Apparently Necesary Thoughts on “The Last Jedi”

[Spoilers ahead. But to be honest if you havn’t seen The Last Jedi by now, that’s on you.]

I didn’t love the new Star Wars film.

Phew. Got that out of the way.

Star-Wars-The-Last-Jedi-Tin-Lunch-BoxIn case you didn’t know, the lastest installment in the insanely popular Star Wars franchise came out earlier this month. It made a butload of money and will surely continue to make butloads more through more ticket sales, home movie purchases, toys, video games, lunch boxes, clothes, Halloween costumes, and basically anything sold at Hot Topic. It was a huge financial success, no doubt about it.

But was it a success according to the fans? That’s a very different question.

Many fans are calling The Last Jedi the best film in the entire franchise (so move over, Empire Strikes Back). Many others are calling The Last Jedi the worst of them all (congrats, Phantom Menace). And both sides are very passionate about their stance. Maybe it has something to do with another very passionate debate happening about one year ago that people are still holding on to resentments over and now finally have an appropriate outlet for their pent up rage and oppinions? Hmm. We may never know.

star-wars-last-jedi-posterBut after a recent Facebook post of mine gathered waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more derision than I expected it to, I decided to lay out my personal opinions for all of my five readers to enjoy. So, are we all buckled in? Good.

Let me start by saying that I am in the middle of the two Last Jedi camps. I didn’t love it, I thought it had a lot of flaws which I will discuss, but I also didn’t hate it, and recognize a lot of the strenghts it has. I have never seen any film that I completely hated, nor have I ever seen a perfect film. There are good and bad parts to any movie, and Last Jedi is no different. To appease the yay-sayers, here are the things I really enjoyed about TLJ:

  • That light-speed move destroying the enemy ships might be the most beautiful moment of cinemna I’ve ever seen. (I talk later about the problems plot-wise, but that asside, it was stunning in every way.)
  • Rey and Kylo’s team up moment was so awesomely epic I was a giddy little school boy.
  • Porgs.
  • Beautiful visuals throughout, but especially in the final battle.
  • Cool new extentions of the power possibilities of the Force that felt true to the source yet extended the scope.
  • Amazing character development for Rey and Kylo (Ben? I never know what to call him).
  • Rey’s parents NOT being anybody important. I loved that choice.
  • The theme of letting the past die. Very smart for a franchise often tied down by past films and expectations.
  • A wonderful final performance by Carrie Fisher.

I think if I had to sum up my feelings on The Last Jedi in one statement it would be this: it has some really, truly, awesome moments that unfortunately are pieced together by a plot that isn’t strong enough to hold them all up.

I saw Last Jedi at 10:30 on December 15th. I hadn’t heard anything going into it so I didn’t have anyone else’s opinion to sway mine. I also will admit openly that I’m a Star Wars “meh”ctivist. I have lots of nostalgia for the originals but also recognize the serious flaws they had. So I’m not a hard core fan upset by the changes Rian Johnson made to the universe. Some of them were very good and ultimately neceseary.

Going into TLJ my only real wish was that it wouldn’t be a rip-off of Empire Strikes Back (because if you are still in denial that Force Awakens was basicaly a shot-for-shot remake of A New Hope, you seroiusly need to do your research). And Rian Johnson delivered on my biggest wish! But I still left the theater feeling underwhelmed. So let’s get into the nitty gritty of why I didn’t love The Last Jedi as much as I wanted to.
First off, the entire movie felt like an excercise in futility. Literally not one plan that any character had worked out. Not one. Do you understand how frustrating that is? Sure, in every story there have to be obstacles. Something goes wrong. Someone betrays you. Etc, etc. But when NOTHING works during a 2.5 hour movie? It gets downright annoying. finn-phasma-last-jediFrom my count, the only 3 things that actually happened in the movie are Snoke dying, Phasma dying, and the First Order fleet getting blown up (and, yes, ooh-and-ahh at those visuals, ok, moving on). And guess what – not a single one of those 3 things were ever planned by anybody! They were all spur of the moment things that the characters just sort of happened into.

No one set out to kill Snoke, or Phasma, or destroy the fleet; they just sort of presented themselves as oportunities. On the other hand, look at the things the characters did make plans to do: convince Luke to come with me, find a hacker on the Belagio planet, destory a tracking module, lead a mutiny to buy my friends some time, convince Kylo to come back from the dark side, sneak off the cruiser in escape pods to safely reach the tiny base, sacrifice myself to blow up the giant laser beam , send out a distress signal and have allies come to help, should I go on?

None of the plans that any of the characters makes during the entire movie actually works. I’m not even saying that it didn’t work in the way they wanted or that they had to overcome some roadblocks to get there – NOTHING EVER WORKED. (Some might argue that Luke’s force hologram to stall Kylo works, but Luke still ended up dying, so, like, why not just show up in person, Luke? Your plan to not get killed by being a hologram didn’t work cause you still died). By the end of the movie, this just made all the Rebels seem really dumb and poorly organized. Seriously not one single thing you guys plan works? Come on. By the end I stoped caring about what the characters were even doing because I already knew that it wouldn’t work. Apathy is not a good emotion to evoke in your audience.

UnknownMoving on. Can we talk about the convenient plot devices and even more conveniently ignored plot holes? First and largest of them being the two plot points the entire movie is based around: running out of fuel and hyperspace-tracking. So… are you seriously telling me that the rebel cruiser ship Raddus needed to refuel? Like at a cosmic Chevron somewhere? That thing doesn’t have a nuclear reactor or some other awesome space tech to fuel itself? No freaking way. The only ships in the entire Star Wars universe that are ever shown getting fueled are the small fighters. Can you imagine the Death Star having to refuel? It travels through hyperspace too, after all. Or even just a Destroyer having to refuel? This ship is supposed to be approximately 1 mile long, and it needs to refuel?! Nope. Just… nope. (I’ve also heard the argument that it didn’t have enough time to regenerate it’s own fuel, but it had 18 hours. More than enough time to just continually replenish enough fuel to keep driving at regular non-hyperspeed, thus never getting overtaken by the Order).

Ok, so for the sake of being nice to Rian Johnson, lets say that this is the only ship of that size in the galaxy that needs to get somewhere to refuel, or that its fuel regeneration system really can’t create fuel on pace with its burn. Ok. So why does the fuel shortage matter? Because they can’t jump to hyperspace becasue the Order can track them through hyperspace. Sounds cool, right? Ok, lets spend an entire movie being teased with lines about having the rebels “on a string” and wondering what that string is and how they are tracking them, only to get to the credits and have the only attempt at an explanation be a low-level rebel technician saying that the First Order “probably” has some new tracking technology.

Star-Wars-Last-Jedi-New-Character-Photos-RoseThat’s it. No other explanation made (or even attempted). Booooo. I’ve also heard people say that this hyperspeed tracking was hinted at in Rogue One. But in Star Wars time that was before Episode 4, remember? So where the heck was it during 5, 6, 7, and 8? People jumped to light speed to escape in every one of those movies. You can’t introduce a paradigm shifting technlogy like that without more explanation than “probably”. Oh, plus the very convenient (and again, not explained) practice of having only the front ship tracking them. Uh…. why? If all the other ships had the technology to do it (which they explicitly state that they do) why would they not all be tracking them? Redundancy is like the most basic component of any good engineering system. I’ll tell you why: plot convenience.

IMG_6934Another plot convience choice that actually makes no sense when you think about it is why in the world Admiral Holdo (remember, the purple hair chick who was dressed like she was going to a fancy gala, not like she was running a war ship? Her) would spend the whole movie basically lying to the thousands of crew members on board the ship about her plan, basically telling them that they all had better accept that in X number of hours they would die, giving way too many speaches about hope yada yada yada, and causing Poe and Co to run off to try and put together an impossible plan but, you know, at least a plan that sounds better than just relegating yourself to death, when she secretly had a plan that could potentially save them the enitre time! WHAT?! Worst. Admiral. Ever. Because she chose to be all secretive and Life-Coachy, she forced her crew to go through the extreme trauma of living for what I’m sure was a hellish 18 hours while simply accepting their impending deaths with nothing they could do about it. If she had just said, “Oh, don’t worry guys, I have a plan, we’re fleeing to a small base, we’ll be ok,” then none of this code breaker betrayal nonsense would have happened, and the small escape pods likely would have made it to the base undetected. So congrats Holdo, your object lesson on hope first traumatized your crew, and then killed everyone, including yourself. Yay for you.

Next on the list is over-use of humor. I thought there were tons of great jokes in this movie. Just Yoda doing his old school puppet laugh was a riot. But some of the jokes came at times that sacrificed what should have been an epic moment. Perfect example: Luke tossing the lightsaber over his shoulder. Lots of people thought this was a brilliant moment, but here’s why I hated it. 1 – it was totally out of character. We see that Luke still revered the old Jedi ways at least enough to not be able to destroy the temple. He wouldn’t be so flippant with his own lightsaber and the symbol of his entire religion and theology. 2 – it basically relegates the entire closing sequence of Force Awakens to the set up of a joke. That awesome helicopter shot circling around the island with Rey holding the lightsaber out for Luke and that epic staredown? Yeah, it was just to set up a punchline. What a bummer. A lot of the humor felt this way to me. That it came at moments that should have been epic and meaningful, but instead took the laugh.

star-wars-the-last-jedi-review-35-1500x844Lets keep it going with Lea-ex-machina. Yes, Carrie Fisher’s performance was wonderful, and it was truly a touching final tribute to her. But since when does Lea have enough Force to not only survive an explosion but also several minutes in space without dying, and then suddenly can float herself back into an airlock? That was random beyond all belief, and didn’t even need to happen, because Kylo didn’t blow her up anyway. He chose not to do it, which was good character development for him, then some other rando fighter blows Lea up, leading to this head scratching moment. Oh, and of course, there is Lea suddenly (literally out of nowhere) waking from her coma and coming in to stop Poe’s mutiny (which, by the way, was another perfect example of exercise in futility because not only did he accomplish nothing by his mutiny, but also had no consequnces for it, which is just downright silly.)

dN5tWRkyiza7846o87P7nLThis one’s short: Snoke. I’m fine that he died. Really. It was a nice Return of the Jedi moment for Kylo to kill him, and it was epic and way fun to watch. But why did we get ZERO information on him? He was such a huge part of the previous movie, all the mystery and shadow and whatnot, and then he just dies after demonstrating these awesome force abilities but never giving any explanation as to who he is or where he came from. Lame.

Lets talk about the coolest visual of the movie. You know the scene. Awesome hyperspeed kamikazi bomb. Super sweet, right? Yeah, at first, until you think about it. Like, um, why did no one do this before? Surely Holdo wasn’t the first person to ever think, “Hey, if I jump to light speed right at that enemy ship, I bet it’ll hurt it a lot.” None of the rebels in A New Hope thought of that when facing the Death Star? Im just saying, take one medium sized cruiser and have it jump to light speed straight at the Death Star and all your problems are solved. Why did no one think of this before now? Or did they think of it but it’s considered too destructive so no one used it? Like, this move is their version of chemical warfare? Did Holdo just break some galactic Geneva convention? Yikes… Oh, and also why did she have to stay on the ship? A droid totally could have piloted that thing into Hyperspace with way more accuracy than a human. Just sayin.

Now I know this last one is probably nit-picking, but as a screenwriter, the act structure bugged me a lot. Acts 1 and 2 were FAR too long, and act 3 was FAR too short. The movie spent so much time introducing us to people and places and plot points that ultimately were irrelevant for the climax of the story. The Belagio planet was the perfect example. We spent so much time there I thought that it was going to be the big plot point of the movie and really important. Same with the whole space ship chase, running out of fuel big. So then when they actually got to Crait (the really pretty red salt place) I was like, “Wait, there’s an entire third act battle left still?” I was ready for the movie to be over. Those act structure mistakes were why so much of the middle of the movie felt like it dragged, why their failures in act 2 seemed so much more annoying (because they took so much longer to fail) and why the end of the movie felt so rushed. Properly pacing these three acts could have fixed a lot of the movie’s problems.Swtlj-Crait-700x300

Those are my biggest beefs with The Last Jedi. They might seem like small and insignificant things to many, but they hurt my viewing experience, and I think it’s totally reasonable to hold a movie as hugely popular and well funded as Star Wars to a higher standard than most.  There are some points that lots of people are arguing over that I’m still thinking about, and will probably need a few more viewings to make up my mind on, like the changes made to Luke and some of his choices that seem out of character, or the complete lack of hope at the end of a movie constnatly lecturing about hope. Who knows, maybe my opinions about the other things I wrote above will completely change after a second or third viewing. As I already said, there were many things I liked about it, but after an opening night viewing and a couple weeks of reflection, those are my thoughts on the Last Jedi.

And the wonderful thing about movies and fandom is that you can completely disagree with everything I say in every way, and we can both be right, because that’s how opinions work. :) May the Force be with you.

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