I can't talk about anything interesting in this movie without mentioning ***SPOILERS*** so don't read this if you don't want anything spoiled.
My impressions coming out of this movie were very similar to my feelings coming out of "The Force Awakens." I thought, "well that was kinda fun but...actually this part didn't really work....and really none of it worked."
"The Last Jedi" was more artfully done because Rian Johnson was looking to build off major themes rather than mindlessly creating mystery boxes and copping nostalgic techniques to help you get high on memberries.
The main and most interesting theme? Father time and girls are still undefeated...Normally that's phrased differently but I don't want to be crass.
The most interesting thing about the new films has been Kylo Ren, hands down, no contest. Rian Johnson seemed to agree and built this movie largely off Ren. George Lucas seemed to belatedly figure that out about Darth Vader after "A New Hope" and built the rest of the original trilogy around that realization. Or maybe he knew all along, I don't know, don't @ me.
In "The Force Awakens" Kylo Ren and the First Order were a nice parallel to the modern world in which the Alt-Right and white nationalism are emerging issues in America. They (the First Order) are busy reviving old symbols and figures from the fallen empire, marching around like Nazis, and generally playing the heel. Kylo Ren can't bear being the bitter, disappointing son of boomer, free spirited Han Solo and he's drawn to the past while also hating it.
You'll notice that the First Order seems to be a "whites only" institution, save for Supreme Leader Snoke, and this point is really driven home when Captain Phasma's helmet is cracked open and we see the fair skin and blue eyes underneath staring back at Finn with malevolence.
This is also noticeable in Luke Skywalker's battles with the past of the Jedi Order. My favorite line of the film, by far, was Luke noting the hubris and failures of the Jedi order and how "at the height of their power" they allowed Darth Sidious and his father to bring the whole thing crashing down. He hates this repeated failure of the Jedi Order, largely because he found it within himself as well when trying to train Ben Solo and a new generation. Self-loathing is always the strongest kind.
Meanwhile the Force has evidently risen up Rey and Snoke to burn things down and allow something new (and hopefully better) to be born from the ashes. Given the juxtaposition of the "whites only" and backwards-looking First Order with the diverse and ultimately white male-free Resistance, there's an obvious theme here of an America that's looking forward towards a day when things are different and it's not just white males at the head of everything.
In "the Force Awakens" Rey seemed to be more of a feminist icon, a girl from unknown but surely amazing origins who was going to turn the galaxy upside down. In "the Last Jedi" she's a nobody, raised up by the Force to represent a new future. Her character is a blank canvass, filled with great potential that is ultimately highly alluring to Kylo Ren who wants to grow and become something newer and better than the past. So she basically from being a feminist icon to becoming a highly feminine archetype.
Kylo Ren's growth in this movie is driven by a desire to become what he needs to become in order to impress Rey and draw her in to help him build the future world he's envisioning. He's able to conceal his intentions from Snoke, murder him, and then take over the whole dang galaxy. Fortunately Rey is not won over. You'll have to do better next time, Kylo.
That's really the logical end point of this saga, Kylo and the old Skywalker family and heritage being redeemed by Rey and Ben Solo's decision to grow into the kind of leader that is worthy of the future represented by Rey. I guess it's more likely though that the series will end with his death, perhaps while saving her from some new threat, but these movies haven't been at all cohesive due to the director chair passing from Abrams to Johnson and now back to Abrams again for part nine.
I think I'll stick around for the next movie just to see what happens with Kylo Ren, he's an excellent and relevant villain. I have some doubts that his character will resolve in a satisfying way.
The problems? Many, they are...
This movie has glaring plot holes that largely emerge from the need to give Poe and Finn stuff to do.
Why didn't the blue-haired vice admiral, who's played by Laura Dern and who looks and acts like an incompetent HR drone, just explain the plan to Poe? Leia explains the plan to Poe in like 10 seconds and he gets it but Vice Admiral Holdo just issues vague platitudes and expects him to follow along. That's not leadership, that's just nonsense. That leads to Poe and Finn's meaningless journeys into meaninglessness.
Why is this slow-speed chase occurring in the first place. A friend of mine (@drryanpepper) noted to me that it doesn't make much sense that the First Order would content themselves with the slow chase rather than expediting things. In your massive, expensive, and advanced fleet you don't have any faster ships that can catch the resistance craft? Seems a major oversight.
Why not light speed jump some big star destroyers or dreadnoughts just a little ahead of the resistance craft and box them in? The First Order's plan isn't absolutely terrible, but it's not great either. @Drryanpepper compared it to the WR of a team that's up by 4 with 45 seconds left taking a knee at the 1 rather than just going into the end zone and ending the game.
Speaking of military strategies, another topic that has come up in discussion of this movie was the tremendous effectiveness of Holdo sending the main resistance craft light-speeding through the main First Order ship. That was a breathtaking scene, one of the more visually impressive of all eight (or nine I guess) Star Wars movies. It also creates problems for the future.
Lots of people are now saying, "why wasn't the rebellion doing this the whole time? Perhaps using droids as suicide bombers?" Well, that's a similar question people have asked for why the South insisted on large scale, pitched battles against the North in the American Civil War. Because they saw themselves as equals and equals meet on the battle field under certain rules of engagement until someone emerges a winner. Engaging in terrorism or insurgency tactics can frustrate a major power but it doesn't lead to credible authority as a fellow state that can wield power. See ISIS and the effectiveness of their terrorism juxtaposed by their failures when trying to build an actual state.
However, that's basically where the resistance is at by the end of the movie. There's like 15 of them left or something and there's not much else to do except to go plant I.E.D.s in space to thwart the First Order and recruit followers from the ranks of people that are disenchanted with life under Supreme Leader Kylo Ren's governance. That makes sense as a story, but that's probably not a story that the traditional Star Wars audience is going to identify with or enjoy.
You think they were mad when you killed off Luke and made Rey a nobody from druggie parents? What do you think they'll do if you turn Han Solo's son into the new emperor and then heroize people who hide and plant explosives to blow up his ships and kill his minions? It'd be an interesting story, I'd eat popcorn and watch it, but it's a risky move for a movie series that wants to sell tickets to an American audience. The latent "white males are the problem" themes have already angered lots of viewers so going in this direction would be a major double down.
Here was the biggest issue though...
The force wasn't terribly strong in the case against nihilism...
Let's go back to Finn and Poe. The mission to destroy the First Order's tracker, which gives Finn, Rose, and Poe something to do in this movie doesn't really make sense. It's awkward that they chose these characters to give the Star Wars greater diversity but then shunt them sideways while the white actors do all of the important stuff.
One interesting thing that happens in their side story though is their journey to the town of the 1%, where people who have made a fortune selling weapons to both the First Order and the Resistance like to gamble and abuse horse-things. It's here that they meet Benicio Del Toro's character, who can crack into the First Order's ship and help them out.
Del Toro's character understands the life cycles of the Universe driven by the Force. Darkness emerges, light overcomes it, light gets decadent and decayed, darkness emerges to destroy it, lightness re-emerges stronger and better. His thinking? Why not just get rich in the process and let the Force do its thing?
So he sells them out to the First Order and is apparently unworried that this will end the war and end the potential of future arms sales because the Force will find some other force of good/light to renew the struggle. He can always sell to them later, or just gamble away these new earnings until he's dead.
It's not obvious why he's wrong or what the Resistance should be doing or why they should even be striving at all rather than finding somewhere to hole up and get by for the various tumultuous cycles. Maybe see if Supreme Leader Kylo Ren might grow into statesmanship if you stop fighting him rather than trying to piece together the galaxy again under a single authority? Del Toro's character raises some interesting questions and perspectives within the larger themes of the movie...but maybe they should have just been ignored?
Especially when one of the main counters to this perspective seems to have been, "we don't win by destroying what we hate but saving what we love!!!" Well that's just total nonsense.
You're going to save what you love from what? Obviously from the violence of the First Order. How are you going to do that? Well considering that the header above the title says "Star Wars" I'm guessing you're going to end up fighting them, with violence. You probably aren't going to do that without developing a hatred of the evil within the First Order.
It was just sentimental nonsense that doesn't actually make any sense or answer how the Resistance is actually going to overcome the First Order or establish some kind of lasting peace that can avoid falling into decay and being destroyed by the next Sith Lord.
You can't help but wonder if Disney is the codebreaker, allowing the light vs dark struggles to go on endlessly while they collect stacks of checks. If that's the play y'all are going to make you'll need to start giving us more to sink our teeth into and enjoy that gives us "A New Hope" when you make episode nine or anything afterwards.