The Last Jedi breaks the mold and reignites a franchise
The prospect of a new Star Wars movie every year is still kind of frightening. Yes, The Force Awakens and Rogue One are not bad films by any margin, but it's hard to imagine the quality can sustain itself for too long. But out of this monkey's paw wish gone awry has come The Last Jedi, an incredibly well-made story that both dismantles and rebuilds the saga in shocking ways.
Even though J.J. Abram's work on Episode VII introduced new characters, worlds, and a brand new conflict, it still felt like it was afraid to venture too far from the cozy world of the Skywalkers. The film ended with a literal passing of the torch, young Jedi-wannabe Rey meeting master Luke, presumably to return his trusty lightsaber and be trained in the ways of the force. It was an enjoyable, charming movie, but it wasn't truly a new generation of Star Wars. Episode VIII, however, has no qualms about starting anew.
I'll try to keep from spoiling anything major, but know going in that Rian Johnson's script is not afraid to take the concepts and characters you've loved since '77 and change them forever. Almost everything that the Star Wars faithful hold dear is challenged here, including the Force, the Jedi, the Empire, the Rebellion, and more. The message here is not that this stuff is expendable, but that it is largely unnecessary. The result is a Star Wars tabula rasa; all the weight and expectations of rumors and theories are discarded and all that remains is the soul of the series, that love will ultimately triumph over hate.
That may all seem lofty, especially for a series not known for it's pathos, but the details are in the movie itself. I'd hate to ruin the specifics of how it does what it does. It's not all brooding and burning, though; the direction is also fantastic, with spectacular set-pieces both above and below the atmosphere. Some of the coolest Star Wars moments ever happen in this brisk two-and-a-half hours, and you won't see them coming. It's also amazingly in-tune with its characters, with nearly all of the main cast given a close, probing look.
Yes, I'm gushing, and if you're surprised I'm doing this post instead of Mike, our usual action movie bro, chalk this one up to "it's 2017, everything is upside down." In a year full of chaos, it's good to know that I can still be amazed and surprised by something as recurring as Star Wars.