My thoughts on The Last Jedi

by Bill Cable
on 2017-12-20, 07:45:09

Be warned - SPOILERS ABOUND!!

After last week's premiere of The Last Jedi there was one burning question that saturated the Internet: "What did Bill Cable think of the movie?" Because the Internet asked over and over and over again, I figured it was my solemn responsibility to respond.

I felt it was a flawed movie that was overall enjoyable.

There were soaring, incredible moments. The acting was strong throughout. Kylo and Rey, in particular, were standouts. One thing I've seen posted repeatedly was that the plot was "sloppy." That most of what happened didn't make any difference in the overall story. I disagree. I think that was the actual point of the film. It's not that nothing matters - it's that we're seeing the absolute worst day of the Resistance. The fleeing Rebels fail at every turn. They make catastrophic blunders. Absolutely nothing goes right for them. Distract the dreadnought and escape the base - SUCCEED, but with heavy casualties. Infiltrate the casino - FAIL. Find the code breaker with the red flower - FAIL. Find a trustworthy replacement code breaker - FAIL. Shut down the hyperspace tracker - FAIL. Mutiny - FAIL. Escape on shuttles unnoticed - FAIL. Hide behind the giant doors - FAIL. Destroy the mini Death Star cannon - FAIL. This movie could be subtitled Poe and Finn and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Now I understand this is an unconventional storytelling technique, and someone expecting a "classic" story would be unbalanced by such a tact, but I see it as kinda brave. The director set out NOT to fulfill your preconceptions. In doing so, he delivered something that wasn't stale. As much as I enjoyed The Force Awakens, there's a strong argument to be made that it was entirely derivative. And Star Wars isn't going to thrive long-term if every movie adheres to convention. Telling the story of the Resistance's worst failures was the way they decided to deliver something fresh. As Yoda said to Luke, it's most important for the masters to teach their students about their failures. And that's what we were shown from the first frames of The Last Jedi.

While I generally support their decision to approach the story this way, there are plenty of badly written story beats and characters to complain about. Chief among them, IMO, was Admiral Holdo. Her decision not to share her plans with the crew led to a totally unnecessary mutiny. Why hold that close-to-the-vest, for any reason other than to be a jerk? Your ship's running on fumes, the crew is panicked, and you could reassure them and restore order with just a few words of explanation. And you don't. Because, well, I guess because Poe didn't ask nicely enough. Just stupid. Had she been more forthcoming, her plan might actually have gone off without a hitch, and all 400 souls on the cruiser could have survived. I suppose there's an element there to the theme of catastrophic failures, but when you go ahead and paint a hero out of her at the end with her sacrificing herself, that message is lost.

Another thing that bothered me was the whole "rich people are evil" casino subplot. Throwing that sort of juvenile political messaging into a Star Wars film was truly disappointing. I wonder if this decision was made to appeal to the Chinese marketplace. If there's one theme that pops up repeatedly in many of the Chinese films I watch, it's that the rich are undeserving and evil. And it's always similarly ham-fisted, never subtle or sophisticated. Maybe Disney thought working that in will encourage the Chinese to embrace the franchise. The Force Awakens made a comparatively paltry $124 million in China. The awful Warcraft made almost double that. I don't know... it's just speculation... but Disney seems to make a lot of its decisions with an eye towards China, and I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to make a big push to enamor the Chinese to its second-biggest franchise.

I don't want to run through all this film's sins point-by-point, we'd be here forever, but I will mention one last thing I think was cheap. And that's the final "duel" between Kylo and Luke. I don't even know where to begin. I can almost picture them plotting it out. "Wouldn't it be cool if we had Luke stand out in front of all those AT-ATs, and they shoot him up with like a million laser beams, and then he walks out of the cloud of dust unscathed and brushes off his shoulder?" "But there's no credible way Luke could survive that." "Well what if he's just a hologram?" Hanging the entire final battle on the conceit of astral projection, a Jedi power heretofore NEVER UTILIZED, all in an effort to surprise your audience, was just dirty pool. And it wasn't just astral projection - it was astral projection where physical touch (and even handing over physical objects) was possible. That's just a bridge too far. You'd think Kylo Ren, a Force-wielder of unprecedented power, would be able to tell right away that there was no physical being in front of him. None of it stands up to scrutiny. It's like they decided to be clever to solve a problem, and went off the rails. Luke deserved better - an outcome that didn't cheat.

Despite all these glaring deficiencies, there was a lot I really loved. I love that they broke the "evil overlord behind the curtain is the true big bad" dynamic that had run through each previous Star Wars trilogy and The Force Awakens. That was bold. I love that Rey is absolutely earnest with both Luke and Kylo. I loved that Poe was brash and took action when he saw no other recourse. I actually kinda liked the dynamic between Finn and Rose, even if Rose wasn't the greatest character. I loved the reveal of Rey's parents. I was really hoping they wouldn't go the conventional, expected route on that front, and they didn't disappoint. There were amazing, intimate moments. There were brilliant battles. So much to love. And the power and joy of those moments stuck with me much more than the annoyance of the film's flaws.

I don't know - maybe I'm a hypocrite. I mean, I've eviscerated films over plot holes no worse than some in The Last Jedi. In those instances a loose plot ruined the film for me. Here it didn't. Is it love of Star Wars that blinds me? I honestly can't say. But in the end, I give The Last Jedi a thumbs-up.

PS: One thing I noticed that I haven't seen discussed - in the final scene when Finn grabs a blanket for Rose in the Falcon, that drawer had the ancient Jedi texts, did it not? I mean, the spines of the books were pretty distinctive. If that's the case, it completely changes Yoda's meaning when he tells Luke that Rey already has everything she needs. He burned down an empty tree! That little imp!





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