I will state again that I liked The Force Awakens
, but felt that the film played things too safe. Thankfully it's sequel avoided that. Also this review is going to be longer than normal because I plan to address the complaints I've seen directed at the movie.
It feels like the first item on the film's plot was to address how it how meaningless the use of Starkiller Base was when we saw it used on some planets we know nothing about. As a lot of people on Quora pointed out, the weapon did wipe out the seat of the New Republic and wipe out a chunk of its military. TFA mostly glossed over this, just like how ANH glossed over the danger the rebel base was still in after the Empire discovered it, even with the Death Star destroyed. Now some people might find on the Resistance's situation too bleak, especially with the idea that the weapon kept anybody from opposing the First Order, but remember that this movie is set right after TFA, the rest of the galaxy likely has no idea the Starkiller Base was destroyed. I'm sure we will see that change in the sequel, especially when the galaxy hears just how much damage the small Resistance has done; taking out the First Order's superweapon and the largest ship. If the First Order could build such weapons, they clearly should still have more fight left in them despite losing them, but if they lost them to such a small group of opposition, that can't have helped their reputation.
Onto the film's multiple plots; I won't deny it's not perfect. Having so many plot lines does lead to slow start. The subplot with Finn and Rose dragged the movie down, especially given that it's resolution amounted to nothing. I can see what the movie was going for; taking the idea of staking everything on one crazy plan and showing how dangerous that can be, and I can't deny it had it's entertaining moments and got very exciting once the jail break started, but that was a lot of time to spend on something that turned into a red herring. Especially since Holdo might have been able to avoid it if she hadn't kept her plan a secret from the main cast for no reason beyond building tension. Hey I said I was addressing the complaints against this movie, I didn't say none of them had merit.
The plot with Luke, oh boy. I can easily see why people are upset with this. Luke tried to redeem Darth Vader when everyone else thought it was impossible. The same man we saw not protest a word to destroying a planet just to spite Leia, almost destroyed the Rebellion, and routinely killed his own men, and that's not even considering things we've seen him do in the Expanded Universe. So yes I agree that Luke gave up too easily after his failure with Kylo Ren, even considering killing him was out character, as was going into hiding and leaving the galaxy to overrun by evil. Like before, I see where the movie was trying to do, it wants to remind us that our heroes can be flawed. Especially the Jedi, whom we had an entire trilogy and a cartoon series point that they and their ways were flawed, despite being the symbols of hope for the galaxy. But I wish there was a way to do with this without halfway derailing Luke's character.
However, I will address the complaint that Luke tried to kill Kylo Ren out of fear he might turn, as far he explains, the thought occurred to him for a moment, but he was not actually going to do it. If you want to make complaints, stick to things the character actually did.
Complaints aside, this plot did still provide an interesting take on the usual Star Wars mentor relationship, and I loved the self parody joke where Rey thinks she's feeling with the Force and it's just Luke tickling her hand. Plus once he pulsl himself together he is the Luke we all wanted to see. Now some people would have liked to see him raise his X-Wing and come back, but that thing had been underwater for who knows how long, the thing was probably broken. I am not saying Luke not returning for the climax in person shouldn't have been done, I am just saying there was a valid reason as to why he didn't. Besides Luke still showed that he could still have kicked his crazy nephew's ass any day of the week if he did come in person when Kylo Ren failed to even touch him until Luke allowed him to. And he humiliated his nephew right in front of his entire army. That's probably going to become important later.
Rey's part of that plot was thankfully much better. Despite a switch in directors, we have a good expansion on her character. She was left alone since she was a child and looking for a new parental figure to latch onto, first with Han, now Luke. Oh boy, I know that there a lot of people who are disappointed that there was no big reveal regarding Rey's parents. I personally don't feel we needed one; all we gather about her is that she wants to do good in the universe. Part of her character was learning to cut away from the past and move forward, her parents didn't matter to her in the end, so why should they matter to us. Star Wars has always been about how a hero can come from anywhere in the galaxy, and the idea that Rey's family were nobodies is a good return to it.
We don't need our story to focus on resolving mysteries, yes that makes for a lot of good TV shows, but that doesn't mean this movie needs to built around resolving mysteries to be good. On the subject of Rey being nobody, we could accept villains outside the Skywalker family being on its level of power, so what's wrong with a hero? Besides, does anybody REALLY want a reveal that Han, Leia or Luke had a child that they abandoned on some desert planet? That sounds horribly out of character for them.
Kylo Ren being redeemable was a big question that weighed on everyone's mind. TFA left that ambiguous, and this film continued to leave me guessing with his hesitation to kill Leia, and a show that there was some good in him. As it turns out there was, just not enough to safe him. We've seen users of the Dark Side who are not pure evil outside the movies, Darth Maul, Savage Oppress, Talzin, Asajj Ventress, but there was no turning them towards the light. Kylo Ren was just the first villain we saw in the movies like that. He's not completely evil, yet he believes in the First Order's cause, yet he's capable of love and wanted to Rey on his side as he saw a potential companion in her. He certainly didn't have any in the First Order; Snoke was a cruel master and Hux would try to slit his throat if given half the chance.
I actually liked seeing Kylo Ren take over as the main villain when he managed to resolve his inner turmoil, Snoke still felt like a poor man's Darth Sidious. I had wondered how we could ever take Kylo Ren seriously after he lost to Rey in TFA, and we got our answer here; by having him get over his main weakness and kill his master. He's Darth Vader's grandson alright, and along being threatening without the mask he's shown some of his grandfather's cunning. Plus we've seen ideas of Jedi learning to balance both sides of the Force and not be so dogmatic, there's no reason to assume we could never see a villain try it to better themselves. Also won't deny that after Kylo Ren killed Snoke, I really did think was one of the of the good guys. In hindsight I should have known better because that would left Hux the main villain and he's certainly doesn't deserve that position.
I feel like Snoke's characterization has changed with the new director given how much he's hamming up the scenery, but maybe that's just me. I am probably in the minority who didn't expect any big reveals about his identity. Once I read the backstory on the First Order, I just figured he was some user of the Dark Side we had never heard of before. And from what we can gather in this movie, that's all he was. As for Kylo Ren killing him, Snoke died thanks to his arrogance getting the better of him like Sidious did. Sidious was subtly implied in the film, and outright stated in the novelization, to be so immersed in the darkside that he couldn't sense feelings outside of it, so he couldn't sense Vader's betrayal. Snoke could sense the exact wording of Kylo Ren's thoughts, yet he was so certain Kylo would never betray him that he was so arrogant he didn't consider the actual meaning.
To people who still think Rey is progressing too quickly, do remember that Kylo Ren was clearly the much better lightsaber duelist than her when they fought Snoke's bodygaurds, beating multiple guards while she struggled with just one, on top Luke beating her at her own game with fighting sticks.
That's all my thoughts on the main characters. As for the supporting cast; there wasn't a ton to say about Finn and Poe this time around. Finn looked like he was just jumping ship, but he says he didn't want Rey to come back to a ship when the First Order was beaming down on it. Seeing as he nearly gave his life against the giant gun later, I'll believe him. Rose was a decent addition, her introduction showed that not everyone was brave enough to stay on the doomed ship. Her exposition on the casino planet was interesting. The whole subplot might have been longer than needed, but it was interesting way of establishing that a hive of scum and villainy can come in many forms. This one feels like reflection of how much Americans today loath the top one percent.
Poe's role I gather was an attempt at deconstructing the usual crazy plots Star Wars is known for, and I will give credit that he was shown to be in the wrong when he called out the Holdo and she show later she show was not the coward he thought she was when she cut Snoke' Star Destroyer in half by ramming it! I just want to say that is the single most awesome space, ANYTHING, I've seen in Star Wars.
Leia's survival was huge shock. Yeah not a lot else to say about it, other than her unexpected role in stopping Poe's plan as it turns that despite the triumphant look from her return, she trusted Holdo over Poe, much to the latter disappointment.
Hux I found to be a forgettable replacement for Tarkin in TFA, and I still find him to be one here. He does almost nothing beyond barking orders while chewing the scenery in a way that makes him come off as an unstable manchild, Snoke even calls him a "rabid kerr." His only clever moment with tracking the Resistance ships ends up making Snoke look stupid because apparently the Supreme Leader of the First Order was informed about a new and very useful technology. He's so forgetable that the only purpose for him has become to act as the galaxy's punching bag, which at least gives us some funny moments at his expense.
Phasma not getting much a role besides her fight with Finn makes me wonder why such a big name actor was cast in her role. I also think it's especially hilarious that her armor is blaster proof when she was held at gunpoint in the last movie, just a show of different characterization, under a director that actually had a use for her.
Now as I've mentioned this movie is not perfect. No film is. I still find the lack of backstory for the First Order to be a misstep. Neither this film nor TFA even gave them much of a backstory, even in the text crawl. The fact that the heroes as called "The Resistance," an event that was supposed to big shake up in the galaxy when we didn't even have a new status quo established yet was dropped in the last film, and our heroes being called "rebels" when were told the New Republic existed only made things more confusing when we were told the Empire was defeated. My take is the Resistance just uses "rebels" as a term of affection, given that from what the expanded material say, the Resistance aren't the rebels, the First Order are the rebels. Also with Snoke dead it's unlikely he will get any backstory, and while I don't mind him not having any connection to existing characters I will criticize how there was a user of the darkside this powerful and we never heard him before. The supplemental materials offered an explanation, but I should not have to read those to understand the full story due to because our main narrative using a lot of confusing terminology and includes some new villain in the sequel trilogy without so much as a hint as to where he came from. I will be lenient on this however, since this movie inherited those problems from TFA and it thankfully just focused on telling a good story instead of trying the impossible and attempting to please every single viewer.
Now there are some nitpicks of the action some lore fans will have, and frankly I find them to be aspects of lore that are depicted very inconsistently so I won't bother covering them. Technology and weapons in Star Wars have always been vague and inconsistent between writers, so I'm just going to thankful we don't see any mindless technobable solving everything like in Star Trek. But I will agree one major plot hole; Luke making a map makes no sense. If Luke didn't want to be found, why did he leave a map? I can only assume that was the result of a mystery being established in the last movie without a clear goal as to how to answer it. In hindsight, there is no way that could have be resolved in a way that pleased everyone. Some other people are disappointed we didn't see the other Knights of Ren, but I don't see why they would need to be in this movie when the focus is a chase in outer space.
Like Rogue One, this film's comedy is a lot better than TFA despite being much darker. My favorite moments were with Chewbacca and BB-8. The latter was cute in the last film, but he really earned his stripes her and proved himself a worthy successor to R2-D2 by pulling off tricks R2 never could.
Action wise this isn't as good as Rogue One, but that was a very high bar and it still managed to have its share of unique and tense action moments, mixed in with some really funny ones.
I can never rank films in a series easily, but this was a great follow up to TFA and along with Rogue One, it is definitely my favorite Star Wars movie. It was funny, it looked amazing, it played with the conventions of Star Wars and showed the new trilogy is going to do its own thing without being tied to the past. Yes this movie had its flaws, all films have their flaws, Star Wars included. I had my ideas for how TFA should have gone, but if they had been done the desperate and tense struggle to survive that was this movie's main plot would not have been possible, so now I can't picture TFA having gone any other way. Some people might find the film too depressing, but given how the last two movies have shown the First Order take some heavy blows despite winning and Kylo Ren isn't set up as a popular leader, I feel it's set the grounds well for their defeat in the next film despite the Resistance' near destruction.