Returning to The Last Jedi...
by Dan Collacott
Before I watched the final film in the series, I felt it was time to return to Rian Johnson’s divisive franchise behemoth to reflect on whether or not the second film in the final trilogy of the Skywalker story really deserved the kind of negative attention it earned on release in 2018.
First of all I want to state that I don’t agree with some of the disgusting abuse and trolling that was metered out on social media to the actors, actresses and makers of this film. Everyone deserves an opinion but things got way out of hand. But I also don’t sit on the fence when it comes to this film either, when I left the IMAX after viewing Last Jedi I was filled with feelings of extreme confusion, in fact ‘what the hell did I just watch?’ was genuinely my overriding emotion as I walked into the night.
What felt strange is the majority of the British press had given the film glowing critiques, praising the film like it was a sci-fi masterpiece. Even specialist film publications like Empire and Total Film had nothing but praise for this middle section in the Rey and Ren story. Their words rang in my ears like a hand grenade at close quarters, distorting my feelings, clouding my judgment and leaving me thinking ‘is there something wrong me?’ because I really didn’t enjoy the last two and a half hours given over to this befuddling cinematic enterprise.
It is worth noting that I did grow up with Star Wars, I think New Hope was on TV one Christmas. I watched Empire on a video rental and then aged about 5 saw Return of the Jedi in the cinema (and then every film that followed). I didn’t enjoy the prequels a great deal even if Revenge of the Sith had it’s moments. But I respected the fact those movies were for a new, younger audience and in the years that have passed I have been more accepting of their existence.
But when Disney bought Lucasfilm there was a new hope (gettit?) that the story would be reinvigorated and continued in a way that would both service the hardcore Star Wars fans and bring a new audience to the franchise. JJ Abrahams felt like a safe pair of hands, he’d already done a decent job of relaunching the Star Trek cinematic film franchise and it was felt he couldn’t do any worse than the prequels.
Abrahams played it extremely safe with Force Awakens, providing a soft reboot of New Hope with a familiar templates of heroes, villains, creatures and droids that would fit seamlessly into the Star Wars universe. Almost by virtue of the fact ‘it didn’t suck’ Force Awakens earned a pass with most fans and brought the box office and merchandise profits that Disney wanted. Despite its issues during filming Rogue One also proved a critical triumph with both the fans and the press, but as this was a stand alone prequel it perhaps shouldn’t be included in this retrospective, other to say at this stage Disney seemed to be getting Star Wars unquestionably right!
But back to Last Jedi, I have tried over and over again to not join the tidal wave of angry sentiment towards this film. Even as I started to watch the film again one year on I found much of the film jarringly unwatchable, experiencing the same strange fails in logic and baffling plot decisions. Only this time I decided to list everything I saw, recording all things the film got right and the much longer list of things the film in my opinion missed the mark on.
Lets start with the Good
It didn’t look out of place
The overall cinematography and feel of Last Jedi remains accomplished, with SFX and cinematography delivering throughout.
The ‘we’re connected’ story arc between Rey and Ren worked really well, Ridley and Driver have undoubted on screen chemistry.
Maz Kanata sidelined
This may seem a bit harsh, but I am not a fan of the ‘pure CGI’ characters in Star Wars and while I don’t hate Maz I was quietly glad she was only given a short cameo. On the other hand it would have been nice to finally find out how she got hold of Luke’s light saber.
A dark edge
Johnson definitely made Last Jedi feel a bit more darker and emotional, as obviously if Force Awakens was a New Hope reboot, then Last Jedi had to cast the same shadow as Empire once did. Arguably Johnson went even further, ramping up the ‘we can’t win can we?’ stakes to an all time high.
Focus on Rey
The fact the film focuses in on Rey at the expense of Poe and Finn maybe irritated some fans, but in some ways this wasn’t a bad thing. Treading some of the same ‘path to the dark side’ steps that Luke took during Empire Strikes Back still resonated. Jettisoning away from some entitled parentage to the ‘everyone can be a hero’ mantra is also perhaps not as bad as it seems.
And now… the Bad
Poe Dameron is a dick
In Force Awakens, Poe was introduced to audiences as a sort of Luke/Han Solo hybrid, the loveable dashing rogue that women hate to love and men want to be. Only he wasn’t ever actually given any chauvinistic one liners, he didn’t use the word ‘Princess’ like it was a belittling ‘silly woman’ style term. And yet he spends the entire of Last Jedi being portrayed as a stupid, untrustworthy, rebellious, anti-woman, bell end. He contrives to wipe out half of his own fleet in the opening attack on the First Order. From then on, the resistance sidelines him. His biggest issue seems to be that Vice Admiral Holdo and some of her crew has a plan that they refuse to share with Poe (and if they had then he wouldn’t have kicked into action a useless sub-plot which added nothing to the narrative). He gets a bit of redemption at the end but on the whole is made to look like a hotheaded berk. Lucas has already edited to oblivion the ‘Han shot first’ notion, refusing to believe that Solo would act without honour. Now Poe throughout Last Jedi has had his testicles live edited out to the point his role is no more than a strange cameo (actually I’d go even further and say in this film he is made into the Jar Jar Binks of the new trilogy).
Luke is a dick
At the end of Force Awakens we saw the emotionally charged moment where Rey finally found Luke and handed him his lightsaber (hours of blood sweat and tears built up to that point). Roll credits. Roll titles for the start of Last Jedi and that very scene rolls on with Luke tossing the iconic weapon over the cliff in sneering disdain. He then proceeds (initially) to be a grumpy old twat, with little interest in helping Rey or his old chums. Yes of course we get he is a reclusive hermit burnt by the betrayal of Ren (and his Knights) and he does of course eventually find redemption and a degree of revenge. He just didn’t need to be such a weird grumpy old git with a personality a million miles away from the Luke the fans knew and loved.
Force Ghost Yoda is a dick
During Empire Strikes Back when Luke first meets the hairy green Jedi master; he is an eccentric and highly ridiculous old hermit, a sort of Muppet caricature. This fact was in itself a ruse, an act, before he then revealed his true wise and awesome self to the impatient young future Jedi. So it’s strange then that death seems to have turned Yoda back into that early and zany caricature version of himself. Not wise, not measured, just a bit of a twat who can inexplicably set the greatest works of the Jedi volumes 1-100’ on fire with ‘force ghost lightening’ (that thing we all wondered if force ghosts could do but never thought to ask about).
Finn is a dick
Ok so Finn isn’t really a dick, but in Force Awakens he cowardly does a runner from the First Order and in Last Jedi he cowardly does a runner from the resistance. Ok so for very different and understandable reasons, but his role in Last Jedi is massively reduced. The love story angle is horribly undercooked, the side mission is a failure and all of the chemistry built up with Rey in the previous film is jettisoned as the two share very little screen time together.
Chewbacca is a dick
Just kidding, but he doesn’t do much in the film other than befriend Porgs, which brings me to…
You can’t even elevate them to the role of ‘flying Ewoks.’ The makers just decided to CGI over the local island bird population where they filmed the Rey and Luke scenes with a slightly dumber and more annoying bird species. They don’t work as comic relief and we have no idea why Chewbacca didn’t BBQ a few for a tasty snack. But hey it’s all about merchandising opportunities!
The Knights that say… Neee screen time
The mysterious Knights of Ren were a backstory that many fans were desperate to uncover. Force users likened to a modern version of the Sith, led by Kylo Ren and instrumental to his betrayal of Luke (and Han probably). But where did they come from? Who trained them? What is their relationship to Snoke or any other Sith/First Order/Empire faction? Oddly they didn’t feature at all, leaving them as another piece of narrative to be shoe horned into the already crowded Rise of Skywalker script.
Portrayed in Force Awakens by a giant 70ft holo projection, the gruesomely disfigured, believably powerful and evil Supreme Leader Snoke proved to be the perfect villain. There was just the right amount of mystery and dread surrounding the First Order’s leader. Fast-forward to Last Jedi and Snoke in person is just an ‘ordinary sized’ old man, who is quickly and very easily dismembered by Kylo Ren. We never find out who he was or anything about his mysterious backstory. Another long pointless set up only to be comically wasted in one of Johnson’s many ‘don’t care what Abraham’s wrote I’m doing this my way’ moments, which brings me to…
Rey aint special
A year of fun speculation of who Rey is the daughter of (or related to), came to an abrupt close when Ren reveals her parents were nobodies. The fans wanted her to be another Skywalker, Solo or even better part of Palpantine’s bloodline. Instead ‘ha ha she’s none of the above you nerds’ was what we got. Ok as mentioned above some people like the ‘anyone can be a hero’ story arc, but erm well many didn’t.
Rey confronts her destiny in what looks like a giant vagina, enough said.
Wasted in the first film (she shut down Star Killer’s shields because Finn pointed a gun at her!). Gwendoline Christie and her awesome silver armour return to put right the wrongs of the first film, getting revenge and kicking some ass! Except she gets even less screen time and is embarrassingly easily killed off by Finn, ‘but wait did she really die?’ I hear none of you cry, nope she’s really very dead this time. A deleted scene shows her being blasted off a different level of the same edge by Finn, yet again.
The Holdo Maneuver
The source of many memes and face palms. For some reason the Vice Admiral stands and watches what little there is of the resistance get wiped out by the First Order before deciding to hyperspace her own ship into the First Order's huge bad ass ship the Supremacy. A heroic and cool move but one she could have taken about ten minutes earlier with any of the big ships, thus saving a lot of lives.
It feels awful calling out anything the late Carrie Fisher did as bad, as she deserves so much respect but this was the only minor blot on her participation in any of the Star Wars films. But I just can’t ignore the fact that someone thought it would be great to have Princess Leia escape a burning ship by floating out into space, like a very resilient Mary Poppins. The worst part of this was fans had always hoped/suspected Leia had force powers and would become a Jedi…. but re-enforcing such a long held notion with such a goofy set piece really was the worst possible ‘I f*cking knew it’ type reveal.
Romancing the Rose
Finn and Rose’s strange romance story arc felt very rushed with plenty of their actual interactions and growth as a couple clearly sent crashing to the cutting room floor in the final edit. This is no fault of the actors who in the scenes that remained still didn’t replicate any of the wooden acting and dialogue that befell Padme and Anakin in the prequels. Their interactions just didn’t get enough screen time to save their needless and incredibly botched sub-plot, neatly leading me to...
The Canto Bight sub plot
So Maz tells Poe to find some dude on a casino planet, Finn sneaks off with Rose in defiance of Holdo and co to track down the ‘master code breaker’ they fail, but run into Slicer (Benico Del Toro with a weird stammer) who double crosses them, but they both eventually escape and return to the resistance having achieved absolutely nothing other than an excuse for a barely cooked romance plot and lots of montages of riding on CGI horse things and young force users/future Jedi being rammed down our throat as we all love young Annie from Phantom Menace didn’t we? ‘But look it’s an evil capitalist planet’ I hear none of you cry, as if you wouldn’t love visiting ‘Las Vegas the Planet’.
Not bad not good but I still have questions…
The Lack of Resistance
I get that the much of The Rise of Skywalker’s plot will involve finding and uniting the ‘rest of the resistance’ but it does seem odd that the ‘rag tag rebellion’ is so pathetic in this film (ok yes I know Poe wiped out all the fleet’s bomber ships). The Ski Speeders used near the end are comically crap and by the final scenes of the film the resistance consists of just 7 people, not including Porgs and those weird foxes. In contrast to…
The First Order f*ck yeah!
Why did all Star Wars fans go through the emotional rollercoaster of seeing the Empire lose and the Rebellion win in the original trilogy, only to find out that 30 years later (or something like that) a new surprisingly similar organization also led by (Sith like) evil dark force users called ‘The First Order’ have risen up and now have 1000 times the power and resources of their previous incarnation. So basically everything that happened in the original films was utterly pointless, the rebellion would be better off had they just left Vader and Palps alone to get on with it.
If you have ghost
Granted the rules of what a force ghost can or can’t do have never been set in stone, so whoever took steps to widen that mythos was always going to get their good hand critically cut off. We’ve never ever quite understood what a force ghost is or does, the fact that George himself seems to edit who they are played by at the end of Return of the Jedi every few years doesn’t help. What governs their age, their form, and their abilities? Why hasn’t Qui-Gon shown up after being confirmed as a force ghost? Have any of the hundreds of Jedi to have been killed by Order 66 become ghosts?
But returning to Last Jedi we have Yoda who in force ghost form (seems to lose some brain function) and can shoot force lightening into the real world (and he really hates Jedi history). But Obi-Wan force ghost did none of these things. But speaking of non-ghost powers...
The fact Luke can project his image over thousands maybe even millions of miles of universe is very cool (again something Yoda and Obi-Wan don’t attempt and nor does any of the Sith). But why does doing it lead to Luke’s death (or his transition to force ghost) and can force ghosts project? Did Luke just decide his last act as a physical Jedi would be this long distance projection, after which he decided to give up his body?
Ok time to wrap this up
The fairly obvious conclusion is The Last Jedi is pretty much as bad as it always seemed one year on. This does feel disappointing, as all the trolling and calls of 'toxic fandom' made me feel ashamed to be a hardcore Star Wars fan. I do standby the fact that even if you didn’t grow up with Star Wars you would struggle to think this film is good as even ignoring the franchise mythos, structurally it is poor and it is peppered with extremely daft leaps in logic. Would it fit well in the recent DC canon alongside films like Suicide Squad, Batman vs. Superman and Justice League, yes it would! (Some people like those films). It is possible that if JJ Abrahams does a good enough job with Rise of Skywalker that Last Jedi might benefit, finding some redemption from its defiance of the rules, character traits and story that went before it. Sadly, It could also get even worse! (Update it didn't get worse, but in Rise of Skywalker, J.J Abrahams just retconned the things the things that annoyed the fans in the last film and packed in a lot of extra fan service, to make a very crammed film with some admittedly good moments)
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