Picking up from events from Episode VII (aka The Force Awakens), things have gone sideways. Oh sure, the good guys blew up the planet-sized Starkiller Base, home to most of the evil First Order, but at a serious cost. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) was murdered by his son, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) was seriously injured, and Rey (Daisy Ridley) took off for Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) secret home to bring him back his long-lost lightsaber and seek answers.
Borrowing elements from Harry Potter and The Return of the Jedi, there are several stories playing out at once: the First Order still has the Resistance on the run, and believe me, this is NOT a good time to be on the losing side! Slimy General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is busy pursing the last rag-tag fleet of the good guys and using some really nasty space weapons hereto unforeseen, like a cool-looking Dreadnaught ship. Ace-pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) has his hands full trying to save the fleet single-handedly, but he keeps butting heads with not only General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), but also her second-in-command, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).
The only way to keep the First Order permanently off their backs is to dismantle their tracking system, but to do that, they’re gonna need a master code-breaker & thief to sneak aboard their ship. Looks like it’s gonna be up to Finn and fan-girl, fix-it-all techie Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) to fly to the gambling Las Vegas-like planet of Canto Bight and find one while precious time is running out for the Resistance.
Meanwhile, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis in mo-cap) no longer has faith in Kylo Ren and wants Rey as his new apprentice, which makes sense since she bested Kylo in the last movie. BUT she’s busy having prob’s of her own. Luke Skywalker, disillusioned and just plain grumpy, refuses to train her, but does an about-face after seeing her talents, which include doing face-time (àla Harry & Voldemort) with her enemy, Kylo. But will all his training be enough? And what about all those merchandisable little birds on the island called Porgs?
Anyway, the stage is set for several showdowns on many fronts: there’s Snoke’s wicked cool meeting with Rey, the entirely padded adventure on Canto Bight finding DJ (Benicio Del Toro), a thief who says he can break any code, Captain Phasma (Gwendolyn Christie) and her shock troops, and a battle on a nearby planet strangely reminiscent of the ice battle on Hoth. There are many, many other plot points and twists that I’ve left out (y’know, spoilers and all), with this extremely long 152 minute film that has a great 120 minute movie lurking somewhere inside of it. Rian Johnson, who both wrote & directed this epic tome, decided to through in everything including the kitchen sink to get his masterwork on screen.
It’s an epic, all right, filled with all the usual Star Wars suspects and then some, but in all this there are tons of plot holes the size of Star Cruisers and multiple cases of deus ex machinas and fantastic coincidences that make you shake your head in disbelief. Johnson has written some extraordinary movies like Looper and Brick which didn’t have so many faults… but on the other hand, many other parts of this movie just soar with The Force. Plus, there are nice comedic touches, damn nice choreographed fight scenes, and some very solemn acting moments.
The dynamic between Luke, Rey, and Kylo is palpable and feels unrestrained; a sheer delight to see and experience, not to mention the payoff! Their stories are the best thing about this movie. Jettison the whole ‘find the code-breaker’ dull plotline, and you’d have a tighter script and a better movie, in my opinion. Major kudos to the SPFX team for Snoke, as he looks SO real and, given Serkis’ deft performance, made his character come alive.