So, knowing our audience, most of you should by now have seen Star Wars The Last Jedi roughly twenty times in order to fully absorb its gooey Star Warsity like the green milk from an alien Walrus. As such, this article is going to be diving straight into Spoiler Territory and not stopping until we’re out the other side.
In case you are still with us but haven’t seen the film:
SPOILER WARNING – SPOILER WARNING – SPOILER WARNING
It’s fair to say that The Last Jedi is probably one of the more divisive Star Wars movies since the Prequels with many critics (including our very own Keith right here on EB) raving about it alongside longtime fans while others in the audience are perfectly happy to declare it the worst abomination unto Star Wars since the films which shall not be named. While I think the latter camp is overplaying their hand (Exaggeration!? On the Internet!? You surprise me sir!) I have to say that I left the cinema after watching TLJ with a creeping feeling of malaise and doubt which hasn’t disappeared in the time since.
I absolutely love Star Wars, but I just can’t get on board with The Last Jedi and, after overthinking things for about a week, I think I can just about articulate why.
Story takes a back seat to a timeline reset:
A major theme of TLJ is forgetting the past, and moving forward into the future. As heavy-handed symbolism goes, it’s right up there with the greatest hits. However, nothing in the movie actually matches up to this talk. Because while the symbols of the Original Trilogy are certainly dropping like flies (Han, Luke, The Jedi) the thematic narrative is driving hell-for-leather back to an OT reset.
Everything in TLJ story builds up to the final escape of a handful of resistance fighters and, we’re told by Leia at one point, the First Order taking over most of the major systems. That means episode IX is going to open on a plucky band of underdogs attempting to overthrow the mighty empire that completely outclasses them in every respect.
Does that sound at all familiar?
In order to make this work there are a bunch of convenient story points that all come together. Remember the handful of ships around the New Republic capital system that Star Killer Base destroyed? That is the entirety of the New Republic military; additionally, that system contained all the facilities for producing more ships. After all, we couldn’t have a movie about a badly damaged nation rallying its surviving forces after a devastating sneak attack and attempting to stop the enemy advance. I mean, who would watch that!
Not only does this not make…well, any sense at all really, it also ends up making The Force Awakens a worse film in retrospect. After all, if there was only ever one fleet (and scattered independent defence forces according to the novels) why did the FO need to build a massive system-destroying super weapon? I mean, they have Dreadnoughts, Star Destroyers, Legions of Troopers, Fleets of Tie Fighters and two ridiculously powerful dark-side force users. Couldn’t they have just wandered in and taken over at any point?
Another one of these conveniences is the entire closing act on Crait, firstly the convenient destruction of the transports (which I’ll tackle in another section) but then the entire skimmer battle. I mean, there is literally a firing line of FO walkers waiting for them along with the weird battering ram gun. The skimmers seem to be completely unarmed and even the tow cable trick won’t work this time. Was there ever any point to this except to once again have Poe lead an attack that’s doomed to fail? Same with the guys in the trenches outside. There are literally no ground troops at that point facing them just giant walkers that proceed to horribly murder most of them.
This whole scene essentially exists to 1) cause yet more Resistance casualties so we get to that plucky band of rebels bit and 2) remind people of Hoth. Oh sorry, there’s also Rose stopping Finns heroic sacrifice which mostly exists to try and fuse some romantic chemistry between them and again wouldn’t be necessary if anyone had stopped and thought this plan through for five seconds.
Even worse, this forced reset to OT dynamics effectively means every hero from three seasons of the excellent Rebels cartoon and Rogue One essentially wasted their time as building the rebellion and getting it fit to fight was basically their entire arcs.
Speaking of wasted arcs
Everything about Poe and Finns story arcs:
Unquestionably Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren get the best storylines and action scenes throughout TLJ but unfortunately this comes at a cost to our other two main characters in the ‘new generation’.
Let’s start with Poe, both because he bears the brunt of Disneys apparent wrath and because Oscar Isaac is just plain dreamy…Ahem I mean…Star Wars stuff…
Anywho, the running theme for Poe is that he is too reckless for the high command role that Leia clearly wants him to assume. This is driven home early on when his bombing mission causes the loss of the Resistances only bombers…because Y Wings aren’t a thing in this universe apparently. This comes to a head when his plan, the casino caper that Finn and Rose are sent on, not only fails but actually causes the death of hundreds of Resistance fighters as their unarmed transports are discovered and fired upon. If only he’d been patient they could have slipped past safely!
Except…wait, why didn’t anyone tell him that? He literally asks several times what the plan is before he tries his little mutiny. Putting aside the dislike between him and the new Admiral; Poe is, from what we see, the number 3 ranked officer on the ship. Even if you didn’t want to publicly disclose your plan on the bridge then and there a sensible admiral would have pulled him aside later then told him to shut up. Instead the lesson seems to be ‘shut up and do what you’re told without questioning and good things happen’ umm, not sure that is the message Star Wars traditionally gives to kids.
So, because noone has actually shared anything better then ‘fly in a straight line until we die’, Poe sends Finn and Rose off to
Mos Eisley Canto-Bight in order to find a Slicer who can sneak them onto the FO flagship. As I’ve already said, this plan ultimately fails spectacularly so pretty much all the time spent on this story ends up feeling like a bit of a waste and it also runs smack dab into one of my major problems with TLJ as a whole.
Time and again over the course of their adventure, Finn and Rose are confronted with variations on the theme of ‘Grey Morality’. This is largely meant to reflect Reys own story about the force being in balance rather then Light or Dark but it really doesn’t work.
Why not? Two words: Space Nazis.
Literally, everything that’s brought up as evidence of this more nuanced view does not hold up in the face of the FO who are literally Space Nazis.
- There is slavery and class divides in the universe: Uh, yeah. You’re on a planet primarily run by Space Nazis
- The Resistance uses the same arms dealers as the FO: Need to buy your Space-Nazi shooting implements from somewhere
- People die in war: Yep, fighting against Space Nazis who’d kill even more people
- There’s no good guys: Yeah there is, the ones who aren’t Space Nazis.
Look, this kind of moral equivalency worked in Rogue One because RO was a completely separate film and most of the focus is actually internal, within the rebellion. It’s not about ‘we’re all the same as the Empire’ it was more asking questions about how far you’re willing to go to fight evil. The Empire was still evil but in the background, the grey area came from Saw Gerrera and his band as well as Cassians dark past.
These clumsy themes are basically the same as Trump saying there were ‘Bad people on Both Sides’ after a Nazi killed an innocent woman with a car.
This is only a quick point, but it’s unfortunately a problem outside of just Star Wars. After the phenomenal success of what we’ll call the ‘Marvel Formula’ which they use in all of their Cinematic Universe films more and more movies are attempting to inject as much humour as they can into otherwise serious scenes. I complained about this a bit in my review of Thor: Ragnarok earlier this year, but the same problems raise themselves here.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a funny movie and some scenes (like Luke throwing the lightsabre away) were actually pretty funny but sometimes it just doesn’t stick.
BB-8 in the opening space battle would probably be my go-to example of this. Scenes of bomber crews dying and Rose’s sisters sacrifice come immediately after the whacky hijinks of the astromech droid. It’s like tonal whiplash as you’re supposed to go from laughing to dead serious without even a scene transition. It crops up a few times later on as well, particularly around General Hux and Kylo, and for me at least it can really hurt the overall film.
Look, ultimately I’m not doing this because I hated the movie. It was fine, I’ll probably watch it again, and it definitely is above the Prequels which is all anyone ever really asked of this trilogy. But this stuff does bother me when it crops up in a film franchise I love as much as Star Wars.
So, if I need to worry about it; so do you.
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