Plenty of dissention in the Senshin ranks!
Guess what, I’M GONNA TALK ABOUT STAR WARS!!!! Definite SPOILERS ahead, so don’t read if you ain’t seen it, as there’s plenty of great surprises in the movie (and some not so great surprises)
. . .
I may have raised my expectations a bit too high with The Last Jedi, even considering my cynical opinion of its director, Rian Johnson and his most successful movie, Looper, which is the sloppiest mess of a plot hole ridden time travel script you could imagine. But clearly Disney had a lot of faith in The Last Jedi, and so I started to hope it would be as great as they were claiming. Instead, it turned out to be about on the same level as most modern franchise films; bombastic, bogged down in too much plot, strangled with too little breathing room, and full of good ideas that receive a lot of poor execution due to what feels like a rushed script. I also found a lot of the editing and cinematography comical in its energetic cutting and occasionally awkward camera angles. But I should stress I didn’t hate the film, in fact, many of its ideas I like quite a bit. It’s just in the execution that the film stumbles in the way that most films stumble nowadays.
Before I go ranting about all the stuff I wished was done better or not done at all, I want to talk about all the elements of the movie I liked, or even loved, because there were a lot!
I love Kylo Ren. I think he’s the best part of the new films. This may just be because I love massively flawed try-hard characters who really want to be intimidating but totally are not. I love the juxtaposition of Kylo trying to convince Rey to join him so they can forge a new future while cutting free all of his troubled past, while at the same time Rey wants Kylo to join her in being a good guy because he’s a super broody dude with no chest hair. It’s great fun, and it’s basically my favorite stuff in the movie.
I love that this film essentially jettisons all the baggage of the Star Wars prequels by implying that there is no right way to be a Jedi, other than to channel one’s energy into crusading for good. At one point in the movie Luke refers to ‘the Jedi religion’, which instantly made me angry as I feel the Jedi should be an order of knights that defend peace and justice using the Force as a tool to do good. The real balance of good and evil is entirely tied to the individual, the Force itself is amoral. I feel like Yoda implies this in Empire Strikes Back. I can only hope that the eventual new Jedi order that gets established by Rey and company is a much more secular, less prophecy oriented affair.
I love how this movie handles the big mystery of Rey’s parents. Having them be literally of no importance, and having her be a new player in the story, one that has no connection to the Skywalkers, makes the universe feel bigger, and paves the way for a new order of Jedi knights from around the galaxy with no previous connections. I’d honestly wished The Force Awakens had given us a successful Luke with a thriving new Jedi academy, but maybe we can still get there, consisting of Rey and a mentoring Force Ghost Luke, and some new students.
I love Luke’s moment of weakness that lead to Ben’s turn into Kylo. Luke gives one version of the story to Rey, Kylo gives another, and the truth is somewhere in between. It’s very Kurosawa and it also feels very real. In one moment, Luke set into effect his own downfall and self-exile, that’s a quality dramatic scenario. I wish the flashback scenes themselves hadn’t felt so awkward, but it’s a great concept, even if it doesn’t feel like the Luke we saw in the original trilogy. But that’s okay, I guess.
I love Luke’s big stalling tactic on the salt planet. It’s bold, it’s beautiful, it’s a joy to watch, and it’s probably the best plan Luke’s ever had. I mean geezus, it’s a big step up from his nonsense plan to bust Han out of Jabba’s palace. It’s only real flaw was that he didn’t tell anyone he was intentionally trying to stall the First Order. Honestly, not telling your allies the full plan seems to be a running theme in the film…
So here goes my list of things I either didn’t like or wish had been done better.
I didn’t like starting the movie on a dumb gag. It got a big laugh from the audience, but Poe’s antics felt cartoonish and immediately undercut the drama. In fact, a lot of the drama of the film was undercut by gags. It reminded me quite a bit of Thor Ragnarok, which has plenty of dramatic scenarios, but they’re presented in jokey ways that rob them of all their tension and emotional impact. It results in Last Jedi feeling tonally inconsistent, with too much metaphorical, and sometimes literal, winking at the camera.
Why were the bombers’ payloads directly tied to a big red button on a remote control? Just felt like kind of silly space technology, to me.
The meandering space chase that drags on through most of the movie was meandering. It was weird that the imperial fleet didn’t have any ships that could overtake the Resistance cruiser, but could still match its speed and continue firing from a distance just far enough to nullify weapon effectiveness, but not far enough that the blasts couldn’t keep hitting Resistance shields. What’s even more frustrating is that they had literally the perfect set up for a classic scifi trope that would’ve added some great tension and pacing to the chase: instead of having the Resistance fleet lack the fuel to hyper jump, just have it so that every time they come out of hyperspace, the First Order fleet immediately comes out right behind them and starts firing. Then the Resistance has to calculate the next jump to hyperspace all while taking losses and being unsure how the FO is tracking them. This could lead to great tension building scenes where we cut from Rey back to the Resistance soldiers preparing for combat while counting down to the moment they exit hyperspace, knowing they’re going to take heavy losses but that they just have to hold out long enough until they can calculate the next jump to light speed. It could lead to some thrilling, hard hitting battle sequences, and during the hyperspace jumps in-between, the Resistance characters could be arguing, hoping, consoling, mourning, and emoting in ways that let the characters breath and interact so we can really get to know them.
Finn’s wild casino adventure is a total bust. I mean, it could easily be cut from the movie and the plot would be unaffected. On top of that, it’s just silly and dull. But it didn’t have to be! It kind of picks up at the end, when he faces down Phasma. But what if Phasma had been hunting him the whole time? Maybe the Resistance fleet sends him and Rose on their mission during one of its tense drops out of hyperspace. They take off in a shuttle, and General Hux orders Phasma to take a platoon of Stormtroopers and chase after them. Instead of Finn and Rose being captured by police, they could be captured by Phasma. Phasma could interrogate Finn, and mock him for his inability to function like a good soldier, maybe even make him doubt if he has any worth to the Resistance since he was useless as a Stormtrooper. This could all build to the final confrontation, which would then have far more dramatic weight to it. Instead, Phasma is just there and then she’d dead, big deal.
Benicio Del Toro’s weird code breaker character also feels like a frustrating addition. He’s first characterized as totally self centered, but then later returns Rose’s special medallion, indicating that maybe he has a heart, but then he ultimately betrays Finn and Rose, and we never see him again. The movie already has too many characters, so what was the point of including this one? AND WHY WASN’T IT LANDO????
Yoda’s inclusion in the movie feels like pure fan service of the most pandering kind. His inclusion was mainly so that he could remind Luke that even though Luke failed, he can still learn from his failures, he doesn’t need to just die alone and hopeless. I love that kind of messaging, but I feel it could have happened so much differently. I’m disappointed we didn’t get a training sequence with Luke and Rey. I would have loved to see Luke reluctantly train Rey because she threatens to go face Kylo Ren immediately, and Luke knows she’s not ready. So he trains her only because he feels if he doesn’t, she’s more likely to get turned to the dark side by Kylo. And through his training of Rey, he realizes that even though he failed Kylo, he’s learned from that failure and is able to hold back his doubting visions of a dark-side Rey, which is one of only many possible futures (like, didn’t he learn that lesson in ESB?). So then Rey tells him she’s out of time, and the Resistance fleet will be destroyed unless they face Kylo and Snoke immediately. Luke says “You’re still not ready…but I am” and they go to face Kylo and Snoke together. It could be a powerful moment, and one that reverses Luke’s failure to heed Yoda’s advice in Empire. I will say, though, that if they had to include Yoda, at least it was the Yoda I remember from Empire Strikes Back, and not that prequel knockoff moron.
It frustrates me that Leia and the purple haired lady general don’t share their plans to escape to the old Rebel base with Poe and the crew. There’s no indication they suspect any spies amongst the Resistance crew, so there’s seemingly no reason not to just tell Poe the plan so he stops moronically putting contradictory plans into action. Now if there WAS a spy, all this secrecy would be totally justified, and add another layer of tension as the Resistance tries to root out their betrayer(s) while being doggedly pursued. Could’ve been quite the compelling sequence, with clever red herrings and a surprise twist of some sort, maybe discovering there was no traitor, but that Poe’s ship had had a tracking device stuck onto it during the opening battle.
Who the hell was Snoke? Just a red herring, I guess, a mis-direction to make the audience think he was the real bad guy. Unfortunately, he receives zero context, and acts even more like a cartoon villain than Palpatine (I mean, come on, compelling bad guys don’t talk about ending light and hope, that’s cornball villainy). Every well written bad guy thinks they’re the good guy, but Snoke seems to revel in being evil, and it just makes him comical and unbelievable as a character. It would’ve been great if he’d been given some context. Maybe he could have told a captive Rey that he was a part of a group of dark Force users from the outer most edges of the outer rim, who sought to expand their influence throughout the galaxy. Maybe he could’ve told how one of their members, Darth Sidious, had tried to do this through deception and manipulation, but had ultimately failed. And now he, Snoke, would do it through pure military force. I’m not saying that’s brilliant or even makes a lot of sense, but it adds some context to all these walking cliche villains and maybe expands the universe a bit and even provides a dark, unknown enemy that could be addressed later.
I also wish the death of Snoke at Kylo’s hands had seen a change in Kylo’s demeanor. If he’d spent the remainder of the movie acting stoic and composed as the new supreme leader of the First Order, it would have raised his intimidation level significantly. I feel like Snoke’s death is yet another step in Kylo’s severing of his troubled past. Snoke was just as big a part of Kylo’s conflicted feelings over turning dark side as his parents and Luke. So ending Snoke, who was the true abuser in Kylo’s life, could have centered Kylo emotionally. Don’t get me wrong, I still love try-hard Kylo, but having him spend the last quarter of the film as a composed, intimidating dark figure instead of his angry, tantrum throwing self would have significantly boosted the First Order’s intimidation factor. And, honestly, most scenes involving the First Order characters contain some gag that makes them seem wacky and incompetent, and that’s not great when you’re trying to have a dramatic ticking clock sequence like the one with the Resistance fleet being pursued. The Empire in the OT felt like a sleek, well oiled military industrial complex with little room for outward displays of emotion from its soldiers and officers. The First Order sometimes feels as ineffectual as the droid army from the prequels.
And then there’s just the film’s pacing and editing. The movie is exhausting at two and half hours, with frantic cuts and a lot of overly-CG’d sequences. There are too many set pieces visited in too short a time for much of it to sink in, and there are too many characters and plot threads that prevent the movie from slowing down and letting the characters just talk to each other. This is ultimately frustrating because the actors don’t have enough time to really play off each other, which is, in large part, what makes characters in movies great and memorable. This is ultimately why Empire and the original Star Wars are some of my favorite movies. Because the characters have plenty of time to banters and build off each other, they feel connected like real people. There’s very little ridiculous cartoon nonsense. The Last Jedi has great characters, and great story beats and potentially great dramatic setups, but it just feels like it’s too busy trying to get to the next big thing to let the audience absorb any of it.
I would say that I have to resign myself to never getting another Empire Strikes Back, but we just got Blade Runner 2049 this year and I thought it was pretty damn incredible! It keeps its plot simple and streamlined, but gives its characters plenty of time to breath and talk to each other and ACT (albeit with mostly dour expressions). It’s filled with incredible visuals that stay on screen for long stretches, letting the audience drink it in. It doesn’t fill you with contradictory information that leaves you scratching your head at the lack of logic. And it also completely bombed at the box office… I think my current ultimate dream is to have Denis Villeneuve direct a Star Wars film, too bad it’ll likely never happen. Not marketable enough!Published on by Alex Kolesar