To give a quick background on where I fall as far as that's concerned, I'd definitely call myself a fan of the franchise, but nowhere near "hardcore"; I've seen all of the movies and remember a bit of the 2D-animated Clone Wars, I casually played a few of the video games (like the Episode I podracer and the Lego adaptations), but that's about it. Never read any of the books, wasn't someone who got upset that the "extended universe" got pretty much thrown out the window, haven't obsessed with any facet of it at all. So, with that in mind, let's talk about the latest installment.
I will say now, it's going to be very hard to talk about this movie without going into spoiler territory, so please feel free to come back after you've seen this movie. Or if you don't care about that, then just keep going. And as another kind of disclaimer, I don't intend for this to come across as a rant; I more intend for this to be an analysis of the movie itself and the reaction of the community afterwards.
- Poe and Hux having their banter at the beginning. Humorous moments are thrown in throughout multiple parts of the movie, and the laughter this scene generated was earned. From The Force Awakens, we're a little unsure of what we see Hux to actually be; he seems to be Snoke's right-hand man, but we don't know how worth fearing he is. Poe, and later on Kylo, make sure to put him in his place as the true punching bag he is. (And that's not to say that the actor, Domhnall Gleeson, didn't do a good job; he and most everyone were phenomenal with their respective roles throughout this movie.)
- Kylo and Rey's Force conversations. They both show their youth and relative innocence; Kylo doesn't know how or why they're connected, and just wants someone who can understand him, and Rey tries to bring him back to the light. Their juxtapositions during these conversations, both from physical and philosophical perspectives, is a pleasure to watch.
- Luke's behavior isn't as some sage, wise warrior. We could have seen Luke as another Obi-Wan Kenobi or Qui-Gon Jinn, being patient with his new apprentice and dutifully teaching them the ways of the Force. But we learn that when he tried that, during the interim of episodes VI and VII, we learn that it didn't go well because... well, Kylo Ren. Plus, and while this isn't gone into in depth in this movie but makes sense when you think about the series as a whole, Luke wasn't properly trained in the first place. He was advised by someone he barely knew – respected, but barely knew – to go find this "Master Yoda" on a remote planet. When he finally did, he was put through a ridiculous training procedure that probably made very little sense to him. He had to learn and train a lot on his own, and when that attempt to teach a new generation goes horribly wrong, of course he'll feel ashamed and be scared of trying again.
- Yoda. Old, puppet Yoda. He comes back and enjoys the tearing down of old ways, literally watching the past burn, while leaving Luke – and the audience – with practical advice in his classic grammatical style: "The greatest teacher, failure is." (And if there was ever a fan-service moment that was well-executed, that would be it.)
- Light saber tricks. This is always something I've thought about, and it seemed to happen a bit throughout the fight with Rey and Kylo in Snoke's chambers; if users of the Force, both Jedi and Sith, are so eloquent with light sabers, why couldn't they do a few more tricks with them while not actually in their hands? It's not always the most practical way to fight, I get that, but I mean... we've seen Kylo stop a blaster shot in midair, for crying out loud! The fact that Snoke was taken down by a saber without it actually being in someone's hand was greatly satisfying to see, and then the fighting immediately afterwards, finishing with a toss of the saber and it being ignited into a servant's head... It was fun, and again, satisfying.
- Misdirection from the trailers. There were some moments I definitely thought would be as part of one scene that were still included, but just ended up as another, and it worked well; one in particular that I think most people would remember is where Rey is saying that she needs someone to teach her, show her her place in all of this, but while we see it looking like she's speaking with Kylo in the trailers, it's during a conversation with Luke (which, while it could have actually been a thing given what Kylo offered in Force Awakens, makes a bit more sense here because of the faith that Rey has in the light side of the Force).
- Phasma. I liked that we saw a bit more of her, including a bit of humanizing fear as Finn struck her down, but I do wish that we saw more. Though given the 2 1/2 hour runtime, I understand that cuts would have to be made, and her part just wasn't quite as essential as others were.
- The light speed moment from when Holdo went through Snoke's ship. This was probably my favorite part of the experience itself while watching it in a theater. And while I've gone on record to friends saying that I prefer to actually own the movie because it's usually cheaper, and you usually get more than just the movie itself, I will concede that moments like this are hard to beat. While there was the usual dull chatter going on throughout the movie, the buildup to seeing Holdo turn the transport cruiser around and kick it into light speed made everyone there pay so much attention that there was complete silence at that moment, matching the few moments of silence from the film itself while we processed what we saw. Not even a "whoa" or "oh my gosh"; total awe as we saw the clean strike through, understanding that Holdo made a heroic decision without trying to be a hero, helping Poe learn another valuable lesson.
- "Luke wouldn't behave that way!" Well, too bad, you're not him. You, the reader and moviegoer, likely aren't someone who works with Lucasfilm and Disney to produce it. You're not Rian Johnson; you're not the one making the movie. All that we know of what has happened since Return of the Jedi is very little, and what we have seen and heard from both Luke and Kylo – I feel that that justifies his behavior and attitude. His eccentricities and sarcastic behavior are radically different from the previous Jedi Masters we've followed, and it's a fresh change, as I mentioned above.
- "The casino planet was dumb and pointless!" Not really. Finn and Rose went there for a purpose: they wanted to get a codebreaker to help the Resistance esacape from the First Order's ability to track them, and while the person they found to do so eventually betrayed them, it could very well be some kind of set up for a return in whatever Episode IX is going to be called. Lando Calrissian got his redemption; why can't DJ?
- One thing that I didn't really like – and this would probably be the only nitpick I have – was the relationship between Rose and Finn. It may or may not turn into anything by the next movie, but the kiss she gives him before passing out did feel forced. My wife did bring up a point in that Rose could have just been clinging on to the closest thing within reach, emotionally speaking, since she had already been through and lost a lot in the last few days.
- "Rey's parents have to be special since she's so strong with the Force!" I do hope that we eventually see Rey's parents, but it's not essential to the story. If what Kylo Ren said is true – that they're drunkards who didn't care about selling and leaving their daughter in the middle of nowhere – then I feel like that makes Rey and her abilities even more special. As Luke reminds us when he does try to teach Rey, the Force is with all of us, in everything; you don't have to have Skywalker blood in you to connect with it. That boy at the very end definitely pulled the broom to his hand using the Force, and we didn't even get his name. We just know he's someone who believes in the cause of the Resistance. And, lest we forget, Anakin Skywalker was originally a slave boy! He didn't come from royalty, or a long line of Jedi Knights. He was just someone who had a pretty strong connection to the Force, and happened to be discovered by someone else in tune with that same Force. Anakin came from nothing,* so why does Rey have to come from something?
For me, I don't want to go into a movie being able to predict every turn and plot device. I don't want to know beforehand what every character's motivation is for what they do. I want the movie to tell me all that for itself. I want it to show me. I want it to immerse me, surprise me, entertain me. I can't really be entertained if there's nothing new for me to take in. And regardless of what side you fall on the spectrum of loving it or hating it, you can't deny that this latest chapter in the Star Wars saga has defied expectation.
If you enjoyed it, great! Talk about it with others. If you didn't, then explain why and help me understand where you're coming from. It's far from hateable, and will definitely stand out among other chapters in this series. But please, don't just tear down someone else's opinion on it...
*technically not "nothing", he was supposedly born because of the high level of midichlorians... I know this post wasn't meant to be a rant, and it's not... at least about Last Jedi. I do take issue with the general consensus of how Anakin was born. His mother said in Episode I that "there was no father" and she can't explain what happened, so the understood meaning is that Anakin was the product of immaculate conception – at least Star Wars' version of it. This is just me theorizing, but it could just be that Shmi Skywalker was just too ashamed of who his father actually was to tell Qui-Gon. And Qui-Gon, with his gracious attitude, didn't pester her for more information. Maybe the father was who actually sold Shmi into slavery, and her resentment towards him for that made him in essence give up his rights to being a father? I just think it's more plausible than coming from essentially nowhere, given the lore of the Star Wars universe.