“Last Jedi” grumblings

First off, yes, there will be oodles of spoilers. Do not read this until after you see the film, or if you don’t care if you see the film. Or if you don’t mind spoilers, which I don’t, under most circumstances. With this movie, for the first time in a very long time, I actually went in spoiler free. Had I know what happened in advance, however, I probably wouldn’t be as disappointed as I was leaving when I left the theatre.

I didn’t hate it. I actually enjoyed it while I was watching it, although it was too long, and the casino subplot could have been completely excised without doing any damage to the narrative. The problem is that I really wanted to love “The Last Jedi.” Probably too much, as I think about it now. Expectations can make or break a movie, and it never occurred to me to tamp them down for this one. All the reviews were stellar; writer/director Rian Johnson has a reputation as something of a wunderkind, and everything I had seen in the previews had led me to believe this was going to be something special. Mark Hamill has said in interviews that his line about how “this is not going to go the way you think” is indicative of the movie, which supposedly pushes these characters in new, exciting, unexplored directions.

But that’s the problem. It doesn’t.

Sure, there are beats in this movie where you think it could take an unexpected turn. Could Kylo Ren actually be redeemed? Could Rey, perhaps, be lured to turn to the dark side? Could Luke himself be a villain? There are short teases that each of these things is a possibility, but in the end, each of these scenarios predictably resolves in entirely conventional ways.

No, Kylo is essentially just a weak Vader retread who may get his moment of deathbed repentance in the next film just like his grandpa did. No, Rey is the pure, unspotted Mary Sue who will never demonstrate a hint of complexity going forward. And good ol’ Luke is just good ol’ Luke, although that’s not to diminish Mark Hamill’s outstanding performance in the film, or the genuinely intriguing final act rescue he performs by remote control.

I didn’t quite understand that, though. Why was this interstellar projection solid and then not solid at different times? I understand why the plot required it to be that way, but that didn’t make it any less inconsistent. Was Yoda’s Force ghost solid, too? He seems to be when he hits Luke in the head with a cane. If a Force ghost can be solid, then what’s to stop Yoda from coming in and saving the day? Why doesn’t he hit Kylo Ren in the head with a cane? Anyway, these are quibbles. Luke’s final sacrifice was the only truly interesting thing about this movie. Everything else was just sort of by-the-numbers.

What’s even more frustrating is that this didn’t answer any of the questions from “The Force Awakens.” Are we really supposed to believe Rey’s parents are nobodies? If so, then why did she hear Obi-Wan’s voice telling her “these are your first steps” in Episode VII? And who or what is Snoke? Now that he’s dead – in a moment that’s clumsily telegraphed so that it loses its impact when it finally happens – there’s no real reason for the narrative to return to tell his story. He’s just a cookie-cutter bad guy who’s job was to look scary for a movie and a half and then get out of the way.

There are so many opportunities to be interesting that go wasted here. Rey is drawn to a very dark place on the island, so dark that it frightens Luke. And she goes there and – what? Sees herself in a weird mirror? It’s visually intriguing, surely, but neither she nor the audience learn anything. It’s just cool for the sake of being cool.

Maybe this will all be revisited in Episode IX, but I doubt it. This franchise no longer wants to get bogged down in complications; it just wants to have a credible backdrop on which to stage increasingly generic action set pieces. The underlying mythology behind it is only interesting to us geeks, and Star Wars has outgrown the geeks.

One final note. The elephant in the room going forward is what to do about Leia now that Carrie Fisher is no longer with us. It was heartbreaking to watch her in this film, if only because she looked sick and frail throughout, which made her Super Leia moment painfully ridiculous, and not in a good way.

There was an obvious way to shift the “Last Jedi” plot to give the character a heroic and meaningful exit – they could have had Leia be the one to do the kamikaze run on Snoke’s ship instead of Laura Dern’s purple-haired cipher. That would have required a minimum of digital trickery to paste her into Dern’s place, but it would mostly involve finding shots of Carrie Fisher standing still and looking wistfully out a window, which wouldn’t have been that hard to do. Then they reshoot the scenes in the bunker and have Dern be the one to follow Rey to safety.

Of course, that would have deprived us of Luke and Leia’s reunion, which was one of the most touching moments of the film. And also the most confusing. Why would he give her fake dice, and why wouldn’t she take them with her? He was solid here and not solid outside? But the stuff he brought was solid? What are the rules?

Anyway, there’s really no choice the producers have left but to recast Leia. Carrie Fisher is gone, yes, but Leia is not, and the character’s story is not yet finished. There’s clearly an arc that requires her to confront her son and give him one last shot at redemption. Just wiping her out of the narrative offscreen would be far more disrespectful than letting someone else pick up the role. When Richard Harris died, they recast Dumbledore, because the story required a Dumbledore. Episode IX requires a Leia in a meaty and substantive role, and the technology does not exist to credibly create that performance with the late Carrie Fisher’s image. Recasting is the best of a number of bad options.

That’s sort of how I feel about “The Last Jedi.” It’s no prequel-level disaster, certainly, but it’s not really very good. Or maybe it’s not that Star Wars has outgrown the geeks, but that I’ve outgrown Star Wars. Which makes me very sad indeed. 

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2 thoughts on ““Last Jedi” grumblings”

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed it on some level, but I can’t agree. This was far, far worse than any of the Prequels. Here’s my spoileriffic imdb review:

    Kathleen Kennedy cooks the Golden Goose that is the Star Wars franchise, eats it, and excretes it in the latest entry of the Social Justice Trilogy; The Last Jedi.

    There are some cool things here. The crystal foxes. The Yoda puppet was mostly well done, though it seemed they had a little problem with the eyes. The Jedi Island caretakers were pretty cool. But that’s really about it.

    As I wrote in my review for TFA, the Micro story in Star Wars is about the characters; the Skywalker family’s journey into and out of darkness. The Macro story is about the political state of the galaxy; the rise and fall of Republics and Empires. The relationship between the First Order and the Resistance in TFA is poorly defined. Who controls the galaxy? Well, here it seems to be defined that the First Order controls the galaxy. Which means that the climax in Episode VI where we see galaxy wide celebrations toppling statues of the Emperor and hoisting Stormtroopers overhead is now meaningless.

    Poe’s primary function in the film is to argue with bossy women, and not do much of anything else other than whoop in a cockpit here and there.

    Remember the casino planet from the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica that everyone slammed? Well, Finn and this new character Rose go on a diversion to a dimly lit murky casino planet, where we’re treated to a lecture about animal abuse at the horse track. After which they free one of the horses and ride around on it in lighting too dark to really see what’s going on. They’re in search of…something…which Benecio Del Toro turns them in for, so that the First Order can bring Finn and Rose back with Poe and Rey near the end in as contrived a fashion as possible.

    Rey and Kylo argue with each other via The Force. Rey’s all tough and gritty and hard as nails having been a scrapper on Jakku. Remember? But here she somehow can’t stand to see a man with his shirt off. Not kidding.

    Princess Leia flies through empty airless space like Superman after being blown out of the hull of her ship without incurring a single blemish. Absolutely not kidding here.

    Rey asks Luke for Jedi training, but what for? Mary Sue Rey clearly already knows it all. She lectures him about the things he’s done and why he really did it and what he’s really thinking. Apparently Luke is still the student. Lightsaber training? She bests Luke on the island with a lightsaber. What training is necessary? The Bechdel Galaxy won’t allow for any mansplaining from a white male like Luke. Chewbacca came along for the ride here but spends most of the time taking a nap off camera with the Star Wars version of a pikachu.

    How they found Luke’s lightsaber was a story for another time, remember? Well, not this time. Maybe next time.

    Captain Phasma pops up in time for Finn to have a climactic lightsaber-esque battle too. Equal equality equitably equalized for everyone. And then Phasma dies just as quickly, not from a winning blow by Finn, but by falling through a collapsing floor into a fireball. I guess we can’t really have a man assaulting a woman in the shadow of Hollywood’s Pervnado.

    Hux spouts over the top villainous hyperbole. That is all.

    BB8 shows up to drive an AT-ST. R2D2 and C3PO make their brief appearances but have little to no function.

    We then end with an AT-AT battle a la TESB. Luke makes an appearance to stand off with the AT-ATs but is utterly wasted here. Does he go to town on the AT-AT legs with his lightsaber? Does he lift the AT-ATs into the air telekinetically and bash them into one another? Maybe some other show of the power that he’s developed while in exile over the decades? Nope. Instead Luke’s merely a mental projection here, and it exhausts him to the point of dying back on his exile planet. He’s rusty now, having closed himself off to the Force after all; a necessary contrivance that allowed Rey to best him earlier with a lightsaber I’m guessing. At least we get to see Luke milk an alien nipple; that’s what you’ve been waiting to see for all these years, right?

    The rebels – I mean resistance – attack the AT-ATs with a squadron of ground based cable cars, which drag an armature on the ground so we can see nifty red sand fly into the air. If the writers had done a brief Google search on aircraft physics they would have found the effects of jet spray from low flying craft. The armature was unnecessary, and served only to keep the craft bound to the planet’s surface. Since the cable cars were restricted to the ground, all TIE fighters would have to do is circle above and fire away.

    Finn drives one of these cable cars towards a kind of battering ram weapon that was firing on blast doors which protected the rebel base. He intended to take it out to protect the rebels within. In what could have been a poignant tragic hero moment with Finn dive bombing into the weapon to save the rebels, Rose shows up out of nowhere in another cable car and deliberately crashes into Finn to “save him” from making this sacrifice. So now they’re both on the battlefield exposed in their wrecked cable cars, and the battering ram weapon is still operational, bringing down the resistance’s protective blast doors. And it was all for Rose’s selfish infatuation with Finn. Gee thanks.

    Then Kylo and Rey team up to fight Snoke. Hoping some mysteries about Snoke are revealed here? Or maybe a spectacular display of Snoke’s power with the Force? Well, Rey deftly kills Snoke by telekinetically switching on a resting lightsaber while he’s sitting in his throne pontificating. No answers for you. Kylo and Rey then proceed to fight Snoke’s guards, even though they no longer have anything to guard with Snoke’s death. Whatever training Daisy Ridley had for this film shows a marked improvement in regards to her stance and motion when fighting from what we saw in TFA, but it still can’t erase the silliness of watching a 95 pound girl best adversaries that outweigh her by 150 pounds.

    What’s clear to me is that the writers here have no knowledge whatsoever of the deeper layers of the onion that have always provided the foundation for Star Wars. No knowledge of war or military history. No knowledge of mythology or mysticism. No knowledge of the history of civilization. No knowledge of dogfights or sword fighting. No knowledge of basic physics or anatomy. The only things they seem to have knowledge of is previous Star Wars films (or at least the trailers for them), social justice nonsense, and the Bechdel Test. So we’re left with a shallow unnuanced exercise in social justice lecturing and feminist posturing couched in cosplay costumes and 40 year old Ralph McQuarrie designs which were rejected from The Original Trilogy production.

    And all of this was dragged over 2.5 hours.

    I could be wrong, but I can’t imagine the bulk of the audience returning for Episode IX after being subjected to this drek.

    Help us, George Lucas. You’re our only hope.

  2. Thinking a bit more about what you’ve written here, for me the Prequels are a mixed affair. Some things about them are done very well. The art design in particular. Other things not so much, like the dialogue. But there are moments, sequences in the Prequels, which are fun to watch purely on a visual level. And the core concept was sound; telling the story of Anakin’s fall from grace, how Palpatine rose to power, and how the Republic transformed into an Empire. Where it failed was in the screenplay outlines, and the wooden dialogue. But I can still find things to enjoy in them.

    This really just isn’t the case with the films in the sequel trilogy. The designs are 40 year old leftovers from Ralph McQuarrie. The story lines are extremely fan-ficish. Most of the dialogue seems to be winking one liners that recall moments in the Original Trilogy. There’s nothing on any level to enjoy here. In fact, I can’t even be sure if The Last Jedi is more entertaining than the bizarre Holiday Special.

    I too though wondered if I had outgrown Star Wars after seeing TFA. I walked into the theater anticipating another Star Wars film, and walked out not caring if I ever saw another. In fact the only reason I saw The Last Jedi is because my 10 year nephew wanted to see it. But then I can sit down with the Original Trilogy and still enjoy it immensely. Heck, I can even enjoy the Clone Wars animated series to a degree. So I think we need to courage to admit that George Lucas was not as horrible as many thought, and that this new Disney incarnation of the franchise is quite simply horribly written and produced.

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