The following piece of criticism will include the discussion of plot points and the fates of characters; please do not complain to me about spoilers if you read beyond this sentence.
The Last Jedi feels cobbled together from bits and pieces of The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi: we get training sequences in a remote location headed by a reticent Jedi master; we get trench battles featuring hopelessly outnumbered rebels facing down AT-ATs; we get a final duel in the throne room of a star ship as a hero of the Alliance watches her fleet be destroyed, her allies snuffed out hundreds at a time. And I probably could have lived with that, to be totally honest, if it wasn't for the fact that writer/director Rian Johnson also borrows from the prequel trilogy's shoddier storytelling impulses and action set pieces.
Our heroes are divided into three plotlines. The Resistance is on the run (again) and the Empire remnant the First Order has laid claim to the Galaxy (again) following the destruction of the Republic (again). The First Order has recuperated remarkably quickly, given the fact that its Starkiller base was just blown to hell; an entire fleet of Star Destroyers pops above the planet Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) are trying to evacuate.
Needless to say, the Resistance makes its escape (again), and when Finn (John Boyega) awakens from the coma we left him in at the end of Force Awakens he discovers that the First Order is not only on their tail still but able to track them through hyperspace. (How has this one foolproof escape hatch present throughout every other Star Wars movie been nullified? Oh, it doesn't matter. Science, or something.) In order to slip the First Order once and for all, Finn and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) must travel to a casino planet and find a hacker who can get them aboard Supreme Leader Snoke's (Andy Serkis) flagship, which will allow them to deactivate the tracking device and let the remnant of the Resistance flee to safety.
Rey (Daisy Ridley), meanwhile, picks up where we last saw her on Ahch-To: she's handing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) his lightsaber, ready for her training. But he's just not that into her, having sworn off the whole Jedi thing and closed his mind to the Force. Needless to say, like his master before him, Luke relents and does some modest amount of training before Rey, frustrated by her lack of progress and annoyed at his unwillingness to rejoin the fight, leaves to try and turn Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) back to the light side of the Force.
The best parts of The Last Jedi revolve around Rey, Luke, and Kylo, around the mental connection shared by Rey and Kylo, around Luke's feelings of failure and his inability to keep Kylo from succumbing to the dark side, around Kylo's anger at living in the shadow of his grandfather and his uncle. Rey and Kylo have real chemistry—that is, there seems to be a mutual attraction, even as they struggle against each other's plans—unlike Rey and Finn, who hug so awkwardly and platonically at the film's end you'd think they were coworkers worried about getting slapped with a #MeToo complaint from Leia's HR department.
Unfortunately, we keep getting dragged away from the only emotionally resonant portion of the film to watch Finn and Rose engage in sub-prequel hijinks on the casino planet. Everything here is forced and awful, visually uninteresting and often dark to the point of unwatchability, lousy with mawkish little kids making bug eyes at the camera as we marvel at the horror of economic inequality, and drowned in an atrocious patina of truly terrible CGI. It calls to mind the droid factory in Attack of the Clones and the pre-podrace sequence in The Phantom Menace. Most offensively, the whole Finn/Rose diversion has absolutely no importance to the forward momentum of the plot—it's utterly irrelevant, even nonsensical.*
By constantly yanking us away from Rey and Kylo, their showdown with Snoke loses any resonance it might have had. We know nothing of Snoke, nothing of his plans and plots, his hopes and desires. We have no idea why he's so angry. All we know is that he … is kind of gross looking. And strong in the Force. There's nothing to motivate him and therefore nothing for us to care about when he meets his fate; he's your standard-issue, MCU-style, evil CGI/motion capture construct. He's a twirling mustache brought to life.
And no one cares when a mustache gets trimmed.
Also—and this is a peeve that might not resonate with some of you but it vexed me greatly—Johnson tries too hard on the humor front. Just one, brief, example: The whole opening sequences involves Poe doing conference call shtick while trolling Admiral Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). It's weirdly un-Star-Wars in the sense that it feels like something you could see on any dreadful sitcom here on planet Earth; this sequence is more fit for The Big Bang Theory than a supposedly dark entry in the Star Wars canon. The Star Wars movies have always been funny, of course, and there are moments when Johnson makes it work in a Star-Wars-sort-of-way (I'd watch a whole spinoff about the put-upon Jedi nuns who live on Ahch-To and have to clean up after Luke and Rey). On the whole, though, it feels desperate and forced.
All that being said: The Porgs were pretty cute. Good job there, guys. You earned every one of those merchandising dollars that Disney's going to rake in.
*So, the whole reason, from a plot structure point of view, to get Finn, Rose, and the hacker on Snoke's ship is to have the hacker betray the Resistance to the First Order. Which, okay, fine: there's something interesting in this whole bit about shades of gray and it's nice to see our heroes fail at literally anything for once. Except, there's no way** the hacker in question would have known about the Resistance's plan to escape to the mineral planet—they were captured before Poe discovered what Admiral Effie Trinket (Laura Dern) was up to—or that the ships in question were cloaked. My point is not so much to scream "PLOT HOLE!!1!!1" as to ask why, in this 2.5-hour movie, we spend 30 minutes on something with no narrative impact whatsoever? Why are we taken away again and again from something more emotionally compelling (Rey/Kylo/Luke, yes, but also Poe/Leia/Effie) for this sub-Star-Wars-cartoon interlude? You know why we don't really care about Snoke's croak, why it feels so weightless? Because the time we could have spent learning to hate him—or learning literally anything about him, since there is no big reveal, no secret identity: Snoke is just Snoke—was wasted on the two shittiest, most boring characters in the entirety of Star Wars history: Rose and Finn.
**[update] On second viewing, there's a shot where the hacker is seen overhearing Finn and Poe talking about the plan. (Must have missed it taking notes the first time; my bad.) Again, though, the point wasn't so much to scream PLOT HOLE PLOT HOLE as to ask why we were wasting so much time on this subplot when it did nothing to move the action forward and turned what should be exciting space fantasy into a boring, overlong slog.
Published under: Movie Reviews