Directed by Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi continues the sequel trilogy started by J. J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens, following the story of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and many more in a galaxy far, far away.
Set within hours of the last film, The Last Jedi quickly establishes its tense, high-adrenaline pacing and cinematic style with a high-stakes space battle and the looming might of the relentless First Order military. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), finds itself on the back foot and its fighters, X-wing ace Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) and stormtrooper-turned-ally Finn (John Boyega) scramble to find a solution before hope in the galaxy is snuffed out for good. At the same time, Rey takes the first difficult steps in her Jedi training under master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Along the way, Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke struggle to figure out their true destiny and role in a war-torn universe while space battles and lightsaber duels rage across the galaxy.
Director Johnson’s style marks itself as tangibly different from that of Abrams, with mixed results. Early on, after the first space battle, the film feels scattered and loose, and it’s not until over halfway through that The Last Jedi tightens up with good results. The Last Jedi continues the light and whimsical tone of The Force Awakens, again with hit-and-miss results; some humor brings much-needed relief and makes characters stand out, but otherwise, feels forced, silly, and sometimes disrupts a scene’s tone and tension. The movie could stand to lose half of its jokes and gags and still have a fair balance of tense versus relaxed.
The Last Jedi, unlike Episode VII, experiments with the Star Wars formula and delivers hard-hitting and emotional twists and developments that impact different regions of the cast and the fate of the galaxy as a whole. Most occur in the tightly-wound second half, and they give a sense of progress from The Force Awakens and provide intriguing setups for the upcoming Episode IX. Both villains and heroes take major steps forward and better define who they are and what they really want, providing payoff for several returning characters from The Force Awakens. The first half, however, plays it safe. Too safe, actually, relying on a number of sci-fi conventions and cliches to build toward the second half, and even the second and third acts continue some of the tired sci-fi ideas, making for a jarring contrast with the film’s bold and impactful plot twists.
The production quality is as high as ever. Every actor shines in their roles, from the tense but in-command Leia Organa to the reclusive Luke Skywalker to the conflicted and tormented Kylo Ren. The CGI, practical effects, and sets all feel alive and authentic, abandoning the prequel trilogy’s sterile and flat CGI landscapes for the same lived-in feel of the original trilogy and The Force Awakens, from the haphazard and home-made rebellion bases to the insidious glitter and glamor of the Canto Bight casino to an old rebel mining base on the salt desert world of Crait. The Last Jedi even introduces fascinating new aliens, such as the porgs (which resemble penguin/mouse hybrids) to the crystalline fox creatures on Crait to the herd of wide-eared racing beasts on Canto Bight. The Last Jedi expands the world and lore of the new Star Wars canon with these aliens and locales, and much more, sometimes feeling like padding, other times, showing essential new details to the lore.
Overall, , that, while suffering a padded runtime and a scattershot first half, vigorously carries viewers from The Force Awakens to the upcoming Episode IX in style.