Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a movie that could have been good, had all the elements of being good, but then decided to take advice from its Resistance generals and hide from the challenge. Instead of facing head-on the opportunity and striving to be great while acknowledging the risk failure, it chose to preach and stick it’s head in the sand. Ironically, that attitude lead to disaster both for the movie and the Resistance.
** SPOILERS **
I’ve just seen the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise – Star Wars: The Last Jedi and I have to say, despite some great scenes, it left me dissatisfied at best and deeply disturbed at the worst. As a writer I’m going to approach this from a storytelling viewpoint, without discussion of the obvious social issues presented, although it is my belief that the storytelling suffered due to the influence of a social agenda.
To begin with, it’s important to acknowledge that no story is all bad, so any critique should start with the positive; and there were enough of them for many people to look past the short-comings (although this seemed easier for critics than fans, judging from the Rotten Tomatoes scores). In fact, if the scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi were reworked and reordered somewhat I would probably have found this an amazing movie, instead of a dissatisfying mess.
What I liked.
It was interesting seeing Luke’s changes and how his past choices and situations had affected him. More than Han or Leia, it was Luke who had changed the most. There was some genuine fun, as well as drama in his reluctant training of Rey. There was also some good drama between Rey and Ren building up to their conflict with Snoke.
There were also some nice action sequences and some nice thought put toward visualizing tech (such as the shields).
In general, as I already mentioned, if many of the scenes were given their proper emotional pay-off and the big set-piece had come at the right time in the story, I probably would have considered this a much better movie. But it seemed too bent on getting across it’s social message rather than telling a good story.
Anyway, continuing on, and without further ado, let’s start at the beginning with what I had issues with.
The opening scroll immediately starts warning bells ringing for fans looking for new additions to the Star Wars universe as it suggests escape from Hoth in Empire Strikes Back… And true to expectation, we’re immediately sent into an escape scenario as the Resistance seeks to flee a planet surface (thankfully not snow-covered) while being bombarded from space. But Po Dameran, hero of the Resistance, is there in a daring, and comical (although stupid) scheme. He succeeds in stalling and cue the action sequence, which is quite a good start to the movie. But just as the plan is 90% complete, Leia gets cold feet and calls it off. Po refuses and continues with an ultimately successful plan to destroy the First Orders’s ‘fleet killer’ ship. Something that, even in hindsight, was a powerful win and ensured the survival of the Resistance. But he’s chewed out and demoted for losing a handful of X-wings and four or five bombers.
Now this could have been the ‘hero wrongfully chewed out by captain who just doesn’t get it’ trope, but it’s not. Po is never redeemed until he literally learns to run away and stop doing heroic things. So the character conflict is essentially wasted from a dramatic point of view.
The sequences with Luke and Rey I didn’t have much issue with. There was some good comedy, some important backstory, and powerful drama. Both Luke and Rey’s stories were fleshed out more, although the Force seems to have manifested and concentrated primarily within a few beings in the galaxy now because these force users are uber compared even to the feats of the older republic and we see long distance mental and physical communication between Rey and Ren, and later an amazing feat of projection by Luke.
Next we meet a fleeing Resistance, almost out of fuel (an allusion only to one or two comments in The Empire Strikes Back and something that has never been an issue before) who have been tracked through hyperspace. They’re down to a handful ships including a single capital ship and some support frigates. Immediately they come under bombardment and Leia, and the rest of the command staff, are blasted out the bridge window.
At this point I was thinking, this is how Leia dies. This the tribute to Carrie Fischer. And for a moment it truly seemed that way as we watched her slowly freeze, still in deep space… but no, I was wrong. Leia uses previously unknown Force powers to awaken and pull herself into the nearby airlock where she is rescued. And we’re robbed a second time of what could have been a powerfully dramatic scene.
While this is happening, Po is working with Finn and Rose (a new character) to find a way aboard Snoke’s ship and disable the tracker so the fleet can jump to hyperspace. While Po commits mutiny after discovering a new war general has been appointed and her only strategy is to run and hide, Finn and Rose travel to a ritzy casino world to find a master code-breaker, which they do after much drama and social commentary.
While Rey and Ren address Snoke aboard his ship, Finn and Rose board the same ship to disable the tracker and the movie looks to be moving toward the climactic set-piece… …but it’s not. After a battle in Snoke’s chamber, Rey and Ren separate, more convinced of their own sides than ever while Finn and Rose are betrayed.
Had this, or very shortly after with a twist escape by the decimated Resistance, been the end of the movie, the dramatic build-up and multiple-plots-coming-together-at-once of the set-piece would have paid off with an Empire Strikes Back-style ending. But again, it wasn’t. The good guys escape back to a transport ship and Rey disappears. Meanwhile, the new general has sat in the capital ship watching The First Order wipe out almost twenty escape transports, one at a time, before she decides to sacrifice herself after doing more for the destruction of the Resistance than anyone else in the movie.
At this point I’m wondering who wrote a story with such poor pacing. There’s no reward for the build-ups or set-pieces and we’re constantly shunted away from anything that might be an emotional payoff in the story. And we still have another big scene on another planet to go.
The Resistance has hunkered-down in their hidey-hole behind a large door only to have The First Order land a half-dozen walkers and a new battering-ram canon. Resistance pilots rush out from the base in rickety mining skimmers in a doomed last-ditch charge of the light brigade and just when it all looks hopeless, Finn decides on a suicide attack to destroy the canon. We get the close-up slow motion, musically accompanied view of a hero determined to stop the bad guys at all costs and just when he’s about to make the ultimate sacrifice… Rose swings over and intentionally bumps him out of the way, potentially killing them both and destroying the emotional pay off for yet another (the forth?) dramatic but ultimately pointless scene.
They do survive and when when Finn asks what she was doing she makes a crazy statement about surviving not by destroying the bad guy but by preserving what we love. Anyone watching can’t help but wonder how they will be able to preserve anything when they’re dead. However, this is the movie’s only statement of counterpoint to both Ren and Luke’s points that the past must die.
Finally, this story of messed up scenes and zero emotional payout comes to an end after Luke sacrifices himself to buy time for the remaining Resistance to escape, Rey pilots the Millenium Falcon through the
2nd Death Star, um, crystal mines, and Po learns that running away is what he’s supposed to do to be a leader and a hero.
I continue to think this movie had all the elements to be an amazing, emotional, and dramatic movie. Unfortunately, it was like the puzzle was put together in the wrong way and I came away with such a bad feeling that a day later I still can’t shake it. And I doubt I was the only one. The cinema I saw it in was absolutely quiet after the closing scene. It was as if the audience was stunned to silence trying to figure out what they’d just seen.
However, I’m aware that mine are not the only opinions. Have you seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi? What did you like best? Dislike the most? What were your thoughts on the various plotlines of the main characters? And what about the social commentary? I’ll be addressing that last one in an upcoming post.
Insight and longevity.