Real Last Jedi Thoughts--with spoilerific Spoilers!

by Tresob Yr
on 2018-01-05, 12:32:14

Okay, here’s my real thoughts on Star Wars: Episode XIII--The Last Jedi.

Although this film has done well financially, it has not done as well as people seem to have expected it to do. For example, it seems to be underperforming compared to The Force Awakens. As of writing this, RottenTomatoes has a staggering 40 point difference between critics (90%) and audience (50%) scores.

I can see why. On the one hand, it’s a technically solid achievement—as just about every Star Wars movie has been. There are some great performances. There are memorable scenes.

On the other hand, I have pretty much zero desire to see it again.

This is a strange experience for me. I even saw all of the prequels twice in the theaters.

Stranger yet, the movie did not leave me excited or even curious about the next installment.

So what went wrong for me?

Let’s clear the biggest dewback off the field first: I think the first problem is with me. I went into this sequel trilogy raring to see Luke as a master Jedi. Not just Luke, really, but Mark Hamill. For decades we’ve been waiting to watch on the big screen what he could do when he realized his full potential. It’s something we’ve seen in comics and novels for quite a while.

I just wanted to see Luke Force-crush an AT-AT. Like he did in the now obsolete Dark Empire comics.

Was that too much to ask?

Apparently, it was.

So, like Rey...ahem...I went into this movie expecting Luke to be an awesome Jedi...and, instead, I got to watch him nurse green milk out of the giant mammary of a huge seal. And like Rey...I wanted to avert my eyes.

Even when we finally see him face off with Kylo Ren—it is all an illusion.

I read this moment as meta-fictional.

Yes, I know. Luke Skywalker isn’t real. Legends are illusions. They inspire us.

And then they evaporate.

Way to help me maintain my suspension of disbelief.

The fun of Star Wars is that we get to pretend; we get to believe in the type of hero that resides in the almost universal core myths of world cultures. It is something primitive that we crave. Then a corporate screenwriting comes along to remind us that those myths are too simple for our complicated real world. That we need to grow up.

As if we don’t have more sophisticated films and literature that already do that work for us.

Part of the shock and delight and sheer brilliance of the original Star Wars was that it rejected 20th Century realism and post-modernism and went back to the oral culture roots of storytelling—it went back to myths and fairy tales.

Disney, ironically, has been steadily obliterating those aspects in the sequel trilogy. You would think Disney would have a better understanding of fairy tales.

But back to Luke. What exacerbates this personal issue I have regarding Luke is that they kept Luke in the wings for the entirety of The Force Awakens (Spoilers!). We didn’t get to see him do anything cool for that whole movie, so, surely (I thought) they are saving him to do something cool in the next one!

Except, not really.

He milks a sea-cow with extremely large udders. He interferes with Rey when she is about to have some kind of kinky, Force-based, remote cybersex session with Kylo. Then Luke has his astral-projection-illusion fight.

A let down.

Phew. Okay, got that off my chest.

So let’s look at this thing as part of a sequel trilogy, and not as a decades’ long disappointment of a power fantasy.

Problem 1: Context

From the get go, I was left disoriented and confused. In The Force Awakens, we are told that the First Order is an extremely well-heeled insurrectionist group that is seeking to overthrow the new Republic. The new Republic has assembled a combat group to thwart the First Order. The combat group is confusedly called the Resistance—a term usually applied to an underground movement trying to oust an illegitimate occupying force. When I think of resistance groups, I imagine french men and women in berets, sneaking through tunnels while interfering with supply routes of Nazi overseers. But, technically-speaking, the Resistance in The Force Awakens is—as I never tire of pointing out—more like G.I.Joe, a special task force fighting a terrorist organization.

But during the opening scroll of The Last Jedi, we are given the impression that the Republic has fallen and that the Resistance now really is a resistance movement in the more conventional sense. We are told the First Order reigns--as if they are in the seat of power. This left me scratching my head since we watched the Resistance obliterate the First Order’s most powerful weapon in the last movie. And The Last Jedi appears to pick up just shortly after The Force Awakens. Granted, the First Order blew up the capital of the central galactic government in the first movie, but would that really be enough to undo a democracy?

If North Korea nukes Washington, D.C., would all the states of the Union suddenly adopt Kim Jong-un as their new monarch? Doubtful. They might send representatives to a new location to plan a response. They also might send a “thank you” card, before retaliating, though. Political humor!

The two sequel trilogy movies give a very vague, muddied impression of the political context...so it’s hard to understand what’s going on and who is really in power. Maybe they covered this in a book? I shouldn’t have to read a book to watch a movie. I watch movies so I don’t have to read the book. (That’s a joke, there.) I have a much clearer picture of the political context in Star Wars. The Emperor has dissolved the representative Senate, and individual systems are ruled by Imperial-aligned governors. The Empire does bad things, but it is also pretty much normalized for the generation that has grown up with Palpatine in charge (Luke wants to go to the Imperial academy, after all).

Problem 2: Tone

This movie suffered from some significant tonal dissonance. In my opinion, humor in Star Wars works best when it is serving a narrative purpose, like showing us a character’s personality, their response to crisis, or their relationship to others. Humor in Star Wars works the least effectively when it is just for the purpose of making us laugh. This movie had a lot of –insert gag here for pacing-- moments that felt jarring.

Pretty much any scene with Hux was played for laughs. I’m going to start calling him “Nyucks.” Chewie trying to eat the porg was another. Rey telling Kylo Ren to put a shirt on is probably another.

That last one is leads to another issue of tone. Ringtones.

Luke tells us that the Force is more than just controlling people’s minds and lifting rocks. But by the end of the movie, Kylo and Rey are using it as a free wireless service.

In this case, it’s reach out and touch someone. Literally.

When characters are comfortable enough with telepathy that it becomes a gag, we might have a tonal problem in a movie that is so somber and dark.

Problem 3: Character Inconsistencies

Kylo—can’t kill his mom at the beginning of the movie; but refuses to spare her at the end. We haven’t really seen anything change, except now he no longer has his boss telling him to kill his parents. So this makes him decide to kill his remaining parent?

Rose—is a technician who says she just hides behind pipes most of the time, but she’s one of the last surviving pilots in the speeder battle against the Michael Bay AT-ATs. So she was just hiding her piloting skills all of this time, or is she just really, really lucky?

Rose and Finn—are on a time-critical mission to save their friends who are in certain peril. They might have failed and doomed the galaxy, but at least they saved those space-horses and did a lot of property damage to capitalists! Way to go, guys!

Rey—is so inherently generous, egalitarian, and kind-hearted that she saved BB-8 from a scavenger in The Force Awakens and lived among freaky-looking aliens on Jakku, but then refers to the salamander nuns as “creatures.” Is “creatures” the politically-correct term for sentient non-humans? This, actually, bugged me a lot.

But the biggest contradiction of all:

Luke—Luke says he has gone into isolation to die. If he wanted to die, then why not confront Kylo Ren and Snoke? But, more significantly, they act like Luke doesn’t know how to deal with failure, as if he’s never failed big time before. He failed on his very first test: “Remember your failure in the cave,” Yoda tells him. Luke arguably failed when he confronted Vader the first time (although he at least resisted Vader’s temptations). Luke failed to rescue his friends in Empire (and was himself rescued by them after he failed in his confrontation with Vader). Luke almost failed when he fought Vader in Jedi. And he failed big time again when he exposed Leia’s identity to Vader during that duel. Heck, Luke failed Owen when he took off R2’s restraining bolt and let the droid get away. He also has a history of getting co-pilots shot. He’s the guy who says: “I’m jeopardizing the mission.”

Luke fails MOST OF THE FREAKING TIME.

So instead of learning to cope with failure, his constant failures made him crack up?

When Yoda failed and went into hiding, you had the sense it was with purpose. When Luke finds him, it turns out Yoda has been watching him through the Force. Yoda wasn’t just hiding and licking his wounds. Yoda was biding his time to train another Jedi. Luke has no idea about Rey, which leads me to the first of my ...

Plot Nitpicks:

If Luke wasn’t doing the Jedi thing anymore, and wasn’t expecting Rey, then why was he wearing his robes and standing at the edge of the cliff? And why didn’t he know the Falcon was there? Was he looking the wrong way when the Falcon landed? Could he not hear it over the waves?

Rose and Finn sneak away from the battle to find a hacker to sneak back into the battle. Why don’t they try to send out a distress signal and call for help while they are at it?

Why does a human being need to remain aboard the Resistance ship? Why not leave a droid? And why doesn’t any of the crew stay with her in case she is incapacitated?

After Dr. Sattler died, Mrs. Tresob wondered why no one ever thought to jump into hyperspace while pointed at either of the Death Stars or other Imperial craft. If it is possible to destroy a super-star destroyer type vessel by ramming into it a hyperspeed, then why not just start building hyperspace-equipped-android-kamikaze craft?

Poe Dameron is the worst. Every brilliant idea he has causes massive casualties. He’s like the Rick Grimes of Star Wars. Let me get this straight: he knows Finn and Rose are on a covert operation to infiltrate the First Order flagship, and then blabs about the secret escape plan with the cloaking device over an unsecure channel on an audible commlink?

Let me write that one more time:

POE KNOWS THAT FINN AND ROSE ARE ON A COVERT OPERATION TO INFILTRATE THE FIRST ORDER FLAGSHIP, AND THEN BLABS ABOUT THE SECRET ESCAPE PLAN WITH THE CLOAKING DEVICE OVER AN UNSECURE CHANNEL ON AN AUDIBLE COMMLINK.

 

This enables DJ to spill the beans to the First Order and have the escaping transports destroyed.

Loose lips sink startships, indeed.

When I first watched The Force Awakens, I thought maybe Kylo Ren had secretly brainwashed Poe into becoming a First Order sleeper agent. The Last Jedi only reinforces this theory.

I have some thoughts on how this story could have been redeemed—with some very simple strokes...but I’ll save those for later.





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