When I walked out of last Monday’s press screening for ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ and heard just about every other critic gush over the film’s supposed greatness, I thought, “Well, here we go again. I’m going to take a lot of heat for not liking this.” However, now that general audiences have seen it and are making the same complaints that I have, I’m starting to feel vindicated.
Beware, major plot spoilers lie ahead.
After seeing a polar opposite reaction between my opinion of the film and those of fellow critics (‘The Last Jedi’ currently sits with a 93% favorable Rotten Tomatoes score, I felt like the problem might be me. I’m not ashamed to admit that a second viewing of a bad movie can make me change my opinion (see ‘Rogue One‘), so I picked up a ticket to an opening night showing to see if I’d change my tune. Unfortunately, while I found more good things in the movie with a second viewing, I still couldn’t see past the glaring issues.
With that, I’d like to walk you through the good and the bad of ‘The Last Jedi’. I won’t nitpick the tiny dumb things, like X-Wings flying through explosions as if there wasn’t debris amidst the space flames; Poe manually turning off his comms so he could disobey General Leia’s orders without getting an ear-full yet instantly using his comms to call in a bomb strike; Luke’s unnecessarily dangerous pole-vault fishing style; the line “I wish I could put my fist through this whole lousy town”; stealing a ship from an arms dealer who just-so-happened to create every recognizable vehicle since ‘Episode IV’; a black version of BB-8 that doesn’t serve a purpose in the story but serves a major purpose in Disney’s marketing scheme; a scene revealing that a huge Resistance ship cannot fly on autopilot, but is actually flying without a pilot in this exact scene; two characters that attempt to say “May the force be with you” at the same time but stop mid-sentence to laugh at the rom-com-ish moment, etc. Instead, I’ll focus on the things that really worked and the big things that really didn’t work.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Laugh It Up, Fuzzball
The scroll title sequence explains that the Resistance is about to evacuate its secret base because the First Order found them and are in pursuit. Just as the entire Resistance gets away, the First Order shows up to wipe them out. A solitary X-Wing approaches the Star Destroyers, hails them, and proceeds to crack a joke that falls utterly flat. Poe Dameron (a.k.a. Maverick) pulls the old “Can you hear me now?” gag, accompanied with a mom joke, so he can get some sort of unexplained reading from the ship he’s about to single-handedly render defenseless against close attacks. Considering the emotional elevation that ‘The Force Awakens‘ ended with, starting ‘The Last Jedi’ with a bad joke is a terrible way to begin a 150-minute movie. It’s also an indication of the type of lame misfit comedy that’s been injected into the whole thing. ‘Star Wars’ has primarily contained dry humor, but for ‘The Last Jedi’, it feels like Disney pulled a Warner Bros. post-production stunt (which also happened to ‘Rogue One’) by hiring a Marvel writer to infuse the same style of humor and gags from an ‘Avengers’ movie. It simply doesn’t work.
We don’t need Poe Dameron cracking “Your mom” jokes. We don’t need to see Luke Skywalker drinking from Nessie’s nipples. We don’t need Luke pranking Rey by telling her that the tickle of a blade of grass is actually the feeling of the Force. We don’t need to recreate scenes of ‘Problem Child’ with Rey tormenting uptight nuns. We don’t need Yoda showing up and acting like the sassy housekeeper from ‘Billy Madison’. We don’t need Finn to exclaim the type of one-liners that are usually written for Will Smith. “Oh, come on!” We don’t need a misleading shot of what appears to be a landing spacecraft, but is really just a silly steaming iron coming in to press the First Order’s laundry. (Was that a pot-shot at the once-attached, but since-fired director who used the same comedic trick shot in the opening of ‘Jurassic World‘?)
The style of humor ultimately undermines the film’s emotional impact. Whenever we’re in the middle of something big, we get a joke. ‘The Force Awakens’ ended with Rey extending Luke’s lightsaber to him. To revisit that scene and see him comically toss it over a cliff ruins the punch of the prior movie’s ending. When the Puss n’ Boots Porgs are the least distracting form of comedy in it, your movie has some problems.
One Good Thing
Three main stories flow through ‘The Last Jedi’. Only one of them is any good, but that one is very good once we get out of the fluff. Which one am I referring to? Well, it isn’t the casino planet filler. And it certainly isn’t the low-speed space race with a glaring plot hole. I’m talking about the Rey/Kylo dichotomy.
Every scene that bounces back and forth between Kylo and Rey is perfect. Had the entire movie focused on them, I would have been the movie’s biggest cheerleader. Even then, the first half of the story would have be changed because everything that happens with Rey and Luke on Dagobah Island is utterly pointless. Watching Rey follow Luke around like a puppy is as boring as it sounds. Plus, Grumpy Old Man Luke isn’t any fun and doesn’t ultimately have anything to do with Rey’s progress. Every time they start a “lesson,” it quickly ends with Luke storming off. Rey learns nothing from Luke. In fact, she learns from Kylo. The only good stuff that happens on the island are the scenes where VoldemortSnoke causes Rey and Kylo to merge minds. It’s puzzling and it brings out a great dynamic that doesn’t exist between any other characters in the movie. Once she leaves the island and the two end up in Snoke’s ship together, the Rey/Kylo plot finally hits its potential – but we’ll come back to that.
Lots More Bad Things
I thoroughly enjoyed the Finn character in ‘The Force Awakens’. Having him be a Stormtrooper defector who wants to run away from danger and heroism was an excellent choice. However, he’s written to be nothing more than comedic relief in ‘The Last Jedi’. Making matters worse is his subplot, which includes duplicating both aspects of his character. Finn is a sidekick character, yet here he’s given a sidekick of his own. He’s also now completely dedicated to comedic relief, but he’s accompanied by BB-8, who also only offers up more comedic relief. The icing on the crap cake is a secondary story that involves BB-8, Finn and his new buddy Rose (a character that was obviously written for Patton Oswalt) traveling to a casino planet on a mission to locate and hire the “Master Code Breaker” (that name is just as original as “The Keymaker” in ‘The Matrix Reloaded’) to get them onto Snoke’s ship. Not only are they unsuccessful in hiring the Master Code Breaker, but they settle for a random stuttering dude they find in a jail cell. Why? Who knows? But the CGI-heavy escape sequence that follows is so bad that it’s the film’s equivalent of the needless pod-racing scene in ‘The Phantom Menace‘, without the fun. What an awful subplot.
Growing up in Southern California, we watched many live high-speed chases on television. As kids, there was nothing on broadcast television that was as entertaining. The only times we would change the channel were the low-speed chases, so to see one happen for the entire duration of ‘The Last Jedi’ is pretty disappointing. When the only other-worldly adventure in a ‘Star Wars’ movie involves horse races, animal cruelty, slavery, casino mayhem and a literal “fat lady singing” – all because the main plot is dedicated to a low-speed chase – the screenplay is seriously lacking.
Technology has advanced to the point where the First Order can now track a ship’s location after it heads off into light speed, so the Resistance has no way of outrunning the Star Destroyers and Snoke’s massive ship. So, how does the Resistance get away? They stay out of range of the First Order ships. But… umm… wait a minute. Couldn’t the First Order just speed-up and close the gap until they were in range to take out the Resistance? Apparently, despite Snoke smashing General Hux’s face for not immediately blowing up the Resistance, Hux decides to merely follow them and wait until they run out of fuel. How convenient. When it comes to plot holes, this is one that I simply cannot overlook. Making this plot even more needless is a pointless mutiny created by Poe. The only reason this mutiny happens is because of a lack of communication. Poe’s wild card reputation precedes him, so the general should have known that he would do something crazy, but if she had shared her plans, then his character wouldn’t have had anything to do in ‘The Last Jedi’, and Disney can’t let that happen when there’s Poe Dameron and X-Wing merchandise on the line.
All stories converge when Kylo brings Rey to Snoke, Finn is captured by Phasma in front of the Flux Capacitor-looking device that allows the First Order to track the Resistance at light speed, and the Resistance ship is about to run out of gas. I enjoyed a lot of what happens from this point forward, but it’s also chock full of problems.
I liked ‘Brick’ well enough, but Rian Johnson’s only truly excellent film is ‘Looper‘. His lack of skills show not only in the writing of ‘The Last Jedi’, but in the direction as well. When Rey and Kylo team up to kill Snoke and all of his redshirt guards, the movie hits its pinnacle of audience excitement. However, this sequence is shot in such a subpar way that it isn’t nearly as fun as it should be.
Think back to how great the climactic snowy forest saber fight in ‘The Force Awakens’ was. It was shot in a way that made it engaging. But this scene is shot with a spinning Michael Bay-esque camera style. I’m sure a great fight was choreographed, but it’s bland and disjointed on-screen. Just as disappointing is John Williams’ score, which does nothing new. Hell, recycling the “Dual of Fates” track would have made this scene much better. Then, what really kills the mojo of this should-be stellar moment is what follows. Rey and Kylo talk. His philosophies about the Jedi and Sith needing to come to an end sound exactly like Luke’s. And while he poses no threat in this moment, she decides to draw on him. This makes no sense, especially considering she has seen something good in him (even if it was just a trick of Snoke’s). Both have potential to switch alliances, and they know that, yet she draws on him in a non-threatening moment? I don’t get it. And I especially don’t get why they Force-fight over a single saber when another one (and half a dozen other weapons) are on the floor around them.
Next up, we have the Resistance abandoning ship. With a secret rebel base hidden in an abandoned salt mine on a planet that’s right outside the window, the Resistance make a break for it in their unshielded escape crafts. The interim general stays aboard the ship that doesn’t have autopilot, but also doesn’t need anyone in the cockpit to fly it. This convenient – or should I say inconvenient – plot point results in the main Resistance cruiser flying straight into Snoke’s ship at light speed. The result should be exciting, but one of two things happened: Either Johnson decided to get artistic (for once) with the direction, or he ran out of budget and had to settle for inserting several panels of concept art in place of the finished visual effects. (Disclaimer: I want to point out that both times I saw ‘The Last Jedi’, jackass members of the audience decided to yell “Oh, shit!” during this completely silent moment. Once someone does that, you can’t unhear it. Every time I see that moment, I’m always going to hear those two obnoxious a-holes. I must acknowledge that my dislike of this directorial choice may result from that.)
Just before that moment, surrounded by hundreds of Stormtroopers, Finn and Rose are about to be skinned by Phasma, who conveniently walked her prisoners far from where she found them and held off on causing any physical harm until the exact moment the ships collide. When we come back to this scene after the collision, Rose and Finn are somehow all alone in the now-fiery landing bay. Phasma and the countless Stormtroopers are all missing, until they perfectly march out of the smoke and fire towards them. Just when they’re about to meet their fate, as R2-D2 did in the prequels, they’re saved by BB-8, who has commandeered a First Order Walker and begins firing on the soldiers. Watching this, I couldn’t help but remember oil slicks and other childish ways that the droids aided the heroes in the prequel films. Just when I thought the movie couldn’t do worse than BB-8 shooting automatic-fire coins during the casino sequence, here comes BB-8 in a Walker.
Although we’ve now been through three climaxes, Johnson decided that wasn’t enough. With Finn, Rose and BB-8 now at Helm’s Deepthe single-exit rebel base with Leia, Poe and the few surviving Rebels, they have to survive an AT-AT and TIE Fighter attempt to breach the cave door. Of course, hermit Luke takes a trick from Loki’s overused playbook and shows up in hologram form. Along the way, he also uses his new Force magic to somehow give a pair of magically disappearing rear-view mirror fuzzy dice to Leia following a conversation that sounds like it was written by George Lucas in the early 2000s. As bad as the dialogue is, it’s only half as bad as Carrie Fisher’s tone-deaf delivery. Both she and Mark Hamill deserve so much more than ‘The Last Jedi’ has to offer.
Kylo falls for Luke’s trick right before Luke becomes one with the Force and disappears like Obi-Wan, which is such a lame way for Luke Skywalker to (supposedly) exit the franchise.
We’re now more than 2,000 words into my rant, so I’ll pose to you the same questions that ‘The Last Jedi’ left me with before I wrap this up:
- Why did Rian Johnson feel he had to fake-kill Leia?
- Why did the visual effects look so terrible when Leia used the Force to “WALL-E” herself back into the ship?
- How do Rose and Finn know how to single-handedly pilot mining vehicles and intergalactic spaceships?
- How do Rose and Finn know how the brand-spanking-new First Order’s tracking technology works?
- Are there any other First Order space bases that Finn cleaned that might help him save the day in the future?
- After turning Ben into a monster, did Luke think that he shouldn’t clean up his mess?
- If Yoda can use the Force while in ghost form, does this mean that all Force-users can come back and use it?
- Will Luke, Anakin and Obi-Wan return in ‘Episode IX’ to fight as Jedi Force ghosts?
- When Snoke yells “It’s tearing you apart!” to Kylo (in reference to Kylo killing Han), in your mind did you hear Tommy Wiseau yell “It’s tearing you apart, Lisa!”?/li>
- Could Domhnall Gleeson possibly chew any more scenery?
- Is it in the Millennium Falcon’s contract that it has to fly through caves and tight spots in every movie?
- Is the Force-using slave child in the last scene a Newsie?
I don’t care that Rey’s parents are (supposedly) nobodies. I don’t care that the big bad villain, Supreme Leader Snoke MacGuffin (that’s his full name), is only in ‘The Last Jedi’ for two-and-a-half scenes and receives absolutely no backstory, despite his character being built up so much. All I care about is a little quality.
A friend’s podcast points out that Rian Johnson’s ‘The Last Jedi’ doesn’t feel like ‘Star Wars’ canon, but like fan-fiction that you could find for free in any unofficial geek forum. I agree with that. It feels like Johnson created everything he ever wanted to see in a ‘Star Wars’ movie instead of making the sequel that ‘The Force Awakens’ deserved.
The best thing about ‘The Last Jedi’ is where Johnson decided to leave it – not because it opens the door for something great, but because it’s in a place where absolutely anything can happen. J.J. Abrams has a clean slate to work with for the next episode. He can take it anywhere he wants. He can right the wrongs of ‘The Last Jedi’. I understand that many don’t like the way his writing style raises big questions and leaves them unanswered, but with ‘Episode IX’ being (supposedly) the final chapter in this third trilogy, here’s hoping that the MacGuffins and misdirection and convoluted storytelling and wasted fluff of ‘The Last Jedi’ are left behind.
One of Yoda’s last lines in the movie is, “Failure is the greatest teacher.” If Disney learns one thing about ‘The Last Jedi’, I sure hope that’s exactly it. While this movie won’t be a box office failure, it’s a critical failure for all of us watching closely.