A few years ago, outlets everywhere broke the news director Rian Johnson would helm the 8th film in the Star Wars franchise. Upon hearing this, I have been aching to see what Star Wars: The Last Jedi would be like. Just like Christopher Nolan for Batman, having the man who made LOOPER has paid off in a big way. Just like all of his previous efforts, Johnson has found a way to dive into something familiar and make it feel completely unconventional.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi begins not too long after the final moments from The Force Awakens. War has officially come to the rebellion and casualties abound the first few moments. Poe Dameron of the resistance is working with Leia to destroy the resistance but she doesn’t approve of his impulsive methods. Throughout the film, their relationship is expanded in a very satisfying way.

The strongest subplot in the entire film revolves around the push and pull relationship of Rey and Luke. It’s hard to explain how great they are together without going into spoiler territory, but every moment of screentime they share is great.  Mark Hamill is the best part of the entire film, playing an old and troubled Luke.

The film takes his story into territory I don’t think fans will expect. There’s a sadness to him about the life of being a Jedi, and in some ways, he has become cynical of the Jedi order. We are far from the Jedi enthusiast we knew from the old trilogy. However, in the context of Rian Johnson’s story, the character direction makes complete sense.

Adam Driver was hit or miss for some fans in The Force Awakens, but I think most of the groaning will stop after this weekend. His character Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo grows in an organic way due to Johnson’s writing. Again, most of this is hard to explain without spoiling, but I was pleased with the choices made with him as well as the payoffs. Nothing about Kylo feels one-dimensional, and part of you is often rooting for him.

Star Wars The Last Jedi is ambitious but not without its weaknesses. There’s a side plot to the film involving Finn and a new character named Rose that probably could’ve been trimmed some. Not all of it works, but there are many aspects I do appreciate and admire despite its hiccups. Also, there’s a surprise character actor — and I won’t say who — that talks funny that felt like they were pulled from a completely different film. The movie has other issues but with a movie this ambitious and smart, it would be nitpicking.

What really makes Star Wars: The Last Jedi so great is that Rian Johnson makes it completely his own. I’m not going to bash J.J. Abrams because honestly, he was mainly brought in to recapture the magic of Star Wars, which he accomplished. Because of that, Abrams didn’t have as much of a voice as Johnson does here. This is a Rian Johnson film in the same way Prisoner of Azkaban was an Alfonso Cuaron film. It’s ambitious, it’s weird, and it often reaches for new things. Just like Looper, sometimes he wins and sometimes he slips, but the most fun of all is watching him play the game.

My favorite part of Johnson’s work here is that most people will be expecting The Empire Strikes Back, but outside the teacher-student dynamic this movie is nothing like Empire. I can honestly see why he was offered his own trilogy, because he walked into this sequel and made it look so easy.

Overall, The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. Rian Johnson has accomplished a sequel he should be proud of because there is nothing like it. Even the lightsaber battles are some of the best we’ve seen– which feels like tributes to films of Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo). It’s far from perfect but it’s the most ambitious film in a long time for this franchise, and it deserves to be rewarded.

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