Things about The Last Jedi with some spoilers and musings about the life we live in and the nature of stories

I saw The Last Jedi once, and I don’t know if one viewing is really enough to form an opinion about whether I liked it or not. There definitely were some things I liked about it, but overall I think I found it substantially lacking. This review is pretty much all spoilers.

My feelings of apprehension started right at the opening crawl. Not because of anything it said, and I’m taken to understand that Rian Johnson put a lot of effort into getting the text right, but I couldn’t even tell you what it said, because I was completely distracted by the fact that it was noticeably half a step too fast. It’s a tiny thing, but a historically important detail. Did they do it on purpose to signal a break from the past? Nah, too subtle a change. But it really threw me, right from the beginning, and made me dread what was coming next right off the bat.

Importantly: I love and embrace the diversity of Star Wars. I applaud attempts to include more diverse characters, and to broaden into telling different kinds of stories. I overwhelmingly do not agree with the viewpoint that seems prevalent among critics of this movie that “the SJWs are ruining Star Wars”. Most of those aspects of the film were the things I liked and wanted more of. I think it’s sad that the rest of the movie was so poorly constructed that it allowed space for these arguments.

Having said that, let’s get some technical nitpicks out of the way, and there are more than I’d like.

  • The opening battle makes zero sense. Even an overconfident captain would have TIE fighters flanking. They always have TIE fighters flanking. The Rebels always have X-Wings. Making a big deal out of this being a mistake doesn’t make it any less weird. But the biggest problem here is that one bomber has enough firepower to take out an entire Dreadnought. If they can do this, why not make bombing runs on Star Destroyers all the time?
  • Let’s not talk about hyperspace ramming, because that’s a whole other can of worms that definitely does not require human pilots.
  • In the attempt to make Poe not Han Solo, he’s really just kind of an asshole. But on the other hand, everyone’s kind of an asshole.
  • Apropos of nothing, I expected that the connection between the dead pilot and the engineering tech was going to be that they were lovers, but sisters is fine too.
  • I only watched it once and some things kind of went by in a blur, but I have independent verification that there really was a scene where BB-8 pelts a casino guard with, like, a whole sack-worth of gold coins drunkenly inserted in some convenient slot by an alien Rich Uncle Pennybags. I am angry about this.
  • At the same time as the entire resistance fleet is wiped out, there’s really no sense of urgency to any of this for most of the chase. Go watch ’33′ again, and you’ll see how this kind of sequence is done properly.
  • Where is the rest of the resistance? So… Leia puts out the call, and no one responds. What’s going on there? Yay, another mystery we have to wait two more years to solve that’ll be irrelevant by the time we get there. This ties into how I just don’t understand how we got here. 30 years ago the Empire fell. Did the Rebellion ever succeed in making a real government? Who bankrolled this thing? Maybe this is explained in one of the books.
  • The entire explanation of the hyperspace tracking system makes no sense. They only have this on one ship but if you disable it and they know about it, they’ll move it to another ship? What? Why don’t they just run it from every ship at once? But they’re only tracking the lead capital ship? What? How do you know this? This is all based on guesses. I have zero problems with our heroes trying something that doesn’t work in the end, but this is a huge stretch of believability.
  • Despite the fact that Laura Dern can act rings around most of these other people, her character was poorly written. Sure, it’s her prerogative to have secrets. But… why? Why keep the plan secret? Who are you even keeping the plan secret _from_? Surely the X-Wings are still going to be… going somewhere? Do you suspect that the First Order can track you through hyperspace because someone on the ship is a spy? Wow, that would be a cool and probably obvious thing that’s brought up exactly never.
  • Finn naked leaking was kind of funny, but… really. No one else noticed him walking down that corridor, and disconnecting whatever he was connected to didn’t set off any alarms? This was just stupid in the service of slapstick.
  • Rey’s parentage I think was supposed to be some sort of a shocker, but I guess I’m really not that tied to the idea that being a Jedi is hereditary. Mostly because that idea makes no sense given what we know about how the Jedi don’t have kids and take in young children who show Force sensitivity from parents who are not Jedi. Oh, I guess when you look at it that way, Rey’s parents being nobody is exactly the same as how this works every other time.
  • Please stop wasting Gwendoline Christie. You’re trying to recreate the mystique of Boba Fett, and it just doesn’t work. Oh, look, now you’re wasting Benicio del Toro too.
  • Speaking of which, seeing the master codebreaker your wise all-seeing ally told you specifically is the guy for you and then getting arrested and then not going back to find him again and going with the guy in your cell who can pick locks and why is he even still in there that’s not suspicious is the worst plan ever.
  • Crystal critters are cute. They’d make a fun action figure.
  • Porgs are delicious and don’t seem to be sentient. I am mad at Chewbacca for wasting a perfectly browned one.

Now we have to talk about Luke’s character development, and by extension the entirety of the original Trilogy. The subsequent movies (Rogue One excluded) have done nothing but erode the legacy of Star Wars. First unintentionally, in the case of the prequels, and now intentionally, in dismantling everything they worked for. This started with The Force Awakens, and continues here. Han has failed, first as a father, then as a husband, then as a hero, then again as a father. Leia failed to build a functioning government out of her rebellion. Luke failed to rebuild the Jedi order. The message here is not just that your old heroes are unnecessary but that they’re actually detrimental and you should burn your devotion to them to the ground. Is that a useful message in today’s political climate? I like the heroes of the original trilogy, and I don’t need to see them ruined in this way. I felt the same distaste for how Logan approached that character. I don’t feel that we have to destroy the legacy of our heroes in order to distance ourselves from them and do something else great, and I honestly don’t think you’ve earned the right to treat these characters that way.

It’s hard to say because the plotting is all very muddled, but it seems like the point here is that Luke has reverted to his old whiny farm boy self in the face of failure, but his “redemption” at the end feels forced, unearned, and out of place. Luke and Rey’s interactions before that point are all very weird, as he does a number of rapid shifts between “I’m a Jedi master, here are a few tricks”, “The Jedi are all stupid”, “Feel my Force inside you (creepy as hell)”, and “watch me fetishly milk this slimy cow thing (so creepy)”.

(Side note: I haven’t seen anyone else point out that the original series had blue milk, and this series has green milk, paralleling the color shift in Luke’s lightsaber in a weird random coincidence. Also Luke’s green lightsaber is totally hanging out in his X-Wing and Rey is probably going to go get it first thing in Episode IX.)

But back to the matter at hand, this is a terribly ignominious end for the greatest hero the galaxy has ever known, who single handedly destroyed The Death Star and brought down the Empire with a little help from his friends. The explanation of his fall makes no sense. Like with Han and Leia, this is manufactured weakness for the sake of bringing down an idol. Why did Yoda wait 30 years to show up and tell him he was being an ignoramus? Where’s Ben? Where’s even Anakin?!? The whole thing about the end of Return of the Jedi is that Luke has these Force Ghost advisors to help him ostensibly rebuild… something at least.

I like the overall approach that The Jedi Order needs to go and everyone can harness The Force, but it’s approached without the explanatory context of the threats it evolved to counter. Are the Sith gone? Apparently Snoke is not a Sith, but he’s still a really powerful user of the dark side of the Force. What does that even mean? 

This piece makes a big deal out of how this movie subverts your expectations. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t have any expectations beyond getting a good story that’s internally consistent where the motivations of the characters make sense. The opposite of a trope is usually another trope, and this movie is full of opposite tropes without really cohering a reason to exist beyond breaking those tropes. It’s too blatant and glaring – “I did Y just because you expected me to do X”. The myth here is that breaking those tropes is something that explicitly needed to be done. I heard this all the time in The Force Awakens reviews – “It brings Star Wars into the modern age” as if it’s a car that’s run down or an obsolete computer. No, you don’t have to make it accessible to a new audience by breaking it. Just tell some great stories.