Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Spoiler Edition)

The spoiler-review of Force Awakens is here. This review references that one in several places.

As should be obvious from the title of the post and the first sentence, this review contains spoilers. Please skip to the spoiler-free review if you do not want spoilers.

I glossed over similarities between Last Jedi and Empire Strikes Back in the spoiler-free review, but I want to take a moment to look at that a little more.
Both films begin with the bad guys showing up in force, and the rebels fleeing with much loss of life and materiel. In both cases, some of the rebels can't escape through hyperspace.
Both films have a young force-user training with an older master. In both cases, the master is reluctant to teach the student. Both students leave with incomplete training against the advice of the master.
Both students confront the main villain, who is the apprentice of the wizened evil overlord.
That is a lot of similarities. The reason I glossed over them, though, is that the feel and execution is very different. The opening evacuation scene, while clearly intended to be referential, is not very much like Empire's at all. The chase sequence that follows is fundamentally different than Empire's. That was about the characters of Luke, Leia, and Han interacting. Last Jedi's feels more like the Battlestar remake's 33, where the fleet is hounded and can't get away.
Furthermore, the dynamic between Rey and Luke is nothing like the one between Luke and Yoda. Luke's crushing bitterness dominates that section of Last Jedi, while the Dagobah sequences are part training montage and part physical comedy, with only a few serious bits thrown in.

One of the points I made in my review of Force Awakens was that I liked the new characters. That mostly continues in Last Jedi. My biggest complaint is Poe. He survived the first movie only because the fans loved him, and it appears that someone decided that the answer was to feature him even more. The problem is that they give him the same role over and over again - he's the brilliant pilot who doesn't follow orders. Repeatedly. After being disciplined for doing it the first time. And the second time. Speaking of which, the rebels are awfully casual about the consequences of armed mutiny. Still, Oscar Isaac is charismatic and intense enough to mostly pull it off. Mostly.
Finn's characterization starts much the same as Force Awakens - he's the guy who runs away - but thankfully diverges as the film goes on. Pairing him with Rose mostly works, though this movie will upset a lot of shippers, I think (that's a fan-fiction reference). My problems with his role are structural - while I appreciate what they did with the Canto Bight plot arc, it really emphasizes how bloated the story structure is. "Here we are in a tense chase scene. Let's send a main character away with someone we just met to look for someone who is only necessary because we said so. Oh, did we mention that this chase scene will last 18 hours?" Just, weird decisions on plot structure. Boyega doesn't shine the way he did in Force Awakens, but he's still good.
Rey's Daisy Ridley gets a lot of the heavy lifting as far as acting skill. Her interactions with Luke and Ren are both excellent.
I like Kylo Ren much, much more in this movie than in The Force Awakens. Even before the confrontation with Snoke (which is utterly brilliantly staged), he is a much better character. Some of this is the decision to get rid of the helmet, but a lot of it is the emotion and nuance he gets to express. I still don't care for Adam Driver as an actor very much - I wish we could have had Colton Haynes in that role - but it is what it is.

As far as returning characters, again I much prefer Leia's portrayal in Last Jedi to what she had in Force Awakens. She is less wooden, more human.
I note that C3PO has his regular arm back, about which nothing is said, which makes its obtrusive presence in Force Awakens even more inexcusable. Neither C3PO nor R2D2 have much of anything to do in this film, but that isn't necessarily a problem. Same with Chewbacca.

For new-new characters:
I appreciated Benicio Del Toro's understated (for him) performance.
I have complex feelings about Rose. Her role is somewhat forced, but I appreciate having a female Asian lead, and her acting is good (a side note: Kelly Marie Tran's acting background appears to be mainly comedic, including several shorts for College Humor - I previously saw her in "Are you Asian enough").

For all that I've complained repeatedly about the story structure, I appreciate the slow reveal of what actually happened the night that Ben Solo became Kylo Ren. That was one of my outstanding questions from Force Awakens, and the payoff was not at all what I expected. I like that they show Luke as a badly flawed person - he always was in the original trilogy, though we tend not to remember it.

I complained in my review of Force Awakens "There'd better be a really good explanation of how Max Von Sydow ended up with that piece and only that piece of the map." Sadly, there isn't.
This movie also repeats the bizarre assertion that Finn was a janitor. I don't even know.

In-universe continuity gripes:
The trick that the Admiral pulls with the hyperdrive: if that's a thing that is possible, why in the world has no one used it before? Even if you presume that it takes a large, massive ship to get that effect (so you can't just use an X-Wing), why not load freighters with rocks and destroy the entire New Order fleet?

Leia's vacuum-flying scene: I presume that the writers had in mind that she was using the Force to pull herself toward the ship, but this is a bit awkward. More problematic is her surviving explosive decompression (and regular old explosion, with shrapnel). We have zero setup for Leia having the level of power that would be needed for that, nor do we have prior indication that the Force is capable of preserving a person in that way.

The battering ram, the one that has "Death Star tech" in it - why is it so lousy? It stinks of a plot device constructed around the notes that the writers wanted their characters to hit, rather that something that makes sense in itself.
Speaking of which, why in the world is Rose one of the pilots in that sequence, other than for plot reasons? We have no prior evidence that she is at all qualified.

Despite all of that, I still like this movie. Will it hold up to repeated viewings? Perhaps not. Will it rival Empire in the hearts of trufans? No, not even close. Is it a worthy part of the Star Wars Saga? I think so. We'll see where they go with Episode IX.

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