[review will contain spoilers and will assume the reader has, at minimum, some ancillary knowledge of the film]
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has proved to be the most divisive Star Wars film to date; it’s 39 point split between critics (92% fresh) and laymen (53%) on Rotten Tomatoes (as of this writing) well attests to this (it is similarly contested on a variety of other movie review aggregation sites as well). The point of this review, as with all my reviews, is to lay out some solid do’s and don’t’s for prospective or active-but-inexperienced writers as pertains to things such as world-building, character-building, narrative fluidity, in-story believability and so forth, thus I will cover this split between audience and critic in as brief a way as possible. Put most starkly and shortly: Critics are far more left-leaning and ideologically and politically self-aware than your average, vape-sucking, porg-collecting, Cowboy-Bebop-apparel-wearing, Joe-bag-of-doughnuts and the film is very, very heavy-handed with it’s progressive political messaging. More on that later – first, the plot.
Refersher on the plot.
The plot of The Last Jedi takes off directly after the events of the previous installment (The Force Awakens, 2015) and begins with our bland Mary Sue of a protagonist, Rey, confronting a defeated and cynical Luke Skywalker, demanding he come assist the Rebel Alliance. Later she asks his guidance for training. Skywalker refuses both, struggling with the weight of his past mistakes; namely, training Kylo Ren who had slaughtered or corrupted all of his other Jedi-students. At the same time, the First Order starfleet, led by General Hux catches up to the disordered remnants of the Rebel Alliance but they flee through hyperspace. Hux conceives of a way to track them through hyperspace whereupon he and Supreme Leader Snoke (undisputed emperor of the First Order) and the rest of their forces engage Poe, Princess Leia and the various other members of the horribly out-gunned, out-manned and out-witted remnants of the Alliance. All the while the conflicted Kylo Ren attempts to lure Rey to the Dark Side of the Force.
Extremely narrow world-building wherein plot-advancement overtakes characterization or explanation of events.
The first and foremost problem of this film is the Rebels – oh, sorry, I mean, #TheResistance. In the previous film, The Force Awakens, the New Republic which The Resistance had erected upon the ruins of the Galactic Empire was obliterated by General Hux through the utilization of the Starkiller Base (death star 2.0) whereupon The Resistance were basically transformed from soldiers of various different planets into a rag-tag collective of vengeful jihadists. Never is it mentioned whether of not there were any defectors from the New Republic or it’s attendant satellites to the First Order, nor is there ever any mention from any individual pertaining to their opinions upon the New Republic or it’s vanguard, The Resistance nor the First Order nor any other vying faction (there doesn’t appear to be any third contender in the struggle). It is as if the whole of the universe is compressed to nothing more than The Resistance and the First Order. Everyone is either in the war effort or they are completely unconcerned. There are only two exceptions, the first being the charming but underhanded rogue, DJ (Benecio Del Torro) and the second being a unnamed child who has less than a minute total of screen time. The child is sympathetic to The Resistance not because he had animus against the First Order but simply because he lives a horrible life and their message gives him hope, DJ, in contrast, is a completely neutral opportunist who doesn’t take sides (he has a little pin on his cap which actually reads “Don’t Join” – playing off his initials – which was rather on the nose for me) because he believes that good and evil are wholly subjective and that it’s wisest to go with the winning team because they tend to pay better. Other than these two one get’s absolutely no sense of what the broader universe thinks about the whole conflict which is rather unfortunate as it would have given a great deal of moral weight to the story as a whole and contributed markedly to potential story-lines in the future.
Rey is still a Mary-Sue.
As per The Force Awakens, one of the central problems is Rey. She is still covered in a suit of impenetrable plot armor only now it has gotten even stronger. Her plot armor has gotten so strong that it no longer intervenes for the sake of plot advancement and tends to manifest at random for no other reason than to allow her to showoff. For example, she is able to easily defeat Luke Skywalker in single combat before she has even completed her Jedi training. Thus far in the series she has not suffered one true personal defeat (she always turns it around, a la Kylo mind-probe scene), either physically or mentally with the possible exception of her manipulation at the hands of Snoke (though that hideously backfires on him so I don’t really count that as a loss).
The Canto Bight Arc.
Easily the worst section (narrative-wise) of the whole film is the journey to Canto Bight, a kind of futurist Las Vegas where the galaxies monied interests, primarily arms manufacturers, gather to frolic and relax. There are four problems with the section:
- The justification for Token Black Dude and Diversity Quota Girl to go to Canto Bight (to find a hacker to break Hux’s shields) are completely superfluous given the fact that the purple-haired Vice Admiral Holdo (a better name for her might have been Captain Queer-theory) already had a plan to escape from Hux’s starfleet. She withholds this plan, however, and it is never revealed as to why. This is especially odd since all of the Resistance fighters who remain ignorant of her plan think they’re living on borrowed time. Made no sense at all.
- The endless and heavy handed hammering of PETAesquery was nauseating and misplaced.
- Due to the amount of time needed to set up Canto Bight, explain it, have Token and Quota Girl find DJ and then rescue a bunch of enslaved children and animals the scene drags on for FAR longer than needed.
- Additionally, all the while the Resistance fighters are saving kids and fluffy animals they never seem in the slightest concerned for their comrades. The idea was Rose’s (Asian Diversity Quota Girl) so I kept expecting Finn (Token Black) to be more mission oriented and raise at least one concern, such as, “Every second we waste saving these animals is a second closer Hux comes to annihilating the Resistance!” But he never said anything other than, “-was it worth it?” To which, Rose, after removing a saddle from one of the weird kangaroo monsters they saved says, “Now it’s worth it.” A triumvirate of stupid, lazy and incredibly cheezy writing.
Supreme Leader Snoke’s mystique is a Red Herring.
In The Force Awakens Snoke was built up and up and up, but nothing was explained about him other than that he, 1. wasn’t human, 2. could use the force, 3. led the First Order, 4. was cartoonishly evil. Outside of that nothing was known. If you assumed they would flesh him out in The Last Jedi you’d be sorry mistaken. He’s dispatched pretty quickly actually and leaves the film as mysteriously as he entered it – nothing more than a red herring for Kylo’s ascension to the throne. Lots of wasted potential there.
Phasma is under utilized.
Captain Phasma, trainer and leader of Hux’s Stormtroopers, is perhaps the only product of “Diversity” in the film that is at all mildly interesting (i.e. Phasma was originally intended to be male but was changed to a female due to backlash for lack of gender diversity). The shimmering Stormtrooper is under-utilized and then discarded even more briskly than Snoke. The only thing you find out about Phasma is that her armor is impervious to blaster-fire and that she’s a good close-range fighter. That’s about it. A waste; though her send off was quite good, especially her last line to Finn, “You were always scum.” Quite true, he is, after all, a traitor AND a terrorist.
General Armitage Hux.
Though the film’s official title is The Last Jedi, a equally accurate name might have been, Hux, Hero of the First Order. The reason why this would be accurate is that, throughout both The Force Awakens and Last Jedi, Hux has been the real, driving force behind nearly all of The Resistance’s defeats. Every major victory which was won for The First Order was won, not by Kylo Ren or Snoke, but by the perennially under-appreciated General Hux.
Consider the fact that General Hux:
- Is responsible for the creation of the First Order Stormtrooper units which are far more powerful than those utilized by the Galactic Empire.
- Annihilates the New Republic in The Force Awakens.
- Devises a method for tracking the rebel fleet through hyperspace which had previously been considered impossible.
- Deploys the TIE fighter squadron which kills Admirable Ackbar.
- Re-organizing the First Order after the death of Supreme Leader Snoke (as Kylo, due his mental instability, is clearly a incompetent, reckless leader).
- Destroys nearly all Resistance star-fleet escapees in orbit and surrounds the last base-planet of the terrorist alliance & obliterates them, effectively stamping out the rebellion entirely (save for the main protagonists who, because they need to make more of these, escape).
Given that all of Hux’s plans were his own and were not contingent upon Kylo Ren or Snoke, he really should be considered the main antagonist of the series since he is the one who does all of the “heavy-lifting” as it were as well as the most competent given that Ren is off his gourd and Snoke largely just sits about and shouts at people and is also quite easily force-duped by his own apprentice. Given the fact that the First Order seems to be bringing more good (order, stability, production, direction and purpose) to the galaxy than the rebels, it is difficult to view them negatively, especially after the cartoonish, Snoke, is dethroned. For instance, in The Last Jedi the most “villainous” thing they do is kill members of the Resistance who are terrorists. Indeed, a perceptive viewer, sympathetic to the politically stabilizing effects of The First Order might well view General Hux as a hero rather than a villain. He fought for his people, honorably, never betrayed them and, indeed, succeeded. Honestly…