Review: Rian Johnson's 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' is Bold But Off-Balance

December 12, 2017

The Last Jedi Review

Written and directed by filmmaker Rian Johnson (of Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper), Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the second entry in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, following J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Upon its release in late 2015, The Force Awakens received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and praise from fans worldwide for restoring the saga's former glory while injecting it with fresh blood. As beloved as Episode VII was, however, one criticism continued to appear: it was too safe; a rehash of George Lucas' 1977 film. If Abrams' movie was too safe, then Johnson's follow-up may prove too risky.

Picking up moments after Episode VII's cliffhanger ending with Rey finally meeting Luke Skywalker, The Last Jedi begins with the evacuation of D'Qar, home to the Resistance's secret base. After the destruction of their superweapon, Starkiller Base, the First Order attacks the planet, with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) leading the charge with their massive battleship, the Dreadnaught. General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), Commander Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and the Resistance fleet narrowly escape total annihilation by jumping to hyperspace, but, to paraphrase Han Solo, they're not out of this yet.

Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega) has recovered from the injuries he suffered in The Force Awakens and is eager to find his friend, Rey (Daisy Ridley). The Force-sensitive scavenger from Jakku has been sent to Ach-To, a planet of oceans and archipelagos, to find Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last Jedi. While Rey implores the broken, disgraced Jedi Master to train her in the ways of the Force, the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) must suffer the consequences of failing his master, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). And that's just the first 15 minutes of Johnson's 152-minute movie, the longest Star Wars film yet.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

As is the case with every Star Wars episode, The Last Jedi's strength lies mostly in its characters and their relationships to one another. This time around, we're introduced to Resistance maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and her sister Paige (Veronica Ngo), an anonymous codebreaker (Benicio del Toro), and the Resistance's unwavering Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern). Johnson uses these new characters to further explore established ones, pairing Finn with Rose for a mission to the exotic and opulent city of Canto Bight, a Las Vegas-esque destination for the galaxy's wealthiest 1%, filled with casinos and racetracks. X-Wing ace Poe Dameron, meanwhile, has to learn the difference between being a hero and being a leader and finds himself at odds with the lavender-haired Holdo.

These side quests, while fun and inventive, distract from the centerpiece of the film, which is the mysterious connection between Kylo Ren and Rey, and their encounters with Luke Skywalker. After killing his father in The Force Awakens, the former Ben Solo is more conflicted now than ever. The Dark Side devotee struggles with his place in the universe, as does his Light Side equivalent, and both have complicated relationships with their would-be masters. There are so many layers to Driver's performance – wonderful, unpredictable flourishes of hate, compassion, humor, and incredible strength. His connection to Rey is propulsive, and his troubled past with Skywalker reshapes the character in exciting ways. Speaking of Rey, Ridley gives emotional depth to the character as we see her tested, not only by Luke, but by Kylo and Snoke as well.

As great as Driver and Ridley are, though, The Last Jedi is all about the Skywalker twins. Anchored by some brilliant, emotionally rich performances from Hamill and Fisher, Johnson explores uncharted territory with these classic characters and challenges our decades-long relationship with them by giving them a new dimension. Fisher gives us a beautiful final turn as the Princess of Alderaan, while Hamill's fallen hero is a radical departure from the man we knew at the end of 1983's Return of the Jedi. It will be interesting to see how the fandom reacts to this film and the choices Johnson has made with not only the characters but the mythology as a whole. Being this bold, and straying this far from the safety of what's come before, provides some jaw-dropping moments of awe, but leaves too much room for disappointment.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Like Kylo Ren, I find myself conflicted on The Last Jedi. There are things I absolutely love about it, then there are beats that don't sit right with me. If you're expecting a film that unlocks the mysteries of the Force or delivers shocking revelations, you may find yourself underwhelmed. The Last Jedi is not a film that provides answers, but possibilities. For all this talk of balancing the Force, we don't gain any real insight into what that means, or how the Jedi may have misinterpreted the Prophecy of the One. There are more mind-blowing revelations in a 22-minute episode of Star Wars Rebels than there are in this movie, and that's a bummer. We're told about all this cool stuff – the Knights of Ren, the Unknown Regions, ancient Jedi texts – but none of it matters. It's all just world-building for the sake of world-building, so Disney and Lucasfilm can push a series of novels, video games, or comic book mini-series to flesh out the details of the story that the film couldn't be bothered with.

I loved The Force Awakens and left the theater on such an emotional high, excited for what was to come. This time around, I left the theater filled with doubt. Johnson shows us things we've never seen before in a Star Wars film – some work, and some don't. I appreciate his ambition in wanting to do something different, and I admire his confidence in playing fast and loose with something so beloved – Abrams was respectful to a fault, content to stay inside the lines Lucas had drawn so many years ago – but The Last Jedi takes too many risks and provides too few rewards. The movie seems to be more interested in subverting expectations, even if it's at the cost of investment in the story. There are several character beats and action sequences that exist only as misdirection. It's the cinematic equivalent of The Boy Who Cried Wolf – you can only fake-out the audience so many times before you lose their trust, and when you go for another big, powerful moment, it isn't as effective because you've conditioned the audience not to believe it.

Even as I write this, I'm still trying to make sense of my feelings about this film. I need to see it a few more times to fully process everything. Maybe the past two years spent theorizing about where this new trilogy would go created impossible expectations that could never be fulfilled. I fully admit that I may be unfairly judging this movie by what it isn't – what I wanted it to be – than what it really is. Despite the issues I have with certain elements of the story, there's still a lot to love here. The cinematography by Steve Yedlin is stunning, the creatures and locales are inspired, and John Williams' score is thrilling and moving in all the right ways. The film's humor works, for the most part, and the action set pieces are exhilarating. One particular sequence involving Snoke's Praetorian Guard is an absolute all-timer that I can't wait to revisit.

Overall, I really liked this entry in the ongoing Skywalker saga, and I'm excited to see where these characters go in J.J. Abrams' sequel Episode IX and beyond. I only hope that we get a conclusion to the saga that – like the Force – can achieve balance, by staying true to the characters we know and love while expanding the universe in ways that feel organic and earned.

Adam's Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Follow Adam on Twitter - @AdamFrazier

Find more posts: Review, Sci-Fi, Star Wars



Funny, the first reviews said "mindblowing" then this one says the opposite. I know there are "fans" and there are fans. Some get it and some don't, they just think they do. I'm hoping Johnson isn't one who thinks he does. Maybe Hamill was right.

CyraNOSE on Dec 12, 2017


The biggest trend right now in review media is to kill the hype behind a movie. Not saying this review did that, it's just something to be aware of. Gets the clicks, as they say.

DAVIDPD on Dec 12, 2017


I certainly didn't intend it that way, but you're not wrong; hate sells. That being said, I imagine seeing it at the world premiere with the entire cast and a hyped up audience creates an atmosphere in which you can't help but love what you're seeing. At a private press screening in a half-empty theater, it's a different vibe. I'm looking forward to seeing it with a real audience on Thursday night to see how they react.

Adam Frazier on Dec 12, 2017


well its not like you said its a bad movie.. it sounds like something i should go see and decide for myself.. personallly i liked rogue one more than the force awakens... but hence thats the problem with taking risks... its just more polarizing that way... no one hates vanilla but its not many peoples favorite flavor

Derek NOLA on Dec 12, 2017


You gotta see it with the fanboys!

deerosa on Dec 14, 2017


I read the first 15 lines and liked the review. Will read the rest once I'll watch it.

tarek on Dec 12, 2017


Hurry up and do the Fett movie so I can be done with SW, once and for all.

RPD on Dec 12, 2017


The massive hype build-up shows in the first reviews, this seems more balanced to me. Not concerned on spoilers either, partly due to it following the themes of the OT so much again like TFA. Not a fan-boy of the PT, but they did show some originality despite its many flaws. The world building for the sake of it makes me angry, sure the PT did it to a point and left out huge chunks of the story, but on the other hand it moved the story on quickly to the conclusion of RotS. I will find it hard to see over the festive period due to work and family, but I must admit I've gone from eager to not that fussed to rush to view.

Lewis on Dec 12, 2017


I'm eager to see it again, now that my expectations are in check. I might be able to enjoy the movie more for what it is instead of what I wanted it to be.

Adam Frazier on Dec 12, 2017


Many are saying the same thing. Many seem to enjoy it a second time around. Is it the chances that Rian are doing that are mixing up folks?

deerosa on Dec 14, 2017


Not liking risks? Now i want to see it even more. 😉

oliveitor on Dec 12, 2017


4/5 is good enough for me!

DAVIDPD on Dec 12, 2017


I liked it. I did not love it. Still a good movie. Way too much info being thrown into the movie. Not enough fight scenes. And it's way to long. You are gonna be sitting in a movie theater for over 3 hours.

tyban81 on Dec 12, 2017


Was it entertaining for the whole duration or most?

Brandon Cole on Dec 13, 2017


It's entertaining throughout, but I think as fans we expect every last scene to mean something, when the middle is more about building and giving the characters moments to connect. This may bother some, but I think the best part about the movie is that it's very entertaining throughout from start to finish.

Alex Billington on Dec 13, 2017


Yeah, it really kind of flies by - it might have *too much* going on, ha.

Adam Frazier on Dec 13, 2017


Thanks Alex! That's exactly what a 2nd film has to be in a trilogy first.

Brandon Cole on Dec 13, 2017


I totally agree with alex here.

deerosa on Dec 15, 2017


I do agree that any anticipated film should be watched with a crowd if the draw is strong enough. So I hope the 2nd viewing is more to your liking! I'll be back to read your review after my initial viewing as well!

Brandon Cole on Dec 13, 2017


I got the chance to see it last night at the European premiere. It was a great night (and my first premiere) but it certainly didn't offer me any real emotional satisfaction. Yes, it was entertaining, there were some moments when I gasped out loud at how cool something was or clapped at an action that a character did yet it did feel a little baggy in the middle. There was some rather heavy handed virtue signalling within it where you just felt the creep of being educated/lectured to rather than being entertained. There were also a couple of scenes where the credibility of characters abilities were a little strained. As I said it had some memorable moments but for me it wasn't as mesmerising and raw as Empire or as rewarding as Return.

Payne by name on Dec 13, 2017


Just saw it today and all I can say is: Ryan you did it ! He really escaped from the curse of following what SW is. He made the greatest Star Wars, by making something on it's own in the SW universe. You literally cannot predict what will happen or will it go one way or the other. It has emotion and humor like no SW before it, never juggling between the two in a way where it would feel stupid or of course. I will stay out of spoiler territory for now and return after it screens more to give my highs and lows on things, but overall it rocked ! *** SPOLIERS AHEAD *** Sure thing that it had problems, no movie is perfect, especially when you are doing something like SW where you need to hit almost everyone's expectations. Thing that people dislike about this one is that it was a great movie, but not a great SW movie, since it wasn't going the cliche road like every rest of the movies did. JJ did that with Force Awakens, he stayed true to the legacy and made "A New Hope" for our era. Which wasn't at all bad, he clearly laid down the foundations, but what I like about Ryan's approach is pretty much sumed up with a line from Kylo: "Let the past die, kill it if you have too ! ". That's what Ryan did. He cleared up everything from what we are used to and made path for Kylo and Rey. Since to me, they are at the core of all this new SW trilogy and they need more resolution then any other presented character. Not to say others don't matter, but these two are the driving force and all the connections between them with the force, that was very powerful to me. In no other SW movie have we seen such representation of the Force, it was merely, again a joke from Ryan, lifting rocks and stuff ... he's even mocking with what was prior, but never in a way it would damage it. I really liked the fact that Luke actually made the wrong choice. That he was the one who destroyed Ben Solo and set him on the Kylo Ren path. He didn't even gave him the chance to reconsider, he just thought best to end him, so he did went to the dark side even for a brief moment. What I didn't like about this movie though was that it could have given more lightsaber combat between Luke and Kylo in the end. This could have been done by cuttting a lot of unnecessary middle scenes with Finn and the search for the keys to the ship. This was probably what averted a lot of fans, including me. All I could think of was, time for a showdown that will go in history, Luke against his former apprentice. The scenery here was as epic as you could hope for, the way the sunset was caught and this SW certainly had one of the most beautiful cinematography from any other SW film ever. That aside though, this battle need more time and when they actually showed Luke doing this from another planet, that was the moment when they showed just how powerful he became, and the way they send him out, resemblance when we first saw him gazing in the horizon in New Hope. He came full circle with an iconic send off. You can say there were plot holes, we never actually came to knowledge about who Snoke was, except really powerful with the Force. But I think we will come to it in the next one, probably in some of Kylo's memory. Again, this movie had flaws, but still for the longest Star Wars, it was moving with light speed and I never felt a moment, where I was bored or anything, and most of all it explored our main characters and gave them their own momentum. I can't wait to see how JJ will end this, but I cannot be more happy that Ryan has a plan for his own trilogy, and here I pray that Disney won't interfere to much with it, since I think this time he will execute something even greater explore much more of what this universe has to offer.

aleks_989 on Dec 13, 2017


Agree with you here Aleks

deerosa on Dec 15, 2017


You sure you didn’t walk into Thor by accident?

Nemesis on Dec 15, 2017


I have to disagree. I believe that Gareth Edwards made the greatest film next to empire with Rogue One. Rian had so many problems with the film with plot holes and continuity that it really hurt my heart as a SW fan. There were great things no doubt, but there was major issues that made no sense to the plot, story line and cannon.

Chris McDermid on Dec 16, 2017


Saw the midnight preview in the UK, I'm a huge Star Wars fan and I almost walked out on this turgid over long piece of garbage. Far too many forced comedy bits, cutesy stuff and minority box ticking. Its way too long and no amount of great visuals can mask that.

ade73(UK) on Dec 13, 2017


Is Snork lukes grandfather??

LV 426 on Dec 14, 2017


Sounds like this movie starts off great has a mediocre middle act and then balls to the wall 3rd act. Looking forward to this tonite. Love the fact that many are saying they have to see it again to process it. Rian Johnson took some chances and it is polarizing to say the least. I thought the Force Awakens was just ok, re-hash Star Wars that played it to close to Lucas Style. I loved Empire and it was not directed by Lucas ( Irvin Kirschner did a fantastic job of it!). I also loved Rogue One , better than Awakens. I can see this movie falling between Empire and a new Hope easily. Thanks for the review Adam.

deerosa on Dec 14, 2017


Thanks for your opinion, I will let you know when I actually see it this evening.I did the same with Justice League , everyone bashed it until I saw it. I enjoyed that movie, not a Nolan film but I took it for what it was , a comic book movie.

deerosa on Dec 14, 2017


Movie is polarizing for sure. I enjoyed it and the american audience fandom did as well.

deerosa on Dec 15, 2017


I tend to find polarizing things the most rewarding. Just because it's so unexpected than the usual.

Brandon Cole on Dec 15, 2017


Seeing it again tonight and again Sunday in IMAX 3D so we'll see then where it sits for me. Right now, I would say I liked TFA and Rogue One more.

Adam Frazier on Dec 14, 2017


OK, saw the fan event last night and was slightly under dressed. Didn't realize it was a fan event but got to see it at 6pm. In regards to the film. I loved and enjoyed the movie. Now seeing it with a packed house full of die-hards enhances the experience. There were many chances that they took in the movie. Many of them worked but some just didn't. Some moments were thrown away. Some moments would have been better if they followed through with it and some didn't because they didn't followed through with it. ( Sounds confusing but you will see). I think there is a battle in this movie between the old guard and the new guard as well while everything else is going. With Leia and Luke getting more screen time along with Kylo Ren /Rey the movie was trying to find a balance between them. ( No Pun Intended, well maybe just a little) Pro's - Intense battle sequences/Intense Saber Fights/Timely Humor ( my theater was rolling and having a good time). Chances that pay off/I loved snokes look/Light Saber battle towards the end Con's - Middle of the movie decides to turn into something I wasn't really caring about. Note to self ** ( used the restroom when they get to the casino, trust me on this one). Two Corny scenes that didn't sit well with me. Mary Poppins WTF!!!! For me I am going to see it again in IMAX 3D tomorrow. I loved it and l am looking forward to seeing it again. I can see where people can be pissed off about the films direction. In my opnion I liked this film better than TFA and slightly better than Rogue One and I loved Rogue One. Empire/A New Hope/Last Jedi/ are my top three just narrowly beating out Rogue One.

deerosa on Dec 15, 2017


Off balance is correct. Seemed all over the place. The movie also had a Rogue One tone to it too. Very little Sith/Jedi moments in a 2 1/2 hour movie? C’mon! Also just tired of seeing weak SithvsJedi battles. When is someone going to finally kick this up a knotch? I want to see Obi-wan vs Darth Maul battles. Let’s see more saber and force action!

Nemesis on Dec 15, 2017


I miss Darth maul... The greatest character in the star wars universe, and they killed him in the first picture hahaha.... Fools they are

ari smulders on Dec 16, 2017


Rian made it his own. It was different, and I liked that. Seems things we saw in TFA were red herrings. I liked that. Looking forward to seeing what JJ does to close this out.

Quanah on Dec 15, 2017


*** SPOILER WARNING*** I have some major issues and I am very conflicted as a fan. 1.) So Kylo and two tie fighters are kicking the crap out of the Mon Calamari cruiser, and are called back due to "no support". So as a result the First Order fleet ends up pursuing the Resistance fleet for eight hours. All the while Finn and Rose meet with Poe, hatch this plan, travel to another planet, are arrested, break out, enlist help, travel back in the span of that time. That being said again they show the scene with the cruiser being tore up by three TIEs. Again the Star Destroyers cannot catch them, each Star Destroyer carries two wings of 72 TIEs. The Mega Class Carries 10000 TIES, and can build them. Why would they not send out the literally thousands of Tie fighters, Bombers, Gunships that all the destroyers hold to finish them? A tad insulting to our collective intelligence. Then the bridge is destroyed Leia sucked out into space in explosive decompression, and yet her dress, hair and body are not marred in anyway. They go through and shoot this beautiful and heart wrenching scene with her floating in space dead.... and then bring her back to be useless for the rest of the film? Then another chance to let her go out as a hero, and they instead kill the new Admiral instead who performs a maneuver that kills almost the entire First Order Fleet... why did they not do this from the get go while they still had two other ships that could have gotten away with everyone? 2.) The enormous slap in the face that Rey's parents are drunks and "nothing". After all the magnificent fan theories out there. 3.) So remember the command bridge is destroyed sucking Leia out, but yet it is intact later when Poe takes it over, and then the Admiral does her suicide run.... I can go on.... I did love the movie, but those things bother me so much, it just feels so plot holeish. I am just tired of this lack of polish and detail, like a "here lets feed the nerd this" kinda approach. Kennedy and Disney could learn something about how to make a terrific Star Wars movie from Gareth Edwards.

Chris McDermid on Dec 15, 2017


Sir with respect, you spend too much time worrying about Star Wars. We used to have dancing Ewoks. Just go with it, it's only a movie for the family.

Mark on Dec 16, 2017


"Sir with respect, you spend too much time worrying about Star Wars. We used to have dancing Ewoks. Just go with it, it's only a movie for the family." I am not "worrying" about it at all. But when I pay 25.00 per ticket and another 60 in concession and drinks at a VIP theater so that my wife and I can enjoy a movie in a franchise I have supported and grown up on, I at least expect it to be good. Being pulled out what started out as a great picture's immersiveness, by something that does not make sense whatsoever, such as a Major plot scene where Leila. on the bridge of the Raddis, get's blown up and out, destroying the bridge, and then later having people interacting in two separate and major scenes on an untouched bridge later in the movie, kind of ruins it. Taking a major character, shooting a beautiful death scene and then ruining it with a stupid scene of her flying through space alive and untouched only to have her literally do nothing later in the movie, ruins it. So I am sorry if I expect a good movie out of a studio that has had hundreds of movies to get things accurate and right. I am sorry if I expect consistency in quality from a franchise that captured mine, and many millions of others imaginations. So Mark, when we see people being dismembered and tortured, it kinda makes it more of an adult movie and less of a family one. If you want mindless Drivel that takes no thought to enjoy, might I suggest a Minion movie or some form of Ernest goes to Camp movie...

Chris McDermid on Dec 17, 2017


I’m surprised by your reactions, and it seems you aren’t alone. I found the movie to be an overall amazing piece of work. I love Star Wars, and this movie definitely resonated with me. So many excellent themes were explored. It completely floored me, and I couldn’t stop thinking about all it had accomplished. I wish I could understand why anybody wouldn’t really enjoy so much this movie did.

Mark on Dec 17, 2017


I miss those sweet, sweet dancing Ewoks. From what I've seen, there were more scenes with the Caretakers, one that involved some sort of celebration, with them playing instruments and such. Hope there's a deleted scene of that fish-nun magic.

Adam Frazier on Dec 17, 2017


Saw it opening night. I'm a huge movie fan, as well as a fan of Star Wars since I was a child in the 70's. I felt it was near perfect. I didn't spend the last 2 years considering what I "wanted" from the film, I just looked forward to it. There are so many amazing moments that I was astounded. I'm completely satisfied, and totally unable to understand even the slightest disdain for this movie. Bring on episode 9!

Mark on Dec 16, 2017


Couldn't agree more. Thought it captured the spirit/tone of the originals perfectly and my 12 and 7 year olds ate it up. I think the 'hate' is on because 'Rogue One' introduced a more mature/dark adult themed film into the franchise and I think older fans were thinking - finally, they're making Star Wars for me - but the reality is it's always been a movie franchise for 7 - 14 year olds. It will be interesting to see what they do with Solo and the other stand alone films from here on out, if they let them push that darker tone or have them all fall in line with SW7/SW8. Either way, excited to see EP9 and what is to come with the next none Skywalker trilogy.

Verithin on Dec 16, 2017


Remember the trailer? "Things are not going to be the way you think." I'm glad they didn't. It's a really good movie. I have some issues with it, just nitpicki-tricky-stupid-things that they were shoved in it to be loved by the crazy Tumblr audience and Rotten Tomatoes brainless critics. The humor was a bit all over the place. Felt a bit off, specially in some scenes. Did not enjoyed watching Princess Leia getting frozen like a corpse in space. Specially since recent events. Lukes final scene was ok? Maybe, I don't know. Maybe I was a bit tired, it was a particular looooong movie experience. I would recommend watching this with some pause at the middle. Like, watch half of the movie and then get some nice dinner. Then come back and watch the rest.

capitandelespacio on Dec 17, 2017


It's nowhere near Empire Strikes Back. You won't miss anything waiting for cable.

THE_RAW_ on Dec 18, 2017


I saw it tonight and I couldn't agree more with Adam's review. A lot of what I disliked about TFA was corrected in this, but honestly, the editing and pace felt off and disjointed and it could've been a 1/2 hour shorter. The reveals and surprises were unexpected, but I left the theater disappointed. I wanted more and I felt short changed. There was more dislikes than things I liked. I really like Rian Johnson since Brick, but now I'm not sure if I really want a full original trilogy from him...

THE_RAW_ on Dec 18, 2017


This was one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Pacing, plot, characters. Horrible. I found nothing to like about the film. It’s not because it’s different or takes risks. It’s just not a good film. None of the secondary characters have anything interesting to do. You could take Leia out of the film completely and nothing would change not to mention Finn or Poe. A wasted effort across the board.

cs on Dec 18, 2017


Just saw it. Wasn't completely shite, wasn't amazing either. There was a few cool characters, but felt it dragged on a bit. My wife fell asleep a couple of times.

Carpola on Dec 24, 2017


I did fell sleep while they captured Finn and started watching a different movie in my mind. Was there when I realized I was falling asleep. Had to shake my head a bit.

capitandelespacio on Dec 27, 2017


It's such a good movie for watching with boxxy software. It’s fine with its concepts toward the end. I love to watch movies using boxxy just because the service is for free and it has a good curated content, like this!

Andre Alonso on Aug 1, 2018

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