No spoilers! Critics praise Rian Johnson's entry in the epic franchise

As Mark Hamill exclaimed during a Facebook Q&A, “Is there a penguin in the Antarctic that doesn’t know that The Last Jedi opens on Dec. 15?” Practically everyone in the galaxy is going to see the latest Star Wars film — this one directed by Looper‘s Rian Johnson. But in case you needed more incentive, the first reviews for the next chapter in the Skywalker Saga have arrived.

A sequel to J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi picks up with Rey (Daisy Ridley) honing her Jedi abilities on the Ahch-To island where she found Luke Skywalker (Hamill). The aged knight is still feeling guilt from training his nephew, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), as he witnesses the raw power wielded by this mysterious woman.

Meanwhile, the First Order continues to rally as General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) prepares for new dangers, reformed Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) wakes from his medical coma and teams with a Rebel mechanic named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and the best darn pilot in the galaxy Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) hops in an X-Wing to blow stuff up. There’s also the return of familiar characters (like Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke and Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma) and some new ones (like Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo and Benicio Del Toro’s DJ).

Initial reactions from critics over social media were largely positive. Lucasfilm already gave Johnson the go-ahead to develop an entire new Star Wars trilogy, so his work must be good…right?

Here’s EW’s Chris Nashawaty in his B+ review: “There are a handful of truly spectacular moments in The Last Jedi — some as visually sumptuous and others as emotionally poignant and raw as anything in the intergalactic ring cycle so far: The sight of Rebel X-wing fighters emerging from light speed and skidding to a halt; a kamikaze crash rendered in giddy, gasp-inducing super slo-motion; a vertiginous, ground-scraping dogfight on a salt-mining planet that kicks up plumes of velvet-cake red dust. These, along with a few touching reunions and farewells from beloved characters that some of us have known like family for 40 years, will go down as instant classics that will be catnip for fans young and old. That said, 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.”

Read more in-depth reviews on the film below.

Kara Warner (PEOPLE)
“Writer/director Rian Johnson’s entry into the Star Wars canon is rebelliously bold at times and full of rousing surprises, which make up for a few lulls in the lengthy two-and-a-half-hour run time. And the film’s foundation is built firmly on the franchise’s strong (and timely) message of optimistic resilience, which always keeps us coming back for more. Ridley’s Rey and Driver’s Kylo Ren leave lasting impressions here, particularly when looking ahead to what might happen in Episode IX. Franchise newcomer Laura Dern also enjoys an important scene-stealing moment as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo.”

Peter Debruge (Variety)
“…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 — a process that chewed up and spat out helmers such as Colin Trevorrow, Gareth Edwards, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. But Johnson was either strong enough or weak enough to adapt to such pressures, and the result is the longest and least essential chapter in the series. That doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. Rather, despite the success of The Last Jedi at supplying jaw-dropping visuals and a hall-of-fame-worthy lightsaber battle, audiences could presumably skip this film and show up for Episode IX without experiencing the slightest confusion as to what happened in the interim.”

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Maybe the film is a tad too long. 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; drawing a geographical map of their movements would create an impenetrable network of lines. 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.”

Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)
“If having pure fun at a Star Wars movie is wrong, I don’t want to be right. So for me, The Last Jedi falls right behind The Empire Strikes Back and maybe the original film in providing the thrills and the heartbreak, the heroism and villainy, and the romance and betrayal that makes these films such a treat even for those of us who can’t name all the planets or the alien species or even the Empire’s flunkies. (Sorry, the First Order’s flunkies.) And make no mistake: This is an entertaining chapter, but it also features loss and sacrifice and devastating consequences.”

Manohla Dargis (The New York Times)
“Evil is ascendant. The Resistance — an intrepid, multi-everything group whose leaders include a battle-tested woman warrior — has been fighting the good fight for years but is outnumbered and occasionally outmaneuvered. Yes, the latest Star Wars installment is here, and, lo, it is a satisfying, at times transporting entertainment. Remarkably, it has visual wit and a human touch, no small achievement for a seemingly indestructible machine that revved up 40 years ago and shows no signs of sputtering out (ever).”

Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair)
“The narrative involving Luke, Rey, and Kylo is so big and consequential that the film’s other plots—involving Oscar Isaac’s hotshot pilot Poe Dameron, John Boyega’s former storm trooper Finn, and new characters played by Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran—sometimes struggle to hold their own. I’ve no doubt that Johnson understands a crucial Star Wars balance—the calibration between goofy creature gags, starship melees, and high-minded fantasy. But that doesn’t always mean he gets it right. Or maybe he’s made one section of the story just so good that all others feel that much less weighty in comparison.”

Mike Ryan (UPROXX)
“In a lot of ways, The Last Jedi is a weird movie. And I’m sure the word ‘dark’ will be thrown around, but it’s not ‘dark.’ Just like The Empire Strikes Back isn’t ‘dark.’ Now, A Serbian Film, that’s a dark movie. The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi are both well-made Star Wars movies with a lot of humor, where also some bad things happen to characters we like. In fact, The Last Jedi is so funny at times, I could also see that element being divisive. But people forget how funny the original trilogy actually is. In Empire, Han Solo and C-3PO are basically doing a vaudeville routine.”

Matt Singer (ScreenCrush)
“Rian Johnson grew up a Star Wars fan. There’s a well-known story about him getting a Millennium Falcon toy as a kid and accidentally breaking it when he tried to make it fly. Watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which Johnson wrote and directed, one gets the distinct sense he’s been waiting his whole life to make this movie; to guide these characters, to make the Falcon fly. The people in Star Wars implore one another to fulfill their destinies. With The Last Jedi, Johnson fulfilled his. Given the opportunity, he made the best Star Wars since The Empire Strikes Back.”

Justin Chang (The Los Angeles Times)
“Those who have seen Johnson’s mind-bending time-travel thriller Looper (2012) — or, for that matter, his insouciantly clever crime capers Brick (2005) and The Brothers Bloom (2008) — know the director takes an old-school delight in pulling the rug out from under his audience. Even nostalgia goes down better when it’s laced with a healthy dose of the unexpected, and while it hardly skimps on callbacks and fan favorites, The Last Jedi has a flowing moment-to-moment unpredictability that rises, on occasion, to genuinely thrilling peaks of surprise.”

Matthew Jacobs (The Huffington Post)
“There’s still something about The Force Awakens that I enjoy more than The Last Jedi ― its unexpected serenity, its constant callbacks. This go-around felt bloated. Somehow, I don’t think that’ll matter down the line. There’s so much meat on this movie’s bones that it’s arguably the densest Star Wars installment yet, begging for repeat viewings. And, blissfully, it’s also the most inclusive: Everywhere, people of color suit up alongside the pale faces that have always been predominant, opening up the story’s mythology to present a galaxy we’d all like to visit.”

Ian Freer (Empire)
“This is not going to go the way you think!” Luke Skywalker warns Rey on the Jedi Temple island of Ahch-To. It sounds like a quote designed for a trailer but now feels like the opening line from Rian Johnson’s pitch. The Last Jedi delivers everything you want from a Star Wars movie — fierce lightsaber action, space dogfights, exotic creatures, people off British telly as bad guys (hello, Ade Edmondson as a First Order Officer) — but layers it with story twists, character arcs and an emotional wallop that you could never have predicted. It doesn’t all work, but it’s a long time since a huge franchise movie has delivered the thrills and feels in such surprising ways.”

Ira Madison III (The Daily Beast)
“Not since George Lucas’ original trilogy has a Star Wars film felt like a dime store paperback, loaded with pulp and space operatics. Perhaps it’s because A New Hope had no idea it was meant to set off a trilogy, let alone decades of story and enduring fandom, but the first three films still feel scrappy and at times messy in their quest to simply entertain audiences with characters they fell in love with in 1977. The Force Awakens sought to replicate that, to diminishing returns, but The Last Jedi harkens back to what made Star Wars so important in the first place — it’s fun, it’s kind of all over the place, but it’s dripping with emotion and pathos and, most importantly, it tells a hell of a story.”

Susana Polo (Polygon)
“We’ve seen Jedi masters train their students, and we’ve seen countless stories that have built their own training sequences on our cultural familiarity with the tropes of Star Wars. How then, does The Last Jedi use that scaffolding rather than being crushed beneath it, when it has to, once again, show us a Jedi master training his student? With good ideas, it turns out, and good acting and good writing and good direction and, most of all, good humor. The Last Jedi might be, scene for scene, the Star Wars movie that attempts the most jokes. But it never dispels tension when a scene needs tension or undercuts gravitas when a scene needs gravitas.”

Germain Lussier (io9)
“Once The Last Jedi kicks into its final act, the film’s somewhat saggy middle is forgotten and forgiven. The final hour or so of the film is filled with truly intense and shocking moments — all while Johnson also finds time to examine more complex things that Star Wars has never dealt with before, like celebrity, war profiteering, and the importance of letting go of the past. By combining the spectacle and this thoughtfulness, Johnson has made the entire experience of The Last Jedi is incredibly rewarding.”

Joshua Yehl (IGN)
“In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) tells Rey (Daisy Ridley), ‘This is not going to go the way you think.’ That line proves to be true for just about every plot thread, every scene, every moment in the entire movie. Writer/director Rian Johnson packs the eighth episode in the Skywalker saga with genuine surprises of all kinds, which all amount to a thrilling, emotional, and funny film that is easily the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back.”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens on Dec. 15.

Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi
  • Movie