This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Autumn Faust’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
So much metaphorical and, resultingly, structural slippage that it finally feels as if The Force has been cinematically expressed. Space is collapsed in much the radical style of this series of NFLshop-dot-com ads, eliciting a kuleshovian meta-awareness from the component characters of these "jump cut space, match cut face" shots. This matters more internally to the film, however, it never quite diving back into the pastiche roots of A New Hope or interrogating its own myth in any other real way (though if you ask Empire Redux Wanters you might hear different). No, this is an Original Story, but when you're already wading this deep into the nostalgia pool it almost feels a little ill-fitting to attempt this. There is a great deal of talk and expression of heritage in the film, though its connective tissue fails to deconstruct or slyly mimic any dramatic heritage of the originals. Of course this is the opposite of my Force Awakens complaint, who this film basically switched off with in terms of mis-pairing material with approach. Force Awakens was a sincere film of pure, unabashed joy to be adding to the universe that failed to add anything, and this film is a brooding, if prone to giddiness, meditation on the series' central dramatic/spiritual thesis with very little of the original material to work with. Luckily this second abstract mechanical issue is less of a sin when its aim even sans reflexive diegesis is so compelling in and of itself. Also the original story here isn't actually very good or original.
The film's own abstractions are shocking for a property this big. As Neil succinctly put it, "The Force Is Montage". Johnson also has a knack for finding the most abstracting bits of dialogue and stitching them together into an undercurrent of ambient manichean conflict, in much the same way one imagines the Force, over the course of what is largely a mainstream feature. The first series dramatization of a character's journey from dark to light also finds a narrative foothold for the filmic Force fluidity, though it's only a sidenote in the film's most compelling character dialogue, between Rey and Kylo. Luke's full circle finale also feeds into the spirit of balance the force cultivates. Also the most purely beautiful work in the franchise, the film finds an Andersonian conflict between its naturalist particular details and its technology, or its fantasy and its sci-fi. Explosions, rain and lightsabers are pitted against the smoothness of lasers and vehicles in parallel narratives shot respectively in cloudy celluloid exteriors and against space greenscreen. High drama occurs whenever the two slip past each other (the rebel cruiser bridge explosion, the Snoke confrontation, Luke's last stand). The characters less in touch with the force in the series have always been more in touch with the material aspects of its universe. This priveliging of the transcended leaves the requisite (relatively) atheistic half dangling, though these weaker, quippier sections of the film do have this flowing through them, charging their drama with spiritual energy even if it feels it'd fall totally flat without it. This is, in the end, essentially a full blown religious film but without a direct earthly counterpart. As Ignatiy alluded to, this is yet another film this year with John Boorman as a major influence. If nerds had any real intellectual inquiry for their fetishes they would love this.