'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Review: The Force Is Strong With This One

Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Director Rian Johnson takes over for J.J. Abrams in the bold and unexpected Episode VIII, which stars Mark Hamill and marks Carrie Fisher's final 'Star Wars' film.

All hail our new porg overlords! I have seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which means I've now pledged allegiance to Porg Nation. I'm only joking -- though I will be talking more about those adorable flying rodents in a moment -- but while trailers for Episode VIII have been heavy on the porgs, there is one line of dialogue in the previews, uttered by Luke Skywalker, that proves most prescient in the end: "This is not going to go the way you think."

J.J. Abrams may have played it fairly conventionally with The Force Awakens, garnering flack for retreading too much of the same ground as A New Hope while successfully launching the franchise again, so y'know, kudos to him, but The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson (Looper) ushers the galaxy far, far away into bold and unexpected directions. Even the things that feel familiar, feel a bit different.

The Mouse House and Lucasfilms have asked us to keep spoilers to ourselves and I will, which means I can't actually talk about all that much. The crawl is back, however, as is standard with trilogy installments but was absent from last's year's Rogue One, and reveals that the First Order now reigns, with Supreme Leader Snoke ordering his legions to go forth and seize the galaxy. General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and the Resistance must go on the run, but as long as Luke Skywalker lives, there will be hope in the galaxy.

Lucasfilm Ltd.

The Last Jedi is at once more broadly funny than any Star Wars movie before it, The Force Awakens included. Not only in the comic relief provided by the cutesiness of the porgs, either, though they are cute, with their glossy eyes and buzzing little animatronic bodies. (Come for the porgs but stay for the alien nun caregivers, who made me cackle.) This thing is packed with pratfall-level physical comedy and full-on bits. Is this the first Star Wars movie to include a "your mom" joke?

I'm going to give away one small spoiler here as an example, so if you want to avoid all plot points, skip ahead to the next graph. It's a scene that has been heavily previewed already, but I'm going to give away the gag. Just as the last film ended, we pick up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as Rey (Daisy Ridley) is handing him his old light saber. The moment builds, the music swells. Then Luke takes it and tosses it away over his shoulder, unbothered. It's unexpected, and unexpectedly very funny.

The flip side of that coin is that Last Jedi is perhaps one of the darkest Star Wars film to date. It is hard to imagine a film could match the stakes of Rogue One, but Johnson manages it. There are moments that are devastating, that add a brutal, gutting pathos to what could feel like a safety second film in an eventual trilogy. It's also just emotional, in the feel-good schmaltz that comes with any good Star Wars film, but also in no small part due to knowing Carrie Fisher, so commanding and natural as Leia, is no longer with us. There is a scene between General Leia and another female character that is so suddenly and sweetly touching that it took my breathe away.

Then there are ways Johnson plays this like so many franchises before. If the first movie in this three-piece set is meant to bring the core characters coming together, then in the second one, they go off on their own, down separate paths that see them spending considerable screen time apart. Which requires introducing a number of new characters: Kelly Marie Tran, winsome and eager as maintenance worker Rose Tico; Laura Dern, feminine and imposing as the purple-haired Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo; Benicio Del Toro, making choices as the mysterious DJ. With so many disparate threads, even over the course of a whopping two and a half hours runtime, you don't always get to spend as much time with certain characters -- like Rey, like Finn (John Boyega), like Poe (Oscar Isaac) -- as you'd like.

But it is all very exciting. The excitement of hearing the humming vwoom of a lightsaber, of the sweeping beauty of Steve Yedlin's cinematography, of an immersive chase sequence through a casino planet, amongst other enthrallingly-constructed set pieces, of seeing beloved characters onscreen once more, like Mark Hamill's now darker, quirkier Skywalker, and then seeing those characters reunite. The Last Jedi is different and sometimes truly bizarre and, at one point, I wondered if it might be divisive as a Star Wars film, even if it is a good movie. But by the final stretch, it's undeniably both -- and, in fact, not only a good Star Wars, but one of the best.