Let’s talk about Star Wars: The Last Jedi. By Rian Johnson. Rian Johnson the Great. Rian Johnson who brought his legendary vision to Star Wars and made everyone happy.
Honestly, I have yet to find a negative review of The Last Jedi. So here I will write a negative review of something everyone loves.
There’s already been a major backlash against the movie, by die-hard fans. I am a die-hard fan of Star Wars, but I’m not one of those fans. Vox gave some common reasons that fans didn’t like it, here’s my thoughts on these issues (just to set me apart from Just Another Hater):
- Too much progressivism: Progressivism is fine, I love it. I come from a college town, we’re all liberals here (even though I lean more libertarian than most of my friends). You want to spend the movie on some women, an Asian person, and an African person driving the storyline? (or Asian-American and African-American, not sure which is more PC, except it’s silly to add “American” in a universe where there’s no such thing) Watch me not care, though it’d be nice if the people who actually got things done weren’t basically all white men.
- The jokes are too jokey: 100% agree, the movie tried too hard to make me laugh. When Luke said the same line for a second time, we had already seen too many of his antics, some of which were actually funny, and I wanted a real movie with a sensical plot. Also, Vox claims that this is a nitpicky complaint, but let’s be honest - contrived dialog alone would sink any other movie. It shouldn’t be allowed in a movie that netted over a billion dollars.
- The movie is uninterested in fan theories: So am I. I didn’t watch any trailers. I didn’t give a second thought to Rey’s parents. I was curious where Snoke came from, but honestly, before I saw The Last Jedi I couldn’t have told you a single fan theory about him. So if the movie broke any existing fan theories, I don’t know, let alone care.
- Individual plot lines/moments don’t make sense: Aren’t plot lines and moments supposed to make sense? Like, isn’t that the goal? Vox says that the most common complaint is the side trip to the Casino. And sure, it was a little out of the way, but it’s like when they go to Bespin in Empire Strikes Back - it was out of the way, but that’s where the plot led. (also Atlantic’s article gave an interesting thematic tie-in about that trip, it’s worth a read) So I don’t mind that plot line as a whole so much.
- The characters journeys aren’t what was expected: This ties in with the fan theory point above. I didn’t watch any trailers, so I didn’t have any expectations going in. Except, you know, that Princess Leia would die. I didn’t read any of the extended universe novels, I believe canon is the movies (no books, just the movies. I’m still on the fence about the TV shows). Anything else is fair game. Don’t contradict the movies and I won’t care.
Now that you’re convinced that I don’t hate the movie for the classic reasons, let me tell you some actual reasons to hate the movie (also, here’s an article I largely agree with).
- Superleia: As expected, Leia dies. Kylo Ren shoots a proton torpedo into the bridge of the ship and she gets blown into space. Except, then she comes back to life, and flies superman-style (with the arm out and everything) back to the ship, where she promptly spends the rest of the movie in a coma. I can’t make this stuff up. This is an ability that’s never been seen before in the movies, yet the characters of the movie take it for granted: There’s not even lip service to the idea that anyone was either surprised or amazed. Getting blown into the vacuum of space by a proton torpedo blast 20 feet away is hard on the body, especially for a little old lady. Perhaps an explanation would be nice. Or, since she needs to be dead for out-of-universe reasons and doesn’t do anything later in the movie, maybe just let her go. (though we do still love you, Carrie Fisher)
- Escape plan: Holdo’s plan as stated was to fly away from the First Order, who knows the alliance is running out of fuel, and then slip out using “cloaked” transports to a nearby planet. I put “cloaked” in quotes, because as it turns out, they are uncloaked in literally a matter of minutes. Sure, someone told them to look, but the plan requires that not a single radar technician or CO on any of the ships, including Snoke and Kylo Ren who are both personally chasing the fleet, look at the looming planet and think “maybe they’re going there.” Here’s the scenario: You’re chasing the rebel fleet. You know they’re running out of fuel, and have only hours left. The hours stretch by. You see a planet in the distance. It gets closer. It sure seems like they’re heading that way. And they only have just enough fuel to get to it. Anybody could draw the conclusion that that’s their destination (Boba Fett figured out the Falcon was going to Bespin, and that was through hyperspace).
- Opening Battle: I have a history of disliking the Force Awakens battles. Poe, the best fighter pilot in the fleet, gives his squad such valuable advice as “fly at the enemy and don’t be scared.” This battle is no exception. (and what’s with the giant engine on the back of his X-Wing? Is the real reason that an X-Wing can’t destroy a Dreadnought that it isn’t fast enough? Then why not use an A-Wing?) Rewatch the original, they were a professional army (“We’re heading for the target shaft now.” “I’m going to cut across the axis and try to draw their fire.”).
Battle of Crait: The rebels are in a corner. There is no escape. The door will hold until reinforcements arrive, until… Oh no! The super mega cannon! It can blast open the door in no time. They need to destroy it, or else the First Order will spend the day deciding who to execute first. They gather the last ditch pilots (apparently including a plumber), and send them out to destroy the cannon. They get picked off one by one from above, but they continue, because they have to destroy the cannon or it’s over. Suddenly, the Falcon appears, and provides air superiority, drawing off the TIE fighters. Now the squad is safe from above, they just have to survive the AT-M6s. One member (Finn) makes a suicide run against the cannon as it starts to charge up.
And Poe calls off the attack.
What? But if you go back, you know you’ll die. The cannon will blow the doors open, and you will be tortured by the First Order. Honestly, it’s probably better to die a quick death flying one of those rust buckets.
But you heard him. Turn back. Now that they aren’t being picked off from the air, it’s too dangerous to press the attack that’s literally seconds away from working. Retreat, and sit in the rebel base for a few minutes until the cannon fires and everyone is wiped out.
Rose even crashes her own ship into Finn’s, to save his life, dashing their only hope of destroying the cannon. She justifies this by saying “we’ll win not by destroying what we hate, but by saving what we love” before collapsing. How romantic. If I were in Finn’s shoes, I would shoot her there and then, to save her from the First Order welcoming party. Sure, a fine message to send, I’m sure it’s part of Rian’s “vision,” but maybe send it in a less on-the-nose kind of way.
Battle of Crait: The First Order commanders are… floating 100 feet above the battlefield, in plain view of turbolasers? They aren’t worried about being shot down? And the rebellion didn’t think to shoot them down? Commanders should be fired on both sides of that.
Laser bolts affected by gravity: This one is nitpicky, I’ll admit, but notice that as the fleet is firing on the rebel cruiser the laser bolts are arcing through space. This is not how that works in the Star Wars universe. Sure, I understand that you’re trying to appeal to a bigger tent to make more money, but you are still dealing with an established franchise. Imagine if you made James Bond work for the CIA, because there are more Americans than British people. It wouldn’t be okay. Laser bolts go straight in this universe (the Star Wars universe).
Rian, movie franchises have audiences for a reason. They’re a known quantity. If you watch a Harry Potter movie, you know that you’re getting a teenager fighting evil using magic. If you watch a James Bond movie, you know that you’re going to see a suave British dude kicking ass, getting ass, and generally being a badass. If you watch a Marvel movie, you’ll see a group of superheroes saving the planet from some bad guy who’s apparently even badder than the last guy. If you watch a X-Men movie, you’ll see a group of superheroes saving the planet from some bad guy who’s apparently even badder than the last guy.
When I want to watch one of these things, I know exactly what movie to pick up. Franchises are known quantities, we expect them to be the same from movie to movie.
That’s how I feel about Star Wars. I grew up on the tense space battles. My skin crawls every time I watch the start of the Battle for Yavin, when everyone’s getting in their space boats and flying into battle. The Shepard’s tones of the engines starting up, the ground crews scurrying about, doing their last minute preparations. Call me a nerd, but I love thinking about these logistics. I don’t know what the hundred or so people drawing on the translucent glass screens are doing, but I like to see them work all the same, and I like to imagine what they’re doing.
And why did that have to go? I get that Rian’s trying to make Star Wars appeal to wider audiences, to cash in, but The Last Jedi could still have been good without the military elite making blatantly terrible choices. It could even have kept the same plot, with the same themes. (handoff from older to younger generations, etc.) I’ll be the first to say that I don’t want to rehash “nobody from backwater planet is actually special and saves the galaxy” over and over. But you this is not an issue of high level plot, it’s an issue of writing - The Last Jedi had an amazing plot, a wonderful plot, a plot that I swear by, it was just terribly written. It was written by someone who tried too hard to make a point, at the expense of the movie.
The irony, of course, is that a major theme in the movie is that some of the worst of people aren’t the people on the good side or on the bad side, but the people in the background making buckets of cash while watching the world burn.
The debate over whether The Last Jedi was a good movie has many sides, but at the end of the day the filmmakers (and Disney) are in the background, making a billion dollars.
P.S. Another Rogue One would placate me. Or if you pointed me to a new franchise that I would like. Yes, I’ve already seen the new Battlestar Galactica.