josh lewis’s review published on Letterboxd:
sorry folks... i love it so much. instead of the abrams approach of taking lucas' images and repurposing them as comforting echoes, johnson goes back to lucas' influences: kurosawa, lean, old WWII movies and all sorts of classical cinema from Wings to The Lady of Shanghai, and uses them to explore ideas that instead lovingly confront the history of Star Wars. he takes the myths and locates the wounds; the kids wrestling with the traumas, responsibilities and incomplete structures that a previous generation passed onto them, seeking answers in reflections. ("you're not alone. neither are you.")
the film itself is rather clumsy, strangely-structured and messily lurches from sequence to sequence but instead of doing so out of flat, corporate-mandated exposition, it does so out of a bleeding heart for its characters who themselves are wrestling with imperfection. with realities that don't conform to the images they've imagined, the ones we've been shown before. (shoutout to how this manifests even in the action, driver's lumbering physicality while swinging a lightsaber is some of the most beautifully awkward choreography in all of mainstream cinema.) it's important that no arc here is a straight path but a series of failed plans and seemingly inconsequential detours that build to a collective of actions by people just trying their best with the feelings and histories that inform them.
delivers maybe my favourite performance of the series as jaded, nihilistic professor luke, taking the once optimistic liberal war hero and weighing him down with decades of personal and political failure (an idea lucas himself was interested in if the depiction of jedi and institutions in the prequels are any indication), the "shame and consequence" of a single moment of weakness. it's a complex depiction of fear and regret and the closest this series has gotten to Empire Strikes Back's moving exploration of the bad decisions and pain we're willing to endure for our friends. as badly and righteously as you might want to the past cannot be killed, you can burn it to the ground but you'll still have to carry it with you and eventually pass it on. a battlefield bleeds red but it all comes back to kids and stories... "only in dreams." RIP to the next person who tries to sneakily fit idiosyncratic images and genuinely interesting character work into one of these.