.

Speaking of Leia, almost every moment Carrie Fisher is on screen in this film is met with a sort of hushed reverence. I'm sad to say that Leia isn't featured nearly as much as I had hoped she would, and that the film ends without really resolving anything for her character. I know this isn't the film's fault – no one could've guessed Fisher would die before the new trilogy had been concluded. Yet it's still sad to realize that this is the last time we'll get to spend with Leia. it really seems clear now that Force Awakens was intended to be Han Solo's swan song, Last Jedi was Luke's, and that Episode IX would belong to Leia. We'll never have that happen now, which, quite frankly, sucks.

Still, Fisher makes the most of what she has here. Once again, the actress brings her droll, dry wit to the part, and it's a hoot to watch her banter with Oscar Isaac's Poe. "Get your head out of your cockpit," she tells him at one point. When Luke and Leia are reunited, the emotion of the scene is tempered by Fisher's delivery of, "I know what you're going to say – I changed my hair." (Note: as I'm sure anyone could've guessed, Fisher improvised this line.)

Another actress I wanted more of: Laura Dern. Dern's Holdo is a dynamite character, and The Last Jedi bumbles a bit by killing her off. That said, the character dies in one of the most heroic moments in the franchise, driving her ship at lightspeed through a First Order ship (the audience I saw the film with lost their goddamn minds at this scene; hooting, hollering and shaking the very ground of the theater itself. It ruled, folks). Holdo's glam looks contrasted with her hard-ass nature are perfectly handled by Dern, and she nails one of the most emotional moments in the film as well. As she and Leia part ways for the very last time, they both attempt to say "May the Force be with you," in unison, then stop, laughing. "You go, I've said it enough," Leia says (another line improvised by Fisher). "May the Force be with you, always," Dern's Holdo replies sweetly, her hand on top of Leia's. Reader, I wept.

I can't end the "what works" section without highlighting the stars of The Last Jedi: PORGS. I know there are porg haters out there, and frankly, I want nothing to do with these individuals. The porgs are delightful, cute animals, and I love them and want them to be protected at all costs. Long live porgs.

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So Good To Have You Back: What Doesn’t Work

This is going to be brief, because the good far outweighs the bad. That said, The Last Jedi has some issues. Pacing is the biggest one. This is the longest Star Wars film so far, and it feels like it. Johnson does his best to hustle from one location to the next, but the narrative has a tendency from time to time to drag.

The biggest example of this are the scenes on Canto Bight. Which is a shame, because a huge chunk of the film's message is established on these scenes. But the very nature of the story, with its many moving parts, inadvertently makes this section of the film feel like a diversion. We're much more interested in spending time with Luke and Rey.

Lumped in with the Canto Bight problems are Benicio del Toro's character, who is called DJ in press materials but never really has a name in the film. Del Toro's performance is fun – he's doing some sort of Tom Waits by way of Roger Rabbit thing, and it's pretty amusing. That said, the film never really finds much use for him. He eventually betrays Finn and Rose, and then vanishes from the film. I'm sure he'll be back for the next movie, but for now, the character was little more than a distraction.

The same, sadly, can be said for Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma. Once again, Phasma is a potentially awesome character who looks really cool, but like The Force Awakens, the film has no real use for her. She shows up near the end for a big showdown with Finn, which is entertaining, but also results in the character's death. Of course, there's always a chance she could come back, but if they're just going to bring her back for another one-note scene, maybe don't bother? Give Phasma something to do, damn it!

The biggest mistake the new franchise has made so far is wasting Lupita Nyong'o in a brief motion capture performance as Maz Kanata, but if you thought her appearance in The Force Awakens left something to be desired, you'll be pining for it here. I get that the script is crowded and they didn't have much room for Maz, but the character literally Skypes in a quick appearance here, and it just comes across as a waste of time. Nyong'o deserves better.

Johnson has said there are "extensive" deleted scenes for The Last Jedi, and I believe it, particularly when it comes to some loose threads. At one point, Luke tells Rey he's going to teach her "three things," but only gets around to telling her two – was there a third thing that get left on the cutting room floor? If not, maybe they should've just changed this line to "two things"? The same sort of issue arises with the Holdo/Poe subplot. Poe has problems with Holdo, which is fine on its own – he's spent years following Leia, so it would make sense that he clashes with his new boss. But Holdo's motivations are deliberately vague, and I have a feeling this is a result of deleted scenes. Holdo keeps her plan a secret from Poe, which leads Poe to actually mutiny (a fact that everyone sort of forgets about pretty quickly after it's over). I have a feeling that there was a scene or two where Holdo explains her decision to play things close to the vest by saying the Resistance suspected there was a First Order spy in their midst – the First Order is able to track The Resistance when they jump lightspeed, which you're not technically supposed to be able to do. But since such an explanation never comes up, it just makes Holdo's actions seem like a cheat to move the story forward, and I think Johnson is too smart a writer for that to have happened on purpose.

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Let's Go Somewhere Else

I feel like I've said a lot here, and yet I haven't said enough. I don't consider myself a huge fan of the Star Wars films. I appreciate the original trilogy, I loathe the prequels, I love Force Awakens, and I thought Rogue One was a huge disappointment.

Yet The Last Jedi is something truly remarkable. I've had a few days to mull over the film, and the more I think about it, the more I love it. Rian Johnson takes the saga to exciting, unexpected new places, and shows audiences that filmmaking within a big studio franchise need not be constricted, or travel down mundane paths. And I keep coming back to the final shot of the film: a boy used as slave labor on Canto Bight is going about his chores. He draws his broom to his hand with the Force with an ease and grace so unpracticed it's likely he doesn't even know he has the power.

Johnson frames this shot at a distance, with the boy looking up at the sprawling sky loaded with billions of stars – billions of planets, galaxies, stories yet to be told. The boy clutches his broom like a lightsaber. This is every kid who ever saw a Star Wars film and then raced out to reenact moments with friends, or action figures, or by themselves. The future is wide open for this individual, and those like him. The sacred texts of Star Wars will always exist in some form. We don't have to reject or ignore them, but we would do well to look up at the stars, and see where the future takes us. As Neal Scanlan said, "What a fantastic way to say, 'Goodbye.' And 'Let's go somewhere else.'"