When I left the theater for The Force Awakens two years ago, I could not help but feel conflicted. I enjoyed a lot of what happened in the film, but it was disheartening to see *just* how much the filmed leaned on nostalgia and referencing the original films.
Cut to a week ago and me departing the theater after seeing The Last Jedi. On one hand, I was comforted to see how the film purposefully tried to distance itself from nostalgia. That was not my primary reaction though.
Instead, I was just in a daze about the actual execution of the film. There was such a lack of quality control in regards to the script and plotting. It really soured my experience of the film and took me completely out of it by the end. I kind of never wanted to watch the film again and lost all of my enthusiasm for the future of the Skywalker saga.
Having previously purchased tickets for a second viewing already, I went in determined to understand the source of my frustration. While I did enjoy the film more the second time around (being prepared for the problems this time), there are still fundamental issues with the film’s execution that undermine much of what the film attempted to do.
1. The Magnificent Flying Leia
When I re-watched the film, I realized this moment was the official “red flag” that signaled something would be up with this film. This was just ridiculous on a number of levels.
Sure, Star Wars has always played fast and loose with the effects of space on the human body, but being sucked into space without a space suit should just be accepted as one of those “instant death” things.
Leia then reaching the magical middle point of being completely knocked out in space but using just the right amount of the force to keep her strong enough to stay alive and then fly back was just too much to ask for. (The effects also looked hokey and stupid as well.)
Finally, they skated over this moment so quickly that Ben Solo never even got the beat to play where he confronted the fact that his mother nearly died. After he just killed his father (a few hours/days/weeks earlier?), vowed to burn down the past, and passed on killing his mother only to see her nearly blown to pieces anyway, you have to show him fucking reacting to that for than half a second. It was just such shitty writing and pacing. Terrible.
Even if we accept that Leia COULD actually do this, to actually do this death fake-out moment only for a secret level of power to reveal itself in a moment that would otherwise be death is lazy writing. Then they did not even bother to exploit it for satisfying story purposes.
2. Spectral Luke Skywalker
When all hope had faded, Luke Skywalker used a super-secret power that no Jedi had ever been known to have to save the day and provide one last bout of hope to the galaxy.
You see, Luke Skywalker had developed a power Yoda could not do. That the Emperor could not do. That Darth Vader could not do.
He could turn himself into such a life-like spectral replica of himself that he could kiss Leia on the forehead, leave behind spectral dashboard dice (that exist long after Luke dies), and then just in general exist in a convincing and lifelike enough fashion to fool Kylo Ren.
The heroes of Star Wars have historically barely been able to squeak on by. They just try to live long enough to fight another day. They are not superheroes. They are not gods. The force is not meant to be this source of unlimited hidden power to only be revealed at the most dire moments.
3. Kylo Ren’s journey
TAFKA Ben Solo basically does a 360 in this film instead of a more traditional single-film arc. As a result, a lot of it feels forced and rushed.
He starts off getting belittled by Snoke which strengthens his resolve to tear down the past. That starts by him destroying his faux-Vader mask and then displaying a newfound resolve to obliterate The Resistance.
However, his newfound resolve is immediately tested (as in minutes later), as he cannot pull the trigger on blowing up his mother. (As previously discussed, his mother then gets blown up anyway due to him bringing backup with him on his suicidal death mission against The Resistance’s cruiser.)
This all happens pretty much within the first thirty minutes of the movie. It’s so rushed that Ren does not even get a beat to react to nearly causing the death of his mother after he opted not to do it.
From there, Kylo slowly begins to gain clarity about Supreme Leader Snoke through his telepathic force conversations with Rey. Rey simultaneously serves as his motivation to break free from Snoke while also reaffirming his desire to burn down the old order of doing things.
That leads to him killing Snoke and then offering Rey his hand in
marriage ruling the galaxy together. Rey’s refusal to do so though then makes Ren even more bitter about the world. He’s now even more determined to wipe out The Resistance.
This gets complicated by the “arrival” of Luke Skywalker in the final sequence of the film. Ren’s desire to kill Luke distracts him so much that The Resistance is able to escape and begin anew.
Look all that. All that shit could have been the big moment built to for Kylo. Instead, it’s all stuffed into one film, and everything gets watered down as a result.
4. Finn’s “journey”
The question with Finn is ‘does the film earn that moment at the end where Finn decides to sacrifice himself to destroy the giant battering gun?’
The answer to that is a resounding “no” (otherwise why would he be on the list).
It was a real shame too, because the idea of Finn doing that was a great idea and worthy of being one of the most memorable moments from a Star Wars film (even with him being saved).
In a less crowded film, Finn attempting to do this could have been the story’s most significant moment. The image of a major Star Wars character knowingly speeding to their death has never really been done in Star Wars, and it was shot and executed beautifully in a bubble.
It was forced though. We did not get nearly enough time with Finn in this one for starters, and the time we had with him was not really designed to build to this big moment.
In the rush to reject the repetitiveness of The Force Awakens, several characters got dispatched of in a manner ill-befitting of their presumed station. While The Emperor was of course a paper-thin character in the original trilogy, those films found an effective way of utilizing his absolute evil to build to the epic final confrontation between Luke & Vader.
While it was great that they decided to not repeat the exact formula of The Emperor’s story, this was kind of the worst of both worlds. They essentially just did a rushed version of The Emperor’s story which meant it was missing the satisfaction AND was way too similar to a past Star Wars film. Either go in another direction or remake it right.
6. Captain Phasma
Now, maybe this is just a lesson in why we should not get excited for a character based on a split-second clip from a trailer. BUT…given how hype everyone was for this fucking chrome trooper in an early trailer for The Force Awakens, Captain Phasma might end up being considered the biggest wet fart of a character ever.
Boba Fett has been overhyped by history as well, but at least that motherfucker executed a plan to turn Han Solo into a fucking rock. Phasma was just a punk every step of the way, died like a punk, was given the lamest and completely meaningless final line, and was a complete fucking waste of the action star-charisma machine that is Gwendoline Christie. This character sucked, and both directors share the blame for that one.
7. “They are tied on the end of a string.”
While the element of surprise is a powerful tool for a screenwriter, the trap the writers can sometimes fall into is constructing incredibly contrived reasons for keeping information from characters in the story in order to keep information away from the audience.
The first instance of this happening was with General Hux. As he’s being humiliated by Supreme Leader Snoke for letting The Resistance escape, Hux is panicked and claims, “We have them tied on the end of a string.”
The use of a metaphor there implies that you know, the means of which The Resistance is trapped is not immediately obvious, or it’s sensitive information that would best not be public information. Perhaps there was a spy on board the Resistance cruiser or something.
Instead, it’s later revealed that the First Order’s tracking technology improved dramatically without Supreme Leader Snoke or Kylo Ren knowing. They were now able to track them through hyperspace.
Why didn’t Snoke already know this? How did their technology improve in such short order? I suppose those aspects don’t really matter though.
What does matter is that the film tried to keep info from the audience in a contrived matter which foreshadowed a much larger script issue.
8. The whole plot with Laura Dern keeping info from Poe
There’s a lot of divide on this one, but it’s an important subject since that character decision led to the whole Finn/Rose/
Guillermo Benicio del Toro story happening.
Okay, so bear with me. This one is complicated. Poe gets demoted by Leia. Leia gets knocked out by space exposure. Laura Dern then takes over command of The Resistance. All along, she pretends to be a cowardly asshole who has opted for the “just run away slowly” plan without anything else for The Resistance to look forward to, as they all slowly die. She also refuses to hear input from anyone else and specifically refuses to let Poe in on any further information.
This causes Poe to okay a secret plan for Rose and Finn to find a way to sneak past The First Order’s shield and then to use a CODEBREAKER to drop their tracking for six minutes (which will then allow The Resistance to fly away). This plan actually fails though, and they get themselves captured on the ship.
In other words, this information being kept from Poe led to a useless side adventure that actually actively harmed The Resistance. It also was illogical to keep Poe in the dark for as long as they did. If they were afraid he was too impulsive to trust, then what did they think would happen by only presenting this useless looking “just drift until we die” plan.
They also overplayed their hand with Dern. They tried to manipulate the audience by having her encapsulate the typical useless bureaucrat archetype who takes over for the more qualified person. The problem was they made her out to be a total asshole even at points when it did not make sense. Does anyone really believe that a dear friend of Leia would refer to Finn as a “stormtrooper” in a derisive manner? That’s not her “not caring to seem like a hero.” That’s manipulative dialogue to convince the audience she really is a senseless bureaucrat.
It’s also a total misuse of the tragic storytelling elements. By keeping Poe in the dark, Laura Dern is trying to ensure that her plan that she is convinced is right goes off without a hitch. That very decision of hers though only ensures that Poe will act impulsively. His impulsive decision leads to Finn and Rose finding Benicio del Toro who then betrays The Resistance and clues The First Order in on the secret “quietly drift away and hope no one sees” plan. You can’t just do that and not actually have tragic consequences. (And before you start, please re-watch the final five minutes and argue that the ending of The Last Jedi is tragic in tone or mood in any way.)
9. Return of the Green Screen
There were far more blatant green screen shots in The Last Jedi that we had grown accustomed to in the preceding Disney Star Wars films. It was particularly jarring during the showdown with Finn, Rose, Phasma, and BB-8. All of a sudden, it’s like we are in the middle of the prequels again with shitty fire in the background and the actors faces sticking out like a sore thumb on the computer-generated backgrounds. Let’s hope this does not become a regular thing again in Star Wars. It’s unnecessary at best and a major distraction at worst.
Okay, I know the droids in Star Wars are capable of doing lots of shit. BB-8 really became ridiculously powerful in this one though. The droids are great for comic relief and fun assists in big battles. The fact that BB-8 managed to take over an AT-ST and then save Finn/Rose was just way too much. Way too much. There’s no need for the droids to become just invincible, all-purpose super robots. Again, this is an element from the prequels that did not need to rear its ugly head again.
11. The Abrams/Johnson Clash
Some franchises and sequels really benefit from having fresh perspectives on the property. James Bond really could be a completely different film every time, and it would not be an issue. Aliens following Alien is a great example of how a sequel can take on the style and tastes of a completely different director and really compliment each other.
Unfortunately, Abrams and Johnson just really had way too different priorities for what they want from a modern Star Wars film, and it’s now making this new trilogy not feel cohesive in the slightest.
Phasma and Snoke were introduced in the first one in a manner that required an actual substantial follow-up. Finn needed an actual journey that could make his attempt to sacrifice himself seem meaningful. Etc.
The Last Jedi almost felt like the beginning of a brand new trilogy all over again, as if The Force Awakens needed to be salvaged instead of built on and tweaked to avoid feeling repetitive.
It will be a tall task to make sense of these mixed priorities in a third film that will also have to mourn Princess Leia, bring the major plot threads to a close, and wrap up the arcs of four major characters (along with many other smaller characters). There is little evidence to suggest there is much hope for a fully satisfying conclusion, but I guess we will just have to believe that the sun is truly still there if we want to make it through the night.