Now that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is available for digital purchase, it's a good time to look at what critics thought about the latest chapter in the Skywalker Saga. The big consensus overall is that writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) applied a sense of reinvention and innovation to the latest chapter of the franchise, and that it's a major success.
Not only does this digital release come with an in-depth documentary, "The Director and The Jedi," and a deleted scene focusing on Captain Phasma, but Johnson noted his favorite feature is an alternate version of the movie, where John Williams' score is its audio you hear. One note, though, you'll need to link your purchase in the Movies Anywhere app to find this hidden feature.
Senior editor Philip Michaels had a chance to see an early screening of The Last Jedi, and came away impressed. "The Last Jedi keeps the The Force Awakens' momentum going by taking a more confident step toward Star Wars' future," he writes in his Last Jedi review. "There are respectful nods to past episodes, but this new movie makes it clear from here on that this now the story of Kylo Ren, Finn and — especially and satisfyingly — Rey."
Here's what other critics have to say, including the dissenting view from Peter Debruge at Variety:
The New York Times
For the sake of avoiding spoilers, you shouldn't read Manohla Dargis' glowing review for the New York Times, titled "Psst … ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Is Really Good!" While she argues that the force is most definitely strong with The Last Jedi, praising director Rian Johnson's touch, the review spoils far too much and far too carelessly.
"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)."
"[Rian 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."
"The creature design throughout is so inventive — there are less-fuzzy whatsits on the island, too — that you wish more had been added."
In his review at IGN, Joshua Yehl reassures critical fans that The Last Jedi isn't weighed down in the same ways that The Force Awakens was.
"J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens got dinged for borrowing too much from A New Hope, but recycling old material isn’t an issue in The Last Jedi. … There are fan-pleasing moments, for sure, but nothing is included without a purpose. Johnson plays with all the toys Star Wars has to offer, and he’s not afraid to change – or break – a few along the way."
"It’s by far the most tense and exciting Star Wars adventure, and surprisingly, it’s also the funniest."
"There’s a frankly brilliant sense of poetry to Luke’s story in this movie, with elements that harken all the way back to the start of his journey in beautiful fashion."
"Ridley and Hamill play off each other well, expressing a strange mix of frustration and empathy for one another, resulting in something vastly more interesting than the expected master-student relationship."
"A few subplots weigh it down in the middle."
Germain Lussier's review for io9 is rabid with its excitement and praise for Rian Johnson's work on The Last Jedi, to the point where I wished I could leave work now and see it already.
"I can’t believe what writer-director Rian Johnson did: He took all of our preconceived notions of what a Star Wars movie is and evolved them. The movie is genuinely shocking at times—multiple times—but it also feels fully authentic to the Star Wars universe."
"The humor can, at times, feel overboard from what we’re used to in Star Wars. And yet it works. Then there are parts of the film that are incredibly weird and almost surreal—moments that seem more fit for an avant-garde movie. But they work too, because the very nature of Star Wars is that anything is possible."
"The film’s epic 150-minute runtime allows plenty of room for Johnson’s inventiveness, but there’s also a tiny bit of fat in the middle of the movie."
"It doesn’t help that Benicio del Toro’s new character, DJ, is largely insignificant."
Over at The Verge, Tasha Robinson agrees with the idea that The Last Jedi doesn't borrow too much from Wars' past, and joins the chorus of critics praising Johnson. But instead of being upset by questionable moves Johnson makes, she places them in context and wonders about the effect.
"There’s been some fan concern that Last Jedi might mimic Empire Strikes Back too closely, down to the dark tone and open ending. Instead, Johnson’s film feels remarkably close to a coda for the new trilogy, a platform for a radical departure from canon when the untitled sequel arrives in 2019."
"[Johnson] digs into the impulses behind the new trilogy’s younger characters, cracking them open and examining their psychology in a way Star Wars rarely has."
"The Last Jedi feels like a deliberate, thought-through corrective. 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’s only radical step here is to extend that humor past the heroes, and let it briefly disrupt the villains’ solemnity as well. For a series that’s so often treated its primary antagonists as towering, intimidating bastions of evil, that feels radical, but it also punctures their balloons and makes them a little more ridiculously human."
Susana Polo's review at Polygon is fairly positive — how could it not be when its subtitle is "yes, it’s really that good" — but she agrees with the other critics that the runtime undercuts the film.
"There are some scenes in this movie I can’t wait to talk about. Not because they’re beautiful, though they are. Not because they’re heart-wrenching, though some of them are. But because The Last Jedi challenges itself with moments that, if mishandled, could easily have tainted beloved Star Wars moments in the same way that many people feel the prequel trilogy did. Instead, it navigates those narrative rapids with aplomb."
"The Last Jedi is not without its disappointments: a stone left unturned here, a contrived conflict there, characters whom I wish had been allowed to share more screen time and others left oddly unexplored (I suppose there will be a tie-in novel about them someday)."
"The Last Jedi is the longest Star wars movie, and it does feel like it."
If variety is the spice of life, Peter Debruge's review for Variety is a dash of bitters, acrimoniously arguing that the Disney machine took the life out of the Star Wars franchise. Each of Debruge's jabs at the film start with a compliment that immediately turns into a backhanded insult, whipped as strong as if Lord Vader himself were force-choking out the execs whose lack of faith in Lucas' style ... disturbing. Avoid his full review if you're averse to spoilers, he's just as careless with plot-points as Dargis.
"The Last Jedi possesses the same reverence for the galaxy Lucas created, paying homage in all the right places (from the chills we get from John Williams’ iconic fanfare to the new-and-improved walkers that appear during the climactic siege)."
"As it turns out, 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. It’s as if Johnson’s assignment was to extend the franchise without changing anything fundamental, which is closer to the way classic television and vintage James Bond movies operate than anything George Lucas ever served up."