It might not have Jar Jar Binks and has opened to generally favourable reviews and a massive box office take but I'm going to put it out there. The Last Jedi is one of the worst Star Wars movies of the ten released so far.
The clear winner for worst Star Wars movie is the TV Holiday Special. And The Phantom Menace follows that. Although I enjoyed The Last Jedi (TLJ) while I was in the theatre last Friday night, the more I thought about it, the weaker I think the movie is.
What follows is full of spoilers. So read on only if you don't mind a bunch of plot details being revealed.
The good stuff
There were some strong points to TLJ.
The dialog between Kylo Ren and Rey was great. The "virtual" interactions, which were manipulated by Supreme Leader Snoke were a very clever device that provided the mechanism for Luke's confrontation with Kylo later in the movie.
The fight scene with Kylo and Rey was excellent even though there was a huge negative into it in my view (more on that later).
And the way Kylo surpasses the grandfather he revered, Darth Vader, by killing Snoke and becoming the Supreme Leader himself was an interesting twist. Vader's defeat of Darth Sidious was the final step in his turn back from the Dark to the Light. For Kylo, it is how he assumes power through the Dark. And it opens the door to who will become his apprentice.
I really liked a couple of the light sabre kills. In particular, the one where Kylo and Ren are fighting Snoke's guards and Rey throws a sabre to Kylo who catches is and activates it so it pierces the skull of the guard. That was pretty cool.
My favourite scene was the suicide mission, by the new character Vice Admiral Holdo. Taking the Resistance's last ship and plunging into Snoke's by activating the hyperdrive was nothing short of spectacular.
Luke's finale, presumably so he can become a Force Ghost, was a fitting end to his human existence. Particularly after he completely fooled Kylo so the flicker of the Resistance could make their escape.
The bad stuff
The last scene in The Force Awakens (TFA), when Rey hands Luke his old lightsaber was a brilliant way to end that movie. To then see Luke cast it over his shoulder like an old chip packet was terrible. I guess it was meant to be funny. I suspect the writers and directors were trying to make Luke out to be an eccentric hermit like his teacher Yoda but that was never his character.
Many of the jokes felt really forced in TLJ. In TFA, when Poe is about to be interrogated and he asks Kylo who goes first, it was funny and helped establish Peo's bravado. But almost every joke in TLJ felt like a Dad Joke.
The strength of the original trilogy was the triumvirate of good guys; Luke, Leia and Han. After the TFA, I really thought Rey, Poe and Finn would be that new trio. Instead, we had Poe being belligerent and launching a mutiny (that the audience was meant to support even though we eventually learn he was in the wrong), Finn off on a wild goose chase with the lovely but useless Rose, and Rey doing some interesting stuff that actually drove the plot along.
Finn's entire mission seemed like a way to keep him busy, give him a love interest in Rose, and act as a vehicle for Benicio Del Toro's character. He's a fine actor but the entire act on the casino planet did absolutely nothing other than add about 30 minutes to the movie.
Rose Tico was a lovely character. She's feisty, courageous and driven. But if she hadn't appeared there would not be a Rose-sized hole in the movie. The plot would have progressed nicely.
I've watched every Star Wars movie several times - other than The Holiday Special which I could only bear to watch twice - and have no recollection of anyone ever worrying about fuel. For the Resistance to suddenly need to find a servo after decades of war with the Dark Side seemed like a piss weak plot device. Throw in the fact the First Order had suddenly developed a way to track ships through hyperspace and we had a deus ex machina that left me scratching my head. I'd have had an easier time believing there was a spy called Hansel leaving intergalactic breadcrumbs.
TFA had some great bad guys. Captain Phasma was a fascinating but underused character. Seeing her come back in TLJ only to be killed (we assume) was a waste of a great foil. I'd have liked to see her become Kylo's second in command, after he sliced Snoke in half by using The Force to activate Luke's lightsaber.
Killing Snoke was a good way to build Kylo's power but I really wanted to know more about Snoke. Perhaps that's being held back for a future solo movie project.
And when it comes to killing characters - how they heck did Lucasfilm let the writers and directors kill Admiral Ackbar off camera and barely give him a mention?
The Porg... useless characters designed to sell stuffed toys. Enough said.
During the closing scenes, one of the slave children on the casino planet is seen wearing a ring with a Resistance symbol. Aside from being another cheap marketing ploy, it is utterly ridiculous that a slave would be able to keep such an item while working. And the little trick of using the Force to grab his broom - was that meant to add ambiguity as to who the last Jedi will really be?
I really love Star Wars. Just this weekend a friend and I were playing with various Star Wars toys I have at home (at almost 50 years old, I ought to grow up I guess!). I went to see TFA a week ago at a theatre, accompanied by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and it was the best cinema experience I've ever had. I watched Rogue One again last Wednesday (it’s a great movie although it really hits you hard in the feels) and will gladly sit down to watch any of the films again.
When you look at the overarching plot of episodes one to three, you could easily omit almost all of the The Phantom Menace and it would barely do anything to damage the overall plot of that trilogy.
In Episodes 4, 5 and 6, each of the three movies contributes to plot in a major way. All of the characters that are introduced are important and are developed.
In TFA, there's hardly a wasted moment. And while the action in TLJ was great, a lot of it was useless filler. One of the strengths of TFA was the interaction between Poe and Finn and Finn and Rey. In TLJ, there were rarely on the same planet. Rather than have Finn take off with Rose to get the secret to the First Order's hyper speed GPS tracker, it would have been far more interesting to have Finn and Poe on that mission. There would have been more opportunity for interaction between them and it would have made a nice contrast to scene from TFA when Finn rescues Poe.
Is the TLJ a terrible movie? I don't think its terrible. But just as The Phantom Menace was a wasted opportunity to build the Star Wars canon, The Last Jedi misses lots of great opportunities.