I want to open by acknowledging two things. First, there’s nothing wrong with diverging from the norm, and Star Wars has definitely established a “norm” in it’s storytelling. The key is to balance it with suspension of disbelief. When you’re talking about a franchise with as much history as Star Wars, you have to handle such things carefully. Throw a wrecking ball through too much, and you alienate your core fans – and The Last Jedi certainly did that. They got too bogged down in making timely political statements to realize that we’re working with a sci-fi/fantasy franchise where the rules of reality don’t run parallel to life in 2017.
Second, I realize that the mechanics of story-telling have changed since the original trilogy came out in the late 70’s – early 80’s. Gone is the black and white of good and evil. Now we explore the backstory and contributing factors to what made the heroes and villains what they are. Heck, the entire purpose of the prequels (Episodes I, II, and III) were about the rise of Darth Vadar. But now we’re in uncharted territory. The Skywalkers diminish as new heroes and villains rise. Well and fine, and The Force Awakens did a great job in starting that tale. The problem is that they don’t carry that momentum through The Last Jedi. How did they fail?
The portrayal of Luke Skywalker. Whoever wrote his role in The Last Jedi should never write another thing again – ever. Seriously, not even a social media post. Step away from the keyboard and can it. The way Luke Skywalker was treated in The Last Jedi was disrespectful, rude, and dismissive of a major figure in this universe. For this guy who destroyed the Death Star and saved Darth Vader to go from that to “the only thing the Jedi accomplished was allowing the Sith to rise, and getting themselves killed” is ridiculous, and I refuse to believe that his moral character slipped so far with Ben Solo/Kylo Wren to fall to that. He’s stronger and better than that. If his character had to die in this episode fine, but at least let him go out the hero he was. Relegating him to a cranky old man who quit on life was ridiculous. I won’t see the movie in the theater again for this reason alone. Hell, I don’t know if I’ll even buy it when it comes out for sale for this reason alone.
The storyline was thin. The entire basis of this movie was that the rebels ran out of gas. Seriously? This whole thing is based on the fact that they forgot to stop by Circle K? It was the equivalent of Gone in Sixty Seconds, in extremely slow motion. And what little they told wasn’t explained. How did the First Order track them through light speed? Why were they running out of fuel in the first place? How did they get so decimated that there were only about 12 of them left by the end of the movie? Again, the writers’ failed. They really need to log onto The Great Courses and take a few classes on writing and storytelling.
It went too Disney. Ultron quoting Pinocchio in The Avengers: Age of Ultron worked, because James Spader was a master villain who could make it creepy. Princess Leia doing the Mary Poppins through space was ridiculous. I was wondering if Dr. Who’s flying phone booth was going to show up next, or perhaps the Starship Enterprise (oops, that’s right, this is an unacceptable crossover). Likewise, they went a bit overboard on the humor for a Star Wars movie (I felt they did this in Thor Ragnarok, too). Some humor is fine to break up the dramatic tension, but they overdid it. I knew after The Chronicles of Narnia that Disney had a tendency to water down things, but I thought they had worked past that. Obviously, they haven’t, and Disney caters too much to catering to young audiences and making money than remaining true to the story.
They killed the major villain halfway through the second movie in the trilogy. Obviously, they were in a hurry to transition Kylo Wren to the main villain role when they killed Snoke (and again, a gap in storytelling – how could he see everything Kylo thought, and not see THAT?). The problem is that his character is too conflicted, and isn’t properly trained to take this on, as evidenced by his massive failure to capture the rebels and realize that he was fighting a force projection of Luke Skywalker, while Hux was admonishing him not to get distracted and to focus on the mission. And this is a common thing these days: believing that you’re ready to go out on your own after minimal education/training. No, ladies and gentlemen, you aren’t. Learning is a lifelong pursuit. The more stubborn you are about the fact that “you’ve got this,” the harder life will kick you in the butt. Rising to it is a lot tougher without guidance, and leads to more failure along the way. And Yoda was right: failure is the greatest teacher, but it’s also a tough one, especially with no experience or guidance on how to process it in new situations, as both Rey and Kylo Wren are now.
I think Hux would make a better villain at this point. At least he has a good head on his shoulders. If we’re lucky, he’ll rise to be a powerful force to be reckoned with in Episode IX. Getting thrown around like he did in this move should piss him off enough to be a thorn in everybody's side!
They killed Captain Phasma. Why did they go to the trouble to hire the talent of Gwendolyn Christie, and not utilize that potential? She’s more than proved that she’s an excellent actress in Game of Thrones, and capable of playing a powerful character. But once again, Disney was Disney and just went for her “star power” rather than mining the tremendous potential of her talent and character. Case in point: the fight between her and Finn was too short and simple. That should have been one of the climatic points of the plot, especially since Finn was the only one who had a role in this movie that was worth a toot. I’ve always liked him as the Storm Trooper turned Rebel, and was glad to see him better developed. But that fight between him and Phasma should have been so much more. Then again, this is Gwendolyn Christie. He probably would have lost, and fans wouldn’t like that.
The reveal of Rey’s parents. This would have been a lot more powerful if she saw it herself in that vision. Instead, it was a “by the way” from Kylo Wren, who is of questionable reliability. Do we believe it? Or not? That’s just it. The lesson from the reveal that Rey’s parents were drunks who sold her into slavery for drinking money and are now dead is supposed to be that the Force will choose who it will, and anybody can rise to be a hero regardless of their background. The problem is that this would be a more powerful point if we knew for a fact that it’s true. I guess the closing scene is suppose to allude to the veracity that you don’t have to be a Skywalker to be powerful but still, we’ve seen visions go wrong. Case in point: Snoke didn’t see Kylo Wren right there at his end. So who’s vision is right?
I’d like to add here that if it is true that her parents’ were not significant people, then I can totally roll with that. In fact, I like it because it’s an excellent message of hope that anybody can rise to their greatest potential. I had even speculated such since The Force Awakens. But still, it would be nice to have the truth revealed form a more reliable source – if it’s reliable. Even the devil tells us the truth to throw us off from time to time, so who knows? It probably is right, but allowing that seed of doubt was a mistake.
One more thing I’d like to address before closing is Kylo Wren. A lot of people don’t like his character, and I believe it’s because they had expectations of him becoming his grandfather. I think The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi make it clear that we’re getting away from the Skywalkers, and that isn’t going to happen. His character is too conflicted, and that conflict isn’t going to be worked out in this trilogy (if it is, then mark another strike against the writer’s – at best, we’ll see him starting toward resolution by the end of Episode IX). If you open the window and throw out the expectation that he’ll be the next Lord Vader, then he’s a lot easier to take, and to understand. He was better in this movie, but still has a lot of room to grow.
The Last Jedi was an ok movie, but it didn’t blow me away like the other movies in this franchise because the director took too many liberties to change things. Is there hope? J.J. Abrams is coming back for Episode IX, so there certainly is. But he definitely has a hot mess on his hands to clean up. Here’s hoping he can do it.
That’s all today. I hope you have a safe, joyous, and very Merry Christmas.