Before I get into my review of The Last Jedi, it's important for me to start off with talking about The Force Awakens. When I watched The Force Awakens for the first time I left the theater excited and rejuvenated; the movie was exactly what the franchise needed. It played on the nostalgia, but also made things feel new again. After the awful prequels it was such an amazing breath of fresh air.
I also left the theater feeling something else. The Force Awakens, while amazing at first glance and exactly what the franchise needed, would fall apart over time. Whether it was the "bigger Death Star" the ridiculousness of Starkiller base sucking up a sun, or the fact that Rey was able to best a trained Kylo Ren with no previous training of her own, there were always going to be major parts of the movie that fell apart with future viewings.
How I left The Last Jedi was the exact opposite. I never got the one, amazing moment out of the Last Jedi that I really wanted. A moment for Luke Skywalker to look like the immensely powerful Jedi that he truly was. Yes, Skywalkers' force projection was an incredible Jedi undertaking and bad ass in it's own right, but I wanted to see him look amazing with a lightsaber, not with advanced astral projections.
That said, I also left The Last Jedi knowing that it was going to stand up over time. I knew that there were beautiful story arcs for the characters, that Rian Johnson was able to prey on every preconceived notion that we had as fans and flip them on their heads, and that Johnson was able to deliver us a universe going forward that we truly needed.
Upon my second watch of The Last Jedi, I feel like my initial instincts were wholeheartedly correct. In TLJ, on the casino planet of Canto Bight, Fin is taken aback by the pure beauty and majesty of his new surroundings. He seems like he's a kid at Disney World for the first time. Newly introduced character Rose Tico implores him to "look closer." For those who were not as entertained with The Last Jedi during the first viewing, I urge you to do the same.
Every character has the arc and story that they need: Luke's coming to terms with his failures with Ben, Kylo's pure thirst for power and desire to be in total control, Rey finding her place in this story, Leia leading the last piece of the resistance, fly-boy Poe Dameron coming to grips that leadership is more than blowing things up, Fin realizing that there was something worth fighting for and that running's not always the answer, Vice Admiral Hodo's sacrifice for a greater cause, and even DJ the code-breaker who finally introduced shades of grey to this yin and yang, light and dark story.
There was also beauty in the messages. These include the message on Canto Bight that often times some of the most ugly truths are hidden behind false beauty, the poor treatment of the fathiers and those taking care of the fathiers, the fact that somebody great doesn't have to come from an established family lineage the fact that failure is sometimes the greatest teacher of all, and finally the fact that a single, seemingly inconsequential event, can have a longstanding impact and change the course of those who are fighting against injustice.
There's a lot to take in with TLJ, but the more you watch, the more you appreciate the direction that Rian Johnson went in. I found myself completely entrapped in the movie from start to finish and honestly there isn't much I would change.
I do have three specific gripes with this installment, however. The first I mentioned already, I would have loved to see Luke have his moment before his fatal end at the close of the movie.
The second and third are semi-related. To me, the job of the second movie in a trilogy is two-fold. Give me something in movie two that I didn't recognize in movie one. I should leave movie two wanting to run home and watch movie one all over again. I didn't get that feeling with TLJ. It's second job is to fill me with anticipation for movie three. While I'll undoubtedly be excited for the third and final chapter, I wasn't left with this insatiable desire that I couldn't wait for the next movie to come out. There were no real unanswered questions or lingering issues that I was dying to see resolved.
Part of the issue of course is that Disney did the directors no favors. One director should have been placed in charge of the trilogy instead of three (or now two). The handing of the baton between movies is hard to overcome, especially when each director is able to provide his own interpretation of next chapter. It makes it incredibly difficult to built continuity between movies when there's not continuity between those in charge.
The last thing I want to touch on was Rey's parentage and Snoke's death. For those who were disappointed I would urge you to rethink your stance. Both of these outcomes were the best possible scenarios. You don't need to be a Skywalker to be somebody in this universe, that makes this universe better. And the death of Snoke made the main villian, Kylo Ren, that much more evil and sinister. That's a win as well. I could not have been more pleased with the direction Johnson went with these decisions.
While TLJ has it's flaws, it holds up incredibly well when re-watching and should very much stand the test of time. Johnson put Episode 9 in a good spot and really J.J. Abrams has the ability to go in any direction he wants. Rey, Poe, Fin, and Kylo all became stronger characters in this movie and that's a huge win. In the end, The Last Jedi is absolutely deserving of every high movie review it received and deserves better from those who were vocal about their dislike of the film. Again to those who weren't sold after watching the first time, I urge you, "look closer."