Star Wars: The Last Jedi is as Frustrating as it is Exhilarating

Like many people, I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi when it was in theaters, and like many people, my feelings about it were mixed to say the least. Now that the movie is on Blu-ray and I’ve had the chance to watch it again, I figure the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired and it’s time for an in-depth discussion. There’s a lot to talk about so let’s get started. There will be spoilers aplenty, so if by some bizarre circumstance you want to see it and haven’t yet, go see it. Love it or hate it (or both), it’s worth a watch just to see what all the fuss is about.

My thoughts on The Last Jedi are complicated, but can be boiled down to one basic summary: the movie is beautifully directed, but poorly written. The Last Jedi was written and directed by Rian Johnson, who is a very smart guy and a very talented writer/director, and his twisty 2012 time travel thriller Looper is one of my favorite movies. His Star Wars movie looks amazing and the action sequences are among the best of the entire franchise, and there were times watching the movie when I thought, this is why people got excited about Star Wars in the first place.

Images: Disney/Lucasfilm

Unfortunately, I also have a LOT of problems with the movie.

Let’s start with one of the big ones: Supreme Leader Snoke. Snoke was one of the biggest mysteries in The Force Awakens: who is this guy? How did he become the Supreme Leader of the First Order? How did he lure Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia and nephew of Luke Skywalker, away from the light side of the force and into the dark? In the leadup to the release of The Last Jedi, I was looking forward to getting some answers to these burning questions.

And then the movie came out, and did not answer a single one of these questions.

The movie does not address Snoke’s background at all. He’s as much a mystery at the end of Episode VIII as he was at the end of Episode VII.

Now, I get that there is a lot going on in The Last Jedi, and there is not time to provide a detailed backstory for every single character. But I don’t care that much about Snoke’s background, I care about how he was able to turn Ben Solo to the dark side and make him become Kylo Ren, and cause him to hate his parents and his uncle to the point of trying to kill all of them (and actually succeeding in the case of Han Solo in The Force Awakens).
The conflict between Kylo and Luke is arguably the most important plot point of the entire sequel series, since it provides the reason for Luke’s self-imposed exile and his abandonment of the Jedi Order, which presumably helped give rise to the First Order. Giving no indication whatsoever as to how this happened leaves a gaping hole in what should be the emotional core of the entire movie. All we’re told is that Luke could sense Ben being led to the dark side, and a misunderstanding between Luke and Ben, as well as a moment of weakness on Luke’s part, led to Ben destroying Luke’s new Jedi Order, Luke’s exile, and so on. That is simply not enough.

I also don’t buy that Luke would completely turn against the teachings of the Jedi Order as quickly as he does. The entire original trilogy sets up Luke as being the one to bring the Jedi back, and then he makes one mistake and just gives up? Says screw it, I’m done? What kind of way is that to treat one of the greatest and most influential sci-fi protagonists of all time? I like Rian Johnson, but what the hell, man???

This is my biggest problem with the movie. Snoke is just the tip of the iceberg, because his actions are key to the story and knowing nothing about him damn near kills a crucial plot point. And now he’s dead, and who the hell knows what will happen in Episode IX.

But we’re just getting started. My other biggest problem with the movie, and the best example of how sloppily written it is, is embodied in the character of Admiral Holdo. Holdo is played by Laura Dern, who I’m sure is a very nice lady but her character makes not one but two of the most bafflingly stupid decisions I’ve ever seen in a movie.

The viewer spends a large portion of the movie thinking she’s evil, or that she must at the very least be a First Order spy who is deliberately attempting to sabotage the rebellion’s escape attempts. Her behavior is so blatantly suspicious that it’s obvious to the viewer (and the other characters in the movie) that she’s bent.

And then she isn’t.

Yes, it turns out that Leia and Holdo had an escape plan all along, and Holdo was simply carrying out that plan. But here’s the problem: why the bloody hell would she not tell anyone that??? What is the freaking point of having everyone think you’re evil? Why would you not tell everyone what the plan was? Why would you not just say hey, here’s what we are going to do? Can’t you see you’re just causing more problems?

But Holdo’s inexplicable stupidity doesn’t end there. After the escape pods are loaded, Holdo stays behind on the mothership to lure the First Order away, only for the First Order to promptly begin blasting the escape pods to smithereens. And then Holdo just stands there watching and DOES NOTHING!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING, WOMAN!?!?!?! YOUR FRIENDS ARE GETTING ANNIHILATED AND YOU’RE JUST STANDING THERE!!!

WTF?!?!?!

Whew. Sorry about all the capitalization and punctuation marks, but I needed to get that out of my system.

Holdo does eventually redeem herself, at least partly, by crashing the Rebel mothership into Snoke’s flagship at lightspeed, which cripples the First Order’s fleet and is one of the most spectacular special-effects sequences I’ve ever seen. When the First Order’s ships break apart and it’s all completely silent, you could feel everyone in the theater holding their breath.

It was amazing, but why the hell did Holdo not do this as soon as the Rebel escape pods left the mothership? I get that sacrificing yourself is not a decision to be made lightly, but the entire reason she stayed on the mothership in the first place was to lure the First Order away, which presumably would have ended with them killing her anyway. So as soon as it became apparent that that plan wasn’t going to work and the First Order begins blasting the Rebel ships into nothing, why does Holdo wait so long to do anything about it?

I have absolutely no idea.

I also have no idea what the point of the stupid casino planet subplot is. Finn, the reformed former stormtrooper from The Force Awakens, goes on a mission to a planet called Canto Bight to find a codebreaker who can get him onto Snoke’s flagship so he can disable it, but the entire subplot feels inconsequential. Why couldn’t the movie just have had Finn go directly to Snoke’s ship himself? What’s the point of the codebreaker character and subplot? Removing it would have made the story much more streamlined. The entire sequence set at the casino on Canto Bight feels like a waste of time.

What it really feels like to me is an attempt by Disney to generate more merchandise for the film. There are tons of weird creatures and whatnot at the casino, and the obvious effort put into designing and creating so many different characters is impressive, but that effort could have been better spent elsewhere. The entire subplot feels like filler in a movie that doesn’t need filler. Get rid of the filler and focus on the stuff that matters, like the Snoke/Kylo/Luke story. This is Star Wars, there shouldn’t be any filler. I just can’t help but feel like the Disney overlords told Rian Johnson to make the movie as merchandisable as possible, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said okay.

It also doesn’t help that I’m not that invested in Finn as a character. He’s fine I guess, but I care a lot more about Rey, who is more important to the overall story anyway, and I’m not just saying that because I have a crush on Daisy Ridley, who is really great in the role. One of the other biggest mysteries left over from The Force Awakens was the question of Rey’s parentage, and why they left her alone on a backwater planet in the middle of nowhere. Fan theories abounded, one of the most convincing being that Rey was the daughter of Han and Leia, and therefore Kylo Ren’s sister.

But, nope. The only scrap of information that we get from The Last Jedi is when Kylo tells Rey that her parents were nobodies. It’s hugely anticlimactic, and feels like another tease from the previous movie that the makers of this movie just didn’t care about. Also, how does Kylo know who Rey’s parents were? Did he use Space Google? There’s always the possibility that he’s lying and is just trying to manipulate her, but for now it feels like another big plot point that the movie doesn’t care about.

On the Blu-Ray of the movie there is featurette called Balance of the Force, in which Rian Johnson talks about how in the original trilogy, the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke’s father is the worst thing that could have happened to him, since it turns out that the evil he’s trying to fight is a part of him. Similarly, the revelation that Rey’s parents were nobodies is the worst thing that could have happened to her, because it denies her the answers she’s looking for.

One of the most compelling aspects of The Last Jedi is Rey’s search for answers about her role in everything that’s going on. For me, the most moving scene in the film is when she tells Luke, “I need someone to show me my place in all of this.” As someone who has yet to find his place in life, this resonates strongly with me. Johnson’s argument that her parents were nobodies is the worst thing that could have happened to her is compelling from this standpoint, since if she had turned out to be Luke’s daughter or Han and Leia’s daughter or something like that, it would have helped give her a sense of purpose and identity, and denying her that means she’ll have to keep looking.

I like this explanation, but it still feels like Johnson is pulling the rug out from under the viewer’s feet. The entire Balance of the Force featurette on the Blu-Ray strikes me as odd, since it’s mostly Johnson explaining some of the more controversial aspects of the story. It feels like an attempt on the behalf of the filmmakers to cover their butts and explain away some of the aspects of the story that understandably angered fans.

The movie is also tonally uneven. There are too many attempts at humor, many of which feel out of place and detract from the drama of the moment. This is best exemplified with porgs. Porgs are cute little creatures that are like a combination of a puffin and a guinea pig. They may be cute little buggers, but the movie relies on them too much for comic relief and cuts to them at odd moments. For example, during the final battle on the mineral planet Crait, when Rey and Chewbacca swoop in on the Millennium Falcon to provide some much-needed help to the Rebels, there’s a damn porg on the Falcon that keeps screeching. Seriously Chewie, just bite the damn thing’s head off already! Why Johnson is so obsessed with the bloody porgs is yet another mystery that the movie leaves unsolved.

Despite my laundry list of problems with the movie, I don’t hate it. It didn’t ruin Star Wars for me. There are sequences in the movie that are some of my favorites in the entire series. I love the opening space battle, Rey and Kylo’s epic fight against Snoke’s crimson-clad Praetorian guards, the fight between Finn and Captain Phasma on Snoke’s burning command ship, and the epic final battle on Crait (aside from the porg, anyway). The movie looks absolutely stunning and the acting is top-notch. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher both give soulful performances in iconic roles, and Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley are both excellent as the two most important characters in the new series.

But the movie has crippling problems that I can’t ignore. There’s plenty of material I didn’t cover in this post, so there might be a follow-up at some point in the future, since I don’t want this post to become too long and unwieldy. But I’ve hit the most important points, and it feels good to do so, since all of this has been swirling frantically around in my head ever since I saw the movie. The Last Jedi was an extremely divisive movie, and it’s not hard to see why.

What will the future hold for Star Wars? Only time (and JJ Abrams) will tell.

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