11:40am PT by Aaron Couch
'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' — What the Critics Are Saying
The reviews Star Wars: The Last Jedi are coming in at light speed.
Anticipation for the film from writer-director Rian Johnson could not be higher, so all eyes have been waiting for reviews to drop ahead of the pic's Friday release. Here's what the critics are saying about The Last Jedi.
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy writes: "Loaded with action and satisfying in the ways its loyal audience wants it to be, writer-director Rian Johnson's plunge into George Lucas' universe is generally pleasing even as it sometimes strains to find useful and/or interesting things for some of its characters to do." He notes that at 162 minutes, this is the longest Star Wars film ever, and perhaps that's not a good thing: "Maybe the film is a tad too long. Most of the new characters could use more heft, purpose and edge to their personalities, and they have a tendency to turn up hither and yon without much of a clue how they got there; drawing a geographical map of their movements would create an impenetrable network of lines. But there's a pervasive freshness and enthusiasm to Johnson's approach that keeps the film, and with it the franchise, alive, and that is no doubt what matters most."
The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis praises Johnson for tackling "the difficult business of putting his fingerprints on a franchise that deliberately resists individual authorship," adding "Mr. Johnson largely succeeds despite having inherited an elaborate ecosystem with a Manichaean worldview divided between heroes (a.k.a. the Resistance) and villains (the First Order)." Dargis notes that that it rarely feels like Johnson is checking boxes you'd expect form this franchise. "About the only time it feels as if Mr. Johnson is checking Star Wars boxes is in some of the fights, especially during an impasse that turns into a slow-moving game of space chess," she writes. "He may be checking off some those boxes in an ode to George Lucas; whatever the case, Mr. Johnson only infrequently comes across as dutiful or as overtly brand-expanding (as with a troika of calculatingly cute tykes who unnervingly suggest this series really will go on forever)."
Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson praises the film for how Johnson handles The Force. "The Force is, to me, still silly Star Wars mumbo jumbo, but Johnson finds a way to underscore it with humanity, with a classical Greek rumble of true pathos. On that front, The Last Jedi is a pure success, accessing the molten core of its drama and grappling with it in nuanced ways," Lawson writes of the pic, adding, "Johnson expands the psychology of Star Wars, bringing shading and moral ambivalence to this mythic tale of dark versus light. No Star Wars has ever made a better case for the Force than this film, which finally mends the damage done by the midi-chlorian humbug introduced in the disastrous prequel films."
The Washington Post's Ann Hornaday has praise for Carrie Fisher's final performance as Leia, calling her work a "magnificent and wryly funny final turn." She highlights a moment between Leia and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), promising it will "bring a lump to Star Wars skeptics and superfans alike, as will frequent callbacks to the original films — including a particular whopper — that feel like Johnson offering a reassuring 'I got you' to a core audience that’s been burned too often in the past."
IndieWire's Eric Kohn declares the film is the "most satisfying entry in this bumpy franchise since The Empire Strikes Back in 1980." Kohn highlights the push and pull between Johnson's indie filmmaking roots and the world of blockbusters: "Though there’s plenty of discussion about the spiritual prospects of the force, and the philosophical justifications for fighting through dire times, Johnson doesn’t shy from calling out the entertainment value in play ('Permission to jump in an X-wing and blow things up?'), acknowledging that the series’ essence lies as much in the art of spectacle as in its epic world-building. From the astonishing light-and-color show in the opening minutes, the movie never lets up, communing with a cinematic tradition that has its roots in Lucas’ original ambitions in the avant garde."
Los Angeles Times' Justin Chang notes that like Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams, Johnson is a lifelong Star Wars fan, but one who doesn't let that get in the way of doing smart work. "[T]his time the nods feel less like obligatory acts of fan service than mythological reverberations, signaling a deeper, more intricate narrative intelligence at work," writes Chang. He notes that Mark Hamill's grizzled take on Luke Skywalker allows the actor to shine: "To a degree that even Fisher and Harrison Ford couldn't fully manage in The Force Awakens, Hamill's unexpected gravitas, offset by a faint twinkle of humor, acts as a kind of veteran's seal of approval, setting the tone for fine performances across the board."
NPR's Glen Weldon gives Johnson credit for tapping into what makes Star Wars great without the film feeling formulaic: "The Last Jedi is fun and fast, rollicking and suspenseful. It supplies us with all the things we expect — nay, demand — in a Star Wars movie, and manages to surprise us by revealing that this fictional universe, in which we've already clocked so many hours, can still surprise us." Weldon adds that the film is able to add interesting new layers the the classic light vs. dark battle of the franchise, writing, "There is a welcome attempt, in The Last Jedi, to depict characters and their motivations in less stark and increasingly nuanced terms."
Io9's Germain Lussier notes the film is able to land surprise after surprise: "Any time things seem to be going one direction, they don’t just zig or zag, they blast off into another dimension entirely. And it happens again and again," he writes, adding, "For example, 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."
The Associated Press' Jake Coyle called the film a "welcome disturbance in the Force." He points to Johnson's 2012 time-travel movie Looper for why it's not surprising he's been able to make a movie "full of clever inversions." But, Coyle adds, "before its considerable payoff, The Last Jedi feels lost and grasping for its purpose. Unlike the earlier films, the less tactile The Last Jedi isn’t much for world building, and its sense of place isn’t as firm. As an intergalactic travelogue, it’s a disappointment." Despite some complaints, he notes that with the writer-director "breaking down some of the old mythology, Johnson has staked out new territory. For the first time in a long time, a Star Wars film feels forward-moving."
New York Daily News' Ethan Sacks praises the daring narrative places the film goes, but slightly dings its running time, noting audiences will have to "sit through a solid, but not spectacular, first half of the 2.5-hour movie to see for themselves" where the film goes. "That’s about when the greatest lightsaber battle in Star Wars history kick-starts one of the most exciting cinematic stretches Earthlings have ever seen," he adds.
USA Today's Brian Truitt also noted the runtime, writing that the film "tries to do a little too much in its overlong 2½ hours, yet writer/director Rian Johnson still turns in a stellar entry that owes much to George Lucas’ original films while finding a signature vibe of its own and unleashing a few welcome twists." He also has much praise for Adam Driver's Kylo Ren, noting, "The Last Jedi is Driver’s to rule as much as Force Awakens was Ridley’s, and he’s awesome in it — Kylo is blockbuster cinema’s most magnetic and unpredictable antagonist since Heath Ledger’s Dark Knight Joker."
Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper has largely positive things to say, though he doesn't quite think it tops Force Awakens. "Although it doesn’t pack quite the same emotional punch and it lags a bit in the second half, this is still a worthy chapter in the Star Wars franchise, popping with exciting action sequences, sprinkled with good humor and containing more than a few nifty 'callbacks' to previous characters and iconic moments." He calls it a "stepping stone" to 2019's Episode IX, but notes, "Still, this is no mere placeholder of a story. Huge, important things happen to characters secondary and primary. Surprises big and small abound."
Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf calls The Last Jedi a "work of supreme confidence: witty, wild and free to roam unexplored territory. If J.J. Abrams’s franchise-rebooting The Force Awakens (2015) was the creation of a boy who lovingly dusted off old toys and put them through their expected poses, its superior sequel is made by a more inventive kid — maybe one with a sideline as his block’s most inspired D&D Dungeon Master — who asks: Why can’t a Rebel fleet be commanded by Laura Dern in a purple wig?"
Vulture's David Edelstein had particular praise for Johnson's directing of a key lightsaber battle: "He has the fighters go at it in breathtakingly long shots, their whole bodies charged. It feels like the first time since The Empire Strikes Back that the Force has extended to the director." He has praise for Ridley's Rey, but reserves highest marks for Driver's Kylo "who ranks with cinema’s most fascinating human monsters."
Time's Stephanie Zacharek acknowledges the multiple storylines proved challenging: "Johnson has to deal with the classic Star Wars franchise problems—you’ve got to find something meaningful for all these characters to do, and all of it must cohere into an at least semi-meaningful plot. At times the movie feels cluttered. How could it not be? But Johnson makes the most of individual scenes, shaping each with care and vigor."
Dec. 12, 5 p.m. Updated with additional reviews.