Spoilers, there are
First off, thank you to all you lovely people who checked out my Star Wars: The Last Jedi review on Monday, definitely one of my fastest viewed posts of the year and the one that generated more discussion in my social media feed than any other film in 2017. Now what I found interesting from those more critical of the film than I, was that others had major conflict over many of the narrative decisions that were taken with this film. Oh sure, you had critiques over the writing and special effects (which is intriguing to debate about); but the overwhelming negativity I saw online came from people upset with many character decisions or inclusions. So screw it, I haven’t done a spoiler discussion in about a year, and this is one of the most high profile movies in…ever, honestly, so let’s go full spoilers after the picture below. This is your final warning before we break down various plot points from Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
The Poe Supremacy
Let’s start things uncontroversially with what has been universally regarded as the weakest portion of the film: Poe’s story line. Now on paper, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) was to have a great narrative arc: he starts the film off as the Resistance’s top pilot entrusted with coordinating large scale attacks against the First Order, before his brash decision making leads to a demotion and a struggle with the new Resistance commander, Holdo (Laura Dern), until he finally learns the value in what his superiors were trying to teach him – that survival is victory – and starts making appropriate decisions in the best interests of the rebel fighters. Basically, it’s someone appreciating the significance of the Miracle of Dunkirk. And yet despite how strong of a beginning and conclusion this arc is, the execution is sorely lacking.
My issue with this portion of the film comes mostly down to the lackadaisical nature of the Resistance High Command, especially given the severity of what they’re facing. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) immediately demotes Poe after disobeying her direct orders and his assault on a First Order Dreadnought costs the Resistance all of their bombers and a good chunk of their forces. However, when posed with a new threat of the chasing First Order, Leia grants permission to Poe to try and defend their ship. Now this was a completely reasonable reaction on Leia’s part. What wasn’t reasonable, was the reaction by Acting-Commander Holdo when Leia winds up in a coma, and she stonewalls Dameron on how they plan to escape the First Order.
It makes no sense to keep Poe out of the loop on this venture. They can’t claim it was “top secret” and they couldn’t trust Poe, because Dameron single-handedly obliterated Starkiller Base in The Force Awakens. It also wasn’t a “teachable moment” either, as keeping secrets from soldiers was never a problem Poe had before or indeed was highlighted as an issue by his superiors. Further, the whole scheme leads to straight up mutiny led by Poe that would have almost certainly thrown Holdo’s whole plan out the damn window. And what’s Holdo’s reaction to this insubordination? “He’s a troublemaker, I like him.”
A lot of my friends in the military on social media were chewing their arms over this exchange. Poe would have been court martialed immediately or stuck in a brig. I get the Resistance are desperate for new leaders as most of their high command was wiped out and their membership has been reduced by the end of the film to around 20 or so people, but someone with Poe’s history would be a liability to a fight like this. And honestly, most of the actual events could have remained the same had the film added a few choice lines of dialogue or eased up on the whole mutiny thing, to make this story line more palpable. As it stands, it’s a clumsy mess. But thankfully it’s only 15% of the film’s plot. So wait does that mean I didn’t have a problem with the other two plot lines? Right you are, dear reader, including…
Rose and Finn’s Excellent Side Adventure
First of all, I really enjoyed the introduction of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) into this franchise. Initially seen as a wide-eyed fan girl of the various heroes in previous films, she’s also shown to have a fierce loyalty to the Resistance bolstered further by her sister’s sacrifice in the beginning of the movie. I especially liked her interactions with Finn (John Boyega) as the pair concocted and worked through a plan to save their friends after a rough meet-cute. Yep, even liked the whole trying to find a master hacker, only to settle for one (Benecio del Toro) that weren’t sure to trust, and indeed stabbed them in the back. And yes, I’m going to be that guy who enjoyed the Space Casino they spend most of their time getting into trouble with.
I’m not certain why several people have claimed it’s unreasonable for a casino to exist in this universe. We’ve seen mercenaries, smugglers, bounty hunters, military high command, religions, racing, video games, and other amenities similar to our world, so I don’t see why organized gambling would be a “stretch” of the imagination to witness in the Star Wars galaxy either. Further, the casino serves as a narrative device to demonstrate just how the First Order were able to build themselves up to such a massive degree and how fewer still opposed them because they found a way to get rich off their rise to power. Which is why it’s satisfying for the whole place to get trashed during Rose and Finn’s escape. Side note: this whole escape portion does feature some very badly-rendered computer generated effects as your heroes bark humor at each other at a volume you can barely hear which lessened the payoff somewhat. Could have been done a little better, but again it’s something I wouldn’t cut entirely (this will be a theme later).
Finally, I vehemently disagree with others claiming that this subplot was “useless.” Many of the film’s fiercest critics seem to be harping on the fact that Rose and Finn’s mission ends in failure and leads to the deaths of countless Resistance fighters, and what’s more “could have been cut entirely.” To these critics I pose a simple question: so I guess you hate what happens to Han, Leia and company in The Empire Strikes Back? Hell, the group experiences multiple setbacks at every opportunity: their ship can’t hyperdrive, they have to hide out in an asteroid monster’s mouth before realizing they’re about to get eaten, and the original owner of the Millennium Falcon betrays the heroes to the Empire leading to Han getting frozen into a near-death state. Oh, and their escape from the Empire had nothing to do with the Rebellion, the entire point of their pursuit was to satisfy Darth Vader’s plans to lure Luke to the Dark Side.
Rose and Finn’s mission does indeed end in failure similar to Han and Leia’s attempted escape from the Empire. But witnessing your heroes fail in a film isn’t “pointless;” quite the opposite, it demonstrates actual stakes and a degree of unpredictability that several critics, both fan and non-fan alike, accuse blockbusters of “being predictable.” In this film, and every one going forward, the audience can’t let their guard down that everything is going to work out fine for our heroes no matter what they do. Great storytelling is about putting you into a constant state of unease despite the fact that certain narrative conventions (i.e. good guys prevail in the end) still hold. Finally, Rose herself basically gives the thesis of the ENTIRE Resistance movement in her final line of dialogue: we can’t win by destroying these assholes, we beat them by surviving to fight another day and watching for each other’s backs. In itself, Rose and Finn basically strengthen the whole Poe story line that “survival is victory,” which is ultimately why I wasn’t entirely down on the film despite the weaknesses between Poe and Holdo.
Moving on, I’ve also seen that the humor in some of Rose and Finn’s scenes “felt out of place” in this Star Wars film. Which doesn’t make much sense to me because…
Humor is the Spice of Life
As I stated in my review, I found the humor to be well-paced against all the drama that occurs in the film. Quite a bit of drama really, because the Resistance movement gets reduced from over 400 soldiers to something less than 20 by the end of the film (the entire remainder of the Resistance were able to board the Millennium Falcon). The humor on display in this film wasn’t inappropriate, it was just humans trying to crack a smile and feel alive after witnessing so much havoc and loss in such a short amount of time. And once again, I’m am NOT endorsing any attempts for “serious” storytelling in blockbusters to being po-faced. That route lead us to Batman v. Superman, and like HELL if you think I’m going to stand for that.
Plus, most of the jokes were mostly delivered in times of calm introspection like with Finn and Rose exploring the casino and jails (and demonstrably not working when they weren’t calm and escaping the city). I especially enjoyed the back and forth between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) as they got to know each other, build a relationship before heavy revelations are made concerning Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Also, Rey’s humorous scenes with Kylo once again made the pair feel like human beings, their connection throughout the movie was awkward for the both of them as neither really wanted to the other but they couldn’t help themselves from saying some strongly worded statements as rivals. Further, the humor is what sells Rey (and the audience) on the idea that Ben Solo can be redeemed. The demonstrations of his vulnerabilities shows he’s not entirely a monster, and there’s some good left in him…which makes it all the more heartbreaking when Kylo refuses his chance at redemption.
Daisy Ridley was in top form in this film, as she played well off both Hamill and Driver, and was given more of an opportunity to flesh Rey out. Which was great, so we can finally and definitely say…
Rey is NOT a Mary Sue
Backing up for a moment, when The Force Awakens was released, several critics (or rather just one annoying, irritating screenwriter who hasn’t written a good script in almost a decade who shall remain nameless) incorrectly alleged Rey was a “Mary Sue.” By definition, a “Mary Sue” is a seemingly perfect character with no discernible flaws, is the center of attention for all characters involved in the story, and is just so awesome and cool all the time. Basically, a “Mary Sue” is a surrogate for the author themselves kind of like Bella Swan from Twilight or Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Rey did not fit that description back in The Force Awakens, and she sure as hell doesn’t meet that description in the sequel. The character is definitely not perfect, Luke even is shocked at just how quickly she was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force during her meditation. Further, despite Luke’s fears of the Dark Side, she pursues questions plaguing her since the first film through these darker powers. Rey is constantly chastised by both of her surrogate father figures in her two film appearances for her naivety, and she makes very clear mistakes. By God, the whole gambit to redeem Ben Solo DEFINITELY didn’t work despite her own misplaced confidence in what she saw in her visions using the Force. What I’m getting at, is that Rey is flawed as all get out. Seeing her work through these flaws is basically Storytelling 101, witnessing a character grow over time.
I suppose this initial criticism of being a “Mary Sue” was levied at her to begin with because she demonstrated an intuitive understanding of the Force that many thought wasn’t possible without “years” of training. But this serves as nice segue way to…
Expansion of the Force
Among Star Wars fans, what was done with the Force in this film seems to be the BIGGEST point of contention. Many of these critiques mostly come down to whether or not we had previously seen what the Force was even capable of. I think that’s a very limited and narrow way of looking at something so proudly rooted in science fantasy, especially considering that the other Star Wars films basically did the same thing they’re accusing The Last Jedi of doing: adding more powers through the Force.
Look, the first film only explains the existence of a cosmic entity in which certain religious followers could manipulate to accomplish impressive feats, namely: tricking weak-minded individuals, telekinetically choking others, sensing the presence of individuals from across time and space, and being able to dodge incoming enemy fire and deliver impossible pay loads. The Empire Strikes Back expanded the power of the Force further by showing that the Jedi could jump higher than normal people, block laser shots at point-blank range, experience powerful visions that could demonstrate the future, and even serve as a walkie-talkie between people apart from significant distances. Finally, Return of the Jedi throws in the power to shoot friggin’ lightning out of someone’s fingertips and sensing others’ emotional state as well as whatever thoughts occupy their minds.
So excuse me if I didn’t think that “Force Skype” wasn’t a possibility in which a Jedi Master could project an image of himself from several star systems away. Especially that even in this technologically-advanced future, telephonic holograms are in regular supply but the image quality is crap even under the best of circumstances. It’s a unique additional power that I welcomed, because the film itself straight up explains that the Force is pure energy that flows throughout the galaxy, and those who can feel the Force (good or evil) are merely grasping at the tip of a very large iceberg of potential.
So I guess it’s as good a time as any to discuss how I also thought it was fine that Leia was able to survive the vacuum of space using the Force. A lot of people seem to be bagging on this plot point because, once again, “no one was ever accomplished this before” in a Star Wars film and others claim it stretches the bounds of believability in this universe. But considering that by this point, after 40 years of this franchise’s existence, we’ve been able to accept laser swords, shooting lightning out of people’s hands, lifting space ships out from under swamps, and taking on monsters several times a person’s size without any weapons; believability was long shoved out of an airlock to die in deep space.
So Leia being able to manipulate the Force into keep her body warm enough to survive the cold and to move her body to safety was not much of a stretch for me, considering the fact that I’ve accepted far more preposterous events in this franchise before. And plus, the film doesn’t come out and say “look how overpowered Leia is,” because she winds up in a coma immediately after pulling this feat off. Hell, even Luke Skywalker’s Force Skype trick took everything out of him that he finally passed into the ether to join his father and his former masters in the Force. Actually, The Last Jedi does a great job of demonstrating the limits of the Force, just as equally as it showed how powerful it was, so let’s talk about what everybody seemed to actually like in this movie…
Emperor, I mean, Supreme Leader Snoke
A plot point that took everyone, especially me, by surprise, Snoke (Andy Serkis) getting taken out at the end of The Last Jedi. I guess the surprise was that people were expecting the character to last until Episode IX where he surely would have met his end in a way not unlike Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi. What I loved about this death was the constant set-up of expectation versus reality. Rey is brought before Snoke by Kylo Ren in the master’s throne room, basically mirroring Luke being brought before the Emperor by Darth Vader in Palpatine’s throne room aboard the Death Star II. Snoke even taunts Rey with the reveal that the Resistance’s plan was discovered and they’re wiping them out the same way Palpatine did to Luke when the Rebels began suffering heavy losses.
At this point, I was certain how things would proceed: Kylo would try to save Rey, but neither would be strong enough to defeat Snoke and they would have to fight their way off the ship and back to the Resistance to face down Snoke in the epic sequel. Instead, Kylo takes advantage of Snoke’s smack-talk and the aforementioned limits of seeing others’ intentions through the Force, and slices him in half. Thus giving us a glorious duel scene as Rey and Kylo take on a dozen melee focused guards with all sorts of laser whips and maces. All of this, before concluding on a note that makes me genuinely excited to see what happens in the sequel: Kylo abandoning redemption in favor of satisfying his hatred of the past heroes and putting him into an emotionally vulnerable state as General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) begins to conspire against Ren.
At this point, the possibilities seem mighty interesting in whatever JJ Abrams cooks up for the sequel and further preventing him from pulling a copy of Return of the Jedi. All’s well that ends well, right? Well, one more thing we gotta talk about…
Luke’s Fall from the Force
This alone is the single most cited complaint I’ve seen when it came to the direction of this film: Luke Skywalker, hero of the Rebellion, slayer of Emperor Palpatine, redeemer of Darth Vader, Jedi Master…is now a curmudgeonly old hermit that wants nothing to do with the new Galactic Civil War and wants even less to do with the Jedi. To the point, he feels strongly, “It’s time for the Jedi to end.” I’m not quite sure what people were expecting when we met Luke again in this series. The last film very clearly demonstrated that he’s missing, even as the First Order began annihilating worlds AND his former student is one of their top leaders.
Hell no he wouldn’t jump right back into the fray to deal with all of this, his absence from the last movie’s events made that abundantly clear. Plus, it’s not much of a stretch to consider that Luke underwent some major PTSD in failing to contain the darkness in his own nephew, pondering for even a moment to murder said nephew in his sleep, and to see his new Jedi order wiped out and burned to the ground. On top of all that, Skywalker himself saw the fight against the First Order as ultimately pointless, as he and his friends beat back the Empire once only for them to come back even stronger than before. Given all these major events, it’s not unreasonable to believe that Luke just had enough and finally wished to die in peace and prevent the creation of yet another Kylo Ren.
His fall from the Force is what makes his relationship with Rey so engaging. Here presented before Luke is yet another prodigy of the Force, like Kylo Ren before her and himself under Obi-Wan’s tutelage. Immediately, he’s quick to show that the Jedi are a danger that must end but Rey counters that they are necessity for preserving peace in the galaxy. The back and forth was great to watch and made for compelling viewing and serves as the emotional core for the film, as well as the set up for a fantastic conclusion as Luke proudly declares to his nephew, “That I will NOT be the last Jedi.” It wasn’t a hero’s journey coming to a close we witnessed, it was a character finally finding peace after all the sins he committed in his life and seeking redemption through one final act to save his sister and her embers of a Resistance.
There, I have composed what very well may be, the dorkiest piece of writing I’ve ever composed for public consumption. Agree? Disagree? I know you all have thoughts, so sound them off in the comments, full spoilers permitted. Until next time, dear viewers…