Spoilers for the movie.
Lucasfilm had an opportunity here to take this franchise forward, with new characters taking over from the Big Three- Luke, Leia, and Han. At the same time they could show fans what the Big Three are like thirty years after Return of the Jedi. So many possibilities! And while the introduction of more diversity into the cast is a welcome addition, in my view they badly bobbled the existing characters. Luke wasn't even in The Force Awakens until the last minute, Leia had nothing to do and Han was a grouchy old smuggler rather than Leia's ally and a hero of the Republic. Now Luke and Leia are left, and we finally get to see what a Jedi master looks like thirty years later. Well, it turns out he's... rather grouchy and bitter.
Jaded by his failure with Ben Solo, Luke has retreated to an island on Ahch-To to basically retire. Yes, another galactic war is raging, his sister is in the middle of it, and Luke is just hanging out. The problem I have with this is that the Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi was triumphant, having defeated both Darth Vader and the Emperor, and it stands to reason that there would be setbacks as he tries to resurrect the Jedi. Sure Ben Solo is a pretty big setback, but for him to retreat and turn on the Force doesn't ring true. I don't buy it as a character arc, and judging from Mark Hamill's comments in various interviews, he had trouble with it too. So whatever my other problems with this film, the primary issue for me is the way Luke is handled. Everything bad flows from that.
I'm just going to share my likes and dislikes below, and I'd love to know what you think.
The portrayal of Luke. Wait, didn't I just say I disliked that? Well, yeah, but I'm talking about Mark Hamill's performace here. I thought he did well, and he had a nice redemption moment at the end. That scene where he withstood sustained Imperial (er, First Order) fire and then shrugged it off- there were cheers in the audience.
Vice Admiral Holdo (played by Laura Dern). I wasn't crazy about her at first, but she won me over by the end.
Ahch-To. The water planet where Luke too refuge, and the site of the first Jedi temple. I loved the location and the remote nature of it, and the sense that it had a Dark Side place, just like Dagobah did.
Chewbacca and the Porg's flying through the caverns under Crait, when they drew the TIE fighters away. Fun scene and one of the few that made me feel like I was in a classic SW movie.
Rey and Kylo fighting together. This was the signature lightsaber battle of the movie, as they took on the red- garbed Imperial guards, and I loved seeing them work together. Pretty good battle too.
The portrayal of Luke. Yes I'm having it both ways with this one. This is the heart of my problem with the new trilogy as a whole. I want to see Luke at the height of his powers, interacting with Han and Leia, as part of the Republic, not as a jaded hermit on some island somewhere. As much as I loved Ahch-To, Luke should be out in the galaxy- doing things.
Artoo Detoo was again criminally under-used. He hardly has any scenes, and BB-8 has totally taken over his role.
BB-8 irritates me at this point.
Poe Dameron has potential but he's too one- note. Same with General Hux. Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson are talented actors- I mean, watch Ex Machina and you can see them act. They just don't have good material to work with.
Leia floating through space, protected by the Force. I thought that scene was so bad.
Finn and Rose. Their storyline seemed entirely unnecessary (not to mention boring as all get out) and was part of the reason for the bloated run time.
Snoke. Is that a stupid name, by the way, or what? He was so over the top and he's certainly no Emperor. And he got killed, we never found out who or what he was, so he was pretty much useless?
Luke dying. First Han, now Luke. You know we never got to see those two interact, so Return of the Jedi was it. Wouldn't it have been nice to see them share a laugh, or the old banter?
The battle of Crait was too much like Hoth.
The movie's too damn long- did I mention that??
Yoda looked terrible. Why can't they ever capture him as well as they did in The Empire Strikes Back?
Kylo Ren- boy Snoke wasn't kidding when he told Kylo he was no Vader, just a kid with a helmet. Kylo is as whiny, petulant and lame as he was in The Force Awakens. Thank goodness he ditched the lame helmet, at least.
So there you have my largely negative feelings towards The First Jedi. I would love to enjoy these movies but they're just going in an entirely different direction and seem so derivative. Where are the new ideas? Why couldn't we have the Big Three be together, at least somewhat, and do meaningful things? And although we got to see Luke Skywalker show a few fancy moves, he didn't get a chance to really kick ass as a Jedi master, and then to kill him off? To me that's a failure.