Ross Bonaime’s review published on Letterboxd:
Star Wars made me appreciate this series.
The Force Awakens made me genuinely curious about this series for the first time.
The Last Jedi made me love Star Wars for the first time.
As I rewatched the entire Star Wars series, what I realized is that everything I loved throughout this series is done at its best in The Last Jedi. I love the emotional tug-of-war of the prequels, showing the light and dark within people in the original trilogy, and the depth of sacrifices shown in Rogue One. Yet this is all done beautifully in The Last Jedi, a film that is all about the gray between the white and black decision-making of the past.
For me, maybe the most exciting moment in any Star Wars film is Kylo Ren saying that they need to "let the past die." Star Wars has always been so reverent of its heroes, its own legacy and its past, so to hear a character question why they can't move past that is something I've always wanted in this series. Instead of giving viewers the same light side vs. the dark side battle, Johnson is far more interested in questioning the validity of thinking in such absolutes and shows the light and dark in all of its characters. For the first time with The Last Jedi, Star Wars feels like it wants to break free from the mold.
I love everything Johnson is trying to do with this installment, from the casino planet where we learn the larger political and economic issues of an intergalactic war that have been completely ignored so far, to simply crafting some of the most beautiful set pieces in the entire franchise. This is easily the most gorgeous looking of all the Star Wars films and it's not even close. The way Johnson uses the color red throughout the film and how it pops is so much more interesting than the constant white and black interiors. Again, Johnson is trying to move away from such monochromatic thinking.
I also find these characters so fascinating because of the internal struggles going on. It makes complete sense that Luke Skywalker would question the way of the Jedi after all that he had been through and we can see the wheels turning whenever Kylo Ren is torn between the light and the dark. Star Wars has mostly been a series about big decisions and actions, but The Last Jedi makes the insular moments just as important.
In a recent interview, Johnson said this, which I think gets to why I find The Last Jedi to be my favorite film in the Star Wars franchise:
"I want to be shocked, I want to be surprised, I want to be thrown off-guard, I want to have things recontextualized, I want to be challenged as a fan when I sit down in the theater…What I’m aiming for every time I sit down in a theater is to have the experience [I had] with ‘Empire Strikes Back,’ something that’s emotionally resonant and feels like it connects up and makes sense and really gets to the heart of what this thing is and in a way that I never could have seen coming."
That's exactly it. I don't want to see the same thing over and over, I want to be thrown off and overwhelmed by my expectations. I want to fall in love with a series all over again because of how fresh and new it can all feel, despite decades of stories. I want new blood to revitalize everything that has seemed old.
I think so many people hate The Last Jedi because they believe it tries to ignore what they loved about the series and move past that. But I think the central argument in The Last Jedi is should a person completely turn their back on the past, or should they grow from their past and become stronger because of it? Kylo tries to constantly move forward, while in the end, Rey and Luke both learn from their past and become better people by learning from their mistakes. The Last Jedi's main argument is that the past matters, and that's shown clearly in the perfect conclusion to The Last Jedi, where three kids recount the stories of Luke Skywalker, as one of them goes off on his own, looks to the stars and feels The Force inherent in him.
Stories like these matter. The legacy of these stories will likely be felt for centuries to come, and Johnson knows that and for the first time, challenges the preconceived notions and plays around with the absolutes of the past in what I think is the most compelling stories in this entire franchise. People might not appreciate The Last Jedi for what it is now, but decades from now, I imagine it'll be the film that kids looking out at the stars and wondering what's out there will be recreating.