*peers around corner nervously*
Hi, y'all. It's been a hot minute. Life's been bananas, but the semester is drawing to a conclusion and though I have much left on my plate to finish before January, I fulfilled my obligations and saw The Last Jedi.
Going into it, I was somewhat nervous for where the series was headed. I really enjoyed The Force Awakens, though perhaps my enthusiasm was amplified by the fact that I was seeing a Star Wars film on the big screen when I thought for years that Revenge of the Sith was the final say in the saga. With the passage of time, I realized that TFA wasn't quite the cinematic masterpiece, but it was an enjoyable addition that attempted to assure and assuage the viewing public that the franchise was safe in Disney's hands. It rectified some of the glaring holes of the prequels, yet there was definitely a sense of playing it safe.
What I disliked most about TFA was exactly what everyone else disliked—the "playing it safe" bit. I also thought that the plot, in its pitting of a retrofitted Empire against a retrofitted Rebellion, was one that negated the original trilogy in good overcoming evil. If the evil just came back, with the same outfits and the same weapons ... then what was the point? I will give George Lucas the credit he deserves in making the prequels something fresh and different, not just a series of callbacks (or would they have been call-forewards?) to the OT.
With Rogue One interleaved between actual episodes, I saw a different side. I really enjoyed Rogue One—more than TFA—but with it came an overwhelming sense of just how J.J. Abrams treated familiar characters in TFA. CGI!Tarkin and Darth Vader figure prominently in Rogue One, but the film doesn't feel weighted down by their presence. I wrote about the problems with creating good prequels a long time ago on Blogarithm, and I applauded Rogue One for telling the story in an exciting (and shocking!) way. We knew how it ended up, but that didn't stop it.
Now onto The Last Jedi. In short: I didn't like it. Its holes were glaring. In an attempt to break itself free from being a rehashed mashup of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, we instead got a jumble of underutilized actors, unutilized plot points, and familiar faces acting well out of character, in addition to continued use of past themes from the OT as TFA had. I'll be clear: TLJ is not The Phantom Menace, but if the dialogue were worse, it might be a contender for Star Wars bottom-feeder.
If you've seen the film, my more exact qualms are Spoiler-fied. And I have many issues.
• Leia's death fake-out? What on Earth? No. Have her be injured in the fire, but not thrown out into space only for her to wake up and Force her way back. Leia never got a chance to really be a Jedi in the films and it's a criminal shame. Just once, I wanted to see her whip out a lightsaber and cut down a few Stormtroopers. By my count, her only other use of the Force in the entire saga was to communicate with Luke. With Carrie Fisher's tragic passing, there's no chance of it now. They could have had her Force her way onto the locked bridge!
• Look. I've not studied screenwriting for a day in my life, but building your entire 2.5-hour film off of an elongated chase/standoff makes no sense. I don't care what universe you're from. People give the podrace a hard time, but that was a) only 15 minutes, b) actually exciting, and c) groundbreaking use of computer-generated imagery that honestly still holds up. It also had some plot relevance, not some plot holding pattern. Did we need to get reminded every five minutes that they were running low on fuel? I've been on enough road trips to know that you make it a lot longer than you think on a low tank.
• I was sick of Luke's mopiness on that island place before we even got there, and his actions throughout the film were very out of character. I'm glad Mark Hamill's back in a major motion picture after all this time, and his performance was one of the highlights for me, but man, was he out of character the whole time. Again, it negates his ENTIRE ARC in the OT if you're just going to have him turn back into a whiny kid who wanted to go to Tosche Station to pick up those power converters. The pacing of Rey's training was just too long and inconsistent—and again, we didn't need Rey telling Luke every few seconds that the Resistance needs him.
• Not to have two consecutive points on the same thing, but Luke just tossing his old lightsaber over his shoulder like that was a garbage move. It encapsulated the problem with Luke's character that went throughout the film and whoever had that idea needs to be thrown in the Great Pit of Carkoon.
• We're never going to find out who Supreme Leader Snoke is, are we? That was a major plot point teased throughout TFA and TLJ, and then they just ... drop it like it's nothing. I hated this move. While critics are losing their minds over the fact that they killed him off in the second part of a trilogy as opposed to the grand finale, it was a) utterly unceremonious, b) served to make Kylo Ren a good guy for all of about two minutes because the plot demanded it, before he once again became the temper-tantrum manchild we've all come to know and love somewhat tolerate, and c) had no major repercussions save for making Ren the new Supreme Leader.
• Yes, Ren is conflicted, and I would have welcomed the lack of backstory on Snoke just to really develop Ren as an antihero or even a hero. His entire story arc was leading up to that, which I thought was well done: his refusal to kill his mother, bashing his mask to bits, his conflict over ForceSkype (which led to that really awkwardly inserted shirtless scene), and then finally his apparent turn towards the light was a really nice move ... which they then kill by turning him right back into the ultimate bad guy for no real reason other than the plot demanding it.
• Still on Snoke: this is the guy behind the First Order. It would be nice to know how he got to be there. If it's just Empire Part II, let's find out what link he has to the original Emperor, or the Sith, or something. In the grand scheme of things, a line here or there from Snoke to Ren would have given a lot of continuity to a body of work that, two episodes in, feels Disney-fied in its sense of mass-produced "magic." The line in TFA about clone troopers was a good example. It wasn't intrusive, but it was like "hey, you're still watching Star Wars." No such luck in TLJ.
• No "I have a bad feeling about this?" I didn't catch it in there if it was. You can't have a Star Wars movie without it, and there were more places in this one than in many to actually include it! It felt a bit forced in TFA, but no one found a problem with it because that's the Star Wars line. Don't make an episode without it.
• Something I really appreciated about the OT is that there were unique characters in the Empire and you got the sense that they ranged from career military officers (Admiral Ozzel, Moff Jerjerrod) to true Empire believers (Grand Moff Tarkin, General Veers) to just guys doing their job (fan-favorite Admiral Piett). It gave a sense of reality and depth that just going to one main military villain in Hux doesn't do, and Hux isn't nuanced enough to carry out any one of these stereotypes. He's some kind of cardboard cutout from Monty Python told to be a serious military commander, and he's campy enough that Lucas might just composite him into the the next special edition of the prequel trilogy.
• Okay, let me get this straight. You go to a gambling place, and you don't even give Lando a cameo? If you're going to bring back a bunch of old characters, why not at least put Lando's name on a casino? WHERE IS LANDO?
• Hot take: the Resistance had a stupid escape plan and should have gone with Poe's plan. Despite not having approval from bad-wigged Admiral Holdo, the plan still almost worked and might have fully worked had it been officially sanctioned. Poe screwed up big-time with the bombing raid, but it was run with Leia's consent—and the infiltration was Finn and Rose's plan, not Poe's! In an attempt to make some point about Poe's hotheadedness and sexism being his weakness, they instead made the women in charge look weak and incompetent, and that's hard to do when it's Laura Dern under whatever was passing for her hair. Instead, the moral of the story comes off as a scathing indictment of the chain of command, when it's clearly intended to be a message about respecting those in power who happen to be women.
• What would have prevented Admiral Holdo from telling the Resistance the plan from the beginning? In order to teach Poe a lesson when the fate of the entire Resistance is threatened, she hatches some stunt that nearly kills them all when it backfires. Relatedly ...
• If they First Order has an anti-cloaking-device, why don't they always use it? Moreover, it's not mentioned like it was an uncommon thing, so why did Admiral Holdo act like having the Resistance abandon their last ship would do anything? Nothing about her plan makes sense. Cutting through the fleet by a hyperspace jump was awesome and might be my favorite moment in the series, but other than that the entire official Resistance plan was nonsensical.
• Speaking of an absolute waste of female characters: Captain Phasma once again was the new Boba Fett. Stand around and look cool? Check. Actually be cool, and on-screen, and doing things? A big fat nope. The fight between her and Finn was going to be epic until it ... wasn't. Gwendoline Christie's complaints about the training regimen in the press junket made me think that she was going to heavily feature, and instead the fight was sneeze-and-you'll-miss-it short.
• Where was the big, emotionally charged lightsaber fight? I didn't expect it out of Rogue One but I expected a nice juicy showdown somewhere. Luke vs. Kylo Ren? Rey vs. Snoke? Rey and Ren vs. the revamped Imperial Guards was the closest we got, and even then it wasn't a true lightsaber battle.
• Back to Poe. His relative sparseness in TFA meant that he wasn't as well-developed as Finn or Rey, so I expected some Poe action to flesh out his character. Instead he's just the hothead we already know, just as much so outside the cockpit as inside. His embrace of BB-8 in the final act was the most nuance we got out of him the entire way. Oscar Isaac deserves better.
• Rey is apparently a "nobody." After playing with her origins for nearly two movies, you expect me to believe that Rey and Ren aren't related? Come on. It makes perfect sense and I thought it was what it was leading to. To wit: Luke isn't actually there when he's facing Ren, and yet he can touch his sister Leia and she can feel his presence, which is only otherwise seen between Rey and Ren. My theory is that it's a familial thing.
• Yoda coming back was cool, but a) where has he been, b) where are all the other Force ghosts, and c) why does the ESB/ROTJ puppet still look better than whatever Muppet monstrosity they pulled here? My millennial may be showing, but give me digital Yoda any day. And while you're at it, get some Force ghost consistency! They were bluer, more glowy on the edges, and ever-so-slightly translucent in the OT. Yoda looked like he had some bad iMovie effect on him here. It's not like you haven't got money! You spent most of it on those ice coyotes or whatever they were that only showed up for five seconds.
• Eat the Porg, Chewie. It's worse if you kill it and then don't eat it; its death serves no purpose.
• There was stuff I liked, for sure, but I thought most of those elements were underused or screwed up by subsequent reveals. Luke walking through all that AT-AT fire like it was nothing was goose-bump-inducing, but whoops, turns out he's a Force Doppelganger!
• The final battle was Battle of Hoth, Part II. Take out that red mineral, and it's even more of a dead ringer. It's not like there aren't other interesting terrains upon which to do battle. It was the inclusion of walkers that was especially Hoth-y.
• Luke's death was deeply dissatisfying. Having him become one with the Force like Obi-Wan was something I knew they'd go with (I had no illusions that Luke was surviving this trilogy), but I thought for sure that it'd be in battle with Kylo Ren. Being able to survive that blaster barrage using the Force to repel the fire would have been incredible and Luke would truly cement his place as a Jedi Master ... but nope! Instead he just passes out on a rock in the middle of nowhere.
• John Williams is 85. I thought his score to TFA was strong, compositionally speaking, but TLJ went in one ear and out the other. Either he had a bad day at the office on this one or he's no longer at the height of his powers. The medley that plays over the end credits is something I always stick around for, and it only confirmed TLJ as the weakest musically. Michael Giacchino had two weeks to score Rogue One and it was twice as good as TLJ. (The prequels will always be Williams' best work, in my opinion. If you disagree, listen to Duel of the Fates and get back to me.)