Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) Director: Rian Johnson
For reasons unknown to most fans of Star Wars, Disney in their infinite wisdom decided to allow the new Star Wars sequel to fall into the hands of a relatively unknown director, and he was granted complete creative freedom with 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 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 once being chosen as director, Rian Johnson completely disregarded any notes given to him by J.J. Abrams about continuing the first film, The Force Awakens, into two more movies 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 film 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, critical rebuke from true lovers of Star Wars, and endless finger-pointing between actors and production staff led Disney to quietly re-assume control of the Star Wars franchise, wresting it away from the unpopular decisions of 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, drawing the ire of franchise creator George Lucas, to fans, to critics, to Disney shareholders, the production teams at LucasFilm and Disney, and forcing its lead actors like Mark Hamill to launch 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 collapsing situation. Writers and directors began drop out of line to direct the third film. 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 a comedy of errors: the heroes and the villains have no real obstacles to overcome, simply a series of clumsy mistakes and random faux pas. A great many fans have spent hours delving into each scene of this film, analyzing what a truly cynical, terrible movie it is.
The plot takes place immediately following the previous film, but this is the only 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 Empire to discover the rebel base on Hoth). The First Order decides to destroy the base which has been mostly evacuated already 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? Answers are never provided. The villains are all-powerful with no clear motive other than just appearing evil. Anyway a Resistance evacuation is ordered and Poe Dameron flies out as a distraction. He makes a ‘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 leader of the First Order. Poe flies solo directly at the 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. Then Poe disobeys Leia, and the Resistance sends out some very 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 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 now an issue (again, this was never an issue before in all the previous Star Wars adventures). So for the remainder of the film, the First Order simply slowly chases 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. Riveting.
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 previous film) and instead one of his compatriot TIE fighters shoots open a Resistance ship window which 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 cartoonishly silly trope in the 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 believe their deaths may be imminent, so Poe and Finn (now accompanied by a random escape pod guard 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 for guidance. Maz tells them to go to 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 side-plot in any Star Wars movie. The group flies to the casino planet at lightspeed on an escape pod (no one in the First Order apparently cares 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?! – yet another glaring misstep from the writers of this brilliant script). By the characters’ own stupidity, they park their ship on a public beach, so they are arrested and thrown in prison on the casino planet (as would of course happen in a silly comedy film, the protagonist’s own incompetence drives the plot forward). But wait! In their prison cell is an imprisoned 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 trustworthy. Somehow, by great fortune this prison cell-mate also has 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, and en route to their ship they free a bunch of animals in order to storm through the planet while leaving the rest of the planet enslaved. Again, this is more of the not-so-subtle political propaganda which comes to light as they criticize this giant Wall Street-esque planet for being a bunch of rich people who derived their wealth from the business of war -instead of being an intelligent movie, the writers settle for 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 back to the First Order ship. They quickly arrive and easily enter the First Order flagship to find the tracker beacon (which is apparently the whole point of this side plot as it takes up way too much of the film) but the whole plan ultimately goes nowhere! They are captured as Benicio del Toro’s character betrays the Resistance (imagine that!) so they are condemned to a painful death. This entire side-plot was an entirely meaningless waste of time -nothing learned, nothing gained. It is perhaps best watched if dubbed over with a laugh track.
Now, one of the other B-plots in The Last Jedi is just as terrible – Luke has become a filthy and disgraced curmudgeon who has no hope for the Resistance anymore. He lives alone and embittered on an island waiting to die. When Rey arrives, he simply tosses his own lightsaber off a cliff, refusing to speak to her, and he declines the opportunity to train her. The character of Luke is no longer the hopeful, noble hero we last saw in the Return of the Jedi. He describes how he once trained Kylo as a Jedi, but Kylo turned to the dark side so Luke, once the harbinger of optimism who never gave up even on his evil father, decides to entirely give up on the force and retire to an island to hide out and die. He spends much of this portion of the film hoping the Jedi die out and bring an end to the endless 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 attempts to do to the franchise – “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 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 the jedi’s ancient wisdom for no reason (and also apparently force ghosts like Yoda can now command the forces of nature). Yoda denounces the books and says Rey has everything she needs inside her 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. At any rate, Rey travels to Kylo after they communicate through the Force with one another 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 is apparently meaningless. Then Rey and Kylo fight the 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. The scene has been debunked numerous times for its impressive number of errors. 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? – but then Kylo merely informs Rey that her parents are ‘nobodies’ or little more than filthy junk traders who pawned off their daughter for money -yet another hopeful mythology cast aside in this barn-burner of a film. Then, Kylo fights Rey but being all powerful for no reason Rey manages to escape in Snoke’s ship (her dramatic escape is glossed over, not shown, and merely explained in passing) while Kylo awakens and blames Snoke’s death on Rey.
Meanwhile, Admiral Holdo finally reveals her plan to evacuate everyone in the Resistance because they have been slowly inching along this whole time (this only happens 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 that do not appear on tracking radar – even though they 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. Amazing that no one noticed it before! Surely the First Order will immediately follow them after landing on the planet!
Back on the First Order ship, the prison hacker advises the First Order to kill the Resistance transport ships. All they have 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 plan (while once again trashing young reckless 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 previous films – why wouldn’t every single ship simply jump to light speed and crash into each other’s ships rather than shooting at them?? This is yet again a glaring retcon and plot-hole in the film).
In the destruction of the ships, Finn and Rose escape from the First Order, but only after Finn battles with the former head of the stormtroopers named Phasma in an anti-climactic battle where 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 any rate, they all escape the collapsing First Order ship thanks to BB-8 who operates an AT-AT (BB-8 is a droid who reveals himself to be one of the few competent characters in the film). Then a battle ensues on the planet (which is wholly covered in salt – another deliberate subversion from Empire’s snow planet, Hoth). Finn and Rose barely make it into the giant hangar base in time. The First Order (as predicted) arrives right on their tail with a huge cannon that can blast open the door easily. The Resistance launches out with a few dilapidated ships that are mostly harmless and defenseless, and Finn gets the idea to kamikaze directly into the cannon to save the others – BUT SUDDENLY Rose appears and prevents him from doing so (again, this is the girl whose family dies at the beginning “dropping” the bombs on a starship and who hates deserters and who stands for defenseless peoples throughout the galaxy and so on). Suddenly somehow she has decided Finn’s heroic actions are not warranted. So she crashes into him and saves him, also she kisses him in one of the least romantic moments in cinematic history, but the door to the Resistance hangar is immediately burst open and everyone is ready to die, but at least she got a kiss out of it I suppose. Then she utters the most cliche, eye-rolling 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 – 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 a hero to save the day! However, he is still disgruntled and unpleasant as he battles Kylo in another uninspiring battle scene and then WE FIND OUT LUKE IS SOMEHOW MERELY A HOLOGRAM! He is not even truly battling Kylo! 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 a few minutes prior. Anyway, Rey lifts a huge number of rocks using the force even though she has not been trained and Luke was barely able to lift one or two while training for weeks or months on Dagobah in Empire – but this is just yet another glaring overlook by the writers. The “heroes” all escape and embrace each other in a moment of happiness – even though they have lost hundreds of Resistance fighters and are now whittled down to a force of approximately twelve people by the end of the film as they board the Millennium Falcon with the First Order likely a mere second or two behind them. Leia says to Rey that all they really need is one another (imagine that!) Lastly, there is an odd bit at the end of the film, where a poor child somewhere in the galaxy uses the force to grab a broom, he is inspired by the stories of the the Resistance as the directors clearly attempt to democratize the force for all oppressed children everywhere (snooze: another good reminder of all the things our heroes failed to accomplish in this film). Thus ends one of more pathetic attempts at trolling the Star Wars fanbase 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 successful Star Wars films at the box office. In the wake of the film’s extreme and 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, they quickly announced several new Star Wars films, most notably Solo: Star Wars Story, which 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 sinking ship and many 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 in his opposition to Luke being portrayed so terribly, Carrie Fisher called Rian Johnson an “asshole,” and John Boyega spoke out about his dissatisfaction with his character being relegated to a goofy side-plot whereas in the first film he was the co-star with Rey (and the tragedy is that his character had such extraordinary potential for this film series). In reaction to the huge outcry among the public, many in the media predictably accused 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 put on hold any further Star Wars spin-off movies after Solo unexpectedly bombed losing 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 put in place for concluding this trilogy – writers and directors simply made it all up as they went along. Big surprise with this one! One can only hope the Star Wars saga can be salvaged in Episode IX after this dumpster-fire of a film.
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 action-hero Marvel movie, rather than thumbing his nose at this once great saga. The Last Jedi turns on its head the idea of the classical hero, like the independent free-wheeling Han Solo or the young idealistic Luke Skywalker, and instead advises heroes to simply get in line and take orders from their imperial dictators like Admiral Holdo (much like the the First Order or the Empire!) Nothing learned, nothing gained; just a series of disjointed, jarring comical episodes. This moral of the film, insofar as there is a coherent moral, is a weak deconstruction of all things great in a legendary space opera. Basically, a lot of irrelevant things happen in the film; nobody grows, and 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 that fans came to love, 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 we should focus our intellectual efforts on a far superior trilogy, with The Empire Strikes Back as one of the greatest sequels of all time. Hopefully, Episode IX can salvage this sinking ship of a saga but I have completely lost all faith in the franchise at this point.