Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) Director: Rian Johnson

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For reasons unknown to most Star Wars fans, Disney in their infinite wisdom decided to allow the new Star Wars sequel to fall into the hands of a relatively unknown director who was granted complete creative freedom over the seventh Star Wars production. Rian Johnson (of Looper fame as well as a celebrated episode of the Breaking Bad series) was chosen to direct The Last Jedi by executives at LucasFilm, particularly by George Lucas’s disappointing corporate successor Kathleen Kennedy, who had increasingly surrounded herself with an echo-chamber of creatives with little respect for the established literature and lore of the Star Wars universe. Apparently after being chosen as director, Rian Johnson completely disregarded any notes given to him by J.J. Abrams about continuing narratives from The Force Awakens to complete the trilogy. Instead, Johnson completely tossed away the over-arching three film strategy and instead slopped together a single cynical, morally ambiguous, postmodern, slapstick, sarcastic space opera which I believe is better viewed as a comedy than anything close to a serious or inspiring science fiction epic. Was it a risk? To be sure. Was is successful? Not in the slightest. The declining box office numbers, declining merchandise sales, fandom backlash, popular rebuke from true fans of Star Wars, and endless finger-pointing between actors and production staff led Disney executives to quietly re-assume control of the Star Wars franchise, wresting it away from the ludicrous decisions made by Kathleen Kennedy and the disastrous turmoil she foisted upon the toxic culture at LucasFilm. The Last Jedi will surely go down in modern film history as one of the worst sequels ever made, even drawing the ire of franchise creator George Lucas, not to mention fans, Disney shareholders, and the production teams at LucasFilm and Disney, forcing its lead actors like Mark Hamill to embark on an apology tour for this chaotic mess. The backlash was so severe that Rian Johnson took to Twitter to lash out at fans and Disney executives desperately attempted to bring balance to the force of this collapsing situation. Writers and directors began drop out of line for the third film and bitterness over the franchise reigned supreme. In just a handful of years, Disney had managed to turn the most beloved and popular science fiction franchise of all-time into one of the most reviled and rebuked. It was a spectacular decline.

Fair warning: the plot to The Last Jedi is riddled with endless errors and questionable decisions that are obvious to even the most novice of audiences. It is perhaps best viewed as little more than a petty comedy of errors: the heroes and villains in the film have no real obstacles to overcome, instead they simply encounter a series of their own clumsy mistakes and random faux pas. A great many fans have spent hours delving into each scene of this film, analyzing what a truly snide, poorly constructed movie it truly is.

The plot takes place immediately following the previous film, but this is the only real connection between the two stories. Somehow (reasons are never given) the First Order has suddenly discovered the Resistance at a remote base without explanation (in contrast, recall the trackers that were sent out in The Empire Strikes Back to discover the rebel base on Hoth). The First Order decides to destroy this remote Resistance base which has been mostly evacuated, rather than attempting to recover what would likely be mountains of covert intelligence on the Resistance. Why is this massive First Order army hunting down such a tiny pack of rebels led by an aging Princess Leia? What does Kylo really want? What are the characters’ motivations here? Answers are never provided. The villains are all-powerful with no clear motive other than simply appearing to be evil. Anyway, a Resistance evacuation is ordered and Poe Dameron flies out as a distraction for the First Order. He makes an embarrassing ‘your mom’ joke that falls painfully flat for a Star Wars film, and thus we are introduced to a frothing, frivolous parody of a Nazi figure named General Hux (or “Hugs”) a clownish leader within the First Order. Poe flies solo directly at the First Order starship in attempt to take out the cannons, but then his ship is damaged so BB-8 performs a little comic looney tunes routine in an effort to plug the sparks, until he eventually just rams his helmet into the space ship’s drive. This silly moment miraculously fixes the ship and Poe destroys the last cannon. In some ways, this absurd comic moment is a metaphor for the whole film –our heroes are degraded and portrayed as bungling cartoonish accident-prone fools. Then Poe disobeys Leia, and the Resistance sends out a pack of slow-moving, unshielded, fragile bombers, all of which are instantly destroyed except for one which “drops” its bombs onto the starship (despite the fact that there is no gravity in space, thus this “dropping” of bombs appears to be yet another one of the many goofy errors in this poorly cobbled together script). Poe returns to the Resistance triumphant, even though he has apparently cost the lives of hundreds of fighters, severely wounded the Resistance fleet, and destroyed all of their slow and breakable bombers for no reason whatsoever. The few remaining members of the fleet jump to hyperspace to escape the rest of the First Order fleet, only to be immediately tracked through hyperspace (a capability that has never previously occurred in Star Wars) and also suddenly fuel is an issue for concern (this was never an issue before in all the previous Star Wars adventures). So for the remainder of the film, we witness a slow chase –the First Order simply slowly follows the Resistance ships until they (hopefully) run out of fuel or shields are depleted. This is the central “tension” in the film: two ships caught in a slow chase, hoping the other will run out of fuel. Not exactly a riveting Star Wars adventure.

In the next fight scene, Kylo Ren hesitates on firing directly at his mother, Leia (even though he unflinchingly murdered his father Han in a head-shaking conclusion to the previous film) and instead, one of his compatriot TIE fighters shoots open a Resistance window which explodes and sucks Leia out into space (a tragedy which should have killed her) but miraculously through the force she is able to fly back into the ship without any problem! This scene elicits a belly laugh from me, it is just another one of the imbecilic tropes in this film. At any rate, Leia is put in a coma for much of the rest of the movie I guess, and Admiral Holdo, a highly disagreeable, purple-haired woman with a starkly sinister and condescending attitude toward her male counterparts, is suddenly introduced and she refuses to demonstrate that she has any sort of plan for the Resistance. She offers no hope for them (though we later find out she actually has been hiding a secret plan all along). As a result, the Resistance believes all their deaths may be imminent, so Poe and Finn (now accompanied by a random guard of the escape pods named Rose who demonstrates a laughably detailed knowledge of First Order ships) jointly devise a plan to infiltrate the First Order and disable their tracking beacon. How do they do this? They reach out to Maz, a random character they met briefly in the first film of this trilogy. Maz tells them to visit a casino planet and look for a man with a special lapel (no name??) because apparently this is the only way to crack the code to enter a First Order starship. Thus begins the most stultifying, eye-rolling side-quests in any Star Wars movie. The group flies to a casino planet called Canto Bight at lightspeed on an escape pod (no one in the First Order apparently notices that an escape pod speeds away at light speed? Why doesn’t everyone from the Resistance simply take an escape pod and fly away at light speed?! –this is yet another glaring misstep from the writers of this brilliant script). By the characters’ own stupidity, they park their ship on a public beach on Canto Bight, and so they are arrested and thrown in prison on the casino planet (as would happen in a slapstick comedy film wherein the protagonist’s own incompetence drives the plot forward). But wait! In their prison cell sits a criminal who –get this– MIRACULOUSLY HAS THE KEY TO ESCAPE THE PRISON CELL – he is a shady figure played by Benicio del Toro who speaks like a snake-oil salesmen and is obviously not a trustworthy character. Somehow, by great fortune, this prison cell-mate also possesses the exact knowledge they are seeking: the knowledge of how to disable a First Order tracking beacon. How, you might ask, does this man possess such fortuitous deus ex machina levels of knowledge? His background is never given. However, since the heroes are portrayed as bungling fools throughout the film, they put their full faith and trust in this random villainous character. They all escape the prison on the casino planet thanks to BB-8 throwing casino coins at the prison guards in another absurd scene that defies reason. En route to their ship, they free a cohort of animals in order to storm through the planet while leaving the rest enslaved. The point? Perhaps to stick it to the man, and release caged animals to attack rich people, I suppose. Again, this is more of the blatantly simplistic on-the-nose “social commentary” which is rife throughout this film as Rose criticizes this Wall Street-esque planet for being populated by a bunch of rich people who derived their wealth from the war racket. Instead of being an intelligent movie, the writers settle for this brand of cheap, easily digestible, melodramatic virtue signaling for their feckless band of anti-heroes. At any rate, Finn and Rose et al escape on a stolen ship, and magically the prison cell character has the same coding capability to enter a First Order ship (amazing!) so they completely abandon the original plan from Maz and head directly back to the First Order ship. They quickly arrive and easily enter the First Order flagship to find the tracker beacon but the whole plan ultimately goes nowhere! They are immediately captured as Benicio del Toro’s character betrays the Resistance (imagine that!) so the “heroes” are condemned to a painful death. This entire side-plot was nothing more than a lengthy, meaningless waste of time –nothing learned, nothing gained. This whole sequence is perhaps best watched when dubbed over with a laugh track.

Now, one of the other B-plots in The Last Jedi is just as terrible. Everyone’s favorite symbol of hope and optimism –an inspiring, archetypal glimpse of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces, Luke Skywalker has returned! Only now he has become a filthy and disgraced curmudgeon who bears little hope for the Resistance or the Jedi anymore. He lives alone and embittered on an island called “Ahch-To” waiting to die. When Rey arrives to meet this illustrious warrior, Luke simply tosses his own lightsaber off a cliff, refusing to speak to Rey, and he declines the opportunity to train her. The character of Luke is no longer the noble hero we last saw as a triumphant master in Return of the Jedi. Now, he is nasty and nihilistic. Luke describes how he once trained Kylo Ren to become a Jedi, but Kylo turned to the dark side so Luke, once the harbinger of optimism who never gave up hope even for his father, the most evil figure in the original trilogy, now decides to entirely abandon the force and retire to an island to face a cowardly death. He spends much of this portion of the film hoping the Jedi die out in order to bring about an end to the cyclical conflict between good and evil. He casts aside everything fans once knew and loved about Star Wars –the fall of Luke’s lightsaber down a cliff is an apt metaphor for what this film hopes to achieve –“let the past die, kill it if you have to.” Also, suddenly we are supposed to care about a newly created Jedi library that we have never heard of before, and apparently it contains secret texts filled with wisdom. The force ghost of Master Yoda appears as a silly creature who ignites this supposedly important Jedi library in a string of hellfire from the sky, thus burning down all of the Jedi’s ancient books for apparently no reason (and also apparently force ghosts like Yoda can now command the forces of nature?) Yoda denounces the books and claims that Rey holds everything she needs inside herself in yet another eye-rolling platitude shoveled into this flailing script. But I guess we are led to believe, at the end, that Rey has rescued some of these books for herself or something along those lines. At any rate, Rey travels to visit Kylo after they communicate with one another through the Force and he brings her before the fearsome CGI-generated Supreme Leader Snoke who confesses to melding their minds –but apparently he cannot read Kylo’s mind because moments later, Kylo uses the force to slice Snoke in half with a lightsaber (thus we get no background information on Snoke and he simply dies without ceremony or explanation –nothing learned, nothing gained). The lead villain has apparently been a meaningless caricature. Who is this mysterious leader? And how did he rise to lead the First Order from the ashes of the Empire? Rian Johnson answers: it doesn’t matter, just shut your brain off and enjoy the flashy special effects. Then Rey and Kylo fight Snoke’s guards in one of the silliest fight scenes ever devised –clearly many of the cast missed their cues and the guards simply started twirling around in odd ways to avoid killing the main characters. The scene has been debunked numerous times for its impressive number of errors. In addition, my wife and I spent the whole first movie wondering who Rey’s parents might be: is she the daughter of Luke? A relative of Obi-Wan Kenobi? Does she have connections to the dark side? Is she a secret sibling of Kylo? However, in this wonderful film, Kylo merely informs Rey that her parents are ‘nobodies,’ little more than filthy junk traders who pawned off their daughter for money. Once again, another hopeful mythology is cast aside in this barn-burner of a film. Then, Kylo fights Rey but being all powerful for no particular reason, Rey manages to escape in Snoke’s personal ship (her dramatic escape is glossed over, not shown, and is merely explained in passing) while Kylo awakens and blames Snoke’s death on Rey. What does Snoke’s ship look like? How was Rey able to take control of this impressive ship and commandeer it to join her comrades on the Millennium Falcon? It doesn’t matter, none of this incoherent mess really matters.

Meanwhile, Admiral Holdo finally reveals her plan to evacuate the entire Resistance to a nearby planet as they have been slowly inching along this whole time (the plan is only revealed after Poe organizes a mutiny among the crew who are fed up with Holdo’s terrible leadership). So the Resistance decides to evacuate itself on small transport vessels which do not appear on tracking radar –even though they are wholly vulnerable and do not have shields or light speed like some of their other escape pods apparently do! They also are completely defenseless. Holdo tells them to evacuate (gasp!) to a nearby planet which suddenly appears out of nowhere like a deus ex machina. Amazingly no one noticed this looming planet before! Surely the First Order will immediately follow them down to the planet –Holdo’s entire plan which costs the lives of thousands, likely buys the Resistance all of ten minutes or so.

Back on the First Order ship, the prison hacker advises the First Order to kill the Resistance transport ships, thus immediately destroying Holdo’s abysmal plan. All the First Order needs to do is spot the slowly fleeing vessels via a pair of binoculars. So now the Resistance escape ships are helplessly picked off like fish in a barrel until Admiral Holdo, after incompetently killing off most of her own people, comes up with another reckless plan (while at the same time trashing young hothead heroes like Poe). She engages the hyperdrive on her ship and light-speeds right through the First Order starships (somehow nearly all of them are destroyed, and somehow this was never possible in any of the previous films in yet another foolish retcon –why wouldn’t every single ship simply jump to light speed and crash into each other’s ships rather than shooting at them from here on out?? This is yet another fumbled plot-hole in The Last Jedi).

After the destruction of the ships, Finn and Rose escape from the First Order, but only after Finn battles the former head of the stormtroopers named Phasma, a fearsome, battle-hardened warrior as detailed in The Force Awakens, but now she simply dies in an anti-climactic battle where Finn literally calls her “chrome dome” (not joking) and sends her falling down a flaming hole to the ground (she never appears again and we almost forget Finn was once a stormtrooper). Who was Phasma and will she return? No, it just doesn’t matter, none of this is important, just watch the glowing lights you indefatigable lemming. At any rate, they all escape the wreckage of the First Order flagship thanks to BB-8 who cartoonishly operates an AT-AT (BB-8 reveals himself to be one of the few competent characters in the film, albeit often accidentally). Then a battle ensues on the planet (which is wholly covered in salt in yet another deliberately derivative subversion of The Empire Strikes Back’s snow planet, Hoth). Finn and Rose barely arrive into the giant hangar base on the planet in time. The First Order (as predicted) arrives right on their tail with a huge cannon that can blast open the gigantic door easily. In response, the Resistance launches out a few dilapidated ships that are mostly harmless and defenseless. Now, Finn gets the idea to kamikaze himself directly into the cannon in order to save the others, a rare act of courage and heroism – BUT SUDDENLY Rose appears out of nowhere and prevents him from doing so (again, this is the girl whose family died at the beginning of the film “dropping” the bombs on a starship and who hates deserters and who stands for defenseless peoples throughout the galaxy and so on). Suddenly, however, somehow she has now decided that Finn’s heroic actions are no longer warranted. So she crashes into him and saves him, and then she kisses him in one of the least romantic moments in cinematic history, but the door to the Resistance hangar is then immediately burst open and everyone in the Resistance is ready to die, but at least Rose got a kiss, I suppose. Then she utters the most cliche, vomit-inducing line in the film: “We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!” Suddenly there is no reason to fight anymore. Also, the Millennium Falcon appears out of nowhere with Rey and Chewbacca –again, somehow Rey has escaped the First Order in Snoke’s ship, and she has gotten aboard the Millennium Falcon (this whole adventure of her escape is never detailed, merely glossed over, no matter this film makes zero sense as it is).

Then, when all hope is lost Luke shows up and finally, we are ready for our classic hero to save the day! However, he is still just a disgruntled and unpleasant bum as he reluctantly battles Kylo Ren in an uninspiring fight sequence and then WE FIND OUT LUKE IS SOMEHOW MERELY A HOLOGRAM! He is not even truly battling Kylo! Before he magically disappears, his embittered last words are “see ya around kid.” I guess the whole point of his teleportation/hologram was to buy the Resistance about five minutes of time to escape through the back of the cave, which I guess they can now do even though the droids noted it was impossible to escape through the back of the cave a few minutes prior. Anyway, Rey lifts a huge number of rocks using the force even though she has never been trained and at this point in his training, Luke was barely able to lift one or two rocks while training for weeks or perhaps months on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back –but this is simply one more glaring mistake in the script. Rey must be perfect, she must never lose a fight, and she must be more powerful than everyone around her. Nothing learned, nothing gained. In the end, the “heroes” all escape this situation and embrace one another in a moment of happiness –even though they have lost hundreds or perhaps thousands of Resistance fighters and are now whittled down to a force of approximately twelve people as they board the Millennium Falcon with the First Order likely a mere second or two behind them, ready to shoot them out of the sky. Leia says to Rey that all they really need is one another (imagine that!) Lastly, there is an odd epilogue at the end of the film, wherein a poor child somewhere in the galaxy uses the force to grab a broom, after finding inspiration from the stories of the Resistance, an attempt to democratize the force for all oppressed children everywhere (My reaction? Snooze, this is just another good reminder of all the things our heroes failed to accomplish in the film). Thus ends one of more pathetic attempts at trolling the Star Wars fanbase brought to you by a clutch of cynical academics who never cared much about this franchise in the first place.

The Last Jedi wound up being one of the least impressive Star Wars films at the box office. In the wake of the film’s highly public backlash from fans and lovers of the series, Disney began throwing Rian Johnson under the bus, then the director for Episode IX quit, the cast and crew began expressing dissatisfaction and pointing fingers, merchandise sales declined for Disney (which was the whole point of their acquisition of Star Wars) and Disney’s stock dipped after the film’s release while the new Star Wars attraction at Disneyland was behind schedule and once-opened it was under-attended by the public. In a desperate attempt to stabilize this sinking ship, Disney quickly announced several new Star Wars films, most notably Solo: Star Wars Story, which was a total mess behind the scenes and completely tanked at the box office. Kathleen Kennedy was reluctantly kept on board at LucasFilm only because no one else wanted to take the helm of this burning house and many fans speculated that, despite her failed leadership, she was kept on board for purely political reasons. Somehow Disney managed to take one of the beloved and popular franchises of all-time, and turn it into box office poison. Actors began speaking out: Mark Hamill was one of the most vocal about his opposition to Luke Skywalker being portrayed so horridly, Carrie Fisher called Rian Johnson an “asshole” (perhaps in jest), and John Boyega spoke out vociferously about his dissatisfaction with Finn being relegated to a goofy B-character whereas in the first film he was a co-star alongside Rey (and the tragedy is that his character had such extraordinary potential for this series). In reaction to the huge outcry among the public, many in the media predictably began accusing people who were critical of the film as being racist, misogynistic and so on –the usual accusations leveled by those who cannot defend their arguments. Finally, after great consternation, and a rabid fanbase utterly enraged at the film, Disney chose to bring back J.J. Abrams to direct the final film in a desperate attempt to correct the situation. They blocked any further Star Wars spin-off movies after Solo bombed and lost hundreds of millions of dollars (there was early work conducted on a Kenobi spin-off film that was quickly abandoned). Then, we learned there was absolutely no steadfast plan in place for concluding this trilogy –writers and directors simply made it all up as they went along. No surprise there! One can only hope the Star Wars saga can be salvaged in Episode IX after this dumpster-fire of a film, but my hopes could not be lower at this point.

In case it’s not abundantly clear, The Last Jedi is a travesty. Rian Johnson would have been better suited to direct some kind of cheap Marvel movie, rather than thumbing his nose at this once great saga. The Last Jedi inverts the idea of the classical hero, like the independent free-wheeling Han Solo or the young idealistic Luke Skywalker, and instead it offers one-dimensional caricatures like Rey and instructs other hero archetypes like Poe to simply get in line and take orders from imperial dictators like Admiral Holdo (much like the First Order or the Empire!) Nothing is learned, nothing is gained; just a series of disjointed, jarring comical episodes. The lesson of the film, insofar as there is a coherent moral, is an embrace of deconstructing all things great in a legendary space opera. Gone are the days of Arthurian romance in space infused with Samurai themes and classical motifs against the remarkably rich galaxy of cultures. Instead, a lot of irrelevant things happen in The Last Jedi; nobody grows and the mystique of the Star Wars universe is now small and distant –any lingering mystery is quickly snuffed out, while the trials faced by the heroes are mainly the result of their own ignorant missteps. When it tries to be subversive, it is cliche; where it tries to be funny, it is off-putting; where it tries to be serious, it is slapstick; where it tries to be edgy, it is boring. There is no hope, except in the writer’s absurd “gotcha!” plot moments toying with the audience’s sense of verisimilitude. From a plot that goes nowhere, to utterly wooden and undeveloped characters; from meaningless adventures, to cheap political ideology, followed by constant irrelevant plot-twists that snub the traditions of the original Star Wars stories which fans grew up with and loved, The Last Jedi is a film to be resoundingly disregarded as one of the worst sequels of all time. The only redeeming parts of this film are the visually stunning effects and shooting locations. Instead of re-watching this clownshow, we should focus our intellectual efforts on far better movies, particularly The Empire Strikes Back, one of the greatest sequels of all time. Hopefully, Episode IX can salvage this sinking ship but I have completely lost all faith in the franchise at this point.

Return to my survey of the Star Wars series

1 thought on “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

  1. Pingback: Reviewing the Star Wars Series | Great Books Guy

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