There has been an awakening. Have you felt it? There is a stirring of fears, long thought extinct. Fears that “Star Wars” could once again fall to the dark side. Fears that may lead to anger. After you saw it, how did you feel? Darkness? Light? A balance? It’s so much bigger and so much messier than I expected. I went into the cinema expecting to love it and came out deeply conflicted. I can feel the conflict within me, but it’s not too late – there’s still good in “Star Wars”, and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is good. Some of it is even great but still there are things that trouble me. To explain why I’m going to have to go to the dark side, because, duh, spoilers = evil. So consider yourself warned. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you can check out my spoiler-free review here.
I wanted to love “The Last Jedi”, and I’m sure when I’ve seen it again free of the burden of expectation I will, but here, in this place that’s strong with the snark side, I’m going to give in to my anger. Join me and together we will rue the movie as blogger and reader. It is your destiny to go beyond the warning of the Spoiler Porg; scroll on and your journey towards the spoiler side will be complete.
As I said in my proper review, there’s a lot that’s great about “The Last Jedi”. The performances are a series best, as are the visuals. No matter how clunky or flawed the plot or narrative structure is, the film never looks less than spectacular, even for a single frame. There’s a satisfying subversiveness to the fact the film very deliberately sets out to thwart or just point blank ignore fan speculation on the origins of two of the series’ newest characters. Rey’s parents are revealed to be nobodies, just some junk traders who sold their child into servitude for drinking money. She’s the Force’s equivalent of Hermione Grainger, born of muggles yet supremely gifted. Snoke’s an even better thumbing of the nose to the hard-core fandom’s obsessive need to have every little detail explained in excruciatingly dull detail: he’s built up to be this fearsome big bad only to be given the “Star Wars” equivalent of the death of Twyin Lannister. He may not technically be killed while on the toilet – he is on the throne, though – but his abrupt bifurcation after all his grandiose talk of his power and foresight shows he’s full of shit nonetheless.
Speaking of “Game Of Thrones”, there’s a real Westerosian sense of inevitable doom to Poe Dameron’s movie-opening assault on the First Order Dreadnaught. It’s the kind of plan John Snow would have come up with, chock full of nobility and innovation but fatally undermined by a borderline comical ineptitude which will become one of The Last Jedi’s defining traits. Of course, “Game Of Thrones” is a minor influence on this movie which largely takes its visual cues from “The Empire Strikes Back” (the escape from Hoth/ the evacuation of D’Qar amongst others) and “Return Of The Jedi” (the Millennium Falcon’s flight through the subterranean caverns of Crait is an almost shot for shot restaging of the flight through the superstructure of the second Death Star, so much so that I kept expecting the satellite dish to be snapped off once again) but the foundation of the plot is directly lifted from another TV series – “Battlestar Galactica”. Not the campy 1970s Glen Larson one, of course, but the grittier reimagining. The idea of a dwindling, resource-poor fleet teetering on the edge of extinction while relentlessly pursued by a technologically superior and resource-rich opponent is pretty much the first three or four episodes of the 2004 reboot.
More than that, though, the decision to turn one of cinema’s most dynamic and kinetic space operas into a galactic version of the O J Simpson freeway chase is utterly baffling. Its curiously sedate pace saps the film of drama and while the script and dialogue try to create a ticking clock sense of tension, it just doesn’t work. While “The Force Awakens” had its share of plot holes, they are as nothing compared to this one. Take a step back and consider the situation. Space is very, very big. And three dimensional. We know where the Resistance is because all that’s left of them is a ragtag band of survivors huddled together on a handful of ships. But where are the rest of the First Order fleet? Considering they believe themselves to be in de facto control of the entire civilised galaxy, they must have a huge fleet. Why, then, is their flagship, the Mega-class Star Destroyer Supremacy just dawdling behind the escaping rebel ships like a cheapskate kerb crawler reluctant to pony up enough cash to seal the deal? And why are there a dozen or so regular Star Destroyers following along behind like baby ducklings behind their mother? Was there not a single First Order officer who thought that maybe it might be worth, oh I don’t know, jumping to hyperspace and getting ahead of the rebels to cut them off? Or calling in some vessels – even one Star Destroyer would have done – from somewhere else to head them off? The stupidity of it is mind-boggling. It’s great that “The Last Jedi” is firmly focussed on passing the torch from one generation of heroes and villains to the next, if only it weren’t so good at demonstrating that the new generation of heroes and villains are absolute idiots. The original trilogy’s heroes had their share of setbacks to contend with but it was usually the result of bad luck or their opponents’ cunning. In these new films, both sides incur tremendous losses because everyone’s kind of incompetent.
Even reputed ‘tactical genius’ and person who cosplays as ‘sexy Lumpy Space Princess’ for Halloween, Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), just lets hundreds of resistance fighters die needlessly before she does something which she could have done the moment the transports launched. She was resigned to sacrificing herself anyway, but she waited until nearly all of her comrades were blown up before sacrificing herself in a way which dealt a devastating blow to the First Order (mind you, I’d be lying if I said that when she does hyperspace into the oncoming First Order fleet it’s not one of the most astounding things I’ve ever seen in a “Star Wars” film). It’s not as if a film which is so cavalier in disposing of characters old and new should be so hesitant to kill off one more.
Of course, Admiral Holdo had to wait so her blaze of glory would be just in time to save Finn and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) from having their pointless subplot put out of our misery by (an utterly wasted, again) Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). The side-trip to Canto Bight feels like a deleted scene from the “Star Wars” prequels and, like much of the events of the prequels, is entirely unnecessary. The idea that the First Order’s apparently surprising and unprecedented ability to track the Resistance fleet through hyperspace (which is highlighted as a big deal but never really expanded on) would be dependent on a single device on a single vessel at any one time is a ludicrous narrative conceit just to give Finn something to do. Of course, because he’s part of the new generation of “Star Wars” heroes, he does it badly and his plan doesn’t work. It’s a heavy-handed, morally preachy sidestep that adds nothing but bloat to the already slightly too long run time. Also, the new evil First Order droid might as well have been called BB-hype (as in don’t believe the) for all it ends up doing.
Gimmicky cute things bring us neatly to the other main setting of the film, the planet Ahch-To (bless you). The Porgs are cute enough but overused to no specific purpose. We see them nesting on the Falcon and using wiring to make their nests but it never really matters. Unfortunately, because of the need to pick up immediately after “The Force Awakens” went on for ten seconds too long, “The Last Jedi” is saddled with an awkward chronology which never really lines up. In order for it to work, “The Last Jedi” would need to have the same chronological structure as “Dunkirk”. The evacuation of the Resistance Base takes place over a matter of hours, perhaps a day at the most. How does that reconcile with Rey’s stay on Ahch-To which seems to last several days at least? Even allowing for relativistic space travel, it doesn’t add up. The timing issue starts right from the opening crawl which makes it clear we’re picking up immediately after “The Force Awakens” yet the First Order has apparently invaded most of the galaxy in the time which has passed.
Running through the entire film is a flippant sense of humour which occasionally feels tonally asynchronous with a “Star Wars” movie. It’s not that it’s not funny, it’s just that sometimes it feels ‘off’ for the characters and the story. There’s plenty of this in Luke’s interactions with Rey as she pleads for him to teach her the ways of the force while he’s archly dismissive of her. It’s actually another of the film’s smart subversions as Luke is placed in Yoda’s role from “The Empire Strikes Back” on Dagobah. By far my favourite bit of the film, though, is the way it skillfully demonstrates Obi-Wan Kenobi’s point about the truths we cling to depending greatly on our own point of view as the story of how Ben Solo fell to the dark side and destroyed the new Jedi Order is told from three viewpoints, all of which are true…from a certain point of view. While I would have liked to see Luke be a badass a bit sooner and a bit more physically, they resisted the temptation to have him turn to the dark side (thus undoing the point of the original trilogy) but I’ll always feel cheated out of a direct confrontation between Supreme Leader Snoke and Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. Speaking of Force users, I have zero issues with that Leia moment, one of the film’s biggest shocks. For what seems like an eternal moment you’re aghast – after everything that’s happened, both in-universe and in the real world, could the series really be as brazen as to dispense with a beloved, iconic character in so offhand a manner? But no, instead we finally get to see Leia use her Force powers and in a way we haven’t seen before. Survival, when exposed to the vacuum of space, is perfectly feasible in the real world never mind the science-fantasy universe of “Star Wars” and it makes perfect sense to me that it would be easy for a Force user to move themselves easily (easier than floating rocks in a swamp) in the weightless environment of space. Leia clearly prepares herself for what’s about to happen and the only way the sequence would have been ruined is if Leia had come through the experienced completely unscathed.
In the end, Rian Johnson has done a pretty good job with the awkwardly placed loose ends he was left by J J Abrams and has, in turn, left things much neater for Abrams to once again pick up the reigns. “The Last Jedi” has possibly the most structurally flawed story of any “Star Wars” film – and I’m including “The Star Wars Holiday Special” – but despite its flaws, it succeeds because of the fresh, new ideas it tries. It fundamentally clears the decks of nearly all the original trilogy baggage that Abrams held on to like a special screenwriting episode of “Hoarders”. The action sequences and special effects are top of the line and while the plot doesn’t hold up, the dialogue is actually pretty good. It may struggle to service the number of characters it tries to, but to be fair it works hard to thin out the herd, in another inadvertent homage to “Game Of Thrones”.
Thematically, narratively and discursively, “The Last Jedi” is about tearing down and rejecting the strictures of the past to allow a new future to take root. If you’re butthurting because this isn’t ‘your’ “Star Wars” or because it somehow disrespects or blasphemes against a dogmatic interpretation of the franchise that you rigidly adhere to, then you’ve completely missed the point of the movie and, perhaps, the franchise as a whole. “The Last Jedi” is far from perfect but it’s a spectacular-looking cocktail of ideas, triumphs and follies; still unmistakably a “Star Wars” movie, but one quite unlike any we’ve seen before. It takes risks, not all of which pay off, but as Yoda himself says, ‘The greatest teacher, failure is’. “The Last Jedi” is the Luke Skywalker of “Star Wars” movies: brave, reckless and always looking to the future (for reference, “Attack Of The Clones” is the Jar Jar Binks of “Star Wars” movies). I am genuinely excited to see what Rian Johnson comes up with given the chance to shape an entirely new story with new characters in the “Star Wars” universe given the heights he often reaches with this legacy-heavy toy box.
Emperor Pedantine, master of the Snark side, has failed. I am a “Star Wars” fan like I was before the dark times, before the prequels. I embrace “The Last Jedi” despite, or maybe because of, its failings and I think in time I’ll grow to love it as much as I love four out of the other seven “Star Wars” movies. I no longer have a bad feeling about this.
What did you think of “The Last Jedi”? Where did it succeed? Where did it take the quick and easy path? Search your feelings and tell me what you know to be true in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.