Is The Last Jedi the ‘worst Star Wars movie ever’? Possibly. Even probably. But what does that even mean? It could be the ‘worst’ Star Wars film and still be really interesting and have great stuff in it.
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 dismay and confusion from this experience was so strong that I have felt compelled to write this out earlier than I would’ve done.
Writing this review – and thinking all of this through – has actually been a form of post-The-Last-Jedi therapy for me. And I needed that. If any of you out there have also been suffering from post-The-Last-Jedi psychological issues or distress, then perhaps reading through this might help you a little too.
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. Even when I’m being very mean. I’m writing that here because I’m going to be very mean in a moment: and particularly about Kathleen Kennedy.
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.
But The Last Jedi is a mess. At times, it feels like a joke. At times, it feels like Disney’s ‘fuck-you’ to the franchise. At times, it feels like the point at which my own love affair with Star Wars as an ongoing enterprise might be nearing its end.
And at times, it feels like a pretty good – or at least very interesting – film too.
But, alas, whatever goodness there was was firmly vetoed by the final act; and what we’re left with is an unhinged mess of a story.
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).
But I can only react for now to what I’ve seen and felt now. The main things I’m going to go through here are, firstly, the element of this film I find the most insulting, then some of what was actually really good in this movie, and then a general critique of the movie and finally the matter of Luke Skywalker.
So, obviously, if you haven’t seen the film yet – there are SPOILERS throughout this piece.
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.
But The Last Jedi manages to even retroactively make TFA a worse film, which is extraordinary.
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.
First, there are three things I have been very hesitant to say for the last couple of years, but which I am now willing to say. (1) Disney has no real love for Star Wars, no great understanding of Star Wars, and may even have some ill-feeling towards George Lucas and the pre-existing Star Wars saga; (2) Disney only sees Star Wars as a massive cash-cow and nothing more, which is why they’re not giving Lucasfilm enough time to craft these films out; and (3) Kathleen Kennedy hates Star Wars, hates Lucas, and has no idea what Star Wars is.
This next point may seem cruel on my part – or even misguided – but I have sensed for a while that Kathleen Kennedy, and probably others too, have some issues that are being exorcised through her management of the Star Wars property.
I will explain why shortly: because it has everything to do with what’s wrong with The Last Jedi.
But, like I said, I want to be clear and fair here. I don’t want this to turn into a bashing of Rian Johnson; because I don’t think he is necessarily the problem. I also don’t think we should knock him for trying to do something different and off-the-wall, which – in principle – was a good idea.
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.
So, in the interests of fairness and balance, I’m going to mention those here first, before proceeding to what will unfortunately become a less-than-charitable appraisal of the film that has ruined Christmas.
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. The problems with Luke came later on – specifically in the finale.
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 I have with the depiction of Luke at the end, 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 total 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 total 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.
So this whole plot makes no real difference.
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.
And once you move passed all of that anyway, The Last Jedi is probably the most problematic, bad-tasting Star Wars film we’ve ever had.
It’s a dog’s dinner that feels like it’s been put together by a committee of people who all wanted to get their bits in. For all the whiny bitches who complained for years about Lucas’s total control of the prequels being a bad thing, the problems in this film read as an example of what can happen when there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
It’s also more annoying, misjudged and imbalanced than any previous Star Wars film, in my opinion.
Why? Well, ok, let’s not even talk about Luke Skywalker for the moment. I’ll come back to him.
But even just as a basic film, it falls short. There are 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.
But let’s address what I think is a big problem here. It’s the problem I alluded to earlier – and is the reason I brought up Kathleen Kennedy.
The biggest problem with this film is that it reads so overtly like a Disney social statement and not a considered attempt to tell a real story.
More specifically, it was a misplaced feminist soap-box exercise of the worst kind.
Now, let me qualify this.
Firstly, I am a feminist. I am as liberal as they come. And, when lots of people were complaining about the ‘Mary Sue’ Rey in The Force Awakens as being some kind of feminist statement, I disagreed with all of them – I liked Rey in that film and I thought there was nothing misguided or cynical about how that film was written. In fact, had I been writing the new Star Wars trilogy, I would’ve absolutely had the main hero be a strong female character.
And later, when people were knocking Rogue One and complaining about its female lead and the contrived ‘diversity’ of its cast, I argued against them – I saw no problem whatsoever with Rogue One in those terms. I generally do not see gender, race or orientation – I take in or appreciate characters and situations for what they are in story terms and couldn’t care less about any other aspects of it.
Indeed, I even argued at the time that if Rey *had* been some kind of feminist statement in The Force Awakens, I would be perfectly happy with that. Why not go that way? It would be a valid statement, after all – and there’s nothing wrong in imbuing art or even film with social messages or positive projections.
The problem with The Last Jedi is that it is so overt, cynical and in-your-face with its messaging that it shatters the fourth wall and takes you out of the story: in other words, it makes you aware that you’re not just watching a Star Wars story, but are being subjected to political or socio-political propaganda. It doesn’t even matter whether said propaganda is good-intentioned (as in, strong female heroism or general ‘diversity quotas’) or not – because the problem is that it cripples the film by being so pronounced and clumsy.
Whereas, what worked about Rey in TFA was that it was all subtle and just part of the flow of the story – you had to be someone with a chip on your shoulder to even notice any ‘feminist’ motivations in the writing, let alone to be bothered by them. But in The Last Jedi, I – as a feminist and a liberal – was so insulted by the total absence of subtlety or intelligence in the messaging that I almost stopped caring about the story.
OK, so it’s great that Leia is presented as such a strong character and leader. I love that, that’s fine. And I love that Rey is also a strong, independent character. But let’s look at this a bit more.
There’s a whole, completely unnecessary sub-plot in The Last Jedi which seems to exist ONLY to show that a male character (Poe Dameron) is wrong to question the wisdom of a female character (the commander who takes over from Leia, whatever he name was). There’s no other reason in story terms for those scenes to exist. Laura Dern’s character takes command when Leia is incapacitated: and from that point on, the point seems to be that Poe is a dumb male who misreads everything and Dern’s character is a wise leader who doesn’t owe the dumb male any explanations.
Now, is my problem that a female character takes command? Absolutely fucking not. I’m happy with that. The problem is the lengths this story goes to show the arrogant male character (Poe) questioning the wisdom of the arrogant female character – and then having to admit how wrong he was.
These were some of the most boring scenes in the history of Star Wars – they existed only to contrive this social message into the film. It lacks all subtlety. And then, to hammer the point home, Leia shoots Poe – as if to say, “the women are in charge now, you men don’t know what you’re doing.”
I don’t even like Poe Dameron. He’s a boring character. But can anyone else think of any other reason this whole sequence was written into the film? It’s as if it wasn’t enough to have a great, strong female lead (Rey) and a great, strong female leader of the heroes (Leia) – both of which serve as great embodiments of female heroism and power *without* needing to get preachy or obtuse about it. It’s as if sublety wasn’t good enough, and we actually needed to have the male character (Poe) being arrogant, then being humiliated and then being shot, and all so that Disney or Kathleen Kennedy could get their messaging across.
The reason I’m blaming Kathleen Kennedy and not Rian Johnson is becasue it’s all Kathleen Kennedy ever talks about. She sees Star Wars as a mass cultural platform for her to get a message across; and there’s no question in my mind that this obsession interfered with whatever it was Johnson was trying to do.
The message itself is fine – but burdening a Star Wars movie with unnecessary and nonsensical sequences just for the sake of that message is insulting. Rian Johnson just wanted to make an interesting film – I’m fairly confident in imagining that this stuff was imposed on him from above. Why didn’t Laura Dern’s character just TELL Poe her plan (he even asks her to a bunch of times). Wouldn’t this have spared everyone a lot of trouble? But no, apparently he had to learn the hard way.
But it’s worse than that.
Because then we come to Luke. Yes, Luke Skywalker – the central hero of the Star Wars saga.
A pathetic male character, fallen from grace, full of self-pity and inaction. Whereas Leia is portrayed as the heroic, steadfast leader (and rightly so), Luke is portrayed as pathetic and feeble. And when Rey comes to him, full of hope and energy and expectation, he treats her badly, fails to meet any of her expectations, and refuses to offer her any training or wisdom.
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. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘Look, Luke is weak and pathetic, but Rey is so strong and adorable and perfect!’
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!’
Both unnecessary and offensive. You could’ve had Rey still be a great, strong character, without having to diminish Luke for her sake.
And, just as we apparently had to see Poe get shot for his questioning of his female superiors, we also had to see Rey beat Luke up and draw a lightsaber to him – the weak, tired old male figure, representing the old world, and the fresh, new young heroine, representing the new.
There’s a moment that sums this up, where Luke is on the floor, looking weak and beaten, and Rey is hovering over him. ‘See, Rey is stronger!’
It occurs to me that someone in the Disney or Lucasfilm executive department has some serious men issues. These films seem to be about building up women characters (which, in itself, is good) and degrading male characters at the same time.
Which, if this was any other film franchise, might pass unnoticed.
But this is Luke fucking Skywalker we’re talking about.
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.
But, wait, am I focusing too much on one issue and allowing it to colour my perception of the whole film?
Not really. If the rest of the film was solid, I might not have noticed this horrendous and clumsy attempt to turn a Star Wars film into social-conditioning propaganda.
Unfortunately, there are other big problems with The Last Jedi.
This film is full of Disneyisms too. The end scene didn’t look, feel or seem like Star Wars at all, but like some mix of ET and a bunch of Disney kids’ films.
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 served no purpose whatsoever.
The new character, Rose, was also completely pointless. Her theme tune – which kept recurring – was horrible and sounded like a Disney Christmas film every time it played. Rose wasn’t just pointless, she was stupid – she jeapordised the entire Resistance for the sake of saving one person. In effect, she was working for the First Order. And why? For “love”, silly.
Anyone – and I mean ANYONE – who still gripes about Anakin or Padme dialogue in AOTC, I refer you to this dumb moment here.
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.
Can you believe people were actually saying she was “the new Boba Fett”?
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. Benicio Del Toro‘s character, whatever his name was, was also pointless.
Think back to all the minor characters – and I mean all kinds of minor, one-scene characters with no dialogue – that Lucas filled all of his Star Wars films with, from Boba Fett and the Mos Eisley cantina to Kit Fisto and Aurra Sing, and then look at the characters this new trilogy has come up with and the difference is stark. Phasma was even actually marketed as a major character in a way that Boba Fett never was and never needed to be.
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?
I’ve never seen so much pointless material in any Star Wars film. The stakes are either so low or so vague that all dramatic investment is lost. The Finn/Rose story was the worst of this, by far. But even all the battle stuff in space was kind of nebulous. Something to do with being tracked through lightspeed and running out of fuel?
Has fuel ever been an issue in Star Wars?
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? Or was this whole story cooked up simply to give a pointless character called Rose something to do and also to give John Boyega some reason to be in more of the film?
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.
This film doesn’t do anything in story terms. Rey gets no development whatsoever. Kylo kind of does; but it’s very sketchy.
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 in this film falls flat.
Also, Rey learns nothing in this film.
We’re told she’s no one and that all the mystery about her background was a red herring. I suspect Kylo may have been lying to her, but it’s also possible this is really the truth. The idea that she’s “no one” could, in theory, open up the door for her being another immaculate conception (or even a clone). Or it could be – as according to my theory – that she turns out to be Anakin’s midi-chlorian/Chosen-One remanifestation.
But I’m not giving the current management that much credit. Taking this film at face value, apparently she is no one and her parentage or background is an irrelevance.
Which makes The Force Awakens less interesting. Particularly given her lines in that film about her background being “a big secret”. On this front, I’m willing to assume more is to be revealed about her in the next film.
If she is ‘no one’, I guess that’s fine. 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.
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. What’s really bad about this though is not simply killing off Snoke – but that we’ve gotten absolutely no explanation of who he was, where he came from, what he was trying to do, what his powers were, or how he came to be in that position in the first place.
Could no one come up with a backstory? Are they that lazy? Or just devoid of ideas? I’m beginning to think it’s the latter.
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.
Thinking about it, THAT (untold) story at THAT point in the timeline would probably have made for a better trilogy than what we’re getting here.
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 anymore 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.
My problem with this depiction of Luke is mostly, as already discussed, that it seemed like part of the same deliberate social-messaging programme that wanted to diminish Luke in order to build up Rey.
It’s as if there are people now – and I’m blaming Kathleen Kennedy for a lot of this, based on her own statements – who hate Star Wars so much that they want to dismantle it, destroy what it used to be, and build something else in its place.
In order to do that, you have to also destroy Luke Skywalker, the idea of Luke Skywalker as the central hero, and even the idea of the Jedi.
But, putting that aside, this Luke Skywalker is still dramatically engaging and fascinating for most of the film. Where it goes wrong is in how it is resolved at the end.
So, 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.
What was this ending supposed to be?
Luke is so pathetic by now that he can’t be bothered to leave the island and come in person? So he projects himself – or some aspect of himself, or his Force-ghost – to the planet in order to pretend to fight the First Order, buying the others time to escape?
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. Ok, I suppose it kind of works as an idea: 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 and stage this one last heroic fight?
This whole thing makes no sense to me.
I just don’t get what the thinking was. I mean, even putting aside the fact that I wouldn’t have killed off Luke this early anyway, I don’t get what the remote/trans-location thing was supposed to be about.
Imagine how much better this would’ve been had Luke actually shown up, fought Kylo, taken out about a dozen First Order walkers and given us one, last massive show of Force-powers and heroism. Then, if you have to, you can kill him off and have him die a hero’s death while Leia and the others escape. Had that happened, it would’ve redeemed so much of what was wrong with this film.
It would’ve made up for almost everything.
But, no, sorry, I forgot – this is the social-messaging Star Wars. Meaning only Rey could come to save the day. Which apparently she does by lifting up some rocks (the most undramatic, unimpressive ‘hero’ moment in all of Star Wars).
We’ve already seen Luke be downtrodden and broken throuhgout the film. That was all interesting. Did he need to remain in hiding right to the end? Or did the filmmakers really need to have him be half-assed and weak even at the end, just so that Rey could come and lift up some rocks?
Again, think of how much better that would’ve played – Luke igniting his green lightsaber and giving it the business. All of the Resistance would look on and be inspired and given ‘hope’ again. Even Rey could witness it and see at last what Luke Skywalker truly was – and what a Jedi was.
As it is, even right at the end, they couldn’t bring themselves to honour Luke Skywalker. Instead we get Rey lifting up some rocks.
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!’
All these years and apparently Leia didn’t really love her brother that much, after all. 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.
But, like I said years ago, even The Force Awakens was depressing.
This whole finale was a mess all over. The end battle on the ice planet had no tension or bite to it. It’s the weakest finale of any Star Wars film. They tried to cover up its deficiences with jokes and humour, but this was a sign of desperation.
Also, how did Rey get back on the Falcon anyway? Wasn’t she on Kylo’s or Snoke’s ship and wasn’t the Falcon somewhere else entirely?
Also, why was Luke’s lightsaber blue at the end? Shouldn’t it have been green? But no, wait, that wasn’t the *real* Luke but his force-ghost or something, right? Right? I mean, I don’t even know. In which case, the lightsaber wasn’t real anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter.
Mark Hamill has even said he thinks his character was written badly: and Hamill is not the kind of guy who’d come out and say something like that unless he really meant it.
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’?
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 you think the people who wrote this film even know what was going on? Or did they just throw a bunch of random 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.
Two years is not enough time to write, plan, film, edit and post-produce a Star Wars movie.
While we’re on that matter, what is this deal with Star Wars now being a Christmas thing? Why? It’s Star Wars – people are going to go see it, no matter what. You don’t have to turn it into a Christmas thing, Disney – May was always perfectly fine for Star Wars releases.
But, ultimately, I think I have a handle on what the central theme and motivation for this film was. All the talk in the film about killing the past or letting the past die (both from Luke and from Kylo) is clearly executive talk alluding to the new Disney/Lucasfilm management wanting to kill off attachment to the pre-existing Star Wars saga or what it was about.
Not just killing off the ‘legacy characters’ one by one (which is necessary) but, here, we go further and we want to kill off the idea of the Jedi entirely. The Jedi were a failure from the past and it is time to let it all go. In story terms, this is all very interesting and challenging. In business terms, however, this is a clean-out by the new management to make it clear that they want to move away from what Star Wars was.
In degrading Luke and killing him off – the heart and soul of everything good and noble in Star Wars – they’re marking their territory. And in literally burning the temple, they’re burning the previous saga too and saying goodbye.
Which also is fine, I guess. We’ll always have those previous six films, regardless of whatever form future Star Wars takes. That’s also perhaps why TFA was such a homage or tribute to the Original Trilogy – it was kind of meant as a definitive tribute act or love letter.
Maybe that’s the point of this whole film. Burn the past, let it die. And let Luke go.
That image of him seeing the Tatooine suns is beautiful – and maybe it was meant to be the final, dying breath of that old Star Wars. 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.
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.
We don’t get to see Luke be a teacher. At all. Not even to Rey. We get one very small moment between Luke and Artoo. Why not more? One brief moment between Luke and Chewie – and in which nothing is communicated. That’s it?
And worst of all, one small moment between Luke and Leia. It’s a beautiful moment and it is really well done – but why just that one moment?
Is it just becuase they were intent on having that one ‘surprise’ appearance by Luke at the end and the act of self-sacrifice? The problem is that that moment wasn’t even very good – meaning that everything you sacrifice for the sake of that moment is needlessly wasted.
I imagine most of us would gladly sacrifice that Luke/projection thing and instead have Luke around for Episode 9.
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.
The new idea, I assume, is that you don’t need to be trained or be a Jedi to use the Force. Hence, why Rey is so Force-strong without any training. And why, early in this film, we see Rose’s sister able to – apparently – manipulate the Force just slightly. And why, in Rogue One, Donnie Yen’s character was clearly Force-sensitive but not a Jedi.
That’s all fine. Though it seems less interesting.
In fact, arguably, that might be where Star Wars is now – fine, but less interesting.
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.
The most bizarre thing about this film is that they’ve managed to take whatever was interesting in The Force Awakens and neutralise it. Rey is much less interesting after this film than she was the last time. Finn and Poe are abysmal, and the new characters are non-entities. Snoke is gone – and wasn’t that good a villain to begin with anyway, same with Pointless Phasma.
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.
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.
The more I think about it, the more I’d probably be more ok with it than I first thought.
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.
As for The Last Jedi, it 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 (including probably the whole Luke force-projection finale), 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.
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. Finally, I come back to the earlier question: Is The Last Jedi the ‘worst Star Wars movie ever’? Possibly. Even probably. But even the worst Star Wars film is ultimately richer, more interesting and more worthy of repeated viewing and reinterpretation than most other films of its kind.
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.
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