Like most of America and much of the world I went to see the eighth chapter of the Star Wars saga, a story which has occupied much of my life. And like many I found the story both surprising and interesting, but sadly I never found it compelling. Star Wars -The Last Jedi fell a little flat for me, but I'm beginning to think that says more about me than it does about the movie. I'm part of that lucky first generation who were wowed by the original Star Wars (went to see it in the theater four times in those pre-video days of yore) but I couldn't be bothered to even see Star Wars -Rogue One yet despite it being out more than a year already. My Star Wars ardor has cooled over the years. More after some spoilers.
The biggest surprise for me in this one was that Princess Leia does not die. Since the passing of Carrie Fisher I assumed this movie was the vehicle (ironically) which would see her follow Han Solo into the great cinema beyond. It didn't happen though how she saved herself in the depths of cold space was more than a bit surprising.
My favorite part of this sprawling action movie was the utterly fantastic opening battle sequence with the attacks and counter-attacks between the Resistance and the villainous First Order. It's visually exciting and the twists and turns are really fascinating to watch. There is real heroism and if this movie does anything at all well, it's to showcase the personal sacrifices of the many members of the resistance to sacrifice their lives to help bring a better way of life to the countless folks who suffer under the heel of the First Order.
And now to the meat of the event, the seeming demise of the one and only Luke Skywalker. Luke has been the nerve center of these movies from the get-go, his role in the first one of course key to understanding them all. The first three movies are his secret origin in which he finally makes an appearance as a baby at the end, the second three are his coming of age stories, and now we find the saga which marks his demise. Of course I use demise and not death since as we saw just this time out with Yoda, death is not the way it goes for powerful Jedi knights, no they get to live on as ghosts imparting wisdom to the next generation. I suspect we'll see Luke again, no great surprise.
The Rey storyline was supposed to be the key one in this epic tale, and somehow it got demoted behind the battle story. That was weird and then they add the somewhat irrelevant mission by Finn and Rose which comes to naught, but does chew up screen time and does allow the creators to push a few more of those nostalgic pleasure buttons for longtime fans. The Vegas/Monte Carlo rendition of the cantina scene was funny, but we worked awfully hard to wedge that into a story which was already creaking from the weight.
It was sadly evident that Finn has no more story, or at least none that got moved along. The addition of Rose as some sort of divergent love interest was cute but reminds me of the swerve the Lord of the Rings movie played in the second installment with the seeming romance between Aragorn and Eowyn. It never went anywhere, but it was there to fill up that tantalizing expectation that something happen. They've have been better served here if they'd just left Finn on the shelf and added more to Poe's story (he was on the shelf in the first movie for the most part) and given us more focus on Rey.
Speaking of Rey, I did like the bombastic battle sequence when she and her quixotic ally Rylo Ken cut through the red guard of Snoke after his assassination. That was a good battle with a real grimness but still a gleam of derring-do which movies have long had for swordplay. It wasn't as intense as the finale three-way battle from The Phantom Menace but it was pretty good.
And a big complaint for me was the lack of Chewbacca. He got a few funny scenes, but since his promotion to captain of the Millennium Falcon (I assume he's the captain, I don't really know) he deserved a bit more screen time.
END Of SPOILERS
As a general rule I've like the updates that J.J. Abrams has overseen on such venerable franchises as Star Trek and Star Wars. The visuals have been given a boost of realism and immediacy which have been very good for storytelling which can become stodgy with way too much reverence for the past. I see signs of that same remaking in The Last Jedi also, especially the emphasis on character and close shots. The movies made by Lucas were about the worlds, the landscapes and that was awesome. These movies are more about the people and that's important, but is a striking change and might not be supported by narratives which last a very long time. But try as they might in this one, the emotional impact was blunted more than I'd have expected for a story with this much potential punch.