It’s hard to review a movie in the Star Wars franchise. People are so spoiler-phobic that it’s almost laughable. But at the same time, one has to give some idea of this movie now that the first weekend is behind us. The best way to start is to explain what this movie is not. It’s not a remake of The Empire Strikes Back. It is not Luke Skywalker as Obi-wan. It is not someone remaking the franchise in his own image. If anything, Rian Johnson is probably the one guy who should be shepherding it in the post-Lucas era. Which might explain why he is getting his own non-Skywalker trilogy to begin after Episode IX debuts.
It is, however, possibly the best movie of the (so far) eight trilogy movies. Johnson balances call-backs to the previous movies – with Luke even ranting about events in the prequels – with moving the story forward. It’s a sea change for virtually every character, old and new. Some of Kylo Ren’s whininess is explained as Snoke is revealed to be an even bigger dick that Palpatine aspired to be on a good day, and exponentially more arrogant. There was a certain mischievous streak in the late Emperor that Snoke lacks. It makes the character instantly, though believably, unlikeable.
But Luke, too, has already changed, more like Yoda than Obi-wan when it comes to training Rey. He’s also conflicted about what happened to change his nephew from Ben Solo to Kylo Ren, moreso than Obi-wan’s failure with Anakin. But thanks to Luke and his inner circle from the afterlife, we find out Force ghosts can do a helluva lot more than look stunning in their blue shimmering outlines. We may yet see Anakin appear to Kylo and tell him to get off the Force’s lawn.
The new characters solidify their roles in the story. Poe is a cocky flyboy who thinks he knows more than his commanders Finn begins still having doubts about sticking around as the First Order hunts down the Resistance. And Rey is defined clearly, both in her lineage and in her destiny. She is very much the yin to Kylo’s yang, but the events leave Kylo’s role even more ambiguous than before.
Most poignant is Carrie Fisher’s performance. It’s probably the best of the series. She has reinvented Leia as the mother of the Resistance. It makes Fisher’s death all the more difficult to handle because there is going a huge hole to fill in Episode IX without her. The movie is dedicated to her memory.