The Last Jedi

Warning! Spoilers follow for The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens if you haven’t seen it yet.

I have mixed feelings about the Last Jedi. The acting is very good, the special effects are astonishing, and there are many, many stunning set-pieces. And yet the movie seems less than the sum of its parts. The shadow of the reaper hangs over this new trilogy, and the reaper’s name is not Death but Disney.

An exercise is underway to link the new franchise with the old, to build on the affection that so many of us feel for those first generation characters and transfer it to the New Order. At the same time, there is clearly an effort to remove the old characters as quickly as possible, so that they do not overshadow the new.

There are sound commercial reasons for this. Sadly, the older actors are not going to be with us forever, as the death of the much-missed Carrie Fisher made clear, and Disney has expressed the intention of seeing this series run until at least the 2050s. I think this attitude colours a lot of decisions made in developing the new movies. It’s where a lot of the disappointments come from too.

I went to the Last Jedi expecting a movie about Luke Skywalker. And Luke was in it, well-played as always by the great Mark Hammill. He didn’t do a lot though except look grizzled and disappointed and in the end… Well, we’ll get to the ending soon enough. The contrast between the young, idealistic Luke we all remember and the cynical, disappointed man in the new movie was sharp and sour, a pungency no doubt fully intended by the creators.

The need to build up the new characters and do fan service to the old characters meant that everybody got less screen time than they deserved. This was compounded by the modern blockbuster habit of slipping in slivers of character development between massively bulked up action scenes. Audiences are not trusted to keep their attention focused for more than a few minutes between scenes that don’t involve lots of action and CGI.

The franchise building also leads to an odd feeling of having missed the most important bits, that vital events are already deep in a past that long ago receded behind us. Han and Leia’s marriage. Luke’s big mistake with Ren. The tension between our up and coming dark lord and his parents. It’s all already happened. We missed the drama. We see the aftermath. It’s realistic. It’s hard to imagine how it could have been done otherwise given the realities of film-making but it has strange emotional consequences. It makes things that should be powerful and vibrant feel already old.

The need to preserve tropes already established by the franchise sometimes leads to decisions that can only be described as stupid. To save the resistance fleet Finn and Rose must somehow board one of the pursuing Star Destroyers. This also means that the resistance fleet must somehow stay out of reach of the pursuing Star Destroyers at an exact distance that allows them to be picked off at tension building moments. Our heroes have time to fly to Casino Planet, have adventures, spend a night in the prison cells, recruit a digital locksmith and return to the fleet. I was left wondering why they did not just take the rest of the rebels with them. At least they all would have had a fun night on the town before returning to their appointed role as hostages to fortune. It’s also worth pointing out that boarding the Death Star was never part of Luke and Ben’s plan in the original movie. It was forced on them by circumstances.

The whole film is rife with things that are the way they are because the plot requires them to be that way. A rebel base with no escape hatches so our heroes are cornered as the sword of Damocles is slowly lowered? Check! An omnipotent Dark Lord so overconfident that he allows his despised apprentice to murder him? Check. A Star Destroyer rammed by a rebel ship that takes damage in just such a way as to let all the main characters survive, complete with atmosphere. Check.

Then there’s the ending, the final fate of Luke Skywalker, the ultimate confrontation with his rogue apprentice. This is almost literally phoned-in. I am not talking about the performances. I am talking about the situation. The annoying thing about Luke’s death is how meaningless it is. The same can be said of Han’s. It feels like a devaluation of the original. All of those adventures, all of that struggle, and it meant precisely nothing. You can make an argument that it’s realistic and I would agree. It’s just that I don’t watch Star Wars movies for their sense of realism and Beckettian absurdity.

I would talk about the mutiny that almost costs the life of everybody in the resistance, the only reaction to which from the High Command was saying how they like the chief mutineer but I am tired and this is already overlong. I started by saying I had mixed feelings about this movie but writing this seems to have clarified them. Trust your feelings, Bill. Trust your feelings.

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  1. Felt exactly the same. Feels like the rest of the world saw a different movie to me and you!

    • I think we may be in a significant minority, mate :).

      • My wife saw this. As soon as she told me that Snoke was killed off without anything even resembling an explanation as to where he came from, I decided I’d be waiting until this came out on TV before seeing it. There they had a perfect plot point with tremendous amounts of potential (plus the ability to link lots of esoteric parts of the Star Wars lore into the mainstream movies) and instead of following it, they just shrugged their shoulders and unceremoniously tossed it out a window. Truly disappointing.

        I’d say you gents aren’t in the minority… most of the people who I’ve talked to that have seen it rated it as “MEH” and wonder what movie the critics saw. Probably a lot has to do with the fact that they change writers/directors midstream and, instead of using the crack team of older veterans and new comers that had to develop The Force Awakens, they instead decided to bet everything on the creator of Breaking Bad since he managed success with Rogue One. Logic seems a bit shaky to me… “This gent managed to successfully push a movie that is in the Star Wars universe, but has very little to legitimately do with Star Wars. He also has two hits under his belt, both of which are incredibly bleak, and is largely untried with block buster level movies. Let’s gamble everything on him!”

  2. You hit on a bunch of things I’ve been feeling about the movie but haven’t put into words yet. At this point, I think I’m more interested in the OTHER stories that can be told in this universe instead of what Disney may or may not do in IX and beyond. Perhaps because I think there might be less need to preserve tropes in the standalone movies?

    • I agree, Brian. I think they did a disservice to both the new characters and the old ones by shoehorning them both into these movies. I would have loved to have seen a last hurrah for the old group. And I like the new characters. Forcing them to be part of each other’s continuity seemed more of a marketing exercise than anything else.

  3. Nicolas Muller says:

    “Audiences are not trusted to keep their attention focused for more than a few minutes between scenes that don’t involve lots of action and CGI”.
    I was a fan of Star Wars from the beginning. Today, I can^t be bothered to drive to the theatre to watch the latest episodes. There’s very little magic left, it seems.

    • I really wanted to like these movies, Nicolas. I really did. They seem an uneasy mix of Star Wars and modern blockbuster formula. It does not work for me at least.

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