Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Last Jedi

This post contains significant spoilers for The Last Jedi. Seriously, I don't think there's anything that I do not spoil.

When the DVDs for The Last Jedi come out, someone will immediately make an abridged version where pretty much every scene of Finn's is cut. And that version will be superior to the theater version.

That's actually a little unfair. Finn's story line wasn't bad, it was just pointless, and not as interesting as the other story line.

I went into The Last Jedi with low expectations, due to the negative buzz around the movie. The Last Jedi was better than those low expectations. It's not a great movie, but it's not as bad a lot of people are making it out to be.

Though it started very badly. I don't expect scintillating wit from Star Wars, but surely we can do better than a Bart Simpson prank phone call and a "Yo mamma" insult.

Let's start with the good. The Rey/Kylo Ren/Luke story is quite good. I liked Rey a lot more in this movie. She's restricted to being a Jedi, and that narrowing of her character makes her stronger. I liked that they didn't give her an "aristocratic" background. I rather liked the way they did the connection between Rey and Ren with the split scenes. Mark Hamill was really good as Luke.

There's really only three criticisms I have about that story. First, I think Luke's jump to wanting to end the Jedi was a bit of a stretch. Perhaps they could have gone more classical, and have Luke Foresee what Ben Solo would become, so Luke tries to strike him down, and in doing so makes the prophecy come true. That would give Luke a better reason to blame the Force, blame his teachings.

Second, because the writers didn't have an ear for resonance, they actually end up validating Kylo Ren's killing of Han Solo. Kylo Ren keeps saying that one must "murder the past, and free yourself." And what does Yoda do? He "murders" the past of the Jedi, and frees Luke and Rey from it. There is a totally unintentional parallel there.

Third, killing Luke was kind of pointless in the way they did it. Why go through all the trouble of having a hologram there? If you were going to kill Luke, it would be better to have Kylo Ren strike him down, echoing Vader and Ben Kenobi. It kind of feels like they decided to kill Luke after the fact.

In any case, that's the good story. Then we come to the other story.

I think this story underwent a substantial rewrite. I really think that the initial script started with a "traitor" subplot that was later cut and replaced with the casino planet. Someone on the fleet would be a traitor with a tracking beacon that allowed the First Order to track the Rebel fleet. Shades of A New Hope, where the Empire planted a beacon on the Falcon, tracking it to Yavin.

This would make Admiral Holdo's secrecy far more understandable and correct for the type of character they were portraying. It makes the first scene where they declare tracking through hyperspace to be technically impossible much more sensible. Immediately following it with a scene where tracking through hyperspace was declared to be technically possible was really dissonant.

In any case, this infiltrate-the-enemy story wasn't really good, but it wasn't that bad either. Kind of meh. Though it did seem kind of weird to be more concerned about the cat-horses than the child slaves tending them.

I did like that the moral equivalence guy sold them out. Made a strong (probably unintentional) statement about moral equivalence.

I also really liked the scene where General Hux was going to shoot Kylo Ren while Ren was unconscious. That was the one truly elegant scene in the movie.

So that's my thoughts on The Last Jedi. One good story balanced against one mediocre story. Good performances by Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, and Mark Hamill. Lots of small dissonant moments that don't really "mesh" with each other, but the overall arcs are okay. Probably due to a lot of "scriptwriting-by-committee", I imagine.

I do wish that the writers had been truly bold, though. Imagine this movie, but where--after killing Snoak--in the scene where Kylo Ren offers his hand to Rey, she takes it, and spares the lives of the Rebellion and her friends. That would have been a crazy setup for the next movie.


  1. I'm on board with you on the 2nd story within. There were many lost opportunities. It seemed a bit too much based on tropes, only to have it become entirely pointless by the end. Finn has zero growth in either film. A suicide run is not growth. And Holdo...there's a few hundred rebels left and she keeps quiet? At what point did she tell Finn/Rose so that they could in turn tell the guy who only looks out for himself?

    The main line though, that seems purposeful. Even the Yoda portion. Balance and white/black was shown to be a falsehood (the only link to the 2nd story). All the preconceived notions of SW were pushed aside. The Luke portion... a little odd. The story dictated the projection, but it could have been on the actual planet. Felt a bit like Starkiller moving a Star Destroyer.

    Snoke's death, hyperspace tracking, Leia's survival, cross-galaxy projections... there was a bit too much of the impossible here for the sake of story. Impossible by the standards SW set up, that is. We are talking giant spaceships shooting lasers afterall.

    1. I actually didn't mind Snoke's death. Kylo faking him out with the same actions as he was doing to Rey was reasonably clever.

      Leia's survival was a bit eye-rolling, but whatever, it was nice to see her use the Force.

  2. Lots of small dissonant moments that don't really "mesh" with each other, but the overall arcs are okay.

    That's a summary I can get behind. I've read a lot of positive reviews that praise this or that arc, and I don't really find myself disagreeing with most of their points... but unfortunately the way tone and narrative direction were all over the place really dragged the film down for me.

    Interesting suggestion about the traitor subplot. That was actually my first thought during the film after they said that hyperspace tracking was impossible, that they either had a traitor or that the Imperials had locked onto Leia's beacon for Rey somehow. I found it odd that none of the characters even seemed to consider anything of the sort.

    The only thing I disagree with here is disliking the way Luke died. If he had appeared in person, he would have died to the Imperial onslaught... or if he had been able to hold all of that off with the sheer power of the Force, it would have felt ridiculously overpowered. Also, doing it via a projection basically allowed Luke to finish the encounter undefeated - there's no reason to assume that Kylo even knows he died afterwards.

    1. My actual preference would have been to let Luke live. The hologram is impressive, but a lot of it is trickery, especially the way he dodges in the fight. So it's not ridiculously overpowered, but still displays mastery of the Force.

      The thing is that the death of a major, beloved character is a powerful currency, and it should be spent well. I don't think Luke's death was a good use of that currency, and so it should have been saved for a better time.

  3. I agree that the film is not as bad as fans would have it but not as good as critics indicate. The problem with the film for me is that neither plot makes sense. In order for the movie to last as long as it did, they had to render both the rebels and first order incompetent. And now there is no momentum going into the finale.

    Why is Oscar Isaac's D-grade Han Solo (or Leia) still in command after a horribly botched and unnecessary attack that led to a massacre?

    What is the rebellion's plan to deal with the First Order besides sit around and wait to die?

    The First Order built a weapon as big as a planet that can destroy one, why are their ships so slow?

    Why is the First Order so powerful and what is the broader galaxy like under their influence? For the most part, the leaders seem shallow, psychotic, incompetent and neurotic (including Kylo Ren). Not exactly a recipe for a long reign. They are not a very well developed threat.

    I disagree on Kylo Ren. They shut down any attempt at rehabilitation when he committed patricide. The idea that he can still be helped is ludicrous. While I think it was a good idea to kill off Han, it should have never been at the hands of Kylo if they were going this route. The conflicting soul thing doesn't work as they have taken the character well past the point of redemption.

    Also, why is Kylo Ren even a threat? If I remember correctly, Rey pretty much owned him. In light of that, why do they need Luke? His entire state of mind and motivation seemed bizarre and twisted solely for plot convenience. Why is Yoda off in retirement if the First Order is such a threat? Or Luke? The new characters pale in comparison to the old ones. The only elegant scene to me was the exchange between Leia and Luke.

    The cast is also way too large. Old characters (Leia, R2 and the gold robot) are window dressing and new ones are stuck in useless plots and irrelevant scenes (Finn, Rose, Oscar Isaac).

    1. I agree with you that the whole First Order/Republic/Rebels situation is sketchy and doesn't make that much sense.

      However, I view most of that as flaws of the The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi has to use the setting it was given, and I think does a reasonable job playing a bad hand.