I’m not saying I hated it, or that it’s all together bad, but I don’t think Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was particularly good. In terms of a franchise installment, I think it’s easily my least favorite Star Wars film this side of Episode III. I also can’t say I’m surprised by this because it is a Rian Johnson movie, and these are the sort of movies Rian Johnson makes.
When I think back two years ago to the release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens, I remember a merriment that followed me out of the theater and lingered for a few weeks. Did I have this comforting feeling because it was basically a remake of A New Hope? Possibly. But did it need to have that familiar structure to calm the nerves of an anxious fanbase that was still reeling from an uneven and at times outright awful prequel trilogy? Most certainly.
What they were able to do with The Force Awakens that made it such a success was blend the old with the new to validate these exciting characters and prepare us for the onslaught of Star Wars materials to come.
How many conversations did you have over the last two years that were triggered by the sight of a roll of Star Wars branded Bounty paper towels that touched on one or more of these questions?
‘Did you cry when they killed Han?’
‘Is Rey Luke’s daughter? Is that why he was looking at her like that?’
‘Why was that lightsaber calling her?’
‘What was with Luke living like a hermit?’
‘Will Kylo go to the light or will Rey go to the dark?’
‘Who the hell is Snoke and is he tall or small?’
These and a zillion other talking points shaped the pop culture conversation for about six months after VII, when people were going to see it for the second, third or even fourth time in theaters, and now again over the last few months when everyone was refreshing their memories for VIII. People have been debating these things because that’s what they wanted us to talk about coming out of that movie. I know that because that’s what they showed us in the movie.
Episode VII was exactly what I expected, because that’s what JJ Abrams does. Say what you will about how much Star Wars was in Star Trek, but the guy knows how to mine a property’s core to please fans while setting up a bounty of potential story options for further installments. Does he nail it every time? No. But he’s hitting for a decent average.
Rian Johnson is a technically competent filmmaker who thinks he is a very clever writer that can chart plots that bend and swerve with wit and ingenuity. When he was hired to direct The Last Jedi, I had a feeling my excitement for this trilogy was going to be challenged. When Luke Skywalker tossed his father’s lightsaber over his shoulder with a shrug and told the young and eager Rey to go home, I wish I would have followed his advice.
Despite his knowledge of the language of cinema, Rian Johnson can’t complete one film where characters behave in a consistent manner (see Looper), so who thought he’d be able to do anything with 40 year old material? Unfortunately, people confuse this for genius because the blogs like him and I guess they don’t want to feel dumb for not seeing things add up in a story that claims 2+2=5.
If this is the middle chapter of a trilogy, what are we supposed to need a third film for?
The First Order is a joke. General Hux and Kylo Ren are morons. All they’ve done is fuck up. Are we to believe they can impose their will on the galaxy? They don’t even have Captain Phasma around anymore, not like it mattered since she got the shaft again, so this is the equivalent of handing the reins of the galaxy over to Admiral Piat and Pol Treidum and expecting us to wonder if they’re going to win in the end. These guys are not an Empire substitute, they’re comic relief. That’s the downside of kicking off a film with a scene that takes the piss out of one of your big baddies, while continuing the trend of having the other guy get whooped by every character he meets that has the slightest connection to the Force. It’s as though they’ve imposed the Marvel Villain Problem on a franchise with a history of having the most iconic antagonists of all.
Which brings me to the Marvelization of the Star Wars Universe that I suppose we’re just going to have to get used to. Everyone drops a few jokes too many, which would be fine if they didn’t feel so modern, and then Adam Driver takes off his shirt. Ummm…
I understand that these are fantasy films, and the Star Wars series has had a fair share of plot holes over the years, hell they made an entire film to explain one away, but I feel like in The Last Jedi they were deliberate choices that the story was constructed around and none of them added to the story, they were just there to push the plot along.
Why didn’t they tell Poe the plan for the armada before the crew resorted to mutiny? Why did they turn Poe into a bro who mansplained everything?
Why didn’t they use autopilot instead of having one person sit back and die on each ship as it ran out of gas? Why did they structure this story around the slowest chase in the history of cinema anyway?
When did Finn learn to fly, it was only about two weeks ago that he needed Poe and Rey to do that for him?
When did Leia become Space Mary Poppins?
Why did they turn Luke Skywalker, the farm boy who shot down the Death Star, bested Darth Vader and stood up to the Emperor, into a coward who ran away from his friends, the republic and the Jedi when everyone needed him the most? Who thought it was a good idea to have Luke Skywalker pull a lightsaber on a sleeping Ben Solo?
How many times can you pull a Deus Ex Machina in one film?
These aren’t really the questions I thought I would be asking coming out of a Star Wars film, which brings me to the most troubling thing of all about The Last Jedi, there’s no mystery anymore. All the big ones were discarded in a ‘fuck you for playing along’ sort of way, so what now?
We might as well just mail $10 to Kathy Kennedy and ask her to get on with the next thing, we’re done with this arc.
– Ron Williams