The Force Awakens was fun on its own merits, and thrilling in a nostalgic sort of way, and the fresh Star Wars youths were charming and compelling where they were supposed to be (Rey and Finn), and darkly charismatic where they were supposed to be (Kylo Ren), and absurdly good-looking and sexy where they were supposed to be (Poe Dameron), and of course the ragged old heroes with their hard-living-ass voices were wonderful to see and welcome back. It worked.
But by its nature, by its design, by the frequently unseemly degree to which it just ran back the plot and even the specific story beats of the original Star Wars, because probably its most important task was to produce a feeling of cozy relief that Star Wars had become, again, Star Wars and not Visibly Suicidal Actors Dressed Like Björk Discuss Trade Policy With CGI Stepin Fetchit While Wishing Death Upon Their Agents, it could by definition not be the kind of movie about which anyone—even someone who really loved it—would say, “That ruled.”
Whereas The Last Jedi, on the other hand, is deeply imperfect, tries to accomplish probably a full 40 percent more story than even its very long 152-minute runtime can accommodate, as a result cooks pretty much all of its various subplots to far less than full doneness and badly underuses some of what seemed like they could have been some of its more compelling characters and locales, finishes on kind of a weird note considering it is the middle entry in a trilogy and not the end of it... and rules. It rules. It rules pretty fuckin’ hard, in fact.
This is a categorical thing, I think, and not—or not only—a difference between how good the two movies are. The Last Jedi has real problems in the context of, well, uh, like, now, the period in history in which movies—particularly movies that double as artifacts of high nerd-culture holiness, like this one—are made, or must be made, or are expected to be made, not just to blow you away once or twice in theaters, but to endure nine billion trillion re-viewings and granular examinations. What I am saying here is that I think the story of this one will look extremely Swiss cheesy in the cold light of 4K Ultra High-Definition Digital viewing on your television some number of months from now, pretty much unless you happen to live in an IMAX theater. What I am saying here is that I think I remember the story being very silly and jagged and sloppy in a few places. But the more important thing I am saying here is that I am sure I remember [SPOILER ALERT] Laura Dern turning her capital ship around and ramming it through the bad guys’ ships at the fucking speed of fucking light, [END SPOILERS] which ruled so fucking hard that even now, typing it, I feel like yelling “Fuck yeah,” which I may or may not have yelled when it happened in the theater, seated next to my eight-year-old kid. I like to think I spoke for both of us.
When I saw The Force Awakens, the day it opened, the theater burst into cheers and applause at the opening trumpet fanfare and the big Star Wars emblem receding into the distance. Today, watching The Last Jedi, the theater exploded into cheers and applause (and cries of “Oh shit!”) at the sight of a character sitting cross-legged on a rock. The movie had earned the shit out of it. I don’t think The Last Jedi is the absolute best film it could have been. On the other hand I am dead certain I would watch it again right this second. It rules!