This dust-covered, all-but-forgotten blog of mine is about to be leveled by a storm of agitated thought, because I just saw The Last Jedi on Friday, and I have been unable to think of anything else this entire weekend.
Apologies to the members of my small-but-much-appreciated readership who have no love for or even interest in Sci-Fi films. Now would be the time to disembark this particular starship, because it’s just finished its calculations for the jump to lightspeed. The escape pods are to your left...
Also, this should go without saying, but...
Major spoilers ahead for both The Last Jedi, The Force Awakens, and probably all of the Star Wars films in the end; therefore, help yourself out.
I found Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi to be a profound disappointment. Statistically speaking, most of you probably disagree with me in this. The movie currently has a 93% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has premiered amidst a chorus of seemingly universal cheers. Most friends of mine - on social media and in real life - have reacted with shock when they have heard my opinion of the film. I appear to be utterly out of step with the mainstream in this disappointment; and therefore, though I am not a film critic in any way, I feel compelled to defend myself.
Please allow me to state my case.
We begin with an important point. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a massive fan of Star Wars. I wish the series well. I love the originals, I wept (with most of you) over the manifold faults of the prequels, and, as is more pressingly pertinent, I am a huge fan (and apologist for) The Force Awakens and Rogue One. Thus far, I have loved the direction the new movies have taken. My complaints with this new film have nothing to do with dissatisfaction with the new movies in general.
I object to The Last Jedi itself. More specifically, I object to its writing.
I have been thinking about this intensely for two days now, since the credits rolled at my screening of the film on Friday, and at long last I believe that I have distilled my complaints down to two main points. It is my assertion that, as a sequel, The Last Jedi drops almost every ball tossed to it by its superior predecessor, The Force Awakens, entirely failing to answer seemingly every question raised therein, and, furthermore, I assert that the sequel fundamentally confuses having popular characters do cool looking things with giving them meaningful moments and character arcs.
I will explain.
As we are all aware, The Force Awakens raised many questions and teased out a lot of mysteries while providing very few answers. Its director, J.J. Abrams, is famous for this in. He is less famous for providing satisfying answers. Therefore, I was curious to see where our new writer and director, Rian Johnson, would take things. Surely, I imagined, he would attempt to answer at least a few of these questions. Surely, I supposed, he would continue at least a few of the mysterious storylines prompted by the preceding motion picture.
No, as it turns out. Again and again, as I watched, I was amazed at how Mr. Johnson chose the laziest, most obvious choices possible, each time skirting any questions fans of the series might be asking themselves.
Perhaps, like me, you wondered at the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke. Would we find out a bit more about his origins and intentions? How would this new evil leader distinguish himself from the Emperor of movies previous? Not at all, as it turns out. He is given two scenes in a throne room almost identical to the Emperor’s, save for its hip red hue, and his dialogue is absolutely identical to stock dialogue you would write for Palpatine. We learn nothing new about him, and his scenes, his goals, and his nature are carbon copies of things we’ve seen before. Inventive!
Perhaps, like me, you wondered about Maz Kanata, the strange force-sensitive alien who gave Rey Luke’s lightsaber and refused to explain where she got it. Would we learn more? Nope. Instead, Mr. Johnson opts for a brief cameo. Facetiming into the movie, she provides someone’s cryptic contact info to aid our characters in a side quest. Thanks?
Perhaps, like me, you thought it was kind of lame how Captain Phasma had such a miniscule amount of screentime thus far, and were excited about the one-on-one fight she and Finn would have in this picture, featured, as it was, in the film’s trailers. Surely, I assumed, they wouldn’t make her part as lame as last time. They did! Once again, this powerful female villain is just a minor roadblock in Finn’s path, who he easily bests after a one minute hand-to-hand with the aid of an elevator. Oh, and in case you hoped for a rematch, no. The movie then drops her through a collapsing floor into a lake of fire. WOW.
Perhaps, like me, you were curious as to who Rey’s parents were? Turns out, they were nobodies, as Kylo reveals as he tempts her to join him in ruling the universe as...friends? Lovers? Who can say?!? The film definitely doesn’t make things clear. Now, Kylo may be lying about her parents. He is, after all, evil. And, the future as revealed by the Force is, as Yoda as told us previously, uncertain. But, still. Then why did you tease this fact out, present series? Even as a valid writing choice, this is a let down for your fans. You had to know that.
Perhaps, like ALL OF US, you had heard of the unfortunate passing of Carrie Fisher, and were curious to see how they would work that into the story. Now, I completely see the validity of giving Princess Leia one last active role in the series, and I can see the argument for letting her ride off into the sunset in this film, so to speak, without writing in a death for the character. What I object to strenuously is the fake-out death they give her right at the start of the film, from which she saves herself by using the Force in a profoundly powerful way we have not seen before in the series. More on the implications of that last part in a second, because this moment provides us with an excellent introduction into my second problem with the film.
The Last Jedi confuses showing us beloved characters doing cool-looking things with giving us an actual, meaningful story that is based in the wants and needs of the characters. Let’s return to Leia’s Force moment. Is it previously hinted at in the series that Leia has the Force. Great! We are all agreed that this is in the logic of the series. But, The Force Awakens clearly made a choice to make her role one of political leadership. Twenty plus years have passed since The Return of the Jedi, and she has not pursued training in the Force. She is not a Jedi. She is not using these abilities. They have never manifested so powerfully before. She does not use them again in this manner in this film. The moment is never even acknowledged IN THIS FILM. So…and please follow my logic here...other than looking cool, WHY DOES THIS MOMENT HAPPEN? It undermines her character as established in the previous movie. It also makes her bizarrely withholding. The stakes have never been higher. Her people are dying left and right. She has it within herself to be a Jedi and a symbol of hope herself and she ...doesn’t??? Does that make any sense for her character?
And while we are on the subject of choosing to not use the Force for weirdly undefined reasons, let’s talk about Luke. Now, I applaud Rian Johnson for making bold choices with Luke. And, let me state here for the record, that I think Mark Hamill did an awesome job with a terribly written part. But, please, someone, explain to me what Luke’s reasoning is for his actions prior to his return to form at the end of the picture. Just try to sit down and write a defense of his views. Please try, because I have been trying for two days, and I can’t.
It’s an interesting direction, Mr. Johnson, to have Luke soured and embittered by failure in his old age, but it feels...self-conflicted. Luke, if you have gone here to die, why are you still milking aliens and catching fish? Why are you sustaining your terrible life? Why, if you want to destroy the Force Tree, haven’t you already done so? You’ve had…YEARS TO DO SO. Why, in hiding from the world, did you come to the most powerfully Force-sensitive place that there is in order to then...shut yourself off from the Force? Just start to think it through and it falls apart. Now, perhaps Mr. Johnson would here claim that this is just evidence of the internal conflict that is in Luke. And, that is fair so far as it goes, but that just brings me to my main complaint in so far as Luke is concerned.
Consider this. What is Luke’s main obstacle to overcome before he can return to save the day? He is fighting through his guilt at having momentarily thought of killing Kylo and his shame in having failed his nephew. Alright, so, having been told by Rey that this is Kylo’s fault not his, and having been mentored by Yoda and told to move on and accept his failures, what does he do next?
He Force projects himself to the Resistance and Kylo, thereby facing his failure of a pupil, and he tells Kylo that he is wrong, that he, Luke, is not The Last Jedi. Then, he disappears. Then, he fades into the Force as Obi Wan and Yoda have done previously, his noble works on this plane of existence now apparently achieved.
This plays, as the movie presents it, like a grand accomplishment, because it is a revelation to us in the audience that Luke is Force projecting (an ability apparently canonized by Star Wars Rebels). In the screening I saw, the fact that Luke survived the laser barrage got an applause break - so did his disappearance. But, please think about this moment again from Luke’s point of view. He has been hiding for years, crippled by shame and regret, corrupted by bitterness. Having been shown the error of his ways, he then reaches out in the Force to make one last Force-fueled holographic phone call to serve as a distraction while the remaining resistance fighters escape, then he … drops the mic?
Why are so many of you okay with this as the swan song for the hero of the previous trilogy?
Let me contrast this passing with the passing of the classic character we lost in the last movie, (SPOILER ALERT!) Han Solo. Consider the circumstances of Solo’s passing. Han has been similarly broken up by the tragic loss of his son, Ben, to the Dark Side. Eschewing his responsibilities, he has returned to his outlaw smuggler antics of old with his friend Chewie. Like Luke in this new movie, in The Force Awakens Han is a lost soul, refusing to face his failures and his fears. But, then, at Rey’s prompting, he begins to change. He reconnects with Leia. In the end, he goes to save his son, knowing that in all likelihood he will fail. The scene on the bridge in The Force Awakens is touching not just because we see the tragic demise of a beloved character. It is meaningful because we see a fallen character choosing to risk himself for the love of his son. It is a universal, powerful, meaningful moment that is made meaningful by the fact that the actions of the character read true. Han quips. Han hides. Han runs. Here, though, he doesn’t. He grows. He sacrifices. It means something.
Can you see why I prefer The Force Awakens?
And what, ultimately, does this movie accomplish? Think about it. At the start, thousands of Resistance fighters flee the First Order. At the end, perhaps thirty are left, huddled aboard the Millennium Falcon. When Rey asks Leia the perfectly reasonable question, which I will paraphrase, “how do we move on from here? What do we have left?” Leia answers with the vague statement, which I will also paraphrase, “I think we’ve got everything we need.”
We are then treated to a sequence in which small urchins tell each other the Legend of Luke Skywalker, a story already known throughout the galaxy, and we see a Force-sensitive boy move a broom, telling us that there are still Force-sensitive people out there. A fact we knew already.
So, to recap, we have watched thousands die before our eyes, Luke is gone, Leia is still here in the world of the movies, but will not be able to appear in the future movies, but at least we know their story lives on and that others can learn the Force, both of which are facts known before the thousands died amidst a chorus of threadbare platitudes on the importance of hope.
If you enjoyed this film, I am happy for you. Rian Johnson is an...interesting filmmaker. He made a beautiful-looking movie with some funny jokes and some awesome action in it. I laughed at some of the jokes. I liked Benicio del Toro’s character. The lightsaber battle with the Imperial Guards was dope. But, I have absolutely no desire to ever see another Star Wars film produced by him, because I don’t believe he understands what it is that makes this saga of films great, nor do I trust him to craft a great story.
If you'd care to set me straight, you may do so below.