Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) Director: Rian Johnson
“Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.”
Movies like The Last Jedi are a painful reminder that the Empire will always find a way to strike back. For reasons unknown to most Star Wars fans, Disney decided to allow the seventh Star Wars film to fall into the hands of a relatively unknown director who was granted complete creative freedom over the whole production. Rian Johnson (of Looper fame along with a celebrated episode of Breaking Bad) was chosen to direct the next highly anticipated Star Wars. Apparently, after gaining control of the project, Rian Johnson completely disregarded any notes given to him from J.J. Abrams, director of the preceding film The Force Awakens. In doing so, Johnson tossed away any hope of a coherent story arc spanning three films and unfortunately he elected to piece together a cynical, morally ambiguous, slapstick, sarcastic space opera which I believe is best viewed as a ridiculous comedy rather than anything remotely resembling a serious science fiction epic. Was it a risk? To be sure. Was it successful? Not in the slightest. The declining box office numbers spoke for themselves.
Overtly political, divisive, uninspiring, anti-climactic, and downright nasty in tone, The Last Jedi spawned one of the biggest fandom backlashes in history. Viewers were extremely disappointed to see their favorite heroes, legacy characters like Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, treated with such reckless disregard. Amidst an explosion of popular rebuke, there was also internal finger-pointing between actors and production staff over what went wrong with the film. This apparently led Disney executives to quietly re-assert control over the Star Wars franchise. In my view, many fans have been right to place The Last Jedi as among the worst sequels ever made. It even drew the ire of franchise creator George Lucas, and lead actors like Mark Hamill felt compelled to embark on an apology tour for the whole chaotic mess. The condemnation was so severe that Rian Johnson took to Twitter to lash out at Star Wars fans. It was an ugly situation across the board. Disney executives desperately attempted to bring balance to the force but the damage had been done. Writers and directors began dropping out for the third sequel film and bitterness over the franchise reached a boiling point. 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 cinematic exploitations in modern memory. It was a spectacular decline.
Fair warning: spoilers ahead. 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 simply a goofy comedy of errors –the heroes and villains in the film have no real obstacles to overcome. Instead they simply repeatedly encounter their own clumsy mistakes and random faux pas.
The plot takes place immediately following The Force Awakens. Somehow (reasons are never given) the First Order is utterly enormous has suddenly discovered a hideout of the Resistance located at a remote planetary base without explanation (in contrast, recall the Imperial probe droids 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 might likely be mountains of covert intelligence on the Resistance. Why? What does Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) truly want? What are the characters’ motivations here? Answers are never provided. The villainous First Order is portrayed as an all-powerful “Empire” with no clear motive other than to simply serve as a caricature of pure evil. Anyway, a Resistance evacuation is ordered and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) flies out in his starship as a distraction for the First Order. He makes an embarrassing ‘your mom’ joke that falls painfully flat for a Star Wars film, and from here we are introduced to a frothing, frivolous parody of a Nazi figure named General Hux (or “Hugs” is played by Domhnall Gleeson) a clownish leader within the First Order. Poe flies solo directly at a First Order starship in attempt to take out the cannons, but his ship is damaged so his droid BB-8 performs a comic looney tunes routine in an effort to plug the sparks. BB-8 eventually just rams his helmet into the space ship’s drive which somehow works. This silly moment miraculously fixes the ship and Poe destroys the last cannon. In many respects, 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 (Carrie Fisher), 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 First Order starship (despite the fact that there is no gravity in space, thus the “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 wounding the Resistance fleet, and he has destroyed all of the Resistance’s slow and destructible 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 movies) and also suddenly fuel is an issue for concern (this was never an issue before in all the previous Star Wars movies). So for the remainder of the film, we witness a slow chase –the First Order simply slowly follows the Resistance, hoping they run out of fuel or they deplete their shields. 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 the head-shaking conclusion to the previous film) and instead, one of his compatriot TIE fighters shoots the Resistance flagship which explodes open a window 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. It also unceremoniously represents the death of Admiral Ackbar. At any rate, Leia is put in a coma for much of the rest of the movie I guess, and Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), a highly disagreeable, purple-haired authoritarian with a starkly sinister and condescending attitude toward her male counterparts, is suddenly introduced and she refuses to reassure her crew with any sort of a plan. She offers no hope (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 (John Boyega) –now accompanied by a random guard situated among the escape pods named Rose Tico who demonstrates a laughably detailed knowledge of First Order ships– all 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 Force Awakens. Maz instructs 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 one of 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 at Canto Bight, and so they are immediately arrested and thrown in prison (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 HIS OWN 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 obviously 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 the film –Rose criticizes this Wall Street-esque planet for being populated by a bunch of rich people who have derived their wealth from the war racket. Instead of being an intelligent movie, the writers settled for this brand of cheap, easily digestible, melodramatic faux virtue for their feckless band of anti-heroes. At any rate, Finn and Rose et al escape on a stolen ship, and magically, DJ (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’s flagship where they hope to find the tracker beacon but the whole plan ultimately goes nowhere! They are immediately captured as DJ 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. The 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 (Mark Hamill) has finally returned! Only now he has become a filthy and disgraced curmudgeon who offers no hope for the Resistance or the Jedi anymore. He lives alone, embittered, on an island called “Ahch-To” waiting out his days until he can finally die. This was the low point of a very bad movie. When Rey (Daisy Ridley) arrives to meet this illustrious warrior, Luke simply tosses his own lightsaber off a cliff, refusing to speak with her, and he declines the opportunity to train her. The character of Luke is no longer the noble hero we last saw as the triumphant master in Return of the Jedi. Now, he is nasty, resentful, pathetic, and nihilistic. He once trained Kylo Ren to become a Jedi, but Kylo turned to the darkside so Luke, once the harbinger of optimism who never gave up hope even when his own father abandoned his values –the most evil figure in the original trilogy– now has decided to entirely abandon the force and retire to an island where he plans to face a cowardly death. He spends much of this portion of the film hoping the Jedi will 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 feel attached to a newly introduced Jedi library that has never appeared before, and apparently it contains secret texts filled with wisdom. The force ghost of Master Yoda suddenly appears as a silly creature and he ignites this supposedly important Jedi library in a downpour 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 Rey holds everything she needs inside herself –yet another eye-rolling platitude shoveled into this flailing script. But I guess we are led to believe, by 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 entirely 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 arise to lead the First Order from the ashes of the old Empire? Rian Johnson answers these questions with: 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 start twirling around in odd ways to avoid killing the main characters. This 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 darkside? Is she a secret sibling of Kylo? Questions abound. However, in this wonderful sequel, 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 before regrouping with 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 –they have been slowly inching along this whole time (the plan is only revealed after Poe organizes a mutiny among fellow crewmen who are fed up with Holdo’s terrible leadership). So the Resistance decides to evacuate itself onto small transport vessels which do not appear on tracking radar –even though they are wholly vulnerable and do not have shields or light speed the way some 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 had noticed this looming planet before now! Surely the First Order will immediately follow them down to the planet’s surface –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 DJ advises the First Order to kill the Resistance transport ships, thus immediately undermining Holdo’s abysmal plan. All the First Order needs to do is simply 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, suddenly proposes another reckless plan (while at the same time trashing young hothead heroes like Poe). She engages the hyperdrive system on her ship and light-speeds right into the First Order starships (somehow nearly all of the ships are destroyed, and somehow this was never possible in any of the previous films which presents yet another foolish retcon –why wouldn’t every single ship simply jump to light speed and crash into each other rather than shoot 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 his former captain when he was a stormtrooper named Phasma, a fearsome, battle-hardened warrior as detailed in The Force Awakens, but now she simply dies in an anti-climactic battle scene wherein Finn literally calls her “chrome dome” (not joking) and sends her falling down a flaming hole in the ground (she never appears again and we almost forget Finn was once a stormtrooper at this point). Who was Phasma and will she ever return again? I guess it doesn’t really matter, none of this is important. At any rate, all our heroes 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 accidentally). Then a battle ensues on the nearby planet (which is wholly covered in salt, in yet another deliberately derivative inversion of The Empire Strikes Back’s snow planet Hoth). Finn and Rose barely arrive into the giant Resistance 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 massive door easily. In response, the Resistance launches a few dilapidated ships that are mostly harmless and defenseless. Suddenly, Finn has an 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 while “dropping” the bombs on a starship and who hates deserters and who stands for defenseless peoples throughout the galaxy and so on). 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 touching moments in cinematic history, but the door to the Resistance hangar is then immediately burst open and everyone within the Resistance is ready to die. Then Rose utters the most cliche, vomit-inducing line of 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 aboard –again, somehow Rey has escaped the First Order in Snoke’s ship, and has gotten aboard the Millennium Falcon (this whole adventure is never detailed, merely glossed over).
Then, when all hope is lost Luke arrives 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 THEN 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 a mere minute or two 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. According to the script, Rey must be perfect, she must never lose a fight, and she must be more powerful than anyone else. 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 just 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 at any moment. Leia remarks 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. This serves as an attempt to democratize the force for all across the galaxy (Apparently families and genealogy no longer matter for some reason. This is just another good reminder of our heroes failures). Thus ends one of more pathetic attempts at trolling the Star Wars fanbase brought to you by a haphazard clutch of cynical corporate writers who never cared much about this franchise in the first place.
In case it’s not abundantly clear, The Last Jedi is a travesty. Rian Johnson would have been better suited to direct some cheap super hero movie, rather than thumbing his nose at this once great saga. The Last Jedi inverts the idea of the classical hero –heroes like the free-wheeling Han Solo or the young idealistic Luke Skywalker– and instead it offers one-dimensional caricatures of heroes like Rey or Poe, who is commanded to simply get in line and take orders from imperial dictators like Admiral Holdo (much like something the First Order or the Empire would do). Nothing is learned, nothing is gained by anybody; this is just a series of disjointed, jarring comical episodes. The lesson of the film, insofar as there is a coherent moral to draw from, is an embrace of deconstructing all things great in a legendary space opera. Gone are the days of Arthurian romance infused with science fiction and samurai themes as well as classical motifs inside a remarkably rich galaxy of cultures. Instead, a lot of irrelevant things happen in The Last Jedi; nobody grows or learns anything 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 clown show, 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.
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