I enjoyed The Last Jedi
a lot, and enjoy thinking about it even more. I appreciated that, while The Force Awakens
was a lark--fun, amiable, unburdened by seriousness--The Last Jedi
is a heavier film, one built around the role of failure and how success is a deferred and contingent thing. As has been pointed out above, it's a film about plans not working--indeed, almost no larger plan works out, leading some of the plotting to seem purposeless to many viewers.
It's true, the Finn subplot of the second act is the weakest part of the film. But it's not purposeless. Part of it of course is to introduce themes and subthemes that will be reintroduced and resolved within the main plot (the equivocation over good and evil as clear choices; the socioeconomic elements; the larger failures paired with small successes), and part of it is structural, allowing suspense to be generated by further delaying our return to the precipitous scenes with the fleet. But mainly it exists because, without it, the second act would take place solely within small locations and static scenes: a depopulated island and the compartments of ships. Finn's plot serves to open up the world, to provide colour and movement and a sense of life outside of the self-contained situations that are Luke/Rey's and Poe/Leia's scenes. It may be the weakest section, but without it the second act just would not work. You'd feel how static and empty it was. The flaws in Finn's subplot lie more in the execution than the conception. The casino, as a setting, is too blunt, its symbolism too crass, so that you can feel the mechanism working itself out. Plus the escape on horse(deer?)back is too cartoony. So, yeah, the subplot works overall, but a lot of the particulars don't come off.
That's all fine, though, because the other sections are strong enough to make up for it. I thought it was a bit daring how often expectations were undermined in ways that risked audience fulfillment but proved appropriate from the perspective of theme and character. I think for instance of Luke and Rey's relationship. We're primed for another Yoda/Luke relationship, with a reticent Luke eventually choosing to guide Rey and send her off much as he himself left Dagobah at the end of Empire: raw, but ready to become a true Jedi. What we get, tho', is a Luke who quits training Rey almost as soon as he starts, and they leave each other upon Luke not only admitting his past failures, but seeking further failures, even apocalypse. He see his personal failures as also cosmic failures. He's become a solipsist. Rey learns more about him than from him. This pays off, with Luke and Rey completing their arcs as a result of this interaction, but doing so independently of each other. What Rey learns of herself is that she is neither Luke nor Kylo Ken. Luke, as ever, learns his greatest lessons from an old ghost, in this case a crushing lesson with a glimmer of hope at its core: nothing hinged on him succeeding. His failures, his shortcomings, his personal defeats--all the things that doom a character in a drama--are there to make room for more important people who can learn from his failings and do better, be better. This is the opposite of what we learned in the original trilogy: that the ultimate fate of everything hung on the successes of a few important people. Here, Luke learns that the fate of the universe and the Jedi and the balance of good and evil does not rest with him, and to be content with a spotty record that others can learn from. Luke's arc is to relinquish his quest to remain the last jedi, letting everything live or perish with him. He has to close a cycle he had so long deferred, and repeat the Obi-Wan sacrifice that allows the future to escape. Like a forest fire that promotes new growth, and as Kylo Ren maintains, the past has to be burned away to allow the new to flourish. We can take this to be a statement of this new trilogy (no doubt ironically given who holds the reins): the old characters, arcs, and plots must be cycled through until they are exhausted, die off, and are replaced with something new. Star wars is being replayed until it dies and is reborn as something else. This'll undoubtedly go unfulfilled, and I have no doubt the final film will do whatever its makers feel like doing, but it's interesting to see it hinted at.
As ever, the most interesting character continues to be Kylo Ren. He is certainly the most complex, and there are a number of choices here that are unexpected. Killing Snoke is expected because it repeats the Vader arc, but unexpected in terms of when and how. Snoke doesn't quite get to amount to something as we'd been expecting; he's dispatched, and we have forgotten him instantly, so little does he actually matter. This, again, risks leaving the audience unfulfilled, but I think the choice acquits itself with how it allows something far more interesting and central to progress unmediated: the Rey/Kylo relationship. Again, the old is shattered to make way for the new. Indeed, I think the movie attempts to fix a mistake in Return of the Jedi, in which Vader is subordinated and his conflict with Luke reduced in favour of a less satisfying conflict between Luke and a figure of uncomplicated evil, the emperor. The Last Jedi rectifies this by offing the figure of uncomplicated evil not at the climax, but at the point where the climax begins. This leaves a complicated pairing between two characters who are similar, connected, in sympathy, perhaps knowing each other better than they know anyone else, and yet also opposing figures structuring a larger drama. And with the larger abstractions of good and evil shadowing the story either dispatched, as with Snoke, or deflated, as with Luke, the drama can finally proceed along less mystical and more human terms. Star Wars is coming out from under the weight of Lucas' mythology and metaphysics and becoming a human drama of characters, choices, and values. Once Snoke dies, the choices put to Kylo and Rey are not the go light or go dark variety of the Lucas films. The metaphysics dies immediately. Their choices are more recognizably dramatic and don't seem to hinge on whether either affirms good or evil in an abstract sense. Kylo refuses because he wants free of all the burdens of the past that torment him; Rey refuses because of her need to affirm all the connections she made once she left her isolation and unfulfilled waiting behind. They made their choices based on things that would still be true were there no dark/light side metaphysics at all. The movie abandons Lucas' vague and lumbering Manichaeism for regular dramatic motivation.
There are other things to talk about, but for me the interesting thing is summed by how the important, burning questions of The Force Awakens
--who is Snoke, what is Rey's parentage--have unimportant answers. I like that.