'The Last Jedi' review roundup: Most (but not quite all) critics giddy over latest 'Star Wars'

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Gwynne Watkins
·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
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Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in <i>Star Wars: The Last Jedi</i>. (Photo: Lucasfilm)
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Photo: Lucasfilm)

We already know how pleased Disney is with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. More than a month before the premiere, the studio announced that it would be handing the keys over to Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson, who will create an entirely new Star Wars trilogy after 2019’s Episode IX wraps up the decades-spanning “Skywalker Saga.” But what do film critics think of Johnson’s vision?

So far, reactions to The Last Jedi are overwhelmingly positive. Perhaps even more than The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams, Johnson had his work cut out for him: The film furthers the arcs of the many characters introduced by Abrams, while giving meaningful storylines to original trilogy heroes Luke and Leia, while also expanding the Star Wars cinematic universe and weathering the inevitable comparisons to fan-favorite sequel The Empire Strikes Back. It’s little wonder that the film requires two-and-a-half hours to accomplish all this. However, the length, and the amount of character and plot juggling therein, did give more than one critic pause. Some also found Johnson’s film too slick, an obvious product of the ultrasuccessful franchise formula that Disney has developed for Marvel. Still, the larger critical response was akin to Han Solo’s whoop of joy from the climax of A New Hope, one of the many classic Star Wars moments that is lovingly and creatively referenced in the new film. Below, a roundup of notable Last Jedi reviews.

“Like many before it, The Last Jedi has already been hailed as the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, and while that’s true, it’s too faint a compliment. It’s a film of genuine beauty, one where you come away as eager to talk about the set design and the choreography as you do the fate of the galaxy or what might happen next.” — Sam Adams, Slate

“There’s no way for the latest trilogy of Star Wars films to capture the novelty and sheer exhilaration of the original films, but Johnson and producer J.J. Abrams understand the spirit and emotion of the thing. When the feelings come in The Last Jedi, and they do come, they’re deep and they’re real. Go ahead and try to watch the penultimate scene without crying, or pretending not to.” — Ann Hornaday, the Washington Post

“It’s the gazillion-dollared, 152-minute equivalent to setting fire to all of your childhood Star Wars toys in the backyard, and getting high off the fumes that follow.” — Brian Raftery, Wired

“Although The Last Jedi meets a relatively high standard for franchise filmmaking, Johnson’s effort is ultimately a disappointment. If anything, it demonstrates just how effective supervising producer Kathleen Kennedy and the forces that oversee this now Disney-owned property are at molding their individual directors’ visions into supporting a unified corporate aesthetic. … The result is the longest and least essential chapter in the series.” — Peter Debruge, Variety

“Most of the new characters could use more heft, purpose and edge to their personalities, and they have a tendency to turn up hither and yon without much of a clue how they got there. … But there’s a pervasive freshness and enthusiasm to Johnson’s approach that keeps the [film,] and with it the franchise, alive, and that is no doubt what matters most.” — Todd McCarthy, the Hollywood Reporter

Daisy Ridley as Rey in <i>Star Wars: The Last Jedi</i>. (Photo: Lucasfilm)
Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Photo: Lucasfilm)

The Last Jedi gives you an explosive sugar rush of spectacle. It’s a film that buzzes with belief in itself and its own mythic universe — a euphoric certainty that I think no other movie franchise has. … It’s impossible not to be swept away.” — Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian

“It sums up its theme in its title: It’s trying, as respectfully and carefully as possible, to let go of some of the old traditions, and look for the next steps for a world that’s rapidly expanding, and needs to escape its old, familiar conflicts if it’s going to grow. Johnson acknowledges, through the characters and the dialogue, that letting go of familiar things is hard, and he holds his audience’s hands through the process. But he’s also admirably merciless about it. Audiences will likely come away from The Last Jedi with a lot of complaints and questions. But they’re at least likely to feel they’re in the hands of someone who cares about the series as much as they do, someone who loves its history, but sees the wide-open future ahead of it as well.” — Tasha Robinson, the Verge

“Perhaps even more so than Gareth Edwards, who made last year’s bracingly bleak Star Wars prequel/spinoff Rogue One, Johnson rises to the occasion of megabudget, space-opera blockbustering.” — A.A. Dowd, AV Club

“I’d stop short of calling director Rian Johnson’s undeniably impressive initiation into the Star Wars fold the masterpiece that some desperately want it to be. The film simply drags too much in the middle. Somewhere in the film’s 152-minute running time is an amazing 90-minute movie.” — Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

The Last Jedi is the longest Star Wars feature to date, though its 152-minute running time should be seen as a sign of confidence, not indulgence. What makes the movie such a robust and invigorating pop entertainment is that even its seeming digressions — a romp through the casinos of a glittering One Percenters’ paradise, a battle staged on a visually striking planet of white salt and red dust — feel grounded in a real-world vision of humanity on the brink of ruin.” — Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times

The Last Jedi is simply stupendous, a volcano of creative ideas in full eruption. … Hamill gives the performance of his career, nailing every nuance of an iconic role and rewarding the emotional investment we’ve made in him.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“There is catharsis aplenty, something the Star Wars movies are designed for, encouraging us to cheer when our favorite characters show up on screen and letting us thrill to the chases and the romance and the vistas and the explosions and the lightsaber battles. (This installment has one of the most purely perfect lightsaber battles the series has yielded thus far.) But as written and directed by Rian Johnson, The Last Jedi doesn’t just feel like a well-executed Star Wars movie — it feels like a well-executed movie, period, one that keeps its eye on the relationships between characters, and how they communicate with one another, in addition to the bigger picture.” —Alissa Wilkinson, Vox

Kelly Marie Tran (Rose) and John Boyega (Finn) in <i>Star Wars: The Last Jedi</i>. (Photo: Lucasfilm)
Kelly Marie Tran (Rose) and John Boyega (Finn) in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Photo: Lucasfilm)

“That [John] Boyega and [Kelly Marie] Tran, who plays a Rebel tech named Rose, get an adventure together is exciting. Seeing a black man and an Asian woman put toward the center of a huge franchise film like this is encouraging — because representation matters, yes, and because it gives a more thorough sense of what a rebellion like this might look like. It’s wholly more inspiring to see an array of different faces (and bodies, and species) banding together to fight oppression. That’s how it should be.” — Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

The Last Jedi is a better film than The Force Awakens — it’s faster, funnier, and has both more sweep and more originality — but I still didn’t find any moments here as hauntingly moving as that earlier film’s first flight of the Millennium Falcon, or the death of Han Solo. The good news is that Johnson doesn’t really need them. The Last Jedi is the most entertaining Star Wars movie in many a moon, and that’s more than enough.” — Bilge Ebiri, the Village Voice

“[Johnson] brings lightness to his banter, visual flair (not simply bleeding-edge special effects) to the design, and narrative savvy to Rey and Kylo Ren’s relationship. Mr. Johnson’s use of deep red is characteristic of how he turns ideas into images, most vividly with a set that looks like something Vincente Minnelli might have dreamed up for a Flash Gordon musical with Gene Kelly. — Manohla Dargis, the New York Times

“This is a Star Wars movie that plays with your assumptions and upends them, but it never betrays the story, characters and ethos at the series’ core. It expands the idea of what a Star Wars movie can be. It’ll knock you over.” — Will Leitch, Paste

“Let’s get to the answer every Star Wars fan is dying to know: Porgs are indeed adorable and there are just enough of them in The Last Jedi.” — Brian Truitt, USA Today

Meanwhile, as of Wednesday morning, The Last Jedi holds a 93 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens Friday.

Watch: Mark Hamill never thought he or Luke Skywalker would be back in a new Star Wars:

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