As an unapologetic Star Wars apologist, I feel that we need to get several things straight right away regarding a personal and a public response to this latest trilogy installment, The Last Jedi.
Let’s start with the personal. With the unquestionable exception of the Wookiee-related sections of the Star Wars Holiday Special, I can watch anything in the Star Wars franchise with varying levels of joy. There is little doubt that the Star Wars films, television shows, and spin-offs display widely inconsistent levels of quality; however, I am one who happens to be both realistic about those faults, and also someone who can enjoy the films almost equally based on their own merits.
My personal quick-review of The Last Jedi without spoilers (spoiler alert pending) is that it is, like every other film in the franchise, a flawed but exciting cinematic adventure. Films like The Last Jedi are why we go to the movies. I’ve only seen it once (so far) and my opinion may fluctuate in various areas over multiple views. But I loved every second of the movie during my initial theater viewing.
As we go on, you may find that the issues that you found ultimately franchise-breaking or trilogy-damning may be the same things I considered to be forgivable flaws, passable plot holes, or simply elements inherent to a mid-trilogy film that I may be able to change your thinking on.
First, we need to discuss the critical and public response, which I find genuinely suspicious. Disney has been enjoying consistent critical success with a majority of its contemporary productions. Critics are often over-kind to Disney to the extent that they can almost do no wrong.
For example, the previous two “nothing to write home about” DISNEY/MARVEL movies Spider-Man Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok BOTH sit at a 92% with critics and 88% with audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.
Now, despite universal criticism (not from me, btw) that The Force Awakens was little more than a modern remake of A New Hope, it enjoyed a 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating from critics…and an 88% from the audience.
The Last Jedi also received a 93% critical response, but for some reason, a jaded and reactionary 56% from audiences. Why?
To put that number in perspective, it is at least 1-3 percentage points lower than all three Star Wars prequels. Was The Last Jedi truly a worse film than any of the Lucas-directed prequel trilogy installments? Objectively and categorically, no.
This is clearly a concentrated effort to devalue and dismiss the series, and I have some ideas what specific elements caused people to lose their minds and a theory on what it was that set them off: broken nostalgia.
We tend to like things when they’re new, misremember what made us fall in love with them, miss them when they’re gone, and appreciate them even more when they return. Pop culture has a lifelong love affair with Star Wars that runs so deep into t-shirts, slogans, special events, references, toys, collectibles, and gimmicks that the actual romantic feelings toward the franchise have been jaded by sexual depravity.
My assertion is that, essentially, fans–passive and former–have clung so hard to the Funko Pop-figurines and tattooed models in Princess Leia chains that they forgot what it was like to see these movies for the first time. If they’re not already divorced from this relationship, they’re headed toward a passionate murder-suicide at light-speed.
I don’t want to say that real fans liked (or loved) this movie, while passive fans hated it; but I think that would be an almost entirely accurate representation. This reaction can’t be universal, but I think it’s the closest to truth we’re likely to get.
In response to this, I recommend that everyone ignore reviews of any fan-base franchise, because it’s not for critics and it’s not for people who hate it. There would be nothing LucasFilm could have possibly done to win over the haters. These movies are for the people who love Star Wars conceptually and unapologetically.
The people who hate it aren’t wrong, they’re just not the kind of people you want to hang around…they’re Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter people. Fuck ’em.
Now…have the negative nancies in the critical and self-flagellating ‘fandom’ lost their minds? Certainly, some of them have. Some of them hate new things, and some of them are genuinely disappointed in what has become of a franchise they used to get excited about.
However, I’m about to offer an even more condescending theory: Maybe they just didn’t get it?
But let’s start off on a good foot. First, I want to talk about what I liked about the film. Rian Johnson’s contribution to the franchise worked so well visually. Johnson’s career-long cinematographer, Steve Yedlin has a fantastic vision that can be seen across Johnson’s entire body of directorial work. If you’re familiar with Rian Johnson’s previous work such as Brick, The Brothers Bloom, or Looper, you may catch the similarities in style.
When it comes to the actual story, the nature of the force was expanded in such an organic way–if you’ve been paying attention to the canon–that it created a dynamic where every move the good characters made had an equal and opposite response in the realm of the evil characters. Let’s get into more detail…
The trailers and advertising campaign created an ongoing impression that our hero, Luke Skywalker, had turned to the dark side. And I’m still not so sure he didn’t. Although he gave his life to allow our new heroes time to escape in the film’s finale, he appears to be solely responsible for the rise of Kylo Ren. Had Luke not tried to murder his teenage student, perhaps he would have been able to save him.
The main theme that runs through The Last Jedi is hubris. Poe believes that he alone can be the hot-headed pilot who takes on the First Order. Kylo and Rey believe that they are much more powerful than they actually are, which leads to pain and suffering. Luke thinks he’s preserving the Jedi Order, which leads to galactic disaster. And Snoke thinks he has Ben Solo under his thumb, which leads to his early (for an ancient force-being) demise…or does it?
My biggest takeaway from this film were the overload of story elements, the vast amount of information we got all at once regarding the nature of the universe, the force, our new characters, and some old favorites.
Yoda popping in as a Force Ghost just to light shit up was one of the best moments of the movie. Yoda laid the ground work for Luke to have piece of mind by destroying the tree and (as far as Luke is aware) the ancient Jedi texts. In doing this, Yoda allows Luke to let the past die…even though unbeknownst to Skywalker, Rey has kept the books in tact.
One of the biggest themes in the Star Wars universe is characters misleading one another and hiding their intentions. This is why I believe that everything that was “revealed” in The Last Jedi was a lie. And if that disappointed you, or left you unfulfilled, I feel bad for you. Because, personally, it made me so excited for what comes next.
What did we learn? Snoke is dead. Rey’s parents are just anonymous junk traders. Force ghosts can impact the world around them more than we thought. Force-users can project their physical form across the galaxy. Kylo Ren wants to watch everything but the First Order burn. The most powerful place you can be in the force is not a Jedi/Sith, but somewhere in the middle. Luke is dead. The Resistance is operationally no better or worse than the First Order. And Rey is still a one-dimensional Mary Sue whose entire hero-journey is uninteresting.
What comes next (Predictions)? Snoke isn’t dead. He was either projecting himself in the throne room or his physical body is meaningless, as we all know, Jedi are more powerful when they return from death. Snoke is a Jedi; not just any Jedi, but the first Jedi. His image is on the floor in the center of Luke’s Jedi Temple. The ancient Jedi Texts were written (or partially written) by him. It will be through those texts, which Rey saved from the Tree before it was burned, that Rey will discover his true nature and how to ultimately destroy him.
Snoke can’t be dead because he was in control of every element of this entire show so far. The fact that the recently revealed working title for Episode 9 is “Black Diamond” all but confirms my suspicions (Snoke wears a black diamond ring, an element found on Mustafar where Vader’s Castle is located).
Rey is Kylo Ren’s sister. Snoke mentions the seed of Skywalker and hides this information from both of them because he knows Ben Solo is weak and will turn against him if he knew this. He couldn’t kill his mother, he won’t kill his sister.
Rey has one more movie (we can only hope) to become an interesting character. And I hope she will, because I like Daisy Ridley and want her to do well.
There is also a chance none of this happens and J.J. Abrams takes Episode IX in a totally unexpected direction. The scene tagged onto the end of The Last Jedi enabled the franchise to excuse away any and all aspects of being “Force Sensitive” or learning about the Force as, essentially, a superpower.
When the stable boy force-pulls his broom… could be the new “jumping the shark.” Or, like everything else, it could be a pure misdirection.
Now let’s get into what I took issue with…
Princess Leia has a scene where her ship blows up and she flies through space, surviving it all because of…the Force, I guess? It’s basically a replica of a space-death scene from Guardians of the Galaxy but I don’t see why Disney would do that…ever. I couldn’t help but cringe during this scene.
Also, you may have noticed that a majority of the characters in this movie didn’t even get an honorable mention in the spoilers or the things I liked. That’s because all of those characters were irrelevant to the plot of this film.
Every scene with Finn and/or Rose could have been deleted from the movie and it would not have changed one bit. Having said that, I found Rose a lot less annoying than I thought I would.
The Force Awakens created an intriguing anti-hero in Finn, an escaped Stormtrooper who had no allegiance to the Resistance and was conflicted about fighting for anything but his obvious interest in Rey.
I want Finn to have a role in this story, and he just didn’t have one in The Last Jedi. I still believe he is the stolen child of Lando Calrissian, but I don’t want to believe that his only purpose is as a plot device to bring Billy Dee Williams into the fold.
The Finn and Rose story was meant to be the B-story of the film, but it wound up affecting nothing, having no worth, and having no impact on any other character’s path.
That being said, I loved Canto Bight and I was very excited for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cameo. But I’m a sucker for ensemble creature scenes. I would’ve settled for arbitrary cuts to Canto Bight rather than a B-Story that doesn’t serve the A-story.
Let’s follow Finn’s story arc for just a moment:
- Finn wanted to flee the existential crisis the Resistance was caught in just to protect Rey from returning to a trap.
- He’s then caught by a crying Rose who explains that somehow a low level mechanic knows how to get out of this situation better than the military strategists.
- They explain their plan to Poe Dameron who goes “Great, let’s do it.” They say, they can’t. Great plan.
- Maz fucking Kanata inexplicably shows up on a screen to say they have to sneak in to another very specific place to find a very specific man. Can’t they find another capable man? No. Just one man can do this. Just. One.
- Finn and Rose are caught by the police for illegally parking their car (yes, it’s true) and wind up in jail with Benicio Del Toro, who isn’t the man they needed to find, but for some reason, he’ll do.
- Rose exposes her entire backstory to Finn and uses him to free some fucking horses from a horse-racing track.
- Del Toro reveals a BOMBSHELL to Finn that the Resistance and First Order get their money and supplies from the same criminals and villains. This seems to matter to Finn, but you’d never know it, because it’s literally never mentioned again.
- Del Toro gets them aboard Snoke’s Star Destroyer, as promised then immediately sells them out.
- The Resistance has no idea about Poe’s private plan with Finn and make their own plan. Finn and Rose fail on their mission and barely escape with their lives.
- Then they meet up with the Resistance on Krait where Finn decides NOW would be the right moment to sacrifice himself, but Rose stops him at the last second and tells him she loves him….out of nowhere.
So, none of it mattered and nobody cares. Finn being captured did serve one purpose, to bring Captain Phasma back just to kill her off.
I didn’t like that they wasted Captain Phasma as a character, but I wasn’t that bothered by her death because she was never significant other than to nerds who read her novel and comics. She didn’t need to be in the films. Some people had issues with the deaths of the film, mainly the underwhelming death of a new (unimportant) character, Admiral Holdo, in an emotionally overwhelming scene.
Yes, The Last Jedi introduces a new character to make an ultimate sacrifice rather than utilize a death that would have mattered…like Admiral Ackbar…or an appropriate send off for Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia.
The scene, however, was dope.
And, honestly, that’s what this movie was…a lot of confusing moments, unnecessary scenes, and poor character exposition/development bookended by some of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a Star Wars film. I loved the call-backs, I loved the acting, and I loved the dynamic between every character, even if their role was secondary or completely unnecessary.
For all of it’s faults, it was Star Wars, and because it was Star Wars, it was perfect.