THE LAST JEDI – An Honest, Fair, Balanced Review of an Epic Mess…

Needless to say, this is my provisional review of The Last Jedi. And yeah, it’s probably going to get ugly at times.

I say ‘provisional’ because I have only seen the film once, a few days ago.

I plan to see it again, to try to understand it better and see if I feel better about it the second time – which is a distinct possibility. And I usually don’t write Star Wars reviews until I’ve seen the film more than once – however, my sense of dissonance and confusion from this experience was so strong that I have felt compelled to write this out earlier than I would’ve done.

I saw the film on Saturday night. I’ve been aware that there’s been some degree of ‘backlash’ online, but I haven’t looked at any of it, having been mostly off-line for a few days.

I generally approach Star Wars films very kindly, with an underlying desire to enjoy or like them. I am a Star Wars devotee through and through; I have been since I was a little kid and watching Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi over and over again. I love the prequels to this day. And, although I had some problems with The Force Awakens, I generally liked that film and was broadly positive about it.

Everything I ever say about any Star Wars film or about Star Wars in general is said from love.

But The Last Jedi was the first time I’ve ever come away from a Star Wars film with a genuinely bad feeling: a feeling that was akin to – and I’m not exagerrating here, as this is the only thing I can compare it to – realising that someone you care about is (yes, I’m going to say it) going “down a path I can’t follow”.

With a few days of hindsight, I realise I was being a bit melodramatic and overly fan-boyish/obsessive. After all, it’s just a movie. And we’re not kids anymore. Our sense of well-being shouldn’t hinge on whether a particular Star Wars movie is great or not.

And I realise too that I do not hate The Last Jedi.  There’s too much good in it for me to hate it.  I definitely am not in love with it either.

The Last Jedi is a mess. At times, it even feels like a joke: like flat-out satire. And at times, it feels like a pretty good – or at least very interesting – film too. There are truly great moments. Powerful moments and ideas. And some truly terrible ones. On second viewing, I actually started to think that the sheer messiness of this film might even be a deliberate writing choice – as though the mess itself is an underlying theme or commentary.

Which makes it even more difficult to form a clear opinion of.

And I didn’t go into this film with any negative expectations, but was generally feeling positive about it, excited about the possibilities, and completely open to whatever new direction things might go in. I am not one of those impossible-to-please fan-boys who likes to tear down every new Star Wars film just because it isn’t 1983 anymore.

It’s hard to pinpoint precisely what it was I felt after watching The Last Jedi. Somewhat moved, I would say, by a few poignant moments or scenes. But mostly just… confused. Not even disappointed (as I didn’t have any specific expectations); but just confused, disoriented, and kind of uncertain as to what I was meant to be feeling or thinking.

I want to make clear here, early on, that our view of this film may change over time – over months or even years. It may grow to look a lot better later on (Star Wars films always age very interestingly – I’m still noticing things in A New Hope I’ve never noticed before and this is forty years later).

And I want this reaction/review to be balanced, level-headed and fair – and not some hysterical, over-the-top ‘This film raped my childhood’ rant that we’ve become all-too-familiar with from many years now of whiny, first-world temper-tantrums. For the record, many or most of those who’re now raging against Rian Johnson and proclaiming ‘the death of Star Wars‘ are the same people who, not long ago, were virtually spitting at George Lucas, demonising the prequels and gleefully celebrating the Disney relaunching of the Star Wars franchise like it was the greatest thing in the world.

I was not one of those people.

I wrote, multiple times, about The Force Awakens, that it was the most depressing and dispiriting Star Wars film to date: primarily because it tore the gut out of Return of the Jedi. In fact, I wrote years ago – when Lucasfilm was given over to Disney – that it was a bad idea to take the saga narrative beyond the Return of the Jedi ending that had stood for decades as the perfect closing page of the Star Wars saga.

When everyone was raving over the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm, I was one of the few voices in the wilderness urging caution. When everyone raved over The Force Awakens, I stood by that initial position – even though I liked that film. Not because there was anything massively wrong with The Force Awakens; but because Star Wars already had an ending and changing that ending was going to cause problems.

I am therefore not shocked or surprised that things are starting to go awry.

With The Last Jedi, both of those earlier positions are firmly reinforced: (1) Return of the Jedi is where the Star Wars story should end, and (2) this sequel trilogy is depressing and dispiriting.

None of that is Rian Johnson’s fault. He had to work with the ingredients he was given and within whatever parameters Kathleen Kennedy, Disney and the current Lucasfilm management had imposed on him. And, on multiple fronts, he does a really, really good job.

But something about this film just doesn’t feel right – throughout.

I also wrote years ago – long before TFA came out – that Star Wars worked best as a limited saga with a clearly defined beginning and end. And that setting up a conveyor belt of unlimited Star Wars films was going to eventually lead to poorer films and a lack of ideas, integrity and cohesiveness.

However, I didn’t expect that to happen this quickly.

 

 

Right off the bat: what genius decided to kill off Luke Skywalker in Episode 8, with a whole film still to go in this trilogy? And yet Leia – despite Carrie not being around to contribute more – continues on into the next film (where we presumably can’t see her)?

But, no, I’ll come back to that.

And I also want to make it clear that I’m not simply bashing the film. I think there are some really good moments, ideas and flourishes in this movie. I wrote in my article about all the previous Star Wars movies last week that all Star Wars films have good things in them – and that remains true of The Last Jedi.

I love that they brought back Yoda for that force-ghost scene. It almost made me cry.

I give all due credit to Rian for being willing to go that way; and it was a beautiful moment. The way that scene unfolded was slightly off-kilter and disorienting; but that was probably a stylistic choice to convey the supernatural or otherworldly nature of that encounter. And it worked really nicely. Johnson’s choice to use the puppet Yoda from the OT was a nice touch too, imparting more of an off-key, otherworldly feel to that whole sequence.

I liked a lot of the Luke material, particularly in the first half of the film. In fact, most of the Luke material was very interesting, both dramatically and thematically, and Mark Hamill did a wonderful job portraying this older, bitter, jaded Luke Skywalker some thirty years or so after he last portrayed the iconic character.

I liked the Leia force-power moment in space. It did come across a little oddly; but, in essence, I like what it meant. I’m giving full kudos to Rian Johnson for going in some of these non-obvious directions, such as having Leia reveal her Force abilities, having Luke reject the Jedi or having Yoda show up when he did. If TFA was often formulaic and predictable, The Last Jedi definitely isn’t that. Rian Johnson did some bold, interesting things.

The revelation of Leia having some, latent force powers shouldn’t shock anyone, as it is perfectly in keeping with what we expected for a long time, but never saw until now.

I thought Leia had some good moments; and, in general, seeing Carrie in most of these scenes was lovely. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher both did great jobs. In particular, that last Luke/Leia scene near the end was beautiful and got me in the gut.

I liked the look, feel, tone and design of the ancient Jedi site Luke and Rey were in. And I like that Johnson went for some of the more odd-ball, quintessentially Star Wars touches, like the weird creatures or the little aliens who act as caretakers of the temple.

Also, some of the humour and little jokes were good. I liked the Porgs – they were exactly the right side of both cute and funny.

There are a lot of visually stunning moments here too; some of Johnson’s visual conceptions and depictions are beautiful and he has a great flair for composition. This film is visually stunning, as a Star Wars movie should be.

And, whatever problems there may or may not be with Luke Skywalker’s depiction in this movie, the one thing I will say is that the brief image or superimposition of the Tatooine sunset as Luke is looking out over the horizon was genuinely beautiful and poignant. Johnson got that image/moment spot-on – it is exactly what Lucas would’ve done in that scenario.

There were also other little moments or touches I loved: most of all, Artoo playing back the Princess Leia hologram from A New Hope as a way to motivate Luke. That was perfect.

And this, among other things, shows that Johnson has a good understanding of the saga and knows the right keys to hit and the right things to call back to. Which is why I’m convinced much of what is wrong with this film wasn’t necessarily his doing, but came from elsewhere.


I’ve listed all of those things, because I want to make it clear there is good stuff in this film – and that anyone calling it garbage is being unfair and overlooking the positives, the same way that people do who think The Phantom Menace is garbage.


The Phantom Menace was never garbage – and The Last Jedi isn’t garbage either.

One thing I did enjoy about Rian Johnson’s story is that it genuinely rides on tension and unpredictability. Not knowing what’s going to happen makes for a good cinematic experience. I didn’t know if Leia was going to die. I didn’t know if Kylo was going to fire that shot or not. I didn’t know if Rey was going to be turned or if Kylo was going to be turned to the Light.

That was all good.

The problem is that it is very temporary. That tension and uncertainty only works on the first viewing – after that, you’ve played that card and all that’s left is whether or not the story actually holds together over repeated viewings.

Star Wars films – more than any other type of film – are heavily dependent on longeivity and whether they can retain their dramatic quality and integrity over many years. The tension and twists in the Kylo/Rey story are great on first viewing, but a year or two from now will they still play well dramatically or will we be skipping past those scenes?

A lot depends on how this is all played out in the final film.

But, already, it seems a little dried up. The big scene with Snoke has a lot of tension, but only on first viewing. Now it seems like a weird sequence. I like that Johnson has Kylo kill Snoke suddenly – it is dramatically effective. And I like that we see Kylo and Rey team up. But it only works for that one sequence. After that, you’re left with the fact that you’ve killed off the mystery element in the trilogy; and you’ve ended up nowhere new with it, because Kylo is still a villain and Rey is still a hero.

Arguably then, we’re right back to where we were – just minus Snoke.

But I also do credit Johnson for catching me off-guard on multiple occasions and doing genuinely surprising, different things. Having Leia come back to life, using the Force to save herself, was a bold touch of genius. It came off a little awkward, but essentially I loved that moment and Johnson did a great job of messing with our expectations.

We were all expecting Leia to die in this film. She survives the whole thing, and it’s Luke who dies when we all probably expected him to live.

A lot of what happens in this film is a case of Johnson trying to mess with expectations: the expectation that Luke would train Rey, or that the mystery of Rey’s origins would be explained, or that Snoke’s origins would be explained, etc Sometimes this works alright, other times it doesn’t. Again, messing around with the expectation that Leia would die was a big part of this film.

And it mostly worked.


The problem, as I said, is that once you’re done messing around with expectations and twists and turns, you’re left with the question of whether the film or story actually holds up for multiple viewings. And it’s not clear whether The Last Jedi does or will.


There are also plot holes, things that don’t make sense, things that aren’t explained, and the sequencing feels off-the-mark. There is an extaordinary amount of wasted screen time on things that don’t matter at all.

It all then builds to a finale that is confused and baffling to say the least.

 

 

Has anyone noticed that Rey actually doesn’t get any training at all in this film?

It’s as if the Disney/Kennedy social-messaging department were simply unwilling to allow Rey – the great heroine of The Force Awakens to receive any kind of wisdom or teaching from a male figure, even when that male figure is the hero of the Star Wars saga. It’s as if they had to make Luke as weak and diminished as possible in order to continue to build up Rey as the strong, superior figure.

And it’s as if what they were really saying was ‘Look, the old Star Wars is weak and dead, but our new Star Wars is fresh and wonderful!’

You could’ve had Rey still be a great, strong character, without having to diminish Luke for her sake. Just like you could’ve had Poe learn his lesson without having to be mocked by Admiral Holdo and having the whole thing feel like a gender studies exercise. I actually liked Holdo: it was cool to see Laura Dern in a Star Wars movie – and the character gets a beautiful conclusion. But it’s hard not to see the overdone and not-so-subtle social messaging being inserted into the narrative: which feels both unnecessary and a tad insulting.

And the irony is that Lucas’s films were much better about gender equality, unity and equilibrium – and they weren’t going out of their way to try to be. Luke and Leia were equals. Luke rescues Leia from the Death Star, sure. And then Leia rescues Luke from Cloud City. Luke rescues Leia from Jabba’s Palace, sure. But Leia was there to rescue Han Solo. Leia was a leader figure even then.

And when Mon Mothma commanded the Rebel Alliance in Return of the Jedi, it was simply a casual element in the story – not some big, clumsy social statement that Lucas needed to draw everyone’s attention to the way Laura Dern’s character is so overtly signposted here. Any time Leia fired the shot that saved Han or Luke or the rest of the gang, it wasn’t a big cultural message – just a casual bit of female heroism, because Leia was a hero.

And Leia being a hero didn’t need to be at the overt expense of any of her male counterparts.

Unfortunately, there are other big problems with The Last Jedi.

The whole sequence on the casino planet also felt like the most unnecessary and meaningless detour in any Star Wars film. It took up so much screen time and seemed to serve no purpose whatsoever: the entire Finn/Rose B-plot seemed to serve no purpose. I’m just not seeing the point of ‘DJ’, Canto Bight or the animal rights detour.

Speaking of pointless, John Boyega‘s character, Finn, has already become a pointless character after just one film. And Captain Phasma – that pointless character that, for some reason, people were getting so excited about – gets a pointless death after a pointless fight with another pointless character, and this being after having already been a pointless presence in The Force Awakens.

I liked Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico; but, again, that whole plot seemed to go nowhere.

 

 

Even BB8 – who I loved in TFA – is annoying in this film (BB8 is literally the ‘Mary Sue’ of this movie). Poe Dameron meanwhile serves no purpose other than to – as mentioned earlier – show that men are inferior to women in this new trilogy.

The point of Finn and Rose going to the casino was to find a specific code-breaker character: bizarrely they find someone else instead, who can do the exact same thing, and he just happened to be in the same cell as them. What?

And a whole story about needing to get a code-breaker or something. Isn’t there some droid around somewhere who could do something like that? Did that need a whole sub-story to itself? Are we already scraping the bottom of the barrel in only just the second movie?

And I feel sorry for Chewie. He looks lost. Chewie actually get a couple of the film’s best moments. The scene where he rips the door off and yells at Luke was great. And his scene with the Porgs looking up at him while he tries to eat one of them is genuinely one of the funniest moments in any of the films. But Chewie looks lost. In theory, he should’ve hunted down and killed Kylo Ren himself after Kylo killed the person to whom Chewie swore a Wookie life debt. No wonder he looks lost – he has betrayed the one thing he swore to do.

Now he’s just a chaffeur for Rey.


The strange connection between Kylo and Rey in this film is interesting, though feels a little odd as presented. On one hand, it might bode well for my own theory on Kylo and Rey (again, see here); but, on the other hand, it just feels weird in this film.

Why is Rey trying to ‘redeem’ Kylo? It made no real sense. She’s already seen him murder his own father. She’s been tortured by him and had to fight him (after he almost killed her friend, Finn). But here we see here delivering the Padme line from Revenge of the Sith, where she says “don’t go down this path” or something to that effect. It actually probably makes sense in terms of my own theory about Rey and Kylo (see here), but it doesn’t really make sense in terms of this film or the previous film.

I like the idea of Rey hearing two different versions of the same story – specifically Luke’s account of how he thought about killing Kylo and then Kylo’s different twist on the same event.

But why would Rey trust Kylo’s version of the story over Luke’s? Ok, so Luke has been a bit of a disappointment to her – but she’s seen Kylo impale his own father! And so what if Kylo’s version is true and Luke tried to kill him? What is that to Rey? She didn’t even know what a Jedi was until a couple of weeks ago.

And Rey then, bizzarely, echoes Padme’s and Luke’s older lines about Anakin – that “there is still good in him”. On one hand, it’s a nice reference back to the previous trilogies; but on other hand, it just doesn’t work for Kylo Ren.

Kylo, meanwhile, is all over the place. I really liked the sequence of him deciding whether or not to open fire on his mother’s ship – this was really good tension and his actual decision to spare her was really interesting. It opened the door for Kylo coming over to the Light somehow – which would’ve been the really brave thing for the writer to do with this film. Whether that would’ve ultimately been a good idea or not is debatable.

 

 

But I’m curious as to whether Rian Johnson might’ve wanted to go down the road of having Kylo come over to the Light – but might’ve been told from above not to do go down that path.

But then, having killed Snoke, he then just ends up firmly back on the Dark Side again. Suddenly, Rey is acting like Kylo wasn’t on the Dark Side before and is only just turning now. It’s really odd.

And it doesn’t work dramatically, because we already saw Kylo going through his light/dark struggle in The Force Awakens and the whole point of the dramatic scene where he kills Han Solo is that that was his decisive act that put him firmly on the Dark Side, resolving the inner struggle. Therefore the back-and-forth element here is questionable.

Meanwhile, I’m ok with Rey being “nobody”: and not related to a Skywalker or anyone else. It fits with what seems to be the theme of this film: that the Jedi are over and the Force is available to anyone to master without training. I guess that’s fine too. I don’t necessarily have a problem with these new films moving away from the idea of Jedi and moving away from the idea of hereditary specialness or bloodlines.

It also, arguably, could make Rey’s story and struggle more poignant.

But then why bother showing Leia using Force powers? The only reason Leia has Force abilities is because of her parentage.

And why kill off Snoke?

On one hand, I think that moment was very good in terms of tension and unpredictability. And I never liked that character anyway. However, they’ve probably made a mistake by removing the only genuinely mysterious character or element from the story so early.


But could no one come up with a backstory?


I mean, you could still kill off Snoke, but at least have some kind of mythology to this stuff. Likewise, there’s no explanation for the ‘Knights of Ren’ and there’s only the briefest look at what went down with Luke, Kylo, the new Jedi Temple and all of that stuff that is so crucial to where this narrative is now.

And all of the problems from TFA continue.

There’s still no sense of how big the First Order is or of how big ‘The Resistance’ is. Is this a galaxy-wide thing or some kind of localised problem? The (original) Republic was huge, remember, spanning massive stellar distances. So was the Empire. Yet these two tiny factions are fighting it out for the future of the galaxy?

Where’s everyone else? Doesn’t anyone else have any stakes in this?

More importantly, what’s the point anyway?

Let’s assume, the good guys defeat the First Order in the next film. Then what? Leia will be dead by then too, but we’ll be left with a bunch of pointless characters and, presumably, some next revival of the Empire to contend with when the next trilogy starts up and they need another story.


But let’s get to the elephant in the room. Luke.


I actually don’t have too many problems with Luke as depicted through most of this film. That is to say I don’t object in principle to this version of Luke Skywalker.

It was really interesting to get a darker, more troubled and miserable Luke Skywalker. It all makes sense, given the events we’re told about involving his students and his ill-fated Jedi Order. Hamill did a great job, and for most of the film I really enjoyed this version of Luke. He has some of the same quirkiness that Yoda had in Empire Strikes Back – no doubt as a result of his long isolation, just as was the case with Yoda. This was also why having Yoda’s force-ghost show up was also so poignant.

Some of his talk about why the Jedi need to end was also really interesting; and this is probably the film’s biggest strength in thematic terms, because it also ties back in nicely to the prequels and the fact that Lucas’s depiction of the Jedi was intended to show the failings of an organised religion that becomes too dogmatic and too rule-orientated (as opposed to a more loose, spiritual philosophy that is more adaptable).

Rian Johnson’s script touches on those issues somewhat here with Luke – and it does it well. The idea that Luke repeated all the same mistakes of Yoda and the prequel Jedis and ended up in the same situation they did – that’s all good, really interesting.

 

But, again – what genius decided to kill off Luke Skywalker in Episode 8, with a whole film still to go in this trilogy? And yet Leia – despite Carrie not being around to contribute more – continues on into the next film, even though we’re not going to be able to see her?

But, you know what? Let’s assume they have a plan in mind for how all of this is going to work in Episode 9. Ok, fine. I hope we do get more Leia somehow in Episode 9 – even though we’ve been told we’re not going to.

The idea of Force Projection has been touched on before, in the Dark Empire comic books; Luke presumably learned this ability from some of those dusty old books. That works beautifully as an idea – Luke using the Force in such a monumental way to be the hero the galaxy needs (yet retaining his intention to remain on Ach-To): but, dramatically, it only works if the point is for Luke to survive and live on into the next film – that way, you’d argue that he did the projection/deception thing in order both to buy the others time to escape AND to keep himself ALIVE by not risking his actual physical self.

But, if you’re going to kill off Luke Skywalker, then why not actually give him a truly epic, bad-ass send-off by actually having him come in the flesh…?

I just don’t get what the thinking was. Surely, either have him survive and use the Force Projection to save the day – or have him come in person and lay down his life. It’s weird to me that we get both.

Maybe this is something I’ll feel better about after some time and repeated viewings; but it just feels very weird and unsatisfying. The fact is that I love the misdirect: I love that Johnson tricks us at first and then dramatically reveals that Luke isn’t really on Crait – it’s a great reveal, one of the best twists I’ve ever seen. And the cinematography – and music – throughout this sequence is out-of-this-world, truly epic.

I just can’t figure out why Luke actually had to die doing this – in story terms, it doesn’t seem necessary.

 

 

There’s also a tonal dissonance or emotional disconnect at the end of the film too. Despite everything that’s going on, Rey is acting all happy on the Falcon. At the end, everyone’s smiling and hugging, despite the fact 99 percent of the Resistance has just been wiped out.

There’s even a moment at the end where Leia says to Rey something like ‘Luke’s gone, but it doesn’t matter – we have you!’ The ‘legacy’ characters are so broken and old that they barely even care about each other anymore. Chewie and Luke show no affection for each other. Luke doesn’t seem to care about Han’s death. That’s really sad.

Among a number of irritating things in this film, there’s another here at the end: I *hate* that the ‘Resistance’ are now referring to themselves as “the rebels”, as if to say that we’re back in the Original Trilogy and it’s all gone full circle.

It doesn’t make sense. Isn’t the First Order the ‘rebels’? Aren’t they the ones rebelling – against the current order?

And, also, I’m getting sick of hearing tedious dialogue about “hope” in all of these new Star Wars movies. We get it – “hope” is a big theme in Star Wars; you don’t have to say it every time.

For that matter, does anyone really understand what’s going on here anymore? Is the Republic completely gone? We only saw three planets being destroyed by the Starkiller in TFA – was that the whole of the Republic? Is the ‘Resistance’ and the First Order now all that’s left? A rebellion against a rebellion? Who’s running the rest of the galaxy? And where’s Jar Jar?

Do the people guiding these films even know what was going on? Or did they just throw a bunch of ideas and concepts together becasue Disney was hassling them to get this film finished in time for its ‘Christmas’ release? After all, if your business plan is to churn out a Star Wars movie every year for maximum profit, you can’t afford to give the creatives too much time to fine-tune their ideas.

And, in that respect, I feel sorry both Rian Johnson and J.J Abrams: because they’ve both probably done the best they can  – and both of them have created some truly magnificent scenes or moments in these films, with some great ideas.

Two years is not enough time to write, plan, film, edit and post-produce a Star Wars movie.


I feel like I’m being too harsh on this film. Is it really so bad? No. There are beautiful things in it. Luke and Leia’s scene, for one thing, brought a tear to my eye. Luke’s final stand on Crait was truly epic. Adam Driver was brilliant: and I loved watching Kylo’s struggles.


That image of Luke seeing the Tatooine suns is beautiful – and maybe it was meant to be the final, dying breath of that old Star Wars: as “let the past die – kill it if you have to” becomes the new mantra.

Which is fine. And if those were the instructions Rian Johnson had, then – at least in terms of the Luke/sunset moment and the Luke/Leia goodbye – he did a poignant job of it in key moments; as well as in several other key moments in the movie.

But it still seems odd to have done it in the middle film and not the final one.

Also, so much potential was thrown away.

 


In essence, we had both Artoo and Chewie on that planet (Ach-To) the whole time that Rey was there, and yet we get only one very brief Luke/Artoo moment and one very brief Luke/Chewie moment.


Was there really no better way to incorporate Artoo and Chewie into the story?

We learn nothing about the ancient books Luke has discovered. We have no idea what’s in them. And, although this film has some good jokes and one-liners in it, Luke’s admission to Yoda that he hasn’t read the books is not one of them – that was actually pretty awful, lazy writing and misplaced humour.

I also accept that there are probably things going on here that we haven’t understood yet, because they haven’t fully played out.

I’ve been thinking about Luke’s ‘death’ or his transition to being One with the Force. It was very deliberate on his part. I wonder if there’s some profound mystery here that is yet to be explained. I also wonder about this in relation to Luke/Anakin’s blue lightsaber, which is torn apart by Kylo and Rey. Presumably then that lightsaber ceases to exist – but we see Luke holding the blue lightsaber when he projects himself to Kylo at the end.

What does that mean?

It could be a clue to some profound dimension to all of this that we haven’t understood yet. Or it could be nothing but a casual quirk in the story. It’s hard to tell. There’s something later where the dice from the Millenium Falcon also disappear, which is confusing, but presumably is hinting at something. What though? And is it hinting at the same thing – whatever it may be – that is implied in the Luke projection holding the blue lightsaber? There’s clearly something here about things ceasing to exist or disappearing or ‘transmuting’ – whether it’s the dice, the lightsaber or Luke himself.

And the more I think about it, the more I’m looking at that sequence where Laura Dern’s character flies her ship at lightspeed into Snoke’s command ship. Was that the point also where Rey and Kylo destroy Anakin’s lightsaber? Did that act – flying at lightspeed into the ship – somehow create some kind of effect in reality?

I know I’m just grasping here. But it seems like the sort of thing J.J Abrams would do (he did something similar in his Star Trek movies). And we know Abrams was involved in both this film and is involved in the one still to come. And there has to be some reason we saw the dice disappear, just as we saw Luke disappear.

At least there are questions and mysteries here still – which is a quintessentially Star Wars thing. However, it’s hard to tell whether these questions and mysteries are deliberate (and part of the storytelling plan) or just mistakes and oversights in the writing.


What do we have to care about, going into Episode 9 then? I would’ve said Leia; but it’s unlikely Leia is going to be in it.


The biggest problem is that I think they’ve dug themselves into a hole that they won’t be able to get out of with Episode 9.

This film has demonstrated that these characters aren’t interesting enough to carry the story. Which is why killing off Luke this early was a dumb move. With no Luke or Leia, there’s nothing to draw us into the next film.

I mean, it’s possible that this trilogy can be rescued in the next film – but it’s going to take a hell of a job to do it.

In some ways, what might’ve happened was simply that they got so big-headed from all the gushing praise they got for The Force Awakens (and particularly for the new characters) that they figured they could kill off Luke and focus everything on the kids for Episode 9.

But Star Wars has always – always – thrived when there are adults in the story. Kenobi in A New Hope. Yoda and Vader in Empire. Yoda, Palpatine and Vader in Jedi. Palpatine, Qui-Gon, Yoda, Windu, Dooku and others in the prequels. Han Solo and Leia in TFA. Luke and Leia in this film. The next film is going to have no adults in it – it’s all about the kids. Not even Snoke anymore as the elder villain figure.

And I’m not sure the kids are interesting enough to make that work. I love Rey and I like watching Kylo – but I don’t know it’s going to be enough to carry the third film. Meanwhile, everyone else seems like a relatively disposable character.

The saddest thing for me, coming out of this film, was the sense – that I’ve never had before – that, like Luke in this film, I might be losing my attachment to what’s going on in Star Wars. As in, it may continue under the name ‘Star Wars’, but that my own connection to it or sense of interest will continue to diminish in all but an academic sense; meaning that I’m just not that invested in the fates or fortunes of these remaining characters or stories.

After all, I was resigned to that in 2005 after Revenge of the Sith.  I loved Revenge of the Sith, and I was entirely at peace with the idea that it was the final Star Wars film. As I said before, I was always happy with Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith as the combined end-point for the Star Wars saga.

Or maybe I’m over-reacting. Maybe, given some time, my enthusiasm will return: and The Last Jedi will read a lot better than it presently does. At the very least, there are enough moments I do genuinely love in this film that I’m inevitably going to want to come back and watch them again – even if I have distinctly mixed feelings about the overall movie.


The Last Jedi may age better than it currently feels. We may simply need time to process it, get to grips with it better, understand it more and perhaps even come to love it, even with its flaws. Star Wars has often been that way: I adore The Phantom Menace, but I don’t pretend for a moment that that film doesn’t have problems and misjudgements in it.

And I do think Rian Johnson did some really good stuff here. Whatever we might think of all the missteps, that shot of Luke looking out and seeing the Tatooine suns was a stunning, beautiful tone-poem that resonates with everything that has ever constituted the heart and soul of this mythology. And there’s something about that whole Force Projection finale that feels profound and beautifully esoteric.

That’s why I called this at the start a ‘provisional’ review. I really will need to come back in six months and re-evaluate.

One thing Star Wars movies always do – and which The Last Jedi most definitely does – is inspire debate and division, raise questions and get people talking. Well, we’re going to be talking about or arguing about this film for years to come – so Rian Johnson has, in a sense, made the quintessential Star Wars movie.

The reality is, however, that – as I argued years ago – we’re going to have to get used to these kinds of reactions and discussions on a regular basis. Because the moment the decision was taken to change the end-point of the Star Wars story from Return of the Jedi to somewhere else – and to set up an infinite industry of cinematic Star Wars – we were going to end up in this kind of situation.


 

 

 

13 thoughts on “THE LAST JEDI – An Honest, Fair, Balanced Review of an Epic Mess…

  1. First of all I would like to point out that my earthling friend, the living proof about that you did not go to the Last Jedi with negative expectations, is me. Because when I’ve said to you under another post of you, “I do not think I will go to Last Jedi,” you have encouraged me about I go movie. So, I think and know that your review is neutral.

    As for the film, I went to the watched it two days ago. Wednesday night. I agree with what you wrote. It was the Star Wars movie that I felt most distant myself. I think that the main purpose of new Star Wars movies is to do something that will attract the attention of young and adolescent generation, not of the old ones, and bring the continuity of money. Only the producers have something they do not understand in here. To discard and ignoring us(old movies fans) and only to move according to the circumstances of the time, will lose money to them in the mid-long term. Because, the great majority of the youth of people kind consumes quickly. This fast consumption doesn’t provide a return. So I mean that, for example, you indicate in your writing, that you always watch more than one. Here is your approach, in fact, is the attitude of us who are the old Star Wars movies audiences. But a new generation of human youth will not watch this movie for the second time. They would get the most toys or by-products for a year and then they will not look back. In this mid-range (I think it’s the most in 5-8 years), the producer of new Star Wars movies since 2015 will lose money.

    Could they have moved by thinking about this loss? Could be. You would remember, Lucas said in an interview years ago, “it’s not actually the legend of Star Wars, it’s the legend of Skywalker.” And in this film there were dialogues that referred ‘Skywalker should be left behind’ in a few scenes. One of them was told by Kylo Rey. I think all of these are the infrastructure preparation to build a different Star Wars after the 9th. I felt like there were plans of the producers to launch a different Star Wars to the new human youth when I saw these dialogues and the story become so strange. Of course, this preparation will go to a ridiculous place if considering the new generation of people’s quick consumption.

    Actually it needs to write very deatiled comment about your writing’s every part, it is very good article! But since yesterday my sinus problem has started again, and I can not get my opinions well. I just want to write about below part. I agree with all your writings, except the part I will write below.

    You said, “Rey is also a strong, independent character.”

    I do not agree with that, my earthling friend.

    For example, Leia has a strong character, and we have seen over the years how she overcome her problems both in physical life and in her inner world. Even Padme is a strong character, we saw all together what she lived when Obi-Wan told him the facts about Anakin. Well, is Rey a strong character? She has conflicts in inner world of her, and she has also challenges in the outside world. How does she pass behing her problems? For example, obviously she has a distressed situation with her family. What kind of a battle she is giving to overcome, what does she do to solve this problem, how does she overcome the obstacles in front of her to solve her psychological problem?

    Can we say that we saw this in the mirror-reflection scene, and on the scenes with Kylo? I do not think we can. There was a surrender in those scenes, and this surrender makes her weak, not strong. Already, the obstacle in front of her to solve the problem does not lie under her dialogue with Kylo Ren. Well, how does she overcome the problems in the physical world. In the physical world, solving the problems of her is entirely parallel to Anakin’s solving the problems. Whatever Anakin did, Rey makes them at the same ways at the different time. As if there’s a copy of Anakin in front of us. This makes the existing Rey character such a fake. So if we didn’t Anakin before and knew him very well, Rey would become for us, as has a talented, high-level pilotting skills, quick, mechanical, agile and exciting. The same is the characteristics of Anakin. In fact, it should be also mentioned in here; her agile seems to be only moving fast(like running), because Kylo Ren is actually a better Lightsaber user. As if Rey had not have Luke’s lightsaber, she looks like that she is in an ungainly state that she could not fight with another lightsaber. This is probably due to the fact that the player who plays the character of Rey does not have the skill to use a sword or similar weapon. Ultimately we are talking about what we see on the screen about the reflections of the scenes on audiences.

    Now we can say that, okay, the player can play up to a point, unless of course she/he has not a sporting ability like using a sword. But we know that cinema technology has improved a lot. For example, there are incredible swordswomen in the real world that we did not even hear their names, here one of them:

    It is very impressive, isn’t it! There are hundreds Russian-Kazakh women-girls like this. How they integrated the movements of Gollum in LOTR, a similar technique could be applied to movements of Rey by taking this magnificent and true mastery Kazakh women’s movements. Now, when I see how these Kazakh girls-womens are really mastered, Rey gives me the impression that she was given the lightsaber like a child, and she is shaking it to the left and right without any skills. I mean, actually, in Rey, I see a half-talented Anakin. This does not make her stronger with her half talents in the physical world.

    The subject about whether Rey is independent or not. I think the independence means that could be against the opinions of the people (or extraterrestrials:)) who have been even if in the same line of purpose in the same way with you, and willing to take on your own ideas and act strongly against them if necessary. For example, Jyn Erso in Rogue One is an independent character. Jyn, came across against the people who were in the direction of the same goal with her, but again she expressed her rightful opinion and acted for it. Rey did not do anything like this. I think Rey is not independent, she could be rebellious at the utmost. But are not they rebels group she is already in? I mean, there’s no other rebellious feature except the others had, also and made her different rebellious.

    In short, this is the Rey I saw on the screen.

    Besides, seeing Yoda was very special to me too! My eyes glittered happily. I saw Yoda got some weight, I think at the other side they good cared of him, haha! Kidding aside, will the new generation of human feel for whom like us, so, as we felt to see Yoda? For example, if these new characters pass away and come back, who can feel special for them? The features of emotional connection of the new charecters with the audience are almost non-existent. (there is a little bit in Finn besides others; Finn in my opinion is a closer and warmer character with the audience than the others)

    In short, if the characteristics of these movies determine the future of the next generation movie sector of human, the situation is hopeless. The cinema should flow like a spell, the audience should scud with it. I did not even understand the last scene where Last Jedi ended; I was thinking it will continue. I do not know what they can accomplish with this disconnection with the audience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, my ET friend, for such a well thought-out and thorough comment; and for your very strong observations.
      I think they’re going to lose most of their audience over the next few years. I think the majority of the Lucasfilm audience will lose interest in the new films, while – as you say – the kids won’t have any loyalty to this franchise because they have so many other franchises to occupy their attention. It isn’t like it was with us 20 or 30 years ago, when we were loyal to Star Wars and watched the films over and over again. As you say, kids don’t have that kind of attention span anymore because they don’t NEED to.
      On the subject of Rey: I still think she was an enjoyabe character in The Force Awakens – but more because of how Daisy Ridley, the actress, played the role and not necessarily how the character was written. In terms of her fight with Kylo, I always assumed she won only because Kylo was injured and wounded from when Chewie shot him – and also he was disctracted and in emotional confusion after killing his father.
      On the Yoda scene: it was really nice – but it would’ve been so awesome if all three ghosts (Yoda, Obi-Wan, Anakin) had appeared to Luke.
      Anyway, I’m sure we’ll be discussing all of this for a long time yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the interesting discussion that “The Last Jedi” has generated. There are some very thoughtful pieces out there, like this one, deconstructing the film and our reactions to it.

    I’ve written my own review of the film, here: https://seanmunger.com/2017/12/21/star-warss-finest-hour-my-review-of-the-last-jedi/ You can tell simply from the title that I reached exactly the opposite conclusion. Not only did I think The Last Jedi was an excellent film, I think it’s the best of the films with the exception of The Empire Strikes Back. There’s no way I could address all your points, but I’ll just make a few here.

    I always thought the end point of “Return of the Jedi” was pretty senseless, and I felt ROTJ is the weakest of all the films. The story progression made no sense, the stakes were all wrong, and the Alliance’s victory over the Empire was way too easy. What’s implied in “The Force Awakens” is that the Alliance was so utterly incompetent at running the galaxy, once they achieved their victory, that the First Order was able to arise and take over again after only a generation had passed. “The Last Jedi” is brilliant, I think, at deconstructing the mythos of the rebels/Resistance. For 8 movies now we’ve rooted for the rebels, but they have never had a compelling reason for wanting to rule the galaxy, except that they’re less bad than the Empire/First Order. The rebels have no ideology, no program for a better universe. I love how “The Last Jedi” subtly exposes the weaknesses at their core. While so much criticism has been directed at the casino planet scenes, I thought they were brilliant precisely because they show us something we’ve never seen before in the Star Wars universe: we finally meet people who don’t care about the Empire-Rebel war, and have never accepted the stakes that we, the audience, have internalized since the first movie. That’s a brilliant bit of assumption-questioning that took a lot of courage to do.

    I thought TLJ did a wonderful job with Luke’s character. Luke was always a flawed and frankly inadequate hero. If not for our internalized assumptions about who “should” be the hero of Star Wars, the first three films (or at least the first two) are an endless catalogue of Luke’s incompetence. He foolishly lets his aunt and uncle get turned into barbecue. He’s largely responsible for the Millenium Falcon being captured by the Death Star. He’s useless in the trash compactor, bungles the rescue of Ben Kenobi, and only takes out the Death Star with help from Han Solo, who is the real hero of Star Wars. In the second movie he’s even worse. He gets cold-cocked by that ice monster and winds up hanging from the rafters. He’s a terrible pilot–does the Alliance dock his pay for every one of their ships he crashes? Luke Skywalker is, if nothing else, a terrible insurance risk. I say that in jest, but I always felt in the original films that Luke was a poor hero, and that Hamill was miscast.

    The brilliance of “The Empire Strikes Back” is that it turns Luke’s incompetence and inadequacy into the major plot point. He’s not ready to face Vader, and in fact even drops out of his Jedi training before it’s finished because he, in his infinite wisdom, is foolish enough to think he knows better than Yoda. He pays the price for it in the end. “Return of the Jedi” was so badly written because it pretended these flaws in Luke’s character simply did not exist. The shoddy script of ROTJ treats Luke as a cross between Superman, Jesus and the Dalai Lama. Yet it gives us no indication of where this sudden confidence and fortitude, which has been lacking for the first two pictures, comes from.

    So what I love about Luke’s progression in TLJ is that Rian Johnson finally has the guts to say, “Remember when Luke was impetuous, incompetent and not adequate to carry the burden that the universe thrust upon him?” TLJ shows us Luke with existential regrets about his life–that he was always the wrong guy to carry on the Jedi, that everyone’s expectations of him were unrealistic, and that nothing turned out the way it should have. He’s botched the training of the new generation of Jedi, ruined his own nephew in the process, and then ran away to Planet Craggy Irish Coast to get away from it all. Now here comes Rey, begging him to come back as if he’s the galaxy’s only salvation. Rolling his eyes and throwing away the lightsaber is exactly the reaction he should have had. In the end the force-projection is his last duty, and he does it kind of begrudgingly, like, “This is the last thing you, the galaxy, can ever ask me to do. I’ll do it, but don’t ask for more.” I absolutely love that shading of Luke’s character. Flawed heroes are always better than superheroes, and erasing the ridiculous vision of ROTJ-era Luke was a masterstroke.

    The makers of Star Wars, now that they wear Mickey Mouse ears instead of a chin-strap beard, know that the franchise must change in order to remain relevant into the coming decades. It has been 40 years since the first film came out (I remember seeing it in the theater in 1977, one of the highlights of my childhood). Just to put it in perspective, the distance in time from 1977 to today is the same as the distance from 1977 to 1937. Imagine if filmmakers in 1977 were making a new sequel to a franchise of pictures made in the 1930s! Not only have the social and political mores on which the film is based changed, but what the audience wants and needs has changed too. Our society is on the verge of a very profound cycle of social, economic and political change. Race and gender relations are at the cutting edge of that change. I like that they’re positioning themselves for that change rather than trailing behind it, which is why I don’t agree with the points you raise about the perceived social/gender message of the picture.

    Thanks for the great read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sean. What I love about your arguments is that it highlights why films like this are so interesting – in that we can have such differing perspectives or opinions on the same thing we’ve just watched, and we each see things a bit differently.
      I’ve actually been thinking that, in some ways, Rian Johnson has done something valuable – in that he has divided opinion so dramatically and opened up a rift in people’s reactions. A film that inspires so much passion and debate is arguably a good thing in itself.
      In that context, I love that you rate The Last Jedi only being Empire Strikes Back – because it’s so fascinating and engaging that our respective reactions could be so vastly different: and that’s one of the things that’s so engaging about film itself or, for that matter, any art form.
      We even massively disagree about Luke Skywalker – because the Luke of ROTJ has always been the one I love the most, and indeed ROTJ is probably my favorite of all the films.
      But I agree with you in saying that Rian Johnson has done brave things here – I think he has, which in itself is laudable. Had he played it completely safe, he simply would’ve got criticism for not taking risks.
      But I do have to stand my ground and disagree with you on the same thing that I just said over on Robert Horvat’s piece: I think the social-messaging aspect of this film was massively overdone and it undermines the storytelling. I agree with you entirely that it’s a good thing they’re ‘positioning themselves for that change rather trailing behind it’ – but they were already doing that in The Force Awakens. It was just more subtle and less propagandary then. Here, it’s just too overt and preachy. You should never get to the point where you’re writing in entire sub-plots or story elements just for the sake of that messaging.
      It’s also a case, I think, that I just flat out disagree with what appears to be Kathleen Kennedy’s position – which is that the original Star Wars films were somehow unkind to women or lacking in diversity, and that we now need to overtly counteract that as a big statement.
      I acknowledge that it’s entirely a matter of perspective – maybe some people see cultural problems in the Original Trilogy that I have simply failed to see.
      But thanks for your contribution, Sean – it has raised a number of points I hadn’t considered and has got me thinking more.

      Like

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