As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I couldn't wait to see The Last Jedi and successfully managed to avoid all the spoilers before seeing it. So, if you haven't seen it, look away now because I'm going to be talking about stuff that will completely spoil the film for you.
When I came home from seeing the film yesterday, I took a few hours to calm down and then started reading some fan reviews. Whilst some people were expressing similar levels of excitement and disbelief as me, quite a lot of people were saying how unnecessary the plot involving Canto Bight was - that the film was too long and could have been trimmed down. Of course it's all about opinions but I think on the surface, yes - that scene seemed to have little or no purpose in the grand scheme but if you look at where they are, who is there, what they do, what they find out and what it means, that entire part of the plot is so well crafted and planned out, it gives the rest of the film context.
Whilst I'm no social commentator I've got my opinion on why I think the scene in the town with the casino was there. Finn is the Han Solo of this new trilogy - his motivation was always to try and get as far away from the fight as possible only to get caught up in it and fight alongside the rebels even though he strictly isn't one. Rose catches him trying to escape - with good intentions of course but she has such a high opinion of him, it was important that he live up to that, and he does eventually. Anyway, they fly away to the casino planet to try and find a master code breaker who can help them board Snoke's ship so they can disable the tracker enabling the last remaining rebel ships to escape. This is where they're despatched to Canto Bight and where, in the opinion of some fans, the story gets slow and off-track. Here's why I think it's so important.
1. Good people do bad things without realising it
Before they land on the planet, Rose tells Finn that they're about to go to a place which is filled with the worst people in the world. This casts your mind back to Mos Eisley which was a hive of villainy and scum. Canto Bight is the exact opposite, filled with rich people with upper class values, complaining that someone has parked their space ship on their private beach. It turns out that most of the people here have made their money from selling weapons to The First Order; the spoils of war. If you think about it, most of these people will be related to those who are profiteering, unaware of the consequences, unaware of what else is going on in the galaxy. They're here eating fine food, living in luxury, playing in casinos and drinking the most expensive drinks they can order. They don't care about rebellions or Jedis or the Dark Side or any of that. That's where they've been brought up, that's how they live, that's all they know. In real life, we buy goods based on how nice they look or how well they do a job; we're not bothered who made it or how it was made or how it affects the environment or who was exploited to create it for us. We buy it and use it and then throw it away. Most of us try and recycle for instance but sometimes we put things in the wrong bins. I think there's an element of this in Canto Bight. Under the surface is a very powerful message about slavery. Children being sold into servitude. We see it in Anakin and his mother being 'owned' by Watto. We see it in Rey being sold to the guy who owns the junk yard. And now, in this scene in the Last Jedi we see children looking after the beasts they use for racing.
Rose asks Finn to look closer - he does so through the binoculars and sees them mistreating the animals and the children. All so the rich people have races to watch and bet on. The rich people don't care that this is happening under their noses, or maybe they do but there's nothing they can do about it because it's accepted practice. People who are essentially not bad people but they're condoning bad things without realising it. This entire scene is here to remind us that the universe isn't all about Snoke, Luke, Rey and Kylo - it's a huge place which has many different stories going on, some of which aren't directly linked but affected by the decisions being made elsewhere.
2. What is freedom?
They go looking for the code breaker and end up getting caught. They're thrown in prison where they meet DJ who says he can do the job for a price. He gets them out, BB8 causes a bit of mayhem and confusion and then Rose stops one of the stable hands from sounding the alarm by showing him her rebellion branded ring. The boy stops and agrees to help. This, in my opinion is such a huge moment especially as we see at the end of the movie that this boy has force powers and could well be where the story picks up in the new trilogy - a new generation. Once they decide to use these huge llama-horse things to escape on, it does get a bit 'Wacky Races' but again, it's showing how resourceful they are, how they're not afraid to try anything for the cause and eventually when they reach a cliff edge, dismount and almost accept defeat. Finn comments that the beasts are now free as the herd gather over on the plain. Rose says no, cuts the saddle from the last beast and then tells it to join the herd, saying 'now it's free'. It ties into something DJ says to them; 'Be free, don't join'. This entire sub-plot is about freedom and I think will tie in to the future of the Jedi now that Rey is going to be the face of the new band and that she now fully appreciates the subtleties of freedom of choice. We also see that Finn believes these rich people selling weapons to be horrible and unethical, DJ shows him that not only do they make weapons for the First Order, they also make weapons for the Rebels - making their money out of war. So do their ethics even come into it?
3. Plans never go wrong
I might be wrong but whenever a big plan is made in Star Wars, they always pull it off in some way. This to my recollection is the first plan I've seen go wrong and they have to come up with a Plan B. Whilst DJ gets them onto Snoke's ship and to the tracker in order to disable it - he's cut a deal with the First Order (a lot like Lando in Empire Strikes Back) and betrays them. Now, whilst characters have been caught by betrayal before, and caught trying to lower the shields in Return of the Jedi, they always managed to get back to their main plan and achieve it. In the Last Jedi however, they get caught and never manage to disable the tracker. On the surface it makes you wonder what the point of the whole thing was - but you find that out when Finn sees Phasma's eye through a crack in her mask he almost feels a sense of pity until she says 'You were always scum' and he regains his resolve and replies 'Rebel Scum'. In that moment you see him commit to the cause in a way you never sensed Han Solo ever did. He's all in now and that's confirmed when you see him about to sacrifice himself by flying directly into the cannon to blow it up later.
4. Save what you love
The last point to make is about the relationship between Rose and Finn. She was always attracted to him because of his supposed status as a rebel hero - which he himself denies - but he lives up to that label and more by the end of the film. In some ways I feel Finn is the centre around which the entire trilogy will roll. It was his humanisation of the Storm Troopers that I feel will become central to Episode IX, where perhaps more storm troopers will defect with Finn as their focal point. Anyway, Rose sees Finn about to make that sacrifice but she crashes into him and stops him from doing the ultimate deed. She then tells him that they shouldn't be destroying what they hate but saving what they love and then she kisses him. This thread goes all the way back to the casino planet story. They've connected so deeply throughout their mission together. It reminds me a lot of the Guardians of the Galaxy scene with Peter Quill and Gamora, where they talk about Kevin Bacon. A quiet scene away from the hubbub of fighting and explosions where the characters actually get brought to life so you can see what makes them tick; why they're in the story at all and why you should care about the decisions they're making.
That's my humble opinion as to why Canto Bight was so important to the film overall, I'd love to hear yours. Is The Last Jedi the best of all the Star Wars movies - if not, why not?