I held off writing down my opinions related to this film in this blog for a number of months partly because I was busy focusing on Zenither, but also because I wanted time to reflect and listen to all sides. But I still feel my initial assessment when I watched the film in theatres is correct — that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a bad movie.
Not bad in the sense it didn’t do what I wanted it to do. Bad in the sense that it is bad for the Star Wars franchise and bad in that the movie just doesn’t do a good job of story-telling.
Visually, the film is great. The cinematography is spot on, the effects are terrific, the acting is good. All of these things are wonderful. I greatly enjoyed seeing Mark Hamill (an actor whose talents I think often go under appreciated outside of the animation world) taking on the mantle of an elderly Luke Skywalker. Also unlike some vocal commentators, I don’t have any issues with the whole underlying ‘social justice’ message in the film because quite frankly Star Wars movies have always had an element of political commentary on current world issues, so this is not unusual for the franchise (I did criticize this aspect in the Ghostbusters reboot, but that is because GB has never been a vehicle about political commentary. Star Wars always has been from the very first movie. The Empire wasn’t just representative of Nazi Germany, but also of Soviet era Russia).
My problems with the film boil down to plot. The writing is the problem with this movie and in my opinion, this script should never have been produced.
While there are MANY areas I could be very critical about The Last Jedi, I am going to try to focus on a few big ones because I just don’t want to spend too much time tearing the entire movie apart piece by piece. Every movie has some aspects its story could be improved. My focus here is one those areas which just ruin the movie and in doing so, set up future movies in the franchise for failure.
Problem #1: Jedi Power Creep
Rey is a Mary Sue in The Last Jedi. There’s no way around this. She is a Mary Sue who just overcomes every challenge by suddenly getting a power boost as if she is Goku in Dragon Ball, discovering a new move to conveniently handle some new challenge the story throws at her. She fails any attempt by Luke to train her, and yet overpowers him easily in a fight they have. She has no actual character development.
All she has to do is close her eyes and listen to the voices in her head, and everything works out okay.
Totally absurd. If it was that freakin easy to be a Force user, how come everyone else in the entire history of the franchise needs years and years of training??
I mean compare to Empire Strikes Back. When Luke disobeys Yoda and runs off to go save his friends from Vader, not only does it turn out he didn’t need to go at all (Han is captured regardless, and everyone else escapes without his assistance) but he gets his hand chopped off by Vader and his friends have to save his ass in the end. Luke learns from this experience and becomes better, which is demonstrated in Return of the Jedi where he has taken his training seriously.
In The Last Jedi Rey ignores everything Luke tries to teach her (when he actually does decide to try to train her) but still manages to become super Jedi level anyway and save the day for the Alliance with no consequences whatsoever to her ignoring the seasoned master’s advice. She has no motivation to do anything except whatever she wants to do, and does not grow as a character.
Don’t get me wrong. I greatly liked the character of Rey in The Force Awakens. While she did seem to have an element of Mary Sue-ism (most notably in how she just suddenly gained mastery over Force powers as the plot demanded it), it wasn’t anywhere as incredible of growth as she experienced in The Last Jedi.
In The Force Awakens she learned how to do the jedi mind trick, force grab (telekinesis) and used her premonition to outdo a well trained Sith (Kylo Ren) in a lightsaber duel. I accepted the latter because Kylo had been shot by Chewbacca’s blaster rifle after he killed Han Solo, so I figured that slowed him down abit.
However in The Last Jedi Rey experiences just a ton of power creep growth that is just entirely absurd. Even Anakin Skywalker, who had midichlorian count higher than Yoda and in the mythos was the “chosen one” created by the Force, never did some of the crazy things which Rey did with absolutely no training whatsoever.
It isn’t just Rey though. Even Luke Skywalker and Supreme Leader Snoke (who connected the minds of Rey and Kylo together to where they could even materialize in each other’s space) demonstrate powers that Yoda, Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine never demonstrated ability to do — and these three were the most powerful Force users in history up until this point.
I mean let’s be honest here. Luke Skywalker used an ability from the Expanded Universe which came about as power creep for the tabletop roleplaying games (which in an effort to sell gaming books gave Jedi and Sith characters a version of every Dungeons & Dragons mage spell there is to them, and which most reasonable Dungeon Masters would never allow to actually be used in a gaming session by players). Director Rian Johnson tried to justify his inclusion of Luke using one of these absurd abilities claiming it was ‘canon’ but unfortunately he did not apply critical thinking skills to what he was saying.
One of the most important elements of story telling is to craft believable characters.
Is it believable that, rather than end the war himself right then and there by Jedi mind tricking the bad guys into destroying themselves, he instead just screwed with their heads to buy Rey time to evacuate the Rebellion? No, it is not especially considering the bad guys continue to possess the technology that allowed them to track down the Rebellion in the first place. Anywhere they go, the bad guys should logically be able to follow.
If Luke Skywalker is going to use the last of his life force to pull off a miracle god-level ability like creating a Doppelganger to deceive the entire army, logically he could also have just made them fight and kill each other, too.
The worse thing about this power creep is that none of it is necessary. In my opinion the most bad ass fight scene in all of Star Wars history is the ending of Rogue One where Darth Vader cuts through a rebels squad like a hot knife through butter. Vader doesn’t use a lot of Force powers — just his staple Force choke, push and his lightsaber. And it is the best fight scene in the entire franchise in my opinion because it demonstrates the unbelievable amount of power Vader possesses and why he is so feared across the galaxy.
Vader didn’t need to force project an illusion of himself across the universe like Luke Skywalker, or lift half of a mountain up like Rey, or distort the fabric of reality like Snoke.
No, in this Rogue One scene Vader’s power is instead demonstrated through good old fashioned cinematography, sound design and some minor visual effects.
This is the level of story telling I was expecting in The Last Jedi. I believe it is what most people expected. We expected, at the least, to see Luke Skywalker train Rey in the Jedi arts and for their might to be conveyed through the craft of cinematography. Instead Rian Johnson took the Dragon Ball approach of just giving everyone enormous power ups, which is both sloppy and lazy.
This is okay to do in something like Dragon Ball, which is an action comedy shonen (young boys comic), where the absurdity is an established part of the appeal.
It’s not okay to do in a space opera centered around political and philosophical ideals and where no other characters have ever been this god-like before.
Characters just suddenly gaining new powers to overcome obstacles does not make for a compelling story because it eliminates opportunities for character growth — the stuff that creates drama. If Rey can just close her eyes, psuedo-meditate and gain new magic powers to overcome the problem before her then there can be no tension or drama. The film simply becomes a spectacle of us watching Rey become a messiah.
Problem #2: The Story Makes Little Sense
The central conflict of the story is the rebels trying to evade the First Order who are now able to track them through hyperspace. Okay, fair enough.
How do the characters decide to deal with the crisis? Two attempts are made; the official attempt and the secret one attempted by Finn and Rose.
Both attempts are idiotic.
The official plan is masterminded by Amilyn Holdo, and is to basically lead the bad guys straight to the secret planet base of the Alliance where they will eject escape pods down to the planet while she kamikazes the last remaining ship of the Alliance into the flagship of the bad guys.
This plan is idiotic because she doesn’t use lightspeed to get to the planet as quickly as possible, instead going as slow as possible while each ship is slowly picked off by the bad guys until only one ship remains. She then, instead of having a droid conduct the suicide mission, decides to do it herself. Lastly it is idiotic because obviously the suicide attack would only hit one ship and leave the rest to attack the secret alliance base within seconds of the Alliance reaching it — which is exactly what happens in the story, too. It’s a terribly stupid plan for some supposedly seasoned generals to come up with.
The other plan, the secret one conducted by Finn and Rose, is to lightspeed away to find some mystery gambler hacker at a casino who can hack the security system of the flagship First Order ship and then lightspeed back to the flagship, sneak in and take down the tracker momentarily for the alliance to zip away. This plan is stupid because it requires Finn and Rose to not be caught the entire time, which ultimately ends up happening anyway, and they survive each ordeal by basically sheer dumb luck — such as a fellow prisoner wanting to be in prison and could escape any time he wanted to (?!) and for Amilyn’s suicide attack on the flagship to not instantly kill everyone on the ship and give Finn and Rose time to escape while shields are down but they aren’t being sucked into outer space (?!).
There’s just so many improbable and stupid decisions as part of all this.
There’s also weird bullshit in the tech involved in the story, such as…
- If you can use hyperspace drives as weapons, how come nobody has ever done it before until now?
- What is with the bomber ships that drop orb grenades onto First Order battleships? Gravity doesn’t work like this in outer space. How come when the bay doors of the bomber open that girl doesn’t get sucked into outer space, frozen and die?
- How the hell did Leia survive her skin and organs getting completely frozen in outer space? Jedi powers? Come on, this is stupid.
The biggest problem with The Last Jedi is that the central plot shouldn’t exist in the movie.
All that The Last Jedi needed to be is Luke training Rey to confront Kylo Ren and the Knights of Ren while the Alliance fights the The First Order in a realistic battle — or gets slaughtered and barely escapes with their lives. All this other nonsense about the secret operation to find a gambler hacker and the improbable space chase to the doomed last stand at the secret base is a bunch of stupid nonsense. Luke and Rey could have shown up at the end to help the Alliance escape by holding off the Knights of Ren in an epic battle, but this double backstabbing of Snoke by Kylo and other horse shit didn’t need to be in the movie.
Lastly, the The Force Awakens sets up Snoke and the Knights of Ren as being the big bads. Kylo Ren is just our first taste of this sinister organization. The Last Jedi doesn’t even feature the Knights of Ren, and Snoke is quickly killed off within seconds of his third onscreen appearance in the franchise. My reaction in the theater watching this was “What the fuck was the point of all the build up??” and my opinion did not change when I watched the film a second time.
This is also the fate of another supposed big bad in the movie, Captain Phasma. In the first movie she is supposed to be a fearsome commander of The First Order, but is easily captured and thrown down a garbage chute. The character is entirely unworthy of the talents of actress Gwendoline Christie. One would think The Last Jedi would give her some redemption, but alas, although she gets to fight she is easily overcome by Finn through a combination of stupid fight decisions and the ground literally falling out from under her deus ex machina style to save Finn, for the sole reason being that the writer wanted Finn to survive.
The movie just makes no sense. The character arcs don’t go in the directions the writer sets them up, and it makes the script feel as though there was no real vision for what story is being told in this trilogy and how it plays into the larger Star Wars mythos. It’s just all over the place, the kind of shitty writing you’d expect from direct to DVD mockbusters.
The character’s decisions are not made because they are the absolute best choices they could make. They instead make choices so that the plot will go in the direction which Rian Johnson wanted it to go — for example, the Rebellion fleet doesn’t hyper jump to the secret base but instead flies as slowly as possible so that Finn and Rose can have their adventure. Luke Skywalker, capable of pulling off a Jedi god level feat like convincing people light years away from him that he is physically there while speaking into their minds, does not use his powers to annihilate the First Order because then Rey couldn’t fight them in the next movie. This is the fundamental problem with TLJ ; like a shitty horror movie, the plot relies on characters having every potential opportunity to end the conflict but instead make dumb choices so that the bad guys can win and there can be a sequel. It was forgivable in Empire Strikes Back that Luke did not trust in Yoda to abandon his friends to their fates; it’s not forgivable in TLJ when Luke decides to not use his obvious power to crush them while hanging out at the other end of the universe.
In discussing any kind of art, one must distinguish between high and low art. Star Wars has always been a very high art film property — it represented the best of cinematography, scoring, sound design, editing, acting and screenwriting. That’s why the movies are so damn good.
By contrast The Last Jedi is low art and unworthy of the rest of the franchise.
Problem #3 : It Creates Bad Precedence for the future Star Wars Movies
Now future writers have to deal with overpowered Jedi / Sith characters who can distort the very fabric of reality and hand wave themselves out of any real crisis. It also retcons Anakin being the fallen chosen one, setting up Rey as being the “true” Chosen one given messiah level powers to right the wrongs of the Empire and restore order. Instead of Luke being the redeemer of his father and the Jedi, it will now be Rey who has to even redeem Luke. The character arc just doesn’t make any real sense and ruins what the previous six films by Lucas have established as the spirit and mythos of the franchise.
I think Disney needs to seriously re-assess what they are doing with the Star Wars franchise. Movie making is always a business, but how they have handled Rogue One and The Last Jedi, and seemingly also the Han Solo origin story movie, it all just has the impression of being a big cash grab. There’s no real plan for the stories, and each director is basically free to make up whatever the hell they want. This was the problem with Expanded Universe bullshit and its being repeated now in the official Star Wars cannon which Lucas had at least been good about keeping clean of much of this Mary Sue-ist nonsense.
I think the Star Wars franchise is totally mishandled. I don’t even understand why the franchise NEEDS a film about Han Solo, Ben Kenobi, or anything.
Does anyone actually want to see a Han Solo film without Harrison Ford? I sure don’t. I don’t think an origin story movie even needs to be made for the character.
Certainly do not need a middle age Ben Kenobi movie either. The franchise works fine with Kenobi just watching Luke from a distance and keeping to himself to prepare for the day he needs to train Luke.
The only thing I think the franchise actually would be benefited by is movies featuring Darth Vader. Let’s explore the time between Episode 6 and Episode 7 and see what evil crap Vader is up to, which makes him so feared. That would be interesting. I’d like to see him hunt down the last the of Jedi and crush the remaining Republic loyalists. That would add value to the franchise, because Vader although a villain is the franchises most interesting and iconic character.
If I was in charge of the Star Wars franchise right now, I would retcon The Last Jedi out of the franchise and have a new film commissioned to replace it. That’s how strongly I believe this movie is terrible for the franchise. It’s the Jump the Shark moment for Star Wars, the kind of film that can torpedo the whole damn thing. This level of mismanagement is why other previously film franchises like Alien, Terminator, James Bond and so on have tanked.
Movies are fantasy. They aren’t real. They depend on audiences suspending their disbelief. And if you make too many careless, ill conceived sequels that remind them it’s all fake by having characters behave in unbelievable ways, then you tear the whole house of cards down. That is what will happen to Star Wars if it continues to be mismanaged the way it currently is.