Thoughts on ‘The Last Jedi’

Past Entries:
-Star Wars
-The Holiday Special
-The Empire Strikes Back
-Return of the Jedi
-The Phantom Menace
-Attack of the Clones
-Revenge of the Sith
-The Force Awakens
-Rogue One

What the heck did I just watch?

‘The Last Jedi’ is not just the worst Star Wars film by a considerable margin, but it’s one of the worst Hollywood films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s amazingly bad: bad to a degree that is hard to believe for such a major film.

How bad is the writing? The first sentence of the title crawl is a plot hole. That shouldn’t even be possible, but they pull it off. The line is “The First Order reigns.” They were a small, localized organization a couple days ago, then they got their superweapon and base of operations blown up after taking out a single star system, and now suddenly they reign supreme? I’m not even talking about the question of where they’re getting all their resources; just how do you go from small and covert to ruling the galaxy over a couple days during which you suffer a massive defeat? That would be like waking up the morning after Gettysburg to the news that the Confederacy now rules the entire East Coast. The world building in Force Awakens was already horrendous, now they’re not even attempting to stick with it; they’re just arbitrarily declaring what the circumstances are whether or not they make sense after the previous film.

Anyway, the set up is that the Resistance – or is it the Rebels? They go back and forth between the two terms as though the writer periodically forgot what the goods were called – is down to a single small fleet and are fleeing the First Order, which has about twenty star destroyers, a giant ‘dreadnaught,’ and ‘The Supremacy:’ a super-massive ship that serves as Supreme Leader Snoke’s base of operations. Yeah, the guy who was seen in shadows in a hologram in the last film? He just appears here. No lead in, no introduction, we just walk into his throne room and he’s there. Believe me, that’s the least of our problems.

The Resistance is fleeing their base from the previous film – yes, just like the opening of Empire Strikes Back – only to find that the Empire has a device that can track ships through hyperspace, meaning they can follow them wherever they go. With the good guys running low on fuel, they engage in a slow-motion chase through space while the heroes try to figure out a way to shut down the tracker so they can escape.

Meanwhile, Rey has gone to ask Luke Skywalker to come back and fight for the Resistance, but Luke wants nothing more than to be left alone to die, having become disillusioned by the Jedi and given up on the galaxy following his failure with Kylo Ren (why didn’t Leia go to talk to Luke? She was supposed to be the one looking for him in the first place and…oh, forget it).

I don’t even know where to begin. I swear I am not exaggerating when I say that every single sequence, almost every scene in this film involves some plot hole, some writing mistake, or something that just doesn’t make sense, and it’s done throughout with a level of incompetence that is staggering to see in a major Hollywood blockbuster. Oh, it’s shot well, in fact there are some very creative camera angles and striking sets, in stark contrast to the dull-looking Force Awakens, but the writing is on a level of a child’s fan fiction, right down to the cloned scenes, lack of consequence, and awkwardly childish words. At one point Luke comments that he came to “the most unfindable place in the galaxy.” How did the word ‘unfindable’ make it into a major movie script? Same for the term ‘Supreme Leader,’ as in “Long live the Supreme Leader!” (actual dialogue). Okay if they didn’t want to reuse ‘Emperor,’ but ‘Supreme Leader’ doesn’t sound like a real position of authority: it sounds like a botched translation after the fashion of “Do not want.”

The chase through space that comprises the majority of the film (and boy does it drag) is itself a plot hole. No, I’m not kidding: the main plot of the movie falls apart on multiple levels. Taken purely as a scenario we have the question of one, why is fuel suddenly an issue when it has never been before? Two, how is it the Resistance fleet and the First Order fleet are moving at the exact same speed so that the good guys can’t escape and the bad guys can’t finish them off? Three, how is it that the First Order can’t come up with a better plan than just follow them and keep shooting for about fifteen straight hours? Again, they have about twenty star destroyers, presumably each one containing dozens of tie fighters: the Resistance has already had their entire fighter squadron knocked out (which is a problem in itself, but we don’t have time), so why aren’t they releasing fighters (the excuse given by the film is that “we can’t cover the fighters from the fleet.” Since when was that an issue)? There are about a dozen ways the First Order could deal with this problem, even assuming the stars aligned properly to create it in the first place. And four, why do they suddenly have a magical tracker that can follow ships through hyperspace? More importantly, why did the writer feel the need to create this patently silly device when we could have just had a tracker onboard the ship, or a mole, or have it be that they’re tapping into the signal from the tracking device that Leia is carrying. Yeah, she’s carrying a tracking device so that Rey can find the fleet again, so why doesn’t anyone even suggest that perhaps that is the problem? They simply guess – correctly – that the First Order has a magic new tracking system.

But on top of that, the Resistance was looking for a new base. We learn later on that the chase has been leading them to a place called Krait, which is a hidden planet with an old Rebel base complete with an impenetrable wall and stored equipment. Why didn’t they just lightspeed there in the first place? That entire scenario, with all its attendant problems, only happens because they didn’t do the logical thing in the very beginning.

Yet it gets worse.

Trying get out of this chase, Poe and Finn (and a new character named Rose, who is a terrible character for reasons we’ll get to) concoct a plan to sneak aboard the Supremacy and shut down the tracker. According to this film, Finn used to mop the room with the tracker in it. Apparently, he was janitor for the whole First Order because he also mopped the super-Death Star (he didn’t feel the need to let any of his friends know about this ultra-dangerous device either. At least he’s consistent). To do that they need to find a certain code breaker on Canto Bite, requiring them to detach from the fleet and go on a long, dangerous side quest.

Why is all this happening? Because the new commander, Vice Admiral Holdo, refuses to tell anyone her plan for saving them all.

Holdo is quickly becoming one of the most loathed characters in Star Wars and for good reason. You see, according to the film, she secretly has a plan to travel to Krait (again, why weren’t they going there in the first place?) and then abandon ship in cloaked transports, hiding on the planet until the First Order passes by. Only, for reasons best known to herself, she not only doesn’t tell anyone, she actively refuses to share this information even when her crew is hours from death, even when her fleet commander is literally begging her to give them some semblance of hope, and even when he finally leads a mutiny against her. She answers every plea for basic information with a snide insult (to the war hero who blew up the super-Death Star and inadvertently saved the fleet by blowing up the dreadnaught in the opening battle and who commands great respect among the crew). That all would have been bad enough, except that, in the end, the film tries to make out that she was the hero all along because she had her plan, and that Poe was in the wrong for not blindly following this hostile idiot into what looked like certain death (and which actually turned out to be certain death for most of the crew, but we’ll get to that).

And this is the entire reason why Poe and Finn come up with this plan that comprises about an hour’s screen time, and which ultimately fails and turns out was unnecessary anyway.

To sum, up, the main plot of the film exists because the Resistance didn’t do the obvious thing to begin with and because Holdo refused to tell anyone her plan for no reason whatsoever. Not to mention that the whole scenario is logistically preposterous and violates several established rules of the franchise.

The Force Awakens was lazy and stupid. This is raving insanity.

To top things off, Holdo’s plan is actually really stupid: it depends on the First Order not looking out the window to see the clearly visible fleet of transports (they’re cloaked, which I guess means they can’t be found on radar, but they’re visible with the naked eye. Then the First Order runs a ‘de-cloaking scan’ when they learn what’s going on, which why weren’t they doing that anyway?). This is another reason not to keep it a secret: Poe might have been able to point out the obvious flaws in the plan (sounds kind of like a certain writer who insisted on doing this whole film himself, come to think of it). On top of that, the film posits that the reason this happens is that the code breaker Finn and Rose hire turns traitor after hearing the plan, but that wouldn’t have happened in the first place if Holdo had just told Poe what was going on when he desperately begged her to.

Then she just sits there watching the ships blow up for about five minutes before doing a kamikaze run into the First Order fleet. Which also violates not only the continuity of the series (if you can use hyperspace as a weapon, why has no one done that before? Why haven’t they made weapons like hyperspace missiles specifically designed for it?) but also makes her look even more of an idiot for letting the rest of the fleet just get destroyed when they could have turned around and shattered the entire pursuing armada.

Are you starting to see what I mean when I say every scene in this film has some writing issue? And that’s just a broad overview of the film’s main plot. I haven’t even mentioned the bit where the bridge is blown up and Leia is thrown into space and then, minutes later, uses the Force to fly back into the ship. It’s one of the stupidest things you’ll ever see and serves absolutely no purpose save to get Leia out of commission for most of the film so that Holdo has to take over (no one ever brings it up again, by the way). This film is a series of idiotic writing choices that exist to set up other idiotic writing choices.

(By the way, Admiral “It’s a trap” Akbar gets killed in that same explosion. They brought back a fan-favorite, gave him one line, and killed him off screen to set up a horrible new character. That right there might encapsulate the mindset of the sequel films).

Ugh, I haven’t even gotten to Luke yet.

Before we dive into that, there’s still Canto Bite: the planet of ultra-rich war profiteers that Finn and Rose go to in order to find a code breaker to get them on the Supremacy etc.

How to describe Canto Bite? If George Lucas grew up on Flash Gordon and adventure serials, Rian Johnson apparently grew up on Communist propaganda cartoons. This is apparently his idea of capitalism: hideous and horrible rich men who beat cute animals, enslave children, and drunkenly gamble all night while secretly funding war. It’s loud, it’s crowded, it’s ugly, and the entire scenario is absurdly childish and heavy-handed.

The idea is that these rich people are profiteering off of the war by selling arms to both sides, and it’s even implied that they keep the war going to maintain their profit. That’s right: The Last Jedi tries to pitch the interwar myth of the evil arms dealers who ‘really’ cause wars. Rose describes these arms dealers as “the worst people in the galaxy,” apparently affording a second place spot to the people who just wiped out about a trillion innocent lives in one shot. Just so that we ‘get’ that they’re bad, the film shows that they use child slave labor and beat cute horse-things for the sake of racing.

This is moronic on any number of levels, and that’s not even considering the sequence of events (all I’ll say is that it involves BB-8 being mistaken for a slot machine and then firing coins like a machine gun. What tone were they aiming for in this film again?). Why are they using slave labor in a world where droids are readily available? It was dubious enough in Phantom Menace, but at least that took place in a lawless backwater full of poverty and run by criminals: this is an ultra-swanky casino planet for the super-rich. How is it even conceivable they wouldn’t be using droids? Also, why are all the slaves we see children?

The reason is that this is an insultingly manipulative and dishonest piece of heavy-handed propaganda. The writer wanted to take a shot against capitalism, so he shoehorned this moronic sequence into the film, making sure that there are children and animals being abused just so that we ‘get’ that these are bad people (because otherwise Finn and Rose recklessly smashing the place might be even more morally dubious than it already is). It’s basically a complete detour from the rest of the film for the sake of a gratuitous ‘message.’ Finn and Rose don’t even find the guy they’re supposed to; they just take up with the random low-life they met in prison who promises he can do the same job, is patently untrustworthy, and ultimately betrays them, which just makes them look like morons and makes the entire sequence feel even more pointless.

As a bonus, the crook then attempts to plant the idea to Finn and the audience that there is no good or bad side: that the same people are supplying the First Order and the Resistance and that it’s all “a machine” for the profit of the few. That’s right: The Last Jedi tries to revive the idiotic inter-war myth that wars are caused by arms dealers looking to get rich. Not only that, but it does so in this one scene and it never comes up again: a gratuitous and nonsensical cheap shot.

What is any of this doing in a Star Wars film?

Even at their worst, the Star Wars films have at least been universal, aiming to be escapist entertainment to be enjoyed by all viewers. Here, in the middle of the film, they’re suddenly attempting to inject real-world politics, and in the most shallow and heavy-handed way.

And to top it off, even if you’re the kind of person who will go for the evil capitalist screed, the sequence is so long, so patently unnecessary, and so childish in its perspective and execution that I can’t imagine anyone enjoying it. It’s just a bloated tumor on an already tedious and poorly structured film (I’m not even attempting to deal with the writing problems in the sequence; it has absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever).

Now let’s finally deal with what they do to Luke Skywalker.

Luke Skywalker in this film is a bitter old recluse who, after failing to successfully train his nephew (more on that in a bit), ran away to a secret island to die alone, intending that the Jedi would die with him. When Rey asks him to come back and save the Resistance (which, need I remind you, includes his sister), he tells her to go away and sneers at her for expecting him to “walk out with a laser sword in front of the whole First Order.” He condemns the Jedi for allowing Vader and Palpatine to rise and scoffs at the idea that they’re necessary to keep the galaxy in balance. When he and Rey come to blows, she beats him handily and leaves him impotent and helpless in the mud.

At one point he milks a disgustingly obese seal-like creature and chugs down its juices. The scene lasts about thirty seconds and could easily have been cut, but the director chose to include it.

This is what the film does to the hero of three of the most popular and beloved films of all time. This is their idea of what such a man would look like thirty years on: a disillusioned, cynical coward who has abandoned all his ideals and only wants to die.

If the rest of the film were perfect, this one factor would still be a reason to despise this movie.

Oh, but it gets worse. The reason for his disillusion, the reason why he failed was that he had a vision of Kylo – his own nephew, remember – turning to the Dark Side and in a moment of weakness was prepared to murder him in cold blood. He was too ashamed to go through with it, but Kylo woke up, saw the lightsaber, and assumed he was trying to murder him, so he left him for dead, slaughtered the other students, burned down the Jedi temple, and went off to join the First Order.

Let’s be blunt here.

Luke Skywalker would never do any of this. Luke Skywalker would never abandon the Jedi, the order that gave him his beloved masters Obi-Wan and Yoda and which he was tasked to restore. Luke Skywalker would never turn his back on the galaxy or the Republic he fought to liberate, let alone his beloved sister, Leia and his best friend Han. And most of all, Luke flipping Skywalker would never in million years consider murdering his own nephew and student in cold blood while he slept just because he saw he might fall to the Dark Side. He is the last character in the world who would do that. He himself nearly fell to the Dark Side. He brought his own father, one of the most evil men in the galaxy, back to the light, and he risked everything to do it. He knows from personal experience how unreliable visions of the future can be.

If he saw a vision of Kylo turning to the Dark Side, he would talk to Kylo about it, he would redouble his training, he would talk to Leia and Han. If Kylo did fall to the Dark Side, Luke wouldn’t rest until he’d either saved him or stopped him. He would have acted like a hero!

Luke Skywalker is one of the great heroic icons of modern culture. He has been an inspiration to millions of people from all over the world in all walks of life. Mark Hamill has told stories of hearing from people who faced terminal illnesses or huge personal crises by finding strength and hope from the example of Luke. And this film, this worthless waste of celluloid written by a complete hack who doesn’t even have the talent to make his characters act like human beings, tries to take that away: to destroy it. All so that he can set up Rey, a character who couldn’t carry a teenager’s fan fiction, as his replacement because he doesn’t have the skill or the wit to write a character who can stand on her own.

That is more than bad writing. That is evil. This is an evil movie.

I went into this subject a while back with a piece on Captain America. I don’t use the term ‘evil’ lightly in this context, but when I see a beloved and inspiring piece of pop culture run into the ground and purposefully desecrated like this, I call it evil because the writer is taking something that inspired people to do and be better than they were and twisting it around to poison or at least destroy it, to try to make them see goodness and courage as mean, pathetic, hypocritical things that exist only to be seen through and torn down. That is what this film does, or tries to do. And that is evil.

To come down a little, I’d also like to point out that, even if I accepted the idea that Luke Skywalker would contemplate murdering his own nephew in cold blood, how does that explain Kylo’s subsequent actions? How does that lead to him murdering innocent people, burning down the temple (that same night), joining the First Order, and finally murdering his own father, who was trying to do nothing but help him? What is his goal? What is he trying to accomplish by all this?

Say what you will of Anakin’s fall, he had clear motives: first that he was desperate to save his wife and unborn child, and second that he wanted there to be order in the Galaxy. His actions may not always have made sense, but his overall character at least was consistent. Here we just have some vague talk of “a darkness” that was in Kylo, then Luke tried to kill him and Kylo immediately goes full-blown psychopath, targeting people who had nothing to do with his betrayal. Why would Luke’s betrayal cause Kylo to turn on his parents, on the Republic, and everything else?

Leave off the fact that we still have no idea who or what Snoke is, how he got in touch with Kylo, how he tempted or seduced him, or any of that. Our entire backstory linking this trilogy to the previous one is a thirty-second flashback to a single incident that doesn’t even make sense on its own ground.

On that subject, the film makes something of a big deal of ‘letting the past die.’ Luke, after being humiliated by Rey, tries to burn the tree containing the sacred Jedi texts. He finds he can’t do it, so the Force ghost of Yoda does it for him with a lightning bolt (yes, the ghosts can summon lightning now. And hit people. At least the film lives its own message of destroying the past, as it certainly destroys any sense of continuity that remained in the series). His justification for this is that the books were boring and Rey doesn’t need anything they contain. Because thousands of years of wisdom, study, and tradition all come down to whether or not it benefits her.

Granted, a later scene shows that Rey took the books with her, but that doesn’t really change the wrongness of this scene.

Meanwhile, Rey goes off to try to turn Kylo back to the good side, because two days after he murdered Han Solo in cold blood and was complicit in the massacre of trillions of lives, and personally tried to kill her she’s suddenly decided she’s almost in love with him because they have a Force connection, both hate Luke, and she saw him shirtless. I wish I were kidding. I really do.

This leads to a blatant copy of the throne room scene from Return of the Jedi stuck two-thirds of the way through the second film in a trilogy. Snoke toys with Rey, then orders Kylo to kill her to “complete his training.” Killing his own father in cold blood wasn’t enough, but killing a girl he has no reason to care about should do the trick.

Then, in a very stupid turn of events, Kylo kills Snoke. Let me reiterate: Snoke, a character who came completely out of nowhere, was given no development, no backstory, and no motivation, yet is supposedly the most powerful being in the universe, is killed off part-way through the second film by a silly bit of wordplay. They just stuck a random ultra-powerful bad guy into the story then killed him off: a classic shaggy dog story.

Kylo and Rey have a tag-team fight that has some very funny choreography if you pay attention (one guard’s weapon actually disappears mid-shot just so that he can’t use it on Rey), then Kylo tells Rey that he doesn’t want either the Resistance or the First Order to win, but “wants it all to end.” Then he just takes Snokes place and we resume. Again, swear I’m not making that up.

God, I don’t even know what else I ought to go over: Captain Phasma is back, despite apparently being killed in the last film. She dies again here without evincing the slightest personality or character. There is some very bad continuity during a fight in the Supremacy’s hanger: as in, seriously embarrassing for a major budget film. Phasma just teleports from one end of the hanger to the other and acquires and loses a gun twice in quick succession just that she can have a melee duel with Finn.

Then there’s a fight down on Krait, which is at least visually interesting, but I don’t even care at this point. They copy the Hoth battle from Empire Strikes Back, down to using walkers and speeders. That means the film opens with the beginning of Empire, basically copies the plot structure (one group tries to evade the Empire without lightspeed, the protagonist trains with an old master), then diverges into the end of Return of the Jedi, then goes back to the beginning of Empire. It’s not only a cheap copy, it’s schizophrenic.

This fight contains a contender for the most moronic part of the film (a rarified title). The Resistance is hiding behind an impenetrable wall with no way out. The First Order brings up a cannon with ‘miniaturized Death Star tech’ to breach it (lucky they just happened to have that). Finn and the others fly out to stop the cannon, Finn prepares to sacrifice himself to save the Resistance. Then, at the last minute, Rose flies in and stops him, allowing the cannon to blow open the base while she delivers perhaps the most asinine bit of dialogue in any ‘Star Wars’ film: “I saved you. That’s how we’re going to win: not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.”

Again, she says this while the wall blows up behind her, seemingly dooming the entire Resistance because of her actions. How the heck did this moment make it into the film? How could they possibly have filmed it without realizing how shallow, hypocritical, and self-defeating it was?

Anyway, at the last moment Luke seemingly shows up. He has a moment with Leia (actually kind of a nice one, as Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are able to channel a bit of their actual characters one last time, but there’s no saving the film at this point), then goes out to fight Kylo. Only, after a brief confrontation, he reveals that he was never actually there: Luke’s still on the island, force-projecting himself across the galaxy to distract Kylo. They couldn’t even give him the dignity of one last battle. They couldn’t allow him to be at all heroic in this film even once.

Then he dies. Yeah, he pretends to go into battle rather than actually going there himself, then, after it’s over, he just dies of the strain. They butchered his character then killed him off to prevent any chance of redemption.

All that and there’s so much I haven’t mentioned. I haven’t mentioned the Porgs: cute little bird creatures from the island who show up regularly to provide ‘comic’ relief. I didn’t laugh once at these things: they are so patently a marketing ploy and so obviously pointless that they’re just revolting. To make matters worse, interacting with them has become Chewbacca’s whole purpose. He doesn’t interact with Luke, his old friend of decades, except a single moment where Luke yells at him for no reason.

One thing I haven’t seen anyone else commenting on is that the effect of the ships leaving hyperspace looks weird. In the original films, the ships kept moving when they came out of light speed, so that the effect was them speeding up and slowing down very abruptly. Here they just stop. It looks strange and unnatural.

Another thing that rather surprised me about this movie is just how boring it is. It just drags on and on, with nothing being accomplished, nothing meaningful being said or done, no moments of honest humanity, just plot point, action scene, plot point. There’s no tension because everything is so badly constructed, no interest because the characters are so bland and poorly written.

The Last Jedi is an unmitigated disaster. Not only is it by far the worst Star Wars film – no, I’m not excluding the frickin’ Holiday Special, which at least had Bea Arthur to lend it some sense of humanity, at least attempted a bit of world building, and oh yeah, didn’t seek to destroy an iconic hero – but I could see it ending up on a list of the worst films ever made (understanding that such lists are generally limited to major, well-known releases). The incredibly bad writing, the incompetent continuity, horribly conceived characters, tedious pacing, and active hostility towards its source material and its fans puts it beyond the pale. You could write a whole book on what is wrong with this film: I really just scratched the surface. Yes, there are individual good things, such as some of the visuals and a few individual scenes, but they simply don’t matter in the face of all the other terrible choices that destroy this movie.

In any case, Star Wars has now become one of the very few franchises that include both one of the best films ever made (Empire Strikes Back at the very least) and one of the worst (this abomination). The only other series like that I can think of would be Jaws and possibly Halloween. What an indictment of the state of Uncle Walt’s company that they allowed this to happen.

Yoda says that failure is the best teacher. If so, this film is an academy.

P.S. If you want a thorough dissection of this film (that is longer than the movie itself and infinitely more entertaining), I highly recommend YouTube critic MauLer’s series of videos (here’s the first one). He uses both clear logic and a strong understanding of storytelling to objectively demonstrate why and how this is a terrible film in an exemplary fashion. His conclusion is particularly well phrased and on point.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on ‘The Last Jedi’

  1. Wow – you are on a roll this week, that’s for sure!

    To your point about Luke’s lack of heroism in considering his nephew’s murder, I agree that it’s bad. It actually makes the plot points for the old Expanded Universe’s “Legacy of the Force” series look good: in that series Jacen Solo, Jan and Leia’s older son, fell to the Dark Side and murdered Luke’s wife. I don’t recall what I read about this precisely, but I believe that Luke was the only member of the family left who didn’t want his nephew dead after this.

    Also, Jacen’s fall was presaged by his fascination with the idea that the Light and Dark Sides of the Force could coexist peacefully within one person. So although the “Legacy of the Force” series was about as bad, in regards to its mistreatment of the characters’ heroism, as the new film trilogy Luke remained Luke (mostly) and Jacen had a believable descent into evil. The Last Jedi didn’t even give us that with Kylo Ren.

    Liked by 1 person

    • See, that *does* sound like how Luke would react: he would be the one trying to look past his own pain and do his duty (by the way, what is it with modern entertainment and killing off / removing the hero’s wife? The same thing happened to Spider-Man and Cyclopes).

      That’s the thing: this isn’t just a misguided development, but it’s done in an *embarrassingly* poor manner. It’s as if the writer had never even attempted to create a story before or given any thought to it as a craft: he just declared what he wanted to happen. I’m still amazed that a major studio signed off on this script for such a valuable property.

      Liked by 1 person

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