And here's another warning: You WILL find spoilers ahead, so if you must go into "The Last Jedi" completely cold, turn back now.
The great joy of "The Last Jedi" can be summed up in a line uttered by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the new film: "This isn't going to go the way you think." Thank you, Rian Johnson. Sure, there are some parallels to "The Empire Strikes Back," but those moments never feel like clones of the original. The reunions between some of my favorite characters are everything I'd hoped they'd be. Every scene with Carrie Fisher, in her final appearance as Princess Leia, made me long for more.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) is just as plucky and persistent as ever, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a little less whiny -- thank you again, Rian Johnson -- and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) has been taking lessons in leadership from Leia.
How is J.J. Abrams, who's returning to helm the final film in the trilogy, going to top this?
-- Anne Dujmovic, Portland, Oregon
The best parts are the space battles. One scene, where Vice Admiral Holdo single-handedly wipes out a whole First Order fleet, will forever live as one of the best space war scenes of all time. I also enjoyed seeing familiar characters (some unexpected) and visiting mind-blowing new planets that host some very creative creatures. It's the most intimate and emotional Star Wars movie of the saga and it really takes advantage of the duplicity of the Force. Not only are some of the characters in constant conflict, but now we have a planet that's literally divided between good and evil.
While it's a great Star Wars movie, it's not perfect. Too many storylines make it a bit confusing, and it's long. Some of the new characters aren't well-developed, particularly those played by Benicio Del Toro and Andy Serkis. Also, some of the old, familiar characters, like Chewbacca, are underused or simply didn't need to be there (Maz Kanata). Also, I didn't love what happened to Luke Skywalker, but I won't spoil it here.
-- Gabriel Sama, San Francisco
I spent the first half of "Last Jedi" distracted by how much it copies "The Empire Strikes Back," and the second half amazed by how much it tops it.
The new generation of characters -- Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren -- are well and truly established in the Star Wars mythos. Poe and Finn's stories in "Last Jedi" are a bit thin, but the central plot drawing together Rey and Ren with Luke Skywalker is one of the most gripping arcs ever in the saga. This clash of ideals and emotions manages to be intimate and epic at the same time, exploring and challenging the very founding principles of the Star Wars myth. And all in ravishingly visual, hilariously funny, fist-pumpingly exciting style.
-- Richard Trenholm, London
Watch this: 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' spoilers and reactions
Beyond the Snoke and mirrors, "The Last Jedi" is a film I think I can grow to love.
The good? Luke's Degobah 2.0 island retreat gave us the Jedi training montages we've craved, plus excellent creature cameos. I'm calling it: The cry of the porg is the new Wilhelm Scream. We also saw epic fights and beautiful VFX. That final scene on the salt-dusted terrain of Crait was visually spectacular (and also made me weirdly hungry for red velvet cake). The film was pure Star Wars in these scenes -- the perfect mix of tension, action and heart.
The bad? At 152 minutes, it was in dire need of an edit. Scenes that strived for gravitas (Finn dismantles capitalism at the casino! Rey discovers herself in the funhouse mirrors!) ultimately came across as flabby and unnecessary additions to the storyline.
"The Force Awakens" struck a great balance of the old guard and the new by introducing us to new characters while the legends we've always loved (Han, Leia) remained as spiritual guides. With more characters and plot lines (I'm looking at you Broom Boy), there's a risk we'll lose the elegant simplicity that's central to the saga. But that's the old friction, isn't it? Breaking new ground means breaking away from the old. As Yoda so wisely put it, that's the burden of all masters (and sci-fi fans): "We are what they grow beyond."
-- Claire Reilly, Sydney
Man, does "The Last Jedi" deliver. Rian Johnson did all the things I've never dared wish for in a Star Wars movie: He flipped every sacred cow in the franchise upside down. From Luke cavalierly chucking his own lightsaber over his shoulder after Rey hands it to him, to her parents being absolute nobodies with no connection to the Skywalker family, the movie took every expectation I had and said, "Nah, how about we do this amazing thing instead?"
Everyone has something to do in this movie, and characters actually learn something about themselves, like what they're willing to do to win the war.
Kylo Ren is absolutely the best villain in Star Wars history (Vader had simple motivations and, while terrifying, could be considered one note -- FIGHT ME INTERNET), and Adam Driver brings a depth and complexity to a role that could have ended up incredibly Anakin-like.
And that Snoke throne room scene with Rey, y'all! Did you see that shit?
More than everything else I loved about "The Last Jedi," there's one simple concept that rang true: The Force is for everyone. I can't wait to see where Star Wars goes now that it's free of so many of its shackles.
-- Ashley Esqueda, Los Angeles
It's good, with caveats.
I loved the humor and everything on the island: the weird, Mirror of Erised-esque scene; the "Lord of the Rings"-reminiscent views of trekking over rocky hills; the mysterious black seaweed tunnels; the cute/ugly animals. It felt like a classic adventure/fantasy movie, but in space. The role reversal of Luke becoming mentor to Rey epitomized the modern slant to the film. The filmmakers' creativity runs strong. Daisy Ridley was my standout in terms of actors.
I didn't like the casino scene. It seemed pointless, as did a few of the subplots. Finn needs something more to do and the film struggled to meet that need. Poe gained character but lost likeability. Music lacked, and the final battle scene didn't bring that oomph of iconic battles. No one really seemed in danger (even Finn). The soap opera closeups flicking between characters ramped up to over the top by the end.
Often things happened too quickly to make moments feel like they mattered. But the Rey and Kylo Ren development, and the forging of new ideas in the Star Wars universe, was strong and made this a step forward for the franchise.
-- Jen Bisset, Sydney
After episodes I, II and III of Star Wars, I've tended to mistrust anything coming from a galaxy far, far away.
That said, "The Last Jedi" was much better than my cynicism expected it to be. It didn't completely copy "The Empire Strikes Back" the way "The Force Awakens" did with "A New Hope." I even liked some things, like the fact that Oscar Isaac had more things to do in this movie, as well as Laura Dern's presence, and seeing Leia again.
I also got bored at points. The movie is two and a half hours long and full of small plots that aren't so easy to follow, besides being overstuffed with characters (the legacy ones, the ones introduced in "Episode VII" and a bunch of new ones).
No wonder "Rogue One" has been my favorite Star Wars movie this century. It was very light on previously known characters, it wasn't full of cutesy computer-generated creatures, and I loved the there-will-really-be-no-sequel-to-this ending.
-- Patricia Puentes, San Francisco
It's long, and there are slow moments that prompt you to ask if now may be the right time to hit the restroom. Still, I liked it. Count me among those who think this is the best Star Wars movie since "The Empire Strikes Back."
Why? Thanks go to the screenwriters, who took the time and care to return wit, humor and cleverness to the Star Wars franchise. There really wasn't any humor in "The Force Awakens," a movie I thought was kind of meh. But "The Last Jedi" had me laughing out loud from the start with its funny and brilliant play on how to stall for time when going up against the entire First Order.
There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments, like Rey telling Luke Skywalker he has time to train her because his days are pretty boring. Those moments have to do with making the characters relatable to us everyday humans, even though most of us (?) aren't spending our days trying to save the universe.
What else can you expect? Lightsaber battles. Lots of Leia. Quirky creatures. Luke Skywalker unplugged. Rey and Kylo Ren coming to terms. An unnecessary bar scene. Passing of the old guard to the new. Laura Dern's purple hair. Yoda.
But most of all, a return to the idea that the Force is a kind of magic.
-- Connie Guglielmo, San Francisco
If you had to drink every time someone in "The Last Jedi" said the word "hope," you'd be in the hospital with alcohol poisoning by the end. Thankfully, a few instances of graceless dialogue don't blunt the force of the movie's biggest hits.
That's the general theme of my takeaway: There are issues, but they don't ruin the bits that matter. Take Luke Skywalker, for instance. He lost his poise around the time he started milking intergalactic birds for sustenance about five minutes in, yet his scenes at the tail end of the film are among my favorite in the franchise.
I liked "The Last Jedi," but I suspect that how it will be remembered depends on how the subplots play out in 2019. And now we play the waiting game.
-- Daniel Van Boom, Sydney
I am olde. I saw the first Star Wars back when it was the only "Star Wars." (I was 9 and developed a huge crush on pouty Luke Skywalker back when everyone else was hot for Han Solo.) So I'm first and foremost a fan of the old guard, missing Han and his never-tell-me-the-odds, laughing at Chewie's numerous goofy encounters with the porgs, cheering a Yoda appearance, rooting for more Threepio and Artoo. When the Millennium Falcon swoops in for yet another triumphant appearance, even though I know it's been slyly written to elicit maximum viewer nostalgia, inside I'm yelling "wooooo!" right along with Finn.
So for me, this was Luke and Leia's film, and I do wish they'd had a little more time together, to draw out that familiar chemistry two people have who've seen each other on their best and worst days. Every time Carrie Fisher opens her mouth, I want her to never stop talking. And I also appreciate seeing Mark Hamill transform from innocent farm boy Luke to world-weary but sassy old master. (Wiping that fleck off his shoulder! In your FACE, Hannah's boyfriend from "Girls"!)
I wonder now how they'll handle all of the original three being gone from the last film (yes, I know there are Force ghosts). But there's plenty of time for dissecting possibilities. Right now I'm just thankful the new guard -- dashing Poe and Finn, steely Rey, spunky Rose -- are so deserving of their place in galactic history. And I'm pretty sure porgs taste like chicken.
-- Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, Seattle
It's easy to get hung up on the nitpicky criticisms of "The Last Jedi." Why doesn't everyone just fling remote-controlled hyperspace ships at each other? If Force Ghost Yoda can summon lightning, how come he doesn't float around zapping villains ... and how quickly can Yoda's ghost adventures be made into a film?
Taken as a whole, "The Last Jedi" veers wildly between highs and lows, easily topping the ambitions of "The Force Awakens" while falling into some unexpected traps. Let's face it, the casino subplot felt like a useless side mission ripped from the prequels, and it derailed whatever urgency was being built up by the universe's slowest chase sequence.
It's a film obsessed with abandoning the past, which comes as a relief after "The Force Awakens." But the ultimate success of "The Last Jedi" is dependent on whether it's abandoned by Episode IX. Will JJ Abrams ditch the most interesting threads in the same way Rian Johnson dispatched the mysteries of "The Force Awakens?" Are we going to be stuck with another battle between Plucky Rebels With a Single Lightsaber-Wielder and Bad Guys With Some Universe-Threatening Superweapon? Let's hope not.
The twists are absolutely mind-melting. They happen fast and had me continually on the edge of my seat. To a degree, that was also a complaint I had -- I was often trying to grasp one big story line while another was heating up.
There are also several plot gaps, likely laid out so they can be answered in future Star Wars books/comics/video games/insert-media-type here. Things along the lines of why C-3PO's arm was red during "The Force Awakens;" that's nothing that needs to be in the movie, and feels a bit cheap when addressed on the big screen. One gap in particular -- whatever dark cave Rey spent some time in -- has barely any effect on the story, yet there we are spending 30 seconds watching our heroine look at an infinity of reflections of herself, searching for an answer that just isn't there. I'm sure it's an important cave, and I'll probably find out what it is when I read a yet-to-be-published novel.
While I hesitate to call "The Last Jedi" my favorite Star Wars film (I like "Return of the Jedi" the most), I would label it a fresh start for the Star Wars series. It's like when your favorite band decides to slow things down for an acoustic set -- you like it but it's different. Either way, I'm looking forward to watching this movie again, and again and again, as I work to peel back more of its complexity and ration out all the twists.
-- Mike Sorrentino, New York
Watch this: 'The Last Jedi' villain Supreme Leader Snoke is a complicated guy
My favorite new character is Laura Dern's strong and giving Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, who conveys her feelings without ever really having to say anything. Just glancing toward Leia or staring down Poe -- you know what she's going through. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Dern said she made the pew-pew sound on set, so clearly she's the perfect actor to bring a new Star Wars character to life. I loved the whole scene of the vice admiral using light speed to destroy Snoke's ship, because it showed the selflessness I'd grown to love in such a short amount of time. But the scene upset me because I knew we wouldn't get to see her again.
Another favorite scene involved Finn and Rose in that Moroccan-style city. It was very modern for the two of them to find out about the financing of the war, and come face-to-face with the harsh corruption that can lie beneath the surface of noble causes. I also really appreciated the character played by Benicio Del Toro, and I have a theory he is actually Rey's dad, since Kylo said her parents were drunks and gamblers, which is what the codebreaker is. I think he's going to play a big role in the next movie.
The worst part? Leia's send-off. I really didn't understand how she could have survived being in space and I think her dying in battle would have been a great way to say goodbye to her. The filmmakers could have done something with Leia dying when Luke does, underscoring that they're so connected they literally cannot be alive without each other. Overall, though, the movie was absolutely fantastic. It's a great addition to the Star Wars universe, and it offered a lot of great opportunities for future movies, without seeming like it was being too commercial.
-- Alexandra Able, San Francisco
It's beautifully paced and enjoys some lovely performances. Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico is, to my mind, the revelation of the film.
But what bothered me is the bad guys. I understand they're supposed to wear black (or white) and act mean. I appreciate that, like so many bad guys, they think they're slightly smarter than they really are. They hardly ever go out and the mere concept of love seems entirely alien to their beings.
I understand that many movie villains go about their evil in a serious manner, but these guys have less fun, I suspect, than HAL 9000. I'm trying to imagine two Stormtroopers making out. It would neither be sexy, nor even, well, possible by the look of those masks.
The Resistance at least looks like it knows when it's having a good time or even what having a good time looks like.
Snoke and General Hux? Honestly, if you met them at a bar, you'd move seats.
-- Chris Matyszczyk, San Francisco
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