Warning: this review will attempt to spoil as little as possible of Episode VIII, but will spoil most of the previous films in the series.
“Let the past die; kill it if you have to.” Kylo Ren’s line in the trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is emblematic not only of the themes within the movie, but of the processes of writing and producing a Star Wars movie that departs from the originals in order to bring the series fully into the modern day. Not that VIII isn’t Star Wars: there is still the classic and consistently thrilling musical score, land and space battles that punctuate a rapidly developing plot, and a fairly traditional structure of good versus evil. The Last Jedi complicates the Star Wars formula in ways that I personally found refreshing, but could be more controversial among hardcore fans of the originals (the vast gap between 93% positive critical reviews and just 56% positive user reviews on Rotten Tomatoes being evidence of this dichotomy).
Episode VIII boasts a larger main cast than any other film in the series to date, and does a truly admirable job of developing all of them throughout the film’s 2.5 hour run time. The conflicts in Episode VIII are more internal than in any other Star Wars, with the arcs of Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren having a particularly introspective nature. It probably could have been shorter– there’s a climactic moment that I thought marked the beginning of the end that actually came about two thirds of the way through– but there are more than enough plot points to justify the runtime, and the story only drags near the beginning.
The movie definitely borrows plot points from its Original Trilogy counterpart– there’s a gambling planet, a battle with giant walkers against a door in a great white wasteland, and the hero spends most of the movie on a planet separate from the action, training in the ways of the horse and having visions of the villain.
However, this similarity to Empire is nowhere near as blatant or consistent as Episode VII’s echoing of A New Hope, and there are at least two genuine twists that played on the audience’s expectations of what the second movie in a Star Wars trilogy was capable of.
On the whole, The Last Jedi is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure in which the stakes feel high and the characters are easy to root for. Disney, Lucasfilm, and director Rian Johnson have created a story and audiovisual style that feels simultaneously fresh and comfortably familiar, even if it does use its status as a Star Wars movie as a crutch at times.