Spoilers Ahead: I’m not even gonna try to keep this spoiler-free. You’ve been warned.
I’ve sat through some truly awful movies since I started this blog. I’ve watched movies so terrible that I’ve begged God to grant me the strength to make it to the end credits while simultaneously writing an email to Bob Iger demanding a refund. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not one of those movies.
Right now, fans are overreacting. As I write this, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has the lowest fan rating of any Star Wars film on Rotten Tomatoes. With a 56 percent, it beat the record of Atack of the Clones by one point. I’ve seen several Star Wars fans say that this film makes the prequels look good, which is possibly the worst insult a Star Wars film could receive. I think many of these fans would benefit from watching a truly terrible movie like The Good Dinosaur or The Lone Ranger.
The Last Jedi is not the worst Star Wars film ever made, but it is incredibly lazy.
The Lazy Jedi
Those that like The Last Jedi praise writer and director Rian Johnson for taking a visionary look at the world of Star Wars. They write articles with headlines like “The Last Jedi Doesn’t Care What You Think About Star Wars.” Johnson burns down what we know about Star Wars by killing off Snoke, having Rey’s parents be no names (which I still don’t believe), and refusing to conform to the Star Wars you know and love.
There is genius in that strategy, but Johnson executes it in the laziest possible way. He doesn’t just gloss over the explanations for characters from Episode 7. He obliterates the backstory for any character he introduces. The man with the Red Plume plays a central role in the story until he is deemed insignificant. How great would it have been in the man in the red plume only turned out to be the bodyguard for the woman beside him who was the real codebreaker? A move like that would take imagination and several revisions of the script. Or, you could be lazy and just write the characters into a prison cell with a person who has the exact skills they are looking for.
Or consider one of the crucial scenes when the rebel escape pods are leaving their doomed cruiser. An inventive script would have allowed the resistance to have an elaborate plan in the face of the First Order’s ability to track escape pods. A lazy script would have a line of dialogue that shows the resistance “can’t track” the escape pods for some nonsense reason.
Johnson didn’t have the answers fans were looking for from Episode 7, but he also didn’t have the answers we were looking for from Episode 8. How was Leia able to somehow revive herself in space and force fly back to the ship? What happened to the man in the Plume? If the Jedi order is over, why does Luke call Rey a Jedi? If you literally have a Jedi mater burn down the ancient texts of the Jedi order to start something new, why would you put those old texts on the Millenium Falcon to restart the Jedi order? How did Rose’s ship not explode when she crashed full force into Finn? How are some people (like the kid at the end) able to use the force without any training while Luke, Anakin and everyone before them needed training to use the force? These are the questions a good script can answer, but The Last Jedi is a lazy script.
A Flawed Hero
Despite its faults — and there are many — The Last Jedi does have many good qualities that I feel fans are missing. The idea that Luke Skywalker still struggled as a leader after Return of the Jedi was refreshing and inspiring. An imperfect Luke Skywalker is much easier to relate to than an all-powerful Jedi. Yoda’s rebuke of Luke’s failure to pass on his failures to those he taught hit exactly the right tone. This was more impactful since Yoda was the one who pressed the button to burn the ancient texts. It was the past telling the present to let go so the future can have its time.
There are several messages that the film tries to get across and sometimes it is incredibly successful. For example, Poe’s lesson in leadership was heavy handed in the script, but it was still impactful. Sometimes there are situations you can’t blast your way out of and if Poe is to become the leader of the new resistance — hint: he will — he has a lot to learn. It’s as if Johnson was speaking directly to my generation as we begin to assume more leadership roles at work and in the community.
Not My Father’s Star Wars
Perhaps the most important question that The Last Jedi raises is how far a franchise can go before it betrays itself. That is, how far can a movie bend or break the rules of a franchise before it becomes unrecognizable to the fans who loved it in the first place? Johnson attempts to answer this question by revealing the parentage of Rey.
For decades, Star Wars fans have known that the force runs in families. If Rey’s parents are nobodies, how is she so powerful with the force? Johnson doesn’t provide Rey with a simple line of dialogue that might help explain her abilities. Even Luke used to bullseye 2-meter wide womp rats in his T-16 back home before he used the force on the Death Star. Anakin was a pod racer before he became one of the greatest pilots in the rebellion. No matter how much raw ability you have, you will need training–whether professional or amateur–to compete at an all-star level. That’s not just the way Star Wars works. That’s the way life works.
Johnson wants to do away with that notion and that is part of the reasons fans are rejecting it. This isn’t my father’s star wars, but it’s not even my Star Wars. It just doesn’t make sense. Johnson is telling fans “Everyone is special,” which is another way of saying no one is. In a galaxy like Star Wars, it’s easier to write a world where everyone has a mastery of the force. Then you can explain away any unfortunate happening. Consider how Johnson has set up who is the most powerful with the force:
- Leia – apparently so powerful with the force that she is immortal.
- Rey – a Hall of Fame caliber Jedi with no training.
- Kylo Ren – a whiny, unstable dark lord of the sith.
- Supreme Leader Snoke – an overrated Sith
- Yoda – An incredibly wise Jedi but not powerful enough to be immortal or stop the rise of the Sith.
- Luke Skywalker – A flawed has-been from 30 years ago who was defeated by his apprentice Ben Solo (later Kylo Ren).
- Everyone in the galaxy – Because “everyone” is special.
If the list above were College Football rankings, Luke Skywalker wouldn’t even make the playoffs. That is a huge rebuke of Star Wars as a franchise.
In my Star Wars, the Jedi are the most powerful with the force, but in Johnson’s Star Wars the top two spots are not occupied by Jedi. In my Star Wars, Supreme Leader Snoke’s mastery of the force would create a problem for even the most experienced Jedi, but in Johnson’s Star Wars he can be dispatched before half the movie is over. My Star Wars is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Johnson’s Star Wars has Luke flip that dirt off his shoulders like Jay-Z. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had him drop a mic.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Disney is kind of in a perilous place at the moment. They let Johnson have his take on the franchise without really letting him go so far that it can’t be reeled back in. Will JJ Abrams follow his lead with Episode 9, or will we see something more conventional? My hunch is that Disney will play it safe. They want people to like Star Wars. They want people to come to Star Wars land in 2019 and stay in the $1,000 per night hotel. Too many films like The Last Jedi and the most hard-core fans may just stay home from the movies and the parks.
Fans have a much easier choice. Abrams will have plenty of room to tell a story as if The Last Jedi never happened. If he chooses to ignore the film, fans will have the right to do the same. If Abrams makes The Last Jedi crucial to Episode 9, fans will have to decide whether they identify enough with this new Star Wars to call themselves fans. For me, that is up in the air right now.
I don’t need an explanation for everything, but I want the series I follow to make sense. I’m fine with some people being extremely special or even a lot of people being special, but I’ll probably lose interest if Star Wars tries to convince me everyone is special. Because then no one is special. That’s not Star Wars, it’s just lazy.
Final Rating: 7.5/10
To hear a different perspective, click on the link below to listen to this week’s podcast.