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My Review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

6 Jul

July 6, 2018

This is a film that has split fandom in a way that even the prequels haven’t managed. Some fans absolutely loved it while others utterly, utterly hated it.

I hated it.

I’ll assume if you are reading this you’ve seen the film. There are spoilers ahead.

The movie failed on three levels: Characterization, plot, and theme. There were major problems with the film in every aspect. I’ll start with the simplest.

While most of the fans’ ire is directed toward how Luke Skywalker was portrayed, there were plenty of problems with most of the characters. Let’s take the classic characters first, from least screen time to most.

R2D2. R2 is one of the most popular characters in all of Star Wars and had prominent, usually vital roles in all the films of the original trilogy and the prequels. He even had a surprise cameo in Rogue One. Yet in The Force Awakens he was deactivated for all but the last few minutes, and in The Last Jedi he is relegated to just a few scenes, mostly in the background. In fact, other than showing Luke the original holographic message from Leia that started A New Hope, he did nothing at all. I am sure that this is a deliberate choice by Disney. They don’t want their former most popular droid to take away from their new most popular droid, BB8. They have a lot of marketing money tied up in that robot.

C-3PO. This is one character, maybe the only one, they got right. I got a good laugh out of Threepio not being able to stop himself from giving Poe the odds of escape, and I enjoyed Threepio’s trying to leave the bridge after Poe took it over because mutiny “is not protocol.” But he was a background player. He may as well not have been there. He had more important roles in most of the other films. His disappearance in Empire set off Chewie’s suspicion, and in Return of the Jedi it was he who got the ewoks on the rebels’ side. But in this film he was simply window dressing.

Chewbacca. I had high hopes. The Force Awakens was a high point for him. He had a real character (remember him showing off for the doctor as he got bandaged? His big role in the battle of Starkiller base?) Yet here he was relegated to flying the ship. I do have to give credit where credit is due. Chewie showed off his impressive piloting skills in the battle that ended the film, but for the bulk of the movie he was nothing but filler, and in one poorly conceived scene, comic relief. (More on that scene later.) And as a side note, who owns the Falcon now? It looks like Rey. Why? By all right’s that’s Chewie’s ship. I’d love to see Chewbacca take on a leadership role in the next film.

Leia. When did she become Patton? She slapped Poe for being disobedient and later stunned him with her blaster for his mutiny when all she had to do was order him to stand down. Parts of her character were nurturing and parts of her were ruthless. And there were a few lines that were jokes that were obvious Carrie Fisher contributions (“I know what you are going to say. I changed my hair”) that were good lines but didn’t fit the character.

Luke. It’s been well-documented that a good many fans did not like who Luke became: selfish, scared and a hermit. That he abandoned the Force. I agree. The argument that the pro-changes crowd makes is that after 30 years people change. They aren’t the same as when they were young. Why would Luke be the same person he was when we last saw him decades ago? To that I say yes, that’s what happens in real life. This is not real life. It is a movie and the writers sat down and decided where they wanted to take Luke’s character. And out of the dozens of directions they could have gone in, that’s the one they picked. If this were a biography and Luke Skywalker were a real living person I’d accept the “people change” argument. But this was a writer’s decision, and a bad one.

But I have another problem with Luke. After he fights Kylo he says “see you around, kid” and disappears. When he sees C-3PO after all these years he throws him a wink. When did Luke talk or act like that? This is supposed to be the old Luke back, his old self. But it never was his old self. That’s Han Solo talking. Those are Han Solo lines. More proof that the writers did not understand Luke.

And now the new characters.

Captain Phasma. A cool-looking character that gets wasted, literally and figuratively. Not only do they kill her off for no reason, she gets almost no screen time.

Poe. I liked him best, despite the utterly stupid crank call he pulls on Hux at the beginning of the film. As my brother pointed out, he was the only character with a real arc. He had to learn how to be a leader.

Finn. I like Finn but I do think he’s pretty stupid at times, and that diminishes his heroism a bit. But at least he was consistent from the last film.

Rey. What did people see in her? She spent the whole film angry or confused. And also a bit stupid. Yet somehow she became an amazing Jedi after, what, three days of training? I found nothing likeable about her in this film. Plus the writers have totally unimaginatively repeated the Luke/Vader dynamic with her and Kylo. “I sense good in him.”/ “Join me and we’ll rule the galaxy together.” This was the best they could do?

Kylo. In The Force Awakens I thought he was great as the angry teenager unable to live up to his family legacy. Here he needs more gravitas to pull off his part and Adam Driver simply does not have it.

Rose. Before I begin, I have to say that the fans who hounded her off the internet were insane animals. The actress did nothing to deserve it and I thought she did a good job in the role.

But the role was terrible. She was the worst Mary Sue character, total fanwank, equal to the worst in any piece of fanfic. But she was there for a reason, and I’ll put that aside and get to it later. She is the visual symptom of all that is wrong underlying this movie.

The Plot

The rebel fleet, down to a few ships, was being chased by the entire First Order fleet and their amazing array of ships with weapons that have been shown to be able to destroy anything in their path. Yet somehow the bad guys’ planet-destroying weapons are ineffective and they are unable- and unwilling!- to catch up to the rebels. They decide to follow them in a slow speed chase until the rebels run out of gas, when the First Order will be able to blow them away. Yes, it is a slow speed chase in space, the OJ white Bronco chase all over again. Why can’t the First Order send a ship in front of the rebels and blow them up? I have no idea. The whole slow chase made no sense. And not to bring physics into it, but it is space and who needs fuel? Their inertia should keep them moving forward. But when the ships run out of fuel they come to a dead stop. Why? Physics has never been a Star Wars strong suit. (Never mind that being as close to the rebel base planet as they are, they should have been pulled in by its gravity.)

Originality is also not a Star Wars strong suit, as once again the Empire- sorry, First Order, does not consider a small one-man snub fighter to be a danger. So of course Poe in his x-wing wipes out all the guns on the main destroyer. It seems that neither the bad guys nor the filmmakers learn.

During this non-action, Finn and Rose go to a casino to find a code breaker who will allow them to escape the bad guys. Why a casino? You’ll see.

Meanwhile, Rey and Luke are bickering and bickering on his island.

I’m leaving very little out to say that by the end of the film the entire rebellion now fits inside the Millennium Falcon. But despite the losses, the movie ends on a hopeful note, with a young boy who shows that the rebellion will never end, it will continue and be reborn.

Or will it? That’s the real problem. This is a message movie and by the end the filmmakers have fundamentally changed the point of the rebellion.

What makes a message movie? A message movie uses heavy-handed, emotionally loaded scenes to sway viewers to a certain point of view. It’s a sledgehammer. One incredibly obvious one was where Chewie had cooked a porg (basically a cute penguin) and was going to eat it. Another porg, with big cute eyes and a sad look on its face, stared at Chewbacca in sadness and despair until Chewie couldn’t eat it. There’s your veganism message.

But that’s a minor quibble compared to this movie’s overall theme of class warfare. Canto Bight is the casino where Finn and Rose go to find a codebreaker. He could have been anywhere. The fact that it was a casino added absolutely zero to the plot. It could have been a bakery or a factory. It made no difference. But it was important to the theme. As Rose said of the casino patrons, “I hate them.” Why? Because they were rich. And they were, each and every one, dressed like upper class snobs. They were presented as evil elites, as every one of them was said to be a banker buying and selling weapons, the real power behind the first Order, war profiteers. They were officious (“find the people who dared park on the beach!”) and predatory and sadistic in their abuse of the kids who worked (or were forced to work) in the stables. At least that’s the implication. They never explicitly show it. Make no mistake, the rich were treated with disdain and presented as terrible people despite the viewers never seeing anything terrible from them. It was simply bad that they had money. It was bad that they gambled while kids were cleaning stales. They were presented as having no moral center, simply because they had money. Rose and Finn even said so! Rose didn’t care that they stole one of their ships because, she said, look who they stole it from. It’s OK to take from the rich, right?

And that’s why Rose was here. She’s a common woman giving voice to what was meant to be the everyman or woman. Presented as the voice of conscience. If she said rich people were bad then yes, they were bad, despite no proof to the contrary. As she said, those rich people were the real enemy.

The message? Money is bad. Capitalism is bad. Star Wars used to be simple good vs evil. Well defined good guys and bad guys. No more. This is a Star War for the new political era.

As I said earlier, the film ends on a hopeful note that the rebellion will go on. A young boy from the casino stables uses force powers to summon his broom as he looks to the stars. But rebellion against who? This boy is not being held down by the First Order. He isn’t on an Imperial occupied world. He is being held down by the evil rich people. He is being mistreated in the stables of a casino. Is he going to go up against the First Order whom he may never have contact with, maybe even never heard of, or with the upper classes he sees looking down on him every day?

Disney took Star Wars and suddenly made it an “us vs. the 1%” class struggle.

 

 

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