I was fully prepared to hate this film. I left The Force Awakens rather underwhelmed and not caring much about the fate of the new generation of heroes. I heard all about the cringey SJW content before I saw it. Friends whose opinions I hold in high regard heaped condemnation upon it. I read spoiler filled reviews and yet, despite all these things, I must confess that I enjoyed it more than I expected. That’s not because it’s a great movie. It’s not. It’s not even a Star Wars film. Perhaps having my expectations at rock bottom lowered my defenses, but somehow I found myself taken in by its absurd energy.
Besides resolving the stories of the legacy characters, The Last Jedi needed above all else a reason to exist. The original trilogy was about Luke’s journey from farm boy to Jedi Knight. The prequels showed us Anakin’s slide to the Dark Side against a backdrop of a republic in decline. What could the new series do that the originals didn’t other than swap in a female protagonist, a more multicultural cast and lots of heavy handed PC feminist preaching? Not much apparently.
For the Disney Corporation, the window dressing of the mythology is all it needs. Despite being nonsensical and utterly unhinged from its predecessor films, TLJ is more entertaining than it deserves to be. It has too much politicized content, too many plot holes, and way too many deus ex machinas even for a would-be Star Wars film. It’s ultimately yet another predictable variation on Disney’s brand of progressive establishment chic packaged as ersatz contrarianism. It’s as though all of the anti-Trump hysteria was hatched inside the Disney executive offices from the start and this film is just the latest adrenaline shot of confirmation bias. They might as well have put a hashtag in front of the word RESISTANCE in the opening crawl.
It’s the longest film in the series, but the plot amounts to little more than a story of an elite squadron of First Order Star Destroyers waiting for a rapidly dwindling Resistance fleet to run out of gas which culminates in a remix of the Hoth sequence from Empire. Characters remain under written or wasted altogether. Basic storytelling and character development has been forsaken. Rian Johnson’s pathological desperation to take the franchise into a “new direction” by rejecting canonical precepts has sapped the film of meaning and reduced it to a mind numbing, albeit somewhat engaging, endorphin rush.
There is a distinctly postmodern relativism at the core of this film. The original films worked because actions and relationships mattered. The storyline proceeded logically from how the world was presented to you. There were identifiable arcs of emotional growth. In the new series, those classical storytelling pillars are either absent or routinely demolished. The net effect manages to hold your attention, but it utterly fails to have any dramatic or emotional impact.
I agree with George Lucas in that TLJ is a beautifully made film. Everything from the set pieces to the art direction to the location shots is top quality big budget sci-fi.
Despite the lack of meaning, the various battle sequences were well done. The Reylo light saber fight against the Pretorian Guard was indeed pretty rousing. The final sequence on the mineral planet Crait was a visual marvel to behold.
Even with its narrative sprawl and numerous flaws, it hangs together way better than I expected.
The cringe abounds in The Last Jedi and the feminist preaching plays a pretty significant role. This film could easily be subtitled The Estrogen Strikes Back or The Feminism Awakens. All the female characters are uniformly portrayed as wise, capable and powerful. Laura Dern is utterly grating as Vice Admiral Tumblrina and literally looks like purple haired feminist activist dressed up in an evening gown. She comes across more like a bitchy college gender studies professor than a seasoned military leader of an armed resistance. Michelle Forbes’ Admiral Cain in Battlestar Galactica was the most convincing female portrait of a military commander I’ve yet witnessed and neither the character or Dern was even remotely close to that benchmark. Kelly Marie Tran makes her debut as the infinitely annoying and pointless Rose Tico. Besides delivering one of the dumbest lines in the canon, her character’s sole existence seems calculated to provide fodder for breathless commentaries from feminist media about how Refreshing it is to Finally See a Strong Womyn POC in a Star Wars film.
None of these features are mitigated by this film’s treatment of Rey. I thought Rey was a Mary Sue the first time around and this film has only reinforced that belief. There’s absolutely nothing underpinning her character arc nor anything that justifies her prodigious expertise in everything. Like the recent Wonder Woman film, I was never fearful for her life nor did I sense any real weakness or vulnerability. Her backstory was set up to be an important mystery, but this film essentially nullified that possibility. She seems to have no residual feelings of abandonment, sadness or resentment and this only compounds her lack of believability as a fully rendered character.
Leia’s appearance in this film is barely more consequential than it was in TFA. In a way, making her the general of an ad hoc resistance only reinforces the idea that her attempt at restoring the Republic was an abject failure. More on that later.
And let’s just say the less said about the Forcebook Messenger scenes the better. But hey. This Force is whatever the fuck you want it to be so whatevs man.
Closely related to the cringey parts are heaps of annoying preaching, misplaced attempts at humor and bad character decisions. The men are all hot headed, impetuous buffoons who are not only deprived of opportunities to be heroic, but are routinely required to genuflect to their feminist superiors.
Rose and Finn’s side mission to the resort city of Canto Bight was merely a platform for Rose to bitch about evil, rich arms dealers and animal cruelty. Never mind that the Resistance required armaments and military vehicles themselves. Somehow that stigma doesn’t apply to them. How convenient.
The Marvelesque humor completely undermines the dramatic tension. This is technically a grim portrait of a band of rebel militants suffering great losses at the hands of a brutal dictatorship, but the wisecracking jokes never allow you to feel the weight of any of it. Star Wars had lots of humorous moments, but it was always very earnest when it wanted to pull at the heart strings. Either Rian Johnson doesn’t grasp this concept or he is simply too willing to bend Star Wars into a corporate mold.
There was a reason Lucas cast Peter Cushing to play Grand Moff Tarkin. He wanted the Imperial leader of the Death Star to have gravitas. The Imperial villains are morally corrupt totalitarians, but these are also supposed to be men who can command Stormtrooper armies, TIE fighter squadrons, and Star Destroyer crews. They’re meant to be men who simultaneously elicit fear and command respect. Gareth Edwards understood this, and that’s why Orson Krennic worked. Johnson made General Hux and other First Order officers cartoonish jackasses and bumbling progressive caricatures of the Alt Right.
The battle sequences look great, but there are plenty of head scratching moments. Not to get all Neil deGrasse Tyson, but bombs will not drop downward without gravity. You can’t tell me that a First Order Dreadnought has no shields and no defenses against single pilot fighters. Force sensitivity or not, humans cannot withstand exposure to the vacuum of space. I’m not expecting scientific realism from Star Wars, but these liberties were a bit much.
Making BB-8 a deus ex machina droid who manages to get our heroes out of every conceivable jam just doesn’t work. The Porgs were stupid and served no purpose in the story other than to turn Chewbacca into an unwitting vessel for vegan propaganda.
Why build up characters like Snoke and Phasma if they just end up getting killed off without a character arc? Snoke was presented as a Dark Side Badass comparable or perhaps greater than Palpatine himself and he was eliminated in the stupidest and most anticlimactic way imaginable. Phasma was wasted in TFA and she was wasted in this film. At least Darth Maul got to go out with a spectacular lightsaber fight.
Why is Finn in this series other than to score PC virtue points? His character had potential to be interesting, but after vanquishing his former superior, what remains for him to accomplish? Why is Rose in this film other than to give the writers at The Mary Sue something to praise and to set up a love triangle in the final installment?
And I still don’t get Kylo Ren at all. His character isn’t intimidating or interesting. His journey to the Dark Side doesn’t make sense to me. I can understand that he would harbor resentment towards Han Solo for being an absentee father. If I accept that Luke tried to take him out, he makes a little more sense. Beyond the fact that his mother was a politician, I don’t understand why he wants to rule the galaxy.
I know it’s useless to expect this level of nuance from Disney, but this new series essentially renders the predecessor films null and void. The Original Trilogy ends with two decisive military victories against the Empire accompanied by visible fanfare from every corner of the galaxy. The Force Awakens ends with yet another decisive military victory against the First Order, but somehow, that was inconsequential and the Resistance remain an embattled underdog hanging by a thread.
How did the First Order amass such military might in the thirty year span between the end of Return of the Jedi and the beginning of The Force Awakens? Why did the New Republic fail at governance so badly after being ushered back into power on the heels of galaxy wide popular support? Why wasn’t the entire galaxy united against the First Order after the Starkiller Base wiped out all those planets? Star Wars remains a film about war. Wars are fought in service of ideological agendas and to advance political goals. The Resistance were supposedly a faction of the New Republic, and presumably, they wish to reclaim political power. This reveals the film’s fundamental nihilism. There are no ideals it is willing to uphold beyond its shallow PC sermonizing. It’s just presenting a perpetual posture of rebellion accompanied by some candy ass Hope and Change platitudes as virtues unto themselves. And in case it wasn’t clear from the film, womyn are wonderful, powerful and wise. M*n are stupid, brash and reckless. Don’t eat meat. Be kind to animals and always remember that capitalism is evil. Except for the Disney Corporation.
The same goes for Johnson’s arbitrary demolition of the entire canonical tradition of the Force. Becoming a Jedi Knight and mastering the Force was consistently portrayed as a pursuit that required training, discipline and self-sacrifice. It also required mastery of your emotions. You can’t just have Leia do a Force enabled Mary Poppins in the vacuum of space when she’s undergone no training whatsoever. The path to the Dark Side was always portrayed as succumbing to hatred and fear. It’s what gave the Jedi quest dramatic weight. But now, none of that matters. Rey is a Force prodigy, and she already possesses more knowledge than the generations of Jedi who preceded her. Cuz vagina or something.
I consider myself among those who see this film as an unsatisfying, undignified kick in the testicles to the legacy of Luke Skywalker. The final resolution of the greatest mythological figure of the modern era should have reduced the audience to a weeping mess, but it amounts to little more than a Force enabled Snapchat moment. I don’t buy that Luke Skywalker would despair so badly that he would go into self-imposed exile. I don’t buy that Luke Skywalker would spit on the legacy of the Jedi Order by allowing it to die with him. I don’t buy that Luke Skywalker would attempt to execute his nephew just because he sensed Ben Solo’s temptation towards the Dark Side. Mark Hamill’s instincts about Rian Johnson’s script were correct from the outset.
Johnson is basically saying that Luke Skywalker’s final stand against evil is a Force enabled Skype session in which he trolls Kylo Ren and the First Order. He’s saying that just because the Jedi Order betrayed their code, that in and of itself is sufficient grounds for burning the legacy of the Jedi to the ground. And somehow, this is sufficient to reignite Hope throughout the galaxy.
Nope. Fuck you, Rian Johnson.