DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
After a superbly enjoyable collage of everything Star Wars in The Force Awakens, Rian Johnson gives us a proper film. Not a fan service driven reboot, but a film with stakes, grey areas and a firm grasp of its essence and the universe it resides in.
One could argue that this film suffers from the Star Wars formula as much as all of them and you'd be right. There's a big ship that needs to be destroyed, the small battles are alternated with the big ones, etcetera etcetera. But, like with most films in the series, it is a comfortable fit. Johnson's script understands how the mechanics work without pandering to its audience by merely winking at nostalgic memories. No, Johnson creates new memories firmly rooted in the legacy of the franchise, one of fantastical operatic fun escapism.
The Last Jedi effortlessly picks up where The Force Awakens left off and after a fantastic opening sequence we meet up with Rey and Luke, the meeting that I'm guessing most people were looking forward to most.
And in that meeting Johnson has Luke do something that A. had me in stitches for about ten minutes and B. perfectly embodies what Johnson is setting out to do here. Out with the old and in with the new.
And that is essentially what The Last Jedi is about. Not so much about finding balance yet again, but about finding the spark needed to do so. That sentiment is a perfect thread to run through the middle part of a trilogy, one that connects a bookend we know and makes us look forward to the potential of an unexplored one. It is the reason why the middle parts are the most difficult to make and why they are so good when they work as well as The Last Jedi does.
Balancing the fun stuff with the epic stuff is a tightrope act that Johnson apparently has no problems with. Sure, some of his character work is a bit clunky (especially around Finn) and time feels a bit wonky at times, but most of the stuff he pulls off here more than greys that out. He actually manages to find an element of unpredictability in this formula that goes beyond the 'I am your father' variety. By having events not always play out the way you'd expect them and by having characters do things you might not necessarily see coming, Johnson creates urgency, investment and a genuine feeling that something is at stake.
As expected the cast fit their roles a bit more snugly, with Isaac getting more screentime allowing him to flesh out Poe a lot better. The central protagonist/antagonist relationship portrayed by Driver and Ridley is essential and works brilliantly. This relationship combined with the interjection of some clever minor roles and their function in the narrative creates some unexpected grey areas in the Light/Dark side universe. This is a welcome addition. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't create depth, it creates width, allowing characters to behave differently than you've come to expect.
And Hamill owns every single second he's on the screen and it is the most glorious thing ever. And yes, I welled up in that scene where Luke meets his sister, which real life has slightly shifted to Mark meeting Carrie.
What's left to discuss are the visuals about which I'll be brief. They're stunning. Johnson manages to create a certain tangibility so often missing from films like this. There is meticulous attention to detail throughout, the action sequences are crisp and easy to follow and there are a couple of compositions that are breathtakingly beautiful.
Even though this film isn't about balance per sé, it is exactly that which makes this film so great. It is perfectly paced, its daunting running time whizzes by in a flash. and the balance between internal and external turmoil is exquisitely done, an essential component in any opera.
The Last Jedi is thrilling, hilarious, exciting and gorgeous. In short, it's the Star Wars film we've been waiting for.