John McCreary’s review published on Letterboxd:
Alrighty, buckle in. this is gonna be a longer one. btw i know this movie has been talked to death but i gotta throw my hat in the ring after a 2nd viewing.
My initial reception was pretty lukewarm and for reference, I'll drop it right here. My 3 star take was coming from a sense of uncertainty about what I really wanted out of this franchise. Did I just want some reheated leftovers that tasted really good (Force Awakens)? Was I mostly comfortable with a complacent series that was afraid to take anymore risks? I'm not sure. I'll go on record and say that none of the mythos investigating, Luke arc, or side plots bothered me so much as the overall flow of it didn't sit right. That auteur driven focus took me by surprise for what I assumed would just be a normal sequel. So what changed?
Well, the movie lingered for me and the rest of the culture too in such a way that reception was so polarized. The discussion around what direction Johnson had taken was most interesting to me, not the stupid cherrypicking reddit/Cinema Sins arguments that argue about series continuity/spaceship utility (YEAH THIS IS HOW LOW FANBOY CRITIQUES REALLY GOT). I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest SW fan. I've always enjoyed them for the good and bad and I did grow up watching them, but I couldn't sit there and tell you that they have a special place in my heart because they don't. And so it's funny to me that the one movie that decides to buck trend for something unique is LOATHED by a section of its dearest fans as if breathing life into something old and familiar is a bad thing. I don't think it's a far stretch calling this the most divisive big budget studio release of the 2010s. It truly is, the discourse never ended.
So here's why I think it's great after a second viewing- This movie loves Star Wars and is so excited to play with the mold of it. And it does so in ways that I find genuinely inspiring as someone who loves movies. There's an evolution here that seeks to move beyond what we know and associate with the franchise in the way it reinforces that maybe we don't need to kill the past, but learn from its failures and reach even greater heights. If Force Awakens introduced great, new characters, then Last Jedi confirms that it's the people who are most important, not the mythologies or iconography- lightsabers, symbols, etc. And this thing really moves too, there was not a single stretch of any of it this time where I was counting the minutes until the next sequence, I just absorbed everything that was happening in each beat.
And to have a sequel like this challenge your preconceptions of what the subsequent movie is supposed to do is fun because midway through, you just have no idea where they're even wanting to take this anymore which is a blast to me. And I like that it's messier too as it lurches from side plot to side plot as everyone keeps making mistakes and having to recalibrate what they're even doing as they all travel in zigzags to the ending. I feel like there's an actual director behind this thing and not just a corporatized board of producers trying to calculate what will please audiences the most. The stuff that initially rubbed me wrong, I now love. Alright, here's a chunk of stuff I loved-
- Visually, it's probably the best one. Masterful compositions, gorgeous color palettes (throne room/salt planet/Luke's hideaway), the close ups.
- Luke's whole arc. Jedi hero to remote hermit wary of his faith to reaffirmed in his belief in the next generation. A total mythic figure: carrying up that fish, that beard, the way he traverses cliffsides.
- Kylo Ren's uncertainty and yelling "No, you're still HOLDING ON!" & "Blow that piece of junk OUTTA THE SKY!"
- The war profiteering from the 1%, this is really the first time we get some sociopolitical context of this new series. Also, DJ as a sort of centrist thief/codebreaker. "They blow you up today, you can blow them up tomorrow. It's just business."
- You think for a hot second Rey might actually join the First Order as she is a vessel without guidance.
- The Force is a living energy felt throughout the galaxy, anybody could have it and not have to be descended from special bloodlines, re: that ending.
- Everyone learns from failure: Poe, Finn, Rose, Leia, errrbody has something to take away from what happens.
this has gone on long enough so here's to the eventual disappointment of Rise of Skywalker!