More About The Last Jedi Because I Really Liked It and Can’t Stand That You Might Not

I’m going to go into a lot of the problems I’ve heard lobbed at The Last Jedi in a moment but before I do that I wanted to point out that no matter what issues you may have with decisions made, it’s hard to argue that Rian Johnson didn’t at the very least make a complete, self contained movie, one that sets up its plot points and arcs and follows through on them in ways that honor the set ups. It’s designed to seem chaotic and desperate on the surface but his screenplay is every bit the finely tuned Swiss watch in regards to set up and pay off that his Oscar nominated Knives Out was.

I look at this movie and see a filmmaker really taking a swing, getting ambitious but I didn’t see someone trying to change Star Wars at all. I saw someone really trying to make the best Star Wars movie ever. I wouldn’t say he succeeded in that but I’d certainly classify it as one of the better movies in the series. I appreciated the scope— it looked like it cost a mint and was often beautifully shot. I appreciated that for the first time a Star Wars movie was actually about something beyond “how do we get from point A to point B”. There was an actual overall theme here. Exploring the inevitability of failure and how we deal with and learn from failure is woven into every plot strand. How do you keep going and hold onto hope when it seems like nothing you do is working? You know what other movie was like that? The Empire Strikes Back, which everyone believes is the strongest of the series. Like that one, this is a movie where the good guys take a beating. Things don’t go in their favor. They make desperate, sometimes poor decisions and face the consequences.  You may not like it but not agreeing with a character’s actions is not the same as saying that the actions are unmotivated. Sometimes you’re not supposed to agree with a character. That’s been a popular device in storytelling since the beginning. When you disagree with a character you like that can be challenging. It’s supposed to be challenging because that will push you to consider aspects of a story you normally wouldn’t.

That’s not even to say this movie has wildly complex characters. It’s a space yarn. But it’s a space yarn that is trying to give the audience a little nutrition with the candy. It’s true that it tried to stretch our perceptions by having new viewpoints on standard tropes, ask interesting questions about the Saga’s history, and not be a re-hash of what we’ve seen already. But I can’t think of anything that doesn’t have precedent somewhere else in the canon. 

I can understand being cold on this movie. I can understand even thinking it’s mediocre. I know what it’s like to be watching a movie and something just hits you wrong and kind of takes you out of things. I experienced that the first time I saw Avatar but I never hated Avatar. I eventually grew to appreciate it down the road. I don’t get the hate for this movie. I can’t figure out what warrants it. Maybe some things in this were indeed just a bridge too far for some but so many of the criticisms come off as petty, as in people are just looking for something to complain about and misrepresent things on purpose. No movie is perfect and there are indeed legitimate flaws you can pull at. But to say things like it goes so far afield as to be considered non-canon is absurd.

Some of the criticisms I found particularly vexing:

The whole Finn/Rose Canto Bight mission was pointless.

No, it was not pointless. Depicting a plot thread where the heroes fail does not make it pointless even if it makes you sad or angry. Making you feel that way is the point. Story wise, the outcome raises the stakes as it brings us into the final act and thematically it’s another failure the Resistance needs to come back from. The usual “fly by the seat of your pants and everything works out” doesn’t work this time. They fail their mission. If you want to get technical, it was an unauthorized mission sort of thrown together at the last minute and while Finn and Rose are two enthusiastic and passionate fighters, one was a First Order janitor before joining the Resistance and the other was in maintenance. There was not a lot of tactical experience between them which actually gives the outcome a certain logic that I admired.

It true this subplot may have gone on too long in places and contained some of the more bizarre comic relief but it was also showing us a setting we hadn’t seen in a Star Wars movie and brought in themes of wealth inequality and war profiteering to further enrich the Star Wars world. In the case of the latter, it also gave somewhat of a hint of back-story to The First Order or at the very least, an explanation for how they found the resources to rise from the ashes of the Empire. War being big business is a simple explanation we can all understand and covers a lot of ground. I might add, back-story for the The First Order and what exactly The Resistance is resisting, considering the Rebels re-took the Republic at the end of Return of the Jedi, was sorely lacking in The Force Awakens. I’m happy someone made an attempt to fill in some gaps, considering it was the only attempt we’d get in the sequel trilogy.

This subplot is also crucial for Finn’s arc. He was only involved with the Resistance because of Rey. He was ready to leave it in The Force Awakens until Rey was taken by Kylo and he was leaving it again in The Last Jedi when he came out of his coma and realized Rey was elsewhere. He’s only on this mission and in this movie because Rose zapped him and took him into custody for desertion. Going to Canto Bight is where he gets to see a little of why The Resistance exists and needs people like him. Through his eyes we also see how much the success of the First Order is thriving on the corruption of the New Republic, particularly the elites who will never be affected by the oppression.

He also sees where Rose comes from and learns how similar their circumstances were, both having been victims of some form of child slavery. This is what the Resistance is fighting to change. It gets him in the fight. More importantly, it gives the character of Finn some sort of identity outside of Rey and worrying about Rey and yelling “Rey!”. At least until Rise Of Skywalker.

It’s too overtly political? The “haves” versus the “have-nots” has been a trope of storytelling since storytelling. Now it’s political and a problem? And Lucas has always inserted real world politics into Star Wars. The prequel trilogy was often nakedly a commentary on W. Bush and the Iraq War.

Rose sucked.

It’s subjective. If you think she outright sucks and had no redeeming value whatsoever, with all due respect I think that’s more a deficiency in you. I thought Kelly Marie Tran was fine, often adorable in the role and I liked that we got one of those background people we always see refueling X-Wings or standing in a tower with binoculars and put them front and center. It was a side of the world only Rogue One had really touched on before. It was cool to see it within the Saga. It’s not all officers and grunts that fight these battles. I also liked how her origin called back to the sort of harsh wealth hierarchy seen in the prequels on Tatooine with Anakin and his Mom.

As for “why didn’t she free the slave children when she freed the Fathiers”? Because she and Finn were two people in the middle of a military mission they weren’t supposed to be on, under a time crunch, and couldn’t even guarantee their own safety. So let’s throw some children in there as well? Fathiers can fend for themselves in the wild. Kids get eaten.

As for why she didn’t let Finn proceed with his heroic suicide, he was in a tiny, rinky-dink ship that was falling apart. It would’ve disintegrated before it did anything. Even if it did miraculously take the battering ram out, the First Order was going to get into that base. There was no other exit (until Rey arrived and moved a bunch of rocks which was not something Rose could’ve predicted when she did what she did) so the First Order could just set up camp outside until the Resistance surrendered or starved. Finn’s sacrifice wouldn’t have made a difference and Rose would’ve lost the guy she was crushing on.

Why couldn’t Admiral Holdo just tell Poe Dameron her plans?

Because The Resistance is a military operation and she outranks him. You follow the orders of your superior officers. You don’t get to question them. I might add, Poe had just been demoted for violating this very thing and getting a bunch of people killed and she knew this.

What’s up with Holdo (or Holdo sucks)?

Again, subjective. I thought she was an interesting call back to the rebellion’s tendency to have hippie-ish leaders like Mon Mothma. And It’s Star Wars. She really didn’t seem that out of place to me even if the purple hair was a bit much. As to her being too strict of a leader or whatever, she’s an Admiral dealing with a mutiny during a crisis. Her behavior may stand out a bit because we’ve never seen a Rebel or Resistance leader have to be disciplinary before. We’ve also never seen a Rebel or Resistance member being as big of an insubordinate asshole as Poe throughout this film. She never gets abusive, and generally remains calm until physically threatened. But somehow she’s the bad guy?

Why didn’t anyone ever use the “Holdo maneuver” before?

Because it kills most of— more than likely all of, the people on the ship doing it. Holdo did it out of desperation, knowing it would cost her her life and wasn’t even sure if it would work. It was just all she had left.

Since it means the destruction of your own ship and the death of your crew, it would’ve been stupid if Admiral Ackbar went nuts and had everyone light speed jump into the second Death Star. It would’ve meant the loss of his entire Navy and been all for nothing anyway since the second Death Star would more than likely remain operational. It was the size of a small planet. We watched the Executor, one of the largest ships in the Imperial fleet and significantly bigger than any Rebel ship, crash into it and barely make a dent.

The “Mary Poppins” scene was stupid.

Whatever. You saw an old woman in a dress floating through space and I guess you couldn’t take it seriously. I’m not sure how else you could’ve depicted this. Leia is an old woman and wearing a dress, which I guess is just like Mary Poppins.

I saw Princess Leia use the fucking Force for the first time and thought it was awesome. And then freaky because she floats through the now dead and destroyed bridge which was moments ago bright and teaming with living beings including Admiral Ackbar, who are all now charred corpses floating in space. That was kind of haunting for me.

It never ever occurred to me that Leia using the Force could be construed as unbelievable. She’d demonstrated Force sensitivity on multiple occasions throughout the OT and is the daughter and sister of two of the most Force sensitive people to ever live. There’s also been about 30 years since the events of Return that we didn’t see. I basically ASSUMED she’d studied a bit of the Force since then and was waiting for her to use it in the new trilogy. Turns out The Rise Of Skywalker confirmed she was indeed training with Luke.

It was unrealistic for her to survive floating in space? 90 percent of Star Wars is unrealistic. (That goes for the bombers at the beginning as well. No one said shit when the Empire was using bombers in space in ESB. But now it’s unacceptable?)

TLJ completely undid everything set up in The Force Awakens.

What was set up in The Force Awakens? We got a whole bunch of kernels of ideas, not even full ideas, that could go in a million directions and JJ couldn’t even be bothered to address a lot of them himself when he was brought back in for the third film. As for the main story beats, no clear motivations or origins for either side of a galaxy-wide conflict are ever established, it ends with all our main characters separated and one in an actual coma, and we just saw our villain get embarrassingly pantsed by someone who was using a lightsaber for the first time. The only concrete plot thread set up for the sequel is Rey going to see Luke and that was continued in the next film.

This is coming from someone who very much enjoys The Force Awakens. I feel it works very well as a film. But let’s not act like it set down any sort of ironclad path for a sequel.

They did Snoke dirty.

What could’ve they ended up revealing about Snoke that would satisfy you? Great, it turns out he’s been Darth Plagueis this whole time. That would be a fun nod to an element from a past film and maybe even give us a sort of overarching villain to the whole nine movies— So just come out and tell us he’s Darth Plagueis to first time we see him in The Force Awakens. Why would this be set up as a twist? How would this being a twist enrich the narrative? None of the characters have even heard of Darth Plagueis, so his reveal would mean nothing to them. It would just be an empty goosing for the audience and that’s not how twists are supposed to work. Luke finding out Vader was his father was devastating information for our main character and that’s why it was so powerful for the audience. The “empty twist” is something JJ Abrams has been guilty of in the past—the Star Trek Into Darkness reveal that Benedict Cumberbatch is really playing Kahn, a character that no one in that story had ever met, was meaningless to the narrative. It was just to goose the fans. Also, so many people were convinced Snoke was Plagueis there would’ve been zero surprise anyway.

What was so compelling about Snoke that he could’ve better served the narrative as anything more than an obstacle for Kylo’s rise to power? The only good thing about him was Andy Serkis’ performance. His design wasn’t even that compelling. What was suddenly going to make him anything more than Palpatine 2.0? And more importantly, where does keeping him around leave Kylo Ren’s arc? He either takes out Snoke/Plagueis (or whoever else people hoped he’d be) and assumes power or, I guess stays an underling for the whole series? Or we have to do the redemption arc in a Star Wars trilogy again…

Rey’s parents being nobodies is stupid.

Rey being a Palpatine was ultimately, I won’t say stupid, but certainly a step down on the originality scale. The hero being related to the big bad is so common now that it’s a cliché. What is no longer a cliché is a hero who is not “the chosen one”. Rey coming from nothing would’ve been a return to the idea in A New Hope that the little guys can band together and take down an evil Empire. But everyone wanted a big twist in the parentage reveal and while we actually got a great one in TLJ it wasn’t the one people wanted. Come to think of it no one could really agree on what they wanted.

Having her legitimately come from nobodies was not only unexpected but, in the context of what we’d learned about Rey, the most devastating outcome for her. She desperately wants to understand her origins and figure out who left her and why. She also wants an explanation as to why she has these powers. Her finding out that there is no real answer to these questions is existential for her. No one is going to tell her who she is. She has to figure that out.

Rise of Skywalker tossed this aside. The news that Rey was a Palpatine certainly was devastating for her but it also gave her all her answers. It was a narrative shortcut. And worse, it made sure that the days of a scrappy group of nobodies coming together to overcome the odds were gone. Now, only those chosen by fate are worthy to be the heroes.