Dec 30, 2017

Posted by in Criticism, Movies, Opinion, Review | 3 Comments

The Last Jedi killed Star Wars

The Last Jedi killed Star Wars

(1 / 5)
If you have read this blog before, you will know that I am a staunch defender of the Star Wars prequels and I don’t care how much ‘geek cred’ that may cost me. I love George Lucas’ vision and the Star Wars universe that he created.

I hated The Force Awakens, which was a corporate-driven exercise in superficial nostalgia. In addition, its plot holes were so glaring no amount of suspension of disbelief could possibly bridge those gaps. But somehow, it won over the critics (which makes sense because critics tend to hate good things and like bad things) and even a lot of the fans (which surprised me more).

It seems that with The Last Jedi, the cruel reality of the Disney takeover has finally hit home with the hardcore fanbase, despite the ridiculously high scores of the critics.

So this is how Star Wars dies… With thunderous applause.

The Last Jedi is an inexcusably bad movie. There is so much wrong with it, I don’t know where to start, so instead I’ll just begin by pointing out some of the few things I did like:

  • The visuals were stunning and a big step up from the drabness of The Force Awakens. I particularly loved the image of the Millennium Falcon flying through those salt caves.
  • The character of Rey is fairly likeable. Nowhere near as likeable as young Luke Skywalker was in the older films, but she is definitely better here than she was in the previous instalment, in which she came across as kind of haughty.
  • John Williams’ score is magic, as usual.

That’s it. I’ve run out of positives. Now if this had just been a simple spectacle with a clichéd but serviceable plot, the film might actually have got by on those positives alone. Unfortunately, the story is so horribly bad that no amount of cool spaceships and sweeping orchestral music can save this mess.

In part, The Last Jedi is a remake of The Empire Strikes Back, just like The Force Awakens was a remake of A New Hope. But it also tries to be new, edgy and different by screwing everything up. Those decisions that weren’t direct lifts from previous, better films, ended up being unbelievably bad directions to take the story.

In fact, the plot is so clumsy it manages to both tell too much and not enough at the same time. You see, this film blatantly violates the three-act structure of a trilogy by pretty much ending the trilogy in part 2, leaving JJ Abrams with an even more impossible task with the next episode. Any questions we might have had have all been answered (very unsatisfactorily) or thrown out of the window, leaving precisely zero mystery to the story. It’s not that the story is finished per se, but it’s just “run out of fuel”, to borrow a plot device from this very movie. And yet, despite having depleted all the storyline’s promises, when I got to the end of the movie, I had the strange feeling that not much had actually happened.

I said that Rey was likeable, but she is still a problematic character to have as the main protagonist. Many people have pointed out that Rey is overly competent, needing no training to be the most awesome Jedi ever. In fact, I get the impression that she is inherently more powerful than even the Chosen One, for no discernible reason. There is truth to that criticism, but if you ask me, that’s not the reason why she doesn’t work. I mean, Superman works and he can almost do anything.

The real problem with Rey is that she almost doesn’t seem like a character and more like a moving plot element. Throughout The Last Jedi, she doesn’t seem to have any connection or bond with anyone except Kylo Ren — a weird kind of Force-Skype connection that, like everything in this movie, ultimately leads nowhere. Her relationship to Luke is fairly cold and distant, and she seems to have all but forgotten about Finn. I guess the only reason why I liked her was because Daisy Ridley has a certain natural charm and unlike some of the other characters, Rey actually does something. But she doesn’t have a story arc. At one point, Luke is startled because Rey shows no fear of the Dark Side. You might expect that to lead to some sort of Dark Side temptation moment, but nope. No temptation for Rey. It was just one of countless instances of things being set up and never resolved in this movie.

When Finn wakes up from his coma at the beginning, he has only one question: “Where’s Rey?” — I actually liked that. It showed that the characters cared about each other. But after that one line, that friendship is tossed to the side. In fact, one of the reasons why this movie falls flat on the emotional level is that a strange sense of solipsism affects every character in it. Everyone is on their own journey, living in their own worlds, only interacting with other people very superficially. Finn befriends some girl we’ve never met and spends almost all of his screentime with her, but they never seem to really interact in a personal way until she kisses him out of the blue in the most unromantic way possible. Poe is caught up in his little mutiny, and Luke is obviously the most insular of all. Nevertheless, there is no lack of teary faces and emotional speeches about hope. It’s just all empty and fake because no one ever really connects to anyone else in a meaningful way.

Many, many other people have pointed out the numerous things that just don’t make any sense in this storyline. The absurdity takes off at the very beginning of the movie and just keeps going from there. The opening sequence is set minutes after the end of The Force Awakens; where does this giant First Order fleet suddenly come from? It then continues with ludicrous scenes like Luke milking a space monster and spilling milk in his beard and other nonsense like that. The worst offender is of course the infamous moment when Leia is blasted into outer space. After being presumed dead for a number of scenes, we suddenly see that, while she was frozen and suffocated in the cold depths of outer space, she’s still alive. Then she manages to use the Force and float back into the spaceship. Never mind that she was never shown to have these kinds of abilities in the Force before. What about the fact that she never uses them again? What about the fact that no one even comments on this bizarre occurrence ever again? And why was this in the movie anyway? It doesn’t add anything. It’s like the screenplay was written by Tommy Wiseau.

The movie is far too long and contains drawn-out sequences that have almost nothing to do with the main plot (like the aforementioned Leia moment). It keeps piling on new characters up to the middle of its runtime, asking us to care about some boring, unknown faces who are merely taking precious screen time away from the actual protagonists. Finn has been reduced to a sidenote and he’s still just as inconsequential to the story as he was in the last one. Poe has undergone a personality change and is now a super-ultra-macho whose private parts apparently outsize his brain. His character is probably intended as a criticism of ‘toxic masculinity’, since the film is stuffed to the brim with strong, perfect female leaders who belittle and patronize the male characters and teach them how the universe really works. Now, I’m not particularly interested in the whole feminism debate, but this was really noticeable and annoying.

Point in case: in the final battle, Finn gets the chance to do something truly heroic to save the rebel base before it’s blown to bits by the bad guys. But then his new girlfriend shows up to stop him just in time before something bad happens to him. “That’s how we’ll win,” she says, “not by destroying what we hate, but by saving what we love”. One second later, a giant laser beam from a portable death star cannon destroys the rebel base – as a result of Finn not destroying the cannon he hated. It’s almost as if the filmmakers themselves don’t believe their own messages.

There is a long sequence on a casino planet involving a stampede of racing kangaroo-horses. This entire subplot is superfluous and while the planet was pretty, it adds nothing to the story except for some superficial political commentary nobody asked for. After all, we spend all this time following two characters on a sidequest that they never resolve, and afterwards they are simply added back to the main group of characters. So… Why was it even there? I’m not saying that they should necessarily have succeeded in their little quest, but it should have contributed to the main plot in some way. It didn’t. That’s not bold, subversive storytelling, it’s boring and lazy storytelling. Any halfway decent writing course would teach you not to do that.

Now the worst part of the movie, the absolute low point, is what it does to the man who was once the hero of Star Wars: Luke Skywalker. Now reduced to a bitter, old hermit, Luke is both passive-aggressive and just passive throughout most of the story. His character actually goes to some very dark places psychologically. People have commented that Yoda and Obi-Wan went into exile too, and while that’s true, there is a key difference: Yoda and Obi-Wan weren’t the central heroes of the previous episodes (this is, after all, one big story). Besides, they hid because they had to stay out of the Empire’s all-seeing eye. The Last Jedi’s Luke merely wants to sit on an island and sulk himself to death because he can’t accept his past failures.

Of course, at this point I should also mention that this is again one of the countless things that don’t logically follow from the previous movie, since Luke left a map in case someone needed him. Now when Rey finds him, he tells her he came to the island to die and wants to be left alone. Well, then you shouldn’t have left that map, man!

The film reaches rock bottom when Rey goes off on her own (just like Luke went off on his own while training under Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back) and Luke decides he’s had enough of all this Jedi stuff and decides to burn the last remaining sacred texts of his religion for absolutely no reason except that the filmmakers obviously hate religion. Really, that’s what I think. I don’t see how it could be interpreted any other way. Those sacred texts were never mentioned before in previous films, but apparently they exist now, so Rian Johnson only introduced them in order to have them destroyed by the good guys. It’s as blatant of an anti-religion statement as you can come up with. Anyway, then the ghost of Yoda shows up and helps him out by conjuring up some lightning bolts from the sky. Leaving aside the obvious problem of Force ghosts now being able to physically alter reality, the message this scene sends is downright scary: burn the sacred texts of your tradition, throw away all the hard-earned knowledge of centuries of experience , toss aside the wisdom of your elders, and just step blithely into the future armed with nothing but the overconfidence of youth and complete ignorance of the past, because after all, the true Force is within you, and it’s all just what you make of it, isn’t it? This is an immensely stupid message at best, a downright evil one at worst — and it’s plastered all over this movie, along with a clear distaste that even amounts to mockery towards the actual heroism that was always at the heart of George Lucas’ creation.

The Last Jedi’s plot is an unfocused, meandering mess that doesn’t resemble the tight structure of past episodes in any way, shape or form. This is a story that hates heroes, it hates men, it hates tradition and I would even say it actually hates stories. It’s postmodern crap that feels like it was written by Joss Whedon. And I really, really can’t stand that guy’s work.

Now, I could end this review here but I want to point some more things out. There are people out there who enjoyed this film and that is their right. By all means, if you like this movie and you see good things in it, please do enjoy it. But some people have been saying that Star Wars fans are being hypocritical because they complained that The Force Awakens was too similar, and now they are complaining because The Last Jedi is too different. I want to comment on that, for this one time that I am on the same side as the majority of fans: no, we are not complaining because this movie is too different. We are complaining because it flushes everything that Star Wars stood for down the toilet and replaces it with the same postmodern drivel that’s been poisoning our stories for the past two decades… And on the surface level, it’s STILL too similar to the originals.

I did, in fact, want to like this. I really did. Now, I don’t know why I had any hope for this movie. This trilogy started the wrong way, anyway. At the end of Return of the Jedi the good guys had won. The Empire was defeated so we would expect the next trilogy to begin from a time of peace and the rise of a new threat. Instead of that, we were thrown into the midst of yet another conflict between a powerful evil faction and a small band of rebellious good guys. That was the wrong note to start from. Almost every hard-won victory our heroes had achieved in the original trilogy was simply wiped away by JJ Abrams, and now even what little was left has been demolished by Rian Johnson. And while he was at it, he also changed how the Force works and basically turned the entire saga into a superhero franchise now — as if we don’t already have enough of those.

There is nothing that could save this trilogy now (especially now that JJ Abrams is set to return as writer-director). And that means that Star Wars is dead.

I will miss you, Star Wars. I guess I’ll always have Episodes I-VI to enjoy. And maybe that’s enough.

Farewell, Star Wars.

  1. Demetrius says:

    Have you played KotOR II? Did you like it?
    Because the Last Jedi takes many ideas out of it.
    For example, how exactly did Force change? It was exactly like it was explained in old lore.
    About casino – I explained it to my friend, and let me say it to you – casino part might be a waste of time, but I liked it because of how it deconstructed boring plots. We were expecting for Finn and Rose to find the hacker, go back to the fleet and save the day, yes? It would’ve been more meaningful in the big picture, but predictable as hell and therefore boring! I actually liked this movie because it was very unpredictable, and as a fan of SW for 20 years I can see what people dislike. But I had FUN! This was no usual SW, which Force Awakens was – “here we see a space battle”, “here – a lightsaber duel”, “why arent you excited? it’s Star Wars! be excited!” Ugh!

    Sorry for bad Ebglish, not a native. And thank you for explaining all the hate point by point.

    • Clark Kent Without Glasses
      Clark Kent Without Glasses says:

      Thanks for your comment! I did play Kotor II. I don’t remember too much of it, though. I thought it suffered from feverish, messy storytelling, just like this trilogy. It was also far too cynical, just like this movie. There is no room for cynicism in Star Wars.
      I loved KOTOR I to bits, though. I consider it to be the best thing that came out of all of Star Wars along with Revenge of the Sith and the later seasons of The Clone Wars.

  2. Absolutely on point! Luke is definitely this film’s biggest flaw. Perhaps the biggest character assassination in cinematic history, the great Luke Skywalker feels guilty for nearly killing his nephew, but instead of trying to correct his mistake like a responsible and wise master, he runs away, abandoning his friends and family to death and enslavement. Who thought this was a good idea?!

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