I think it’s difficult to assign a grade to The Last Jedi, because the quality of various plot threads differs dramatically. For me, The Force Awakens was a joy to watch (even if it was a carbon copy of A New Hope). The Last Jedi had so many glaring problems that it was difficult to sit back and simply enjoy the ride.
I’d like to focus on three categories; the weakest parts of the film, what was missing, and what I found to be excellent.
The opening sequence which sets the stage for the rest of the film is quite weak. First, the stakes are rather low. The Empire is chasing a rebel ship (First Order, Resistance, whatever) which we’ve seen a thousand times, but we have no reason to really be worried, or even interested– only lame characters are getting killed, and this is basically the status quo of the Star Wars universe. Second, the idea of an extended, relatively slow, linear chase between starships is absurd, because the Empire has such an immense fleet that it would be trivial for them to coordinate with other craft and have them make lightspeed jumps into the path of the escaping rebel vessel. So the core driving force of the plot arc is ridiculous within the Star Wars universe, and limps out of the gate.
The Rose-Finn story arc is the most glaring mistake. It eats up considerable screen time, yet does not forward plot or character development, and has the shit-ass comic vibe of the prequels. Rose is a poorly developed character (What skills does she have? What is her personality?). Finn, who was an insecure, goodhearted, and just-brave-enough guy in Awakens, is now a bumbling idiot who relies on oversized rabbits to get him from one plot point to the next. Benicio Del Toro’s considerable acting talent is completely wasted on a character who’s a minor part of a pointless digression.
There are so many gags in the casino environment; the true hacker is a parody Frenchman, BB-8 shoots coins at enemies, they make a loud, obvious landing on a “pivotal” mission to save their friends. Contrast this with the realistic, lived-in world of Rogue One, when the protagonists meet the blind force-adept character. Notice how the frames of Rogue are not overloaded with shitty CGI, slapstick humor, and forgettable characters.
The duel between Finn and Phasma falls totally flat. No one cares about Phasma– she’s not a part of this film’s plotline in any way. She is only thrown in because she is an action figure. Contrast her death with that of Boba Fett. His death was quick and minor, in accordance to his importance to the main plot arc. But he still matters more to the audience because he is fucking awesome, not a “chrome dome”.
Del Toro’s betrayal of Finn and Rose is similarly meaningless. Why would they expect a hacker-for-higher, who they met in a prison cell, to exhibit loyalty? Contrast this to Lando’s betrayal of Han Solo in Empire. We care about Han; he and Lando have a history together. The betrayal affects the plot and all of the main characters.
This betrayal occurs between Rose and Del Toro, two characters we don’t give a shit about, and it literally affects nothing because Pink Hair has a plan that takes care of the rebels regardless of Finn and Rose’s actions. Nobody cares–not the audience, not the other characters.
I could go on for pages, but let me just mention a few more awful things: Leia floats through space when she is dead; BB-8 can do anything now; Poe is one-dimensional, Luke plotting to murder his nephew is completely out of character, as is brushing off his shoulder to taunt Kylo; Maz Cantina flying around killing people while face-timing.
I also felt there were some major elements missing from this episode. There is no romance between Finn and Rey, or Kylo and Rey. In my mind this seemed to be a big part of The Force Awakens, especially near the ending. I was also disappointed that we didn’t learn more about the Knights of Ren/Snoke’s background (instead we had to follow Rose and Finn through an Episode One detour). I was also a little disappointed that they didn’t recut the film to feature Leia’s on-screen death. Now her death will just be part of the opening crawl in the next film, or mentioned as an off-camera event. If only there had been an appropriate time for character to die, like when she was floating lifeless through cold vacuum of space…
There were some truly amazing elements. I loved the communication between Kylo and Rey via the force. Their relationship, and the relationship between the dark and light side of the force, is at the heart of this trilogy. What a fun way to illustrate that balance, between characters we actually care about.
I also love how Luke and Kylo both felt that the Jedi and the Sith had run their course and needed to be replaced with some new paradigm. Kylo, Rey, and Luke are all searching for meaning, and balance, and a way forward, and are looking to forge unsteady alliances. It’s compelling. Kylo and Rey’s performances are excellent, and Luke’s performance is good, especially given some of the bullshit he had to do. He somehow kept the character slightly dignified.
The scene in Snoke’s throne room is one of my favorite sequences in the entire saga. It was unpredictable, well acted, pivotal to the plot, and visually stunning. I feel that it surpassed any action sequence in another other Star Wars film.
Overall, the sequences surrounding the Sith and the Jedi range from good to fantastic. The other components of the film, range—to quote Norm McDonald—from shit to fucking shit.
Nevertheless, I want to see the film again. I hope JJ Abrams is able to salvage this trilogy in the next film.