'Yay, porgs!' – critics' verdicts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi

From ‘most entertaining Star Wars movie in many a moon’ to ‘appallingly purified’, Rian Johnson’s film has critics at the New Yorker, CNN and elsewhere divided

The first reviews for Star Wars: The Last Jedi are in and, with the exception of a few naysayers, the reaction has been mostly positive. Currently, Rian Johnson’s sequel has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, matching the rating of 2015’s The Force Awakens. On rival reviews aggregation site Metacritic, The Last Jedi has bested its predecessor with a rating of 85 to the Force Awakens’ 81.

The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy gave the film a broadly positive review, with minor caveats:

This latest, and longest, franchise entry has the decided feel of a passing of the torch from one set of characters, and actors, to the next. Loaded with action and satisfying in the ways its loyal audience wants it to be, writer-director Rian Johnson’s plunge into George Lucas’s universe is generally pleasing even as it sometimes strains to find useful and/or interesting things for some of its characters to do.

Variety’s Peter Debruge struck a more negative note, praising Johnson for “not messing things up” but declaring the film a disappointment:

Although The Last Jedi meets a relatively high standard for franchise film-making, 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 moulding their individual directors’ visions into supporting a unified corporate aesthetic … 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.

Reviews from the UK have been more effusive. The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin gave the film a maximum five-star rating, describing it as “exemplary blockbuster film-making”:

Rian Johnson’s film certainly feels like Star Wars: it even has a supporting cast made up of British character actors and gorgeously CG-augmented rubber creatures, including porgs, a kind of hyper-marketable cross between a puffin and a young Justin Bieber. But it’s not a Star Wars you’re entirely sure Lucas would or could have ever made himself. Rather than playing the hits, as JJ Abrams’s franchise-reviving The Force Awakens did two Christmases ago, it flexes its fingers before riffing over old chord progressions in ways that will leave fans beaming with surprise.

Another five-star review came from the Times’ Kevin Maher (paywall), who saluted the film’s “devastating emotional power”:

If it’s better, and more satisfying, than the original instalments, this is often because it talks to them so freely (and not entirely without criticism). Scenes echo scenes. Shots deliberately rhyme (look for a reference to the lift sequence with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi). Musical cues nod and wink, until the film becomes dense and layered and bubbling with ideas and feelings, a whip-smart Star Wars smorgasbord that will also make you cry.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw wasn’t quite as fulsome in his praise, but was broadly positive, impressed in particular by Adam Driver’s performance as the conflicted villain Kylo Ren:

Superbly played by Adam Driver … [Ren] is now a wounded, damaged figure, and he insinuates himself like a sensually predatory Satan into our consciousness in a series of dreamlike cross-cutting dialogue sequences that are the most successful part of the film. What does Kylo Ren want? As ever, the closeups on Driver’s face are gorgeous. He is never the Easter Island statue of hardness that it is possible to misremember. He is tremulous, unsure of himself, like an unhappy teenager, and his mouth seems almost on the point of trembling with tears. That breathy, resonant voice is unmistakable even from behind a neo-Vader mask.

Across the Atlantic, the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis thought the film was “a satisfying, at times transporting entertainment”:

Mr Johnson has picked up the baton that was handed to Mr Abrams when he signed on to revive the series with The Force Awakens. Mr Johnson doesn’t have to make the important introductions; for the most part, the principals were in place, as was an overarching mythology that during some arid periods has seemed more sustained by fan faith than anything else. Even so, he has to convince you that these searching, burgeoning heroes and villains fit together emotionally, not simply on a Lucasfilm whiteboard, and that they have the requisite lightness and heaviness, the ineffable spirit and grandeur to reinvigorate a pop-cultural juggernaut. That he’s made a good movie in doing so isn’t icing; it’s the whole cake.

Benicio del Toro in The Last Jedi.
Benicio del Toro in The Last Jedi. Photograph: Jonathan Olley/AP

CNN.com’s Brian Lowry declared the film “a significant letdown”:

Running more than 2½ hours, the eighth Star Wars movie built around the Skywalker clan is the longest under that banner and showcases an abundance of action. But despite the enormous scope and visual spectacle, too many key components of the film – including those that have kept die-hard fans guessing and debating – prove unsatisfying.

In a B+ rating, Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty thought the film was “(mostly) a triumph”, and praised the film’s final act:

Despite the flabby mid-section of the film and its menagerie of new alien creatures that are a mixed bag (yay, Porgs with their squat, guinea pig bodies and sad anime saucer eyes; boo to the others that look like exiles from The NeverEnding Story), Johnson really delivers [in] the third and final act. The climactic last 45 minutes of the film is as thrilling and spectacular as anything Star Wars has given us. There are cool, mythic hand-to-hand battles, breathtaking aerial sequences, and one mano a mano showdown that’s as epic as anything Sergio Leone dreamed up. And again, the film ends on a note that feels … just … right.

Meanwhile, the Village Voice, who had been cautious in its praise for The Force Awakens, were more impressed by its follow-up:

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.

John Boyega in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
John Boyega in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Photograph: AP

In one of the most positive reviews of the film, Slate’s Sam Adams argued that it felt genuinely new:

Johnson brings to The Last Jedi a cinephile’s erudition as well as a geek’s devotion, and he’s made a film that connects to Star Wars at the root – not just the first movie, but the ones that inspired it. There’s Kurosawa in it, both the rowdy fabulism of The Hidden Fortress and the impressionist choreography of Ran, a sword fight in a scarlet throne room that draws on Powell and Pressburger’s Tales of Hoffman, even an overt nod to Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Abrams’ The Force Awakens was a canny feat of fan service, introducing a new slate of characters while sticking close enough to the original film’s elements that you could practically see its skeleton under the skin. But The Last Jedi isn’t content to revive past glories … There are moments in it that feel genuinely new, not just for the world of Star Wars but the universe of movies as a whole.

Finally, the most outright negative review of the film was by the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, who called it “appallingly purified”:

Despite a few stunning decorative touches … and that brief central sequence of multiple Reys, the movie comes off as a work that’s ironed out, flattened down, appallingly purified. Above all, it delivers a terrifyingly calculated consensus storytelling, an artificial universality that is achieved, in part, through express religious references. I desperately miss the pseudo-Shakespearean dialectical wrangles and the exhilarating sense of CGI discoveries that mark George Lucas’s last forays into the franchise.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in cinemas from Thursday.


Gwilym Mumford

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
First trailer revealed for Star Wars: The Last Jedi
First footage of Episode VIII of the Star Wars saga hits the net after unveiling at the Star Wars Celebration fan event in Florida, along with the film’s poster

Gwilym Mumford

14, Apr, 2017 @4:00 PM

Article image
Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer – five things we learned
The first footage of Star Wars Episode VIII has just been revealed – and after poring over it, here’s what we discovered

Ben Child

14, Apr, 2017 @5:50 PM

Article image
Star Wars Episode 8 and Rogue One: what we know
With the rumour mill working overtime, we sort the wheat from the chaff about Episode VIII and the first Star Wars spin-off film, Rogue One

Ben Child

13, Mar, 2015 @5:39 PM

Article image
New Jedi mind tricks: is Star Wars morphing into 'Harry Potter in space'?
Get ready for a load of new Jedi skills as the space saga expands its universe into a galaxy far, far away from the one created by George Lucas

Ben Child

24, Jan, 2018 @7:29 AM

Article image
Star Wars: The Last Jedi: the Porgs, the Force and the future - discuss with spoilers
It gave us new powers, abundant alien creatures and a triumphant last hurrah for Luke Skywalker, but did Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII live up to the hype?•Warning: this article contains spoilers

Ben Child

16, Dec, 2017 @6:05 PM

Article image
Rian Johnson to write and direct next two Star Wars films – report
Deadline says director of Brick and Looper will take over from JJ Abrams but 'hasn't commented on monumental task'

Lauren Gambino in New York

20, Jun, 2014 @7:50 PM

Article image
The Force is with him: why Rian Johnson is the new Star Wars trilogy’s best hope
Lucasfilms’ intergalactic franchise may be steering into unchartered territory, but they’ve found the perfect pilot in The Last Jedi and Looper director

Ben Child

10, Nov, 2017 @6:18 PM

Article image
Nostalgia saved Star Wars – but The Last Jedi must offer something new
After mining fans’ sentimentality for years, Lucasfilm knows the game is up: Episode VIII has to defy expectations to succeed

Ben Child

18, Jul, 2017 @9:57 AM

Article image
From Rey's dark side to Snoke's identity – the questions Star Wars: The Last Jedi must answer
Rian Johnson’s new Star Wars film needs to resolve the many mysteries of The Force Awakens – starting with why Rey is so precocious in the ways of the Jedi

Ben Child

28, Nov, 2017 @11:40 AM

Article image
Will The Last Jedi destroy everything we think we know about Star Wars?
Was Yoda just an old fool? And why is Luke Skywalker calling for an end to the Jedi? Rian Johnson, director of Episode VIII, is veering into dangerous territory

Ben Child

19, Apr, 2017 @6:00 AM