This is a post about The Last Jedi, so don’t read any further until you’ve seen the movie. I’ll give you some blank lines to click away.
Note: I added an update way at the bottom of this post.
I’ll give you a few more blank lines just in case you accidentally flick your eyes down lower on the page.
Okay, get ready. Brace yourselves. This is going to change everything you’ve ever known about everything, and your life will never be the same. I mean, it’s actually not like that at all. That sounded like an exciting invitation to keep reading. But really, don’t do that.
I was disappointed with The Last Jedi.
There, I said it.
I’m incredibly envious and jealous of those who enjoyed it. I really wanted to love it, because I loved The Force Awakens. But in the words of Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, “I dissent.”
If you don’t want to see the specific reasons why I was disappointed, stop now. Maybe you just scrolled down this far to see what I thought about the movie. Now you’ve seen that. Now you really need to stop because I’m going to ruin a lot more below.
Just for the record, I went into the movie completely blind. I didn’t watch any trailers. I didn’t see any promotional material, interviews, or articles. I didn’t read any fan theories or even really contemplate any of my own. I was expecting almost nothing but a resolution to the final scene in The Force Awakens (which, for me, was one of the most powerful in the entire movie). And a continuation of the tone set forth in Episode VII.
(All of images in this post come from IMDB, by the way.)
I’ve been thinking about this for hours on end, since I left the theater Friday, turning it over and over in my mind, writing thousands of words of raw notes about everything I remember of the plot, comparing things I liked and things I didn’t like, comparing plot points from this movie to previous movies, trying to figure out if it’s just me or if it’s the movie.
It’s the movie. It’s definitely the movie.
There are very serious problems with the plot and character development that I cannot simply ignore just because I love Star Wars.
I’m going to try to keep this short, because I could ramble about this for days. I’m actually a lot more upset about this than I ever imagined I would be. We’re talking Phantom Menace in 1999 levels of upset, here, guys. I came out of the theater in 1999 similarly stunned and bewildered. (Back then, I was super hyped going into the movie. At least I learned my lesson about that.)
Coincidentally, the last time Star Wars movies were written and directed by one person was: Star Wars (the original), The Phantom Menace, and Revenge of the Sith, all written and directed by George Lucas. [Quickly updated because I didn’t realize Lucas was credited for both on Revenge of the Sith.]
So here are the three big unforgivable problems, in order from smallest to largest amount that they affected the movie for me.
Problem #1: Running Out Of Fuel
They have never mentioned fuel before in the Star Wars universe. But in this movie, running out of fuel is a pivotal plot point. They have never before mentioned the effective range of shipboard weaponry, but in this movie it is a pivotal plot point. The rebels are only able to survive because they can fly just out of the effective range of the First Order ships’ weaponry. They can’t just jump away like in previously movies because the First Order can track them, another brand new plot point with a contrived explanation that led to what seemed like a five-hour detour (see below).
Wrapped up in this problem is ignoring some basic laws of physics. We all know that Star Wars has never been about “getting the physics right.” They walk around on ships when they should be in free-fall, yada yada. They fly fighters in space as if they are flying in an atmosphere, yada yada. But they’ve never made it worse after what they established in the very first movie.
(Caveat: I am re-watching The Force Awakens and admittedly there is a bit of an issue here with “draining the power of the sun until it’s gone” to charge up Starkiller Base. But a) the entire movie didn’t revolve around that, and b) at least in terms of physics, suns do have power.)
But now, when a ship runs out of fuel in the Star Wars galaxy far, far away, it also apparently runs out of inertia and “falls behind” in the vacuum of space. I can’t ignore that. It’s a huge plot point that depends on the audience ignoring something that is fundamental to science and nature and just plain old basic common sense. It would be like basing a movie around getting out an apple and holding onto it while it flies up in the atmosphere to carry you to a space station.
It didn’t work for me.
Again, this wasn’t just some one-off thing that you can hand-wave away and forget about two seconds later, like, “Wait, why can’t the First Order simply look out of their windows and see those transport ships flying away to safety?” The entire movie hung from the skeletal bones of this one plot point.
Problem #2: Casino Planet Plot
The plot arc of Finn and Rose going to that Casino Planet (I’m sure everyone already has the name memorized, probably even before the movie came out, but I don’t), destroyed a huge chunk of the first half of the movie.
It was distracting. It took me away from what I really wanted to see: Luke and Rey on Jedi Island. They kept cutting back to follow Finn and Rose for the longest times and I just wanted to scream at the screen: “I don’t care about them! I care about Luke and Rey! That is the whole point of your entire movie and the entire reason I came to this theater and you’re just ignoring them! Your movie is called The Last Jedi not Casino Buddy Cop Adventure!” It was really aggravating. The casino sub-plot belonged in a one-off movie like Rogue One.
I feel like early reviewers are rationalizing about this one: Nearly everyone mentions how the casino sub-plot ruins the pacing of fully half the movie in their reviews, but for some reason it didn’t affect their movie scores.
It was doubly-irritating because the entire plot thread of going to the casino to find a hacker to disable the shields so they could get on the First Order ship to destroy the tracking device so the rebel fleet could jump to lightspeed (or something along those lines) was contrived and convoluted in the first place. That was what they picked to go into excruciating detail about? Not how a ship runs out of inertia in space, but that?
And in the end? It was all a red herring. None of it mattered because they used a different plan to save the day.
None of that casino stuff advanced the story of the Star Wars universe. None of that stuff advanced the story arcs of the principle characters, with the possible exception of Poe “learning his place.” If you deleted that entire plot thread, the only thing that would be missing is the new characters of Rose and the hacker-guy. (And, I guess, a lot of action figures.) I thought Rose was a fine, likable character, and the hacker-guy was an adequate, unlikable character, but again, we are here in this theater to see Luke and Rey, you know, from the cliffhanger at the end of the last movie? You guys made us a very big promise at the end of that last movie.
The only other reason for Rose’s existence and therefore the casino sub-plot was to save Finn at the end. So let’s just say another bold truth to power: It would have been a more powerful story choice for Finn to die. For a brief few milliseconds, I was surprised, delighted, and powerfully affected that they would let Finn sacrifice himself for the good of the rebellion. It would have been a meaningful use of his character in the movie, too, which up to that point had been somewhat suspect. It would have been an amazing surprise twist that I didn’t see coming. I didn’t believe it could happen at all. “Sure, Finn, you’re going to sacrifice yourself, sure, right, okay, whatever. Cue rescue in 3 … 2 …” But then they kept drawing it out a beat longer than I would have expected, then another beat, then another …. I dared to hope … then the Deus Ex Machina and I groaned.
Problem #3: Astral Projection
After the casino fiasco, I started to get back into the movie again. There was a stretch in the middle where I felt reasonably satisfied with what I was seeing.
But then this astral projection thing, for lack of a better term, started to bug me.
This one at least had a little bit of precedent from the previous movies to build upon. We know that force-users can “sense” each other.
But they’ve always had to be in relatively close proximity before. Ben Kenobi “sensed” millions of people dying as they approached Alderaan. Vader “sensed” Ben on the Death Star. Luke reached out and Leia “sensed” him hanging at the bottom of Cloud City. Vader and Luke “sensed” each other at the end of that movie, too, and could even be said to be communicating on some emotional level, before the Falcon got away. Luke was “endangering the mission” in Return of the Jedi. (Okay, you got me, I pulled up the entire scripts of the first three movies from memory.) Even as recently as The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren “sensed” Han Solo arriving on Starkiller Base. I understand and accept all of those things because they are logical within the scope of the Star Wars universe established in the first movie.
I should state here–because I’m sure someone is just going to react with “it’s not your Star Wars anymore old man! It’s ours now!–that I do not mind taking the plot and characters into new, uncharted directions. For example, I have no problem with the concept that “the Jedi Order was a mistake.” I loved the idea that Luke might actually have become a bad guy. How did that happen? That is an exciting plot direction to go and I would have loved to see more of that explored instead of a stupid casino set piece.
But this? This astral projection thing? This was asking too much of the audience. This was too much of a change to the foundational laws of the Star Wars universe.
I could have given it a pass, albeit with a hard side-eye glance, if it had only been Kylo and Rey having “new” Force Powers. It didn’t bother me that Kylo could freeze a blaster bolt in mid-air in The Force Awakens, for example, when nobody had ever done that before. That is clearly based in the same “technology” as the “force push.” And these are the next generation of force-users after all. They aren’t constrained by the old Jedi teachings, because all of the old Jedi are gone, and nobody is teaching anyone how to do anything anymore. Everybody is winging it now, so to speak.
But still, their ability to have what was effectively cell phone communication across vast distances was a bit of a head-scratcher. I could deal with it in small doses. Because, as I said, there was some precedent. But they kept going back to it over and over again. Then they could see each others’ surroundings. Then Kylo got wet from Rey standing in the rain. Then they could touch each other. It was not just, “Leia, help me” and some change of facial expressions. This was a huge, pivotal plot point that was crucial to developing a personal bond between two of the main characters.
It was as if the writer thought, “Well, I can’t put these two characters in the same room to talk to each other like in the last movie, so how can we facilitate developing these characters? I know! Let’s invent The Force Mobile Network!”
They asked us to believe that The Force is not a constant like it’s been for the last seven-plus movies–a law of nature, like gravity or inertia, with reasonably well-defined perks and limitations–but an evolving, changing entity that morphs to fit the needs of whatever story is being told, at the whim of the storyteller.
I didn’t care for it.
But I could grudgingly forgive that if it had just been Kylo and Rey. The real problem was learning that Luke is a master of this Astral Projection Force Power, when we’ve never seen him do anything even remotely like this before (not even in the movie in which he uses it). Unless you count that time he reached out to Leia at the end of Empire. It’s one thing to give the new characters new powers. But giving old characters new powers? Where exactly did Luke learn to do this? Who taught him? Who even demonstrated it for him? How did he even know it was possible? I guess he read up on it in the Ancient Jedi Texts and practiced on his own, perhaps swimming with the fish or milking strange beasts on other planets.
What I’m leading up to is this: It was a really cheap gimmick when they revealed Luke wasn’t actually there fighting Kylo Ren. I knew something was up with him, because he looked different, and he somehow magically appeared in the base behind the big door without any explanation, but I didn’t guess what they were doing until it was revealed.
And when it was revealed, I felt betrayed.
It turns out that the writer was not using Kylo and Rey’s Force Mobile Network to develop a bond between two characters who happened to be in disparate places. (A noble purpose, at least.) No, he was using it to gradually prepare the audience for a surprise twist that would make absolutely no sense without some solid groundwork.
If it had been anyone else but Luke, I might have said, “Okay, well that was neat I guess.” But he had to throw Luke’s character right under the bus to achieve this twist.
It would have been a much, much more powerful story moment and character moment to have Luke really go there and save the rebels. They even showed us the X-Wing underwater (what turned out to be a Chekov’s Gun). Imagine how much more powerful it could have been if Luke died out there on those salt fields fighting Kylo to give Leia and the rebels time to escape. Imagine how awesome it would have been to see Luke’s evolution as a Jedi Knight from the end of Return of the Jedi, to see his powers having increased even more, as we had watched them increase over the course of the three trilogy movies, to see him reach the raw potential Vader and Obi-Wan saw in him all those years ago. Imagine how much of a powerful redemptive moment it could have been for Luke, after failing Ben Solo as a teacher, nearly killing him in his sleep, falling into disgrace, to face Kylo Ren in person, and really be struck down–and that sacrifice being the best way to “save” Kylo. Imagine the impact it might have had on Kylo Ren’s character. Imagine how much more symmetry it would have brought to the Star Wars universe, a franchise known for its symmetry.
Those are the things I was thinking while watching that scene play out, and I was thinking, “Yay Luke! You did it! You made it back from the dark place for one last hurrah!” (By then, it seemed clear he wouldn’t survive the movie.)
But he didn’t do anything at all. When it turned out that he wasn’t even there, it completely deflated every bit of drama out of that scene for me. Luke didn’t risk anything. There was no chance of failure in his actions, and that bugs me a lot. His death (or, more likely, suicide) was, ultimately, meaningless. Meaningless to himself and to the story. To have set us up at the end of The Force Awakens with such a powerful scene of Rey holding out that light saber to Luke, putting so much burden on his shoulders, only to have him shrug it off and ignore it. To basically run from it and leave Rey on her own. He only fulfilled his “duty” to the Rebellion and his sister in the most weaselly way he could get away with. It was a travesty.
In short, Johnson chose to prioritize a twist ending–a gimmick–over paying respect to Luke’s character.
That is all I’m going to talk about in this post. Just those three major problems. There were others, however. Many others. The more I think about the movie, and the more I read others’ opinions, the more problems I think of. They are everywhere, in practically every scene. Admittedly, some or even many of them boil down to personal opinion.
As just one tiny example of “smaller” problems I had, I did not care for the fight scenes. They didn’t “fit” in the context of a Star Wars movie. I felt like I was watching The Matrix, and expected to hear the music from that lobby scene.
But in fairness that kind of stuff can be overlooked. Believe it or not, I can actually watch the prequels and overlook the bad stuff and still enjoy them.
But It Wasn’t All Bad
Before I leave, though, I would like to point out some things that I liked.
There were tons and tons of visually striking scenes in the movie, obviously.
I really liked Laura Dern’s character. It’s a shame she’s gone.
I liked Rose as a character, I just wish that her plot arc hadn’t distracted from the important parts of the movie. They should have put Finn and Rose into their own separate movie. That’s what it felt like I was watching when they were gallivanting around that casino.
I am glad Snopes is gone. Or Spokes. Or whatever his name was. He was never interesting and even more of a cartoonish bad guy than The Emperor was, which I didn’t even think was possible. He was almost laughably evil. He wallowed in cartoonish evil in this movie. I could not even believe they expected us to listen to him with a straight face. Good riddance to that character. I don’t even care that they never said a single word about where he came from or why he was even in these two movies, or why he was physically present this time instead of a hologram. The CGI for his face was amazing, though.
The relationship between Kylo and Rey is very interesting, and those two characters are the heart and soul of these new movies. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, yet, though. Rey never knew Kylo existed until the last movie but now she is obsessed with “saving” him. In the Star Wars timeline, they’ve only known each other for, like, a few days, maybe? It doesn’t quite ring as true as Luke trying to save his father in the first trilogy, for example. Not that it really matters anymore because they killed off both the Sith and the Jedi in this movie so there is no more Dark or Light Side anymore. There is no more “turning.” Just an endless Gray Side. Oops I’m drifting back into “what the actual hell” territory again.
I got a little teary in several places in the movie. One was that moment when Rose let the “horses” free. That was one highlight in an otherwise terrible sub-plot. (I am a sucker for helping animals.) I got a little teary in some of the Carrie Fisher scenes, for obvious reasons. And there was something near the end that moved me but I can’t remember specifically what it was. Maybe when Luke and Leia were talking at the end? (Why didn’t Luke just tell Leia that he was going to buy them time to escape?? Oops, nevermind. Getting off track again.) Maybe the moments where I thought Luke was redeeming himself in the end? Which were torn away from me by a cheap trick? I don’t remember.
So there were good moments in the movie to be sure, but I just feel like overall the bad is outweighing the good for me. I am remembering a lot more “what the hell??” moments than “that was cool!” moments after my first viewing. After The Force Awakens, I left the theater really excited about the future of Star Wars, my imagination fired up again about where they could go. Now, after this, I’m very worried they are simply going to turn Star Wars into yet another superhero franchise where basically anything goes.
Perhaps–hopefully!–I will have a better impression when I see the movie again in the comfort of my own home.
P. S. I re-watched The Force Awakens Saturday night (third viewing, I think), and I’m more disappointed with The Last Jedi than ever. In fact, I think I have adjusted my opinion from “disappointed” to “heartbroken.” That last shot of Luke and Rey held so much promise for the sequel. All wasted. Completely wasted.
P. P. S. And yes, I will eagerly be going to see the next movie, same as always. (However, I am not planning to see the Han Solo movie in the theater.) I will again be avoiding all the trailers, promotions, books, and fan theories before going into that movie, too.
There seems to be an effort to dismissively paint anyone who didn’t like The Last Jedi as an alt-right, misogynist, racist, backwards fanboy clinging to the past. There is some cause for this, due to some weirdos trying to circulate a petition to remove The Last Jedi from the canon (which is dumb). I just want to emphasize here that my criticisms have nothing to do with the main themes of the movie (which, from what I can gather, are “let the past die” and “The Force is for everyone”).
My first-time viewing issues were basically twofold: 1) I felt there were major plot points that didn’t make sense within the scope of the established Star Wars universe. 2) The Force Awakens promised one kind of trilogy (one that pays homage to the originals) and The Last Jedi continues an entirely different trilogy (one that changes everything, a la the prequels). It’s fine for them to do that, but they should have *started* the new trilogy that way to set expectations correctly and avoid the inevitable feelings of bait-and-switch.
I’m not mad about it, and in fact I’m very much looking forward to seeing the movie again now that I know what to expect.