Take what you know of STAR WARS and put it aside. While the universe and characters are familiar and it fits perfectly fine among the other entries, THE LAST JEDI takes what has been and tries to carve a new path. Specifically, Rian Johnson carves a new path.
"Let the past die", is something that you will hear in the two and a half hour entry and it speaks to the STAR WARS universe at large. The heroes of yesterday, while influential, may not decide the fate of this trilogy ultimately. Luke, Leia and Han undoubtedly are the catalyst for much of what transpires but a new hope (forgive me) must be forged in order to survive. You will read much that compares this film to what is widely seen as the best of the franchise, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and while some parallels exist in that the middle frame always puts our heroes against the wall, THE LAST JEDI deepens the chasm which the Rebels find themselves in. Things don't look good. Ever. Luckily the film sprinkles in humor to break up the shadow that is falling on Rey and Co.
There are some major reveals here and I would not dare spoil them for anyone who has yet to see it but I can say that the details revealed in this film were much welcomed. The final shot is possibly the best of the series thus far since it hints at the larger universe and where exactly the next generation of legends can come from. The answer is anywhere. I find that exciting.
It's hard not to watch any scene with Carrie Fisher and not be reminded that she is no longer with us but what a swan song delivered here. I am not spoiling anything either. Lucasfilm has stated they will not use a digital Leia in Episode IX. So, wherever she is at the conclusion of the film, it seems we will see no more of our Princess. Fisher seemed slightly uncomfortable in small portions of THE FORCE AWAKENS but Leia is on from the word "go" here. For Mark Hamill, he gives Luke an entirely new level of character. While Han was still Han and that was welcomed, Luke is not the same. He is a bit paranoid, pessimistic and seemingly lost. Hamill does so much during his time on screen but never seems to overshadow the newer crew. He is vital but then so is nearly everyone else. Everyone's actions have consequences and even rewards on occasion.
The plot does have a thread too many spinning at once though. We are spread out for a majority of the run time and the hopping back and forth can feel bloated. There is a particular sequence through a casino type establishment that appears to have celluloid to trim. A second viewing will give my final verdict on that. This is a film I need to see twice. Much happened that kept me guessing at what would land next, my head spun once or twice. There is a solid 40 minutes of the film that I said to myself, "Where do you go from here?". In a good way too. The scenes felt important. To see how Abrams tops them will be a feat to conquer.
On the directorial perspective, Johnson is able to make the film his while also making it STAR WARS without question. The use of silence is well executed on a few occasions and on other sequences, the music disappears and we are left with a very intimate setup for dialogue between two characters. To say more could spoil so I will stop there but where many felt that JJ Abrams made the safest film possible in THE FORCE AWAKENS, Johnson is willing to take chances on an established product. That is not to say I don't enjoy THE FORCE AWAKENS. I very much do. Much of it feels a bit too familiar though. Narrative risks are a nice change of pace.
THE LAST JEDI sets up a finale that does not tip its hand at all. Quite honestly, I have no idea where you start in Episode IX. There is a lot going on and much to resolve. Rian Johnson delivered in a way that many who were excited at his name being attached had hoped for. The cast chemistry is off the charts and there are stakes through the entire endeavor. Time will tell how it stacks up again EMPIRE, but this is the best STAR WARS film since 1980.