Like a lot of people, we went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi during its premiere week. Like many geeks, I’d been going over the trailers and watching YouTube videos analyzing them shot-by-shot in an attempt to gleam insights into the direction the story might be taken. Overall, I enjoyed the movie; there were many positives – I think the visual palette, cinematography, humorous moments, and the overall feel of the film were all well-executed.
WARNING — SPOILERS — WARNING
My overall impression is that the film was beautifully shot. In particular, the scenes on Ahch-To were visually stunning with a sci-fi/fantasy look and feel that fit the Star Wars universe. The space battles were also well-choreographed and visually appealing. And while some people found the humor to be a negative, I liked it. The levity works well in Marvel movies and I think (overall) it worked here, especially when the overall tone of the film is darker than most Star Wars movies. It seems you either love or hate the Porgs; I thought they were cute and funny (especially the scene with Chewy just trying to have something to eat).
As the movie continued, I got more annoyed with the decisions the writers made. The reason I liked the Force Awakens was that it had a familiar tone to A New Hope while presenting interesting questions that The Last Jedi was set up to (presumably) answer – at least in part. This was going to be a different type of Stars Wars movie – which was exciting …and it was, but…
The Force Awakens set up the “big bad” of the second trilogy as a very powerful and old force user that had been plotting and manipulating things in the background – Supreme Leader Snoke. While it was certainly a surprise to me when Kylo killed him, my problem was how easily he was killed. If they had done everything the same (which was cool) but only injured him, setting an epic battle with Snoke on one side and Kylo and Rey on the other…now, I suppose anything is possible but it seems they’ve set it up for a third film confrontation between Kylo and Rey now that the all-powerful (not so much) Snoke (we hardly knew ye) is dead. Maybe we’ll see Snoke again as an evil Force ghost? His death didn’t seem to hint at that since he was sliced in half and his body did not disappear like a Jedi would. Again, good job surprising me; I just found it odd given how big the build up was with Snoke.
Who is Rey? There were several hints dropped in The Force Awakens that Rey’s bloodline meant something (like the way Han seemed to know who she was); the way we found out she’s the daughter of a couple of nobodies reeks of a gotcha moment. I’m all for the self-made person who’s in charge of her own destiny – in fact, that was a bit of a theme in the film which I liked a lot – but based on the previous film and her uncommon natural abilities, it seemed a little strange, especially how the reveal of her parentage was treated as an afterthought. Now, Snoke kind of explains the “Mary Sue” thing going on with Rey – that the Force seeks balance and that the shift of Ben Solo to the Dark necessitated the rise of Rey in the Light to meet it. Still, it left me feeling meh to the explanation of her abilities without any training.
Why did Ben Solo turn? Snoke had been feeding him lies and feelings of mistrust and doubt in his parents (abandonment) and teacher, Luke…okay. Much like the prequels’ poor job in showing Anakin’s transformation, I felt the same thing here. I could get over that; what I couldn’t look past was Luke’s intention – fleeting as it was – to kill his sister’s and best friend’s son because he felt Snoke’s influence taking hold. So, the same guy that when he was younger and less powerful, felt there was a chance to turn a mass murderer and a guy he never knew as anything but Vadar back to the light, thought there was no hope in positively influencing his nephew even though Luke was now older, stronger, and more experienced? I don’t buy it. I have a feeling Mark Hamill agrees. Oh, and where the hell are the Knights of Ren?
Why did Luke exile himself? The writers set Luke up as a broken man because of the guilt of failing his nephew. Okay; makes sense. But with the rise of The First Order, I just can’t imagine Luke sitting on the sidelines while Leia leads the resistance. But, I’ll concede that the guilt could drive him to that.
One of the things that really annoyed me and shows just poor writing was the whole subplot with Poe, Vice Admiral Holdo, and the mission Finn and Rose went on to find the codebreaker. So when Leia is incapacitated (after being blown into space and then consequently flying back to the ship without freezing in the vacuum of space or the need for breathing – huh?), Poe pleads with the Admiral to tell him that there’s some plan, any plan, as their fuel reserves dwindle and they prepare to board defenseless transports – nothing. Seeing the tactical error of the non-plan, Poe takes matters into his own hands, setting in motion a whole subplot for Rose, Finn, and Benicio Del Torro’s (meaningless) character. That whole part of the movie would be unnecessary if Holdo had just told Poe, “We’re going to this former rebel base that’s close by; the First Order won’t be able to track us because we have a cloaking device for our transports.” If she had just told him that, the whole subplot wouldn’t have been necessary. It’s not like he’s some private; he’s their number one fighter pilot and someone who was a close aide to General Leia. Oh, and the whole thing when they were setting up Laura Dern’s character to be a traitor but turns out she isn’t. Not a plot twist. Just a poorly executed trick moment.
Related to the Finn/Rose subplot is the writers’ treatment of Finn throughout. He had a purpose in the first film. Without the Holdo thing, what was his purpose exactly?…and since that whole mission was a nonstarter because of Del Torro’s character’s betrayal, Finn and Rose served almost no purpose (as far as main characters go); to me, that’s a missed opportunity with the actors, who I liked.
So, if a Force ghost – Yoda – can manipulate the Force in the physical realm and make lightning strike a tree, why don’t he, Qui-Gon, Anakin, and Obi-Won just materialize in Kylo’s room and take him out or at least take out the laser cannons firing on the the fleet? I understand that Force ghosts have done stuff in canon – Star Wars Rebels – but it just seemed odd and jarring to what had come before. With Mark Hamill slated to be in the next movie, perhaps we’ll see what every fan had been waiting for since really The Return of the Jedi — a scene of pure badassary ala Darth Vadar in Rogue One. Most of us were looking forward to that moment that never really came. I don’t have a problem with Luke becoming a Force ghost; I just thought it would be done in a blaze of glory taking out Snoke and a bunch of bad guys or something. Maybe we’ll have badass Force ghost Luke now that we know he’s in the next film and that Force ghosts can interact with the physical world…
It may seem like I hated the movie; I didn’t. I won’t be purchasing it, but I didn’t hate it. I just wonder if, in their effort to be different, they neglected to take into account canon and what we know about the long-standing characters. I also wonder if they actually had the whole trilogy written from the beginning. Based on what I’ve seen, it wouldn’t surprise me if all of the plot details hadn’t been worked out (BTW, that’s not a good thing when doing a three-act story).
Maybe the third movie will answer the questions posed in the first two. Maybe I’ll look back and say I was wrong. There are a lot of things to like about the new trilogy; unfortunately, there are an equal number of things that are troubling, I think. In my humble opinion, JJ Abrams has his work cut out for him.