Note: This is a critique of several aspects of the film, not a comprehensive review. There are spoilers throughout.
I’ve started and stopped writing four reviews for The Last Jedi since opening day. It was difficult for me to sort through my mixed feelings. Although I can’t remember exactly where The Last Jedi lost me, it was somewhere between Luke throwing his old lightsaber off the cliff and drinking milk almost straight from the udder. Questions I’d imagine Luke would want to ask Rey: “How did you find me? Were you followed here by the First Order? How the Hoth did you get this lightsaber that dropped down a ventilation shaft thirty years ago?” But Luke is content ignoring Rey. He came to that island to die.
When I was young, I had lots of Star Wars Lego sets. Often I’d take a minifigure like Luke Skywalker on the road and play with it, imagining that he was stranded on some alien planet, forgotten by everyone. However, he always came back when he was needed because he was the hero. There’s a reason Episode VI is called Return of the Jedi. That legacy has been wiped away in favor of selling more Star Wars Lego sets to today’s kids.
I could see that Luke would consider killing his student to save others. One of my favorite moments in the original trilogy is during Return of the Jedi, when Luke tells Vader he will not fight him. Seconds later, Luke is provoked when Vader threatens his friends’ lives and to bring Leia to the Dark Side. The rage in Luke’s eyes is haunting; we watch this gentle warrior use his newfound hate and anger to protect his friends.
Kylo and Rey’s connection is perhaps my favorite kinship in all of the Star Wars movies. While Snoke takes credit for building that connection, it still seems like a natural conclusion. The Force Awakens seems to imply that Kylo’s presence is what brought out Rey’s Force powers. It was a good idea to reveal that Rey’s parents were nobody special. There were all sort of lame fan theories asserting she was anywhere from a Skywalker or Kenobi. Any connections would have been gratuitous. It makes her an even better foil to Ben Solo: he wanted to kill his past, she wanted to recover hers. Their ability to actually see each other through the Force was as sweet as it was poignant.
The events on the casino planet (named Canto Bight, but no one’s really going to call it that) stopped the movie dead in its tracks. The location was more similar to a future Earth than an alien planet. Randomly running into another DJ, another hacker, was a bit of a deus ex machina. Rose also gets to lecture the audience about horseracing and arms dealing them, reminding us that these things are bad in a movie franchise about dangerous animals and wars.
Finn and Rose’s journey gets many Resistance members killed. Had they not embarked on this mission, DJ wouldn’t have been able to give away their plan to the First Order. People have blamed this incident on everyone from Holdo, to Poe, to Finn, and to Rose, but it doesn’t matter. We don’t see these characters realize the horrible mistake they’ve made, which is a weakness in the script. Failure can be poignant, but characters have to know they did more harm than good. I found this detail annoying, but I became aggravated when Rose crashes into Finn to stop himself from sacrificing himself to save the remaining Resistance fighters. The rusty vehicles they’re driving are hardly safe enough for Rose to know that they’d both survive that collision. If you disagree, I dare you to buy two junkyard jalopies and crash them into each other. See how safe you feel.
But Rose kisses Finn and explains she saved him and that love is a good reason to get all the rest of your friends killed. I’m actually a big fan of Finn, but it would have been a great opportunity to kill him off. Wouldn’t it have been so tragic if this former Stormtrooper, who has constantly been running away from danger, who just contributed to the deaths of many Resistance members, to redeem himself with a blaze of glory? I suppose the move would have been redundant since Holdo sacrifices herself, but all that lead to was a gorgeous moment as her ship rams the Dreadnought. One wonders if a droid could have done the job.
Luke Skywalker is a legend. He blew up the Death Star, helped lead the Rebellion to victory, and brought back the Jedi. In The Force Awakens, even a nobody like Rey knew who he was. Would Luke’s sacrifice really have that much more of an impact? Wouldn’t people look to these stories to inspire them anyway? The Force projection that killed Luke is an unsatisfying conclusion to the character (although let’s admit it, the likelihood of a Force ghost appearance is almost guaranteed). Luke Skywalker should have gone out with a bang, not with a whimper. But from a storytelling perspective, Kylo can’t lose two lightsaber battles in a row. After being beaten by Rey in the last movie, it wouldn’t be especially interesting if Kylo was also beaten by Luke.
The biggest complaint about The Force Awakens (brought up an infinite amount of times by a variety of fans) was that it retreads A New Hope. The Force Awakens is to A New Hope as The Last Jedi is to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It is Empire because the main hero is learning about the Force from an old Jedi while their friends are being chased by the bad guys. It is Return of the Jedi because the main hero must confront the enemy they have a deep connection as well as a powerful Dark Side user with an unexplained backstory that dies by not paying close enough attention. Despite A New Hope being my favorite Star Wars movie, I enjoyed The Force Awakens’ as a tribute. It seems ironic that people would praise The Last Jedi for being original when it just takes plot points from two movies instead of one.
I assert that my other problems with The Last Jedi were warranted, the biggest nitpick I have is that there is an absence of a character saying that they’ve got “a bad feeling about this” in the movie. Upon further research, I found out that Rian Johnson declared that BB-8 “says” it at the beginning of the movie. This felt a little bit like a middle finger to fans like me, who think of it as one of the most famous lines in movie history. It was in every Star Wars film so far. Johnson also chose to disregard details from The Force Awakens in order to make his own movie. Whether or not this is a good thing is up to you. I will say it bothered me.
Rian Johnson has proven his ability to helm a major blockbuster. I believe that this will translate well into his new trilogy of Star Wars films. Even if I do not like him, I cannot deny he has talent. If I could give advice to Johnson, I would tell him to focus a little more on the smaller details that some would call plot holes. Things just sort of happen in The Last Jedi that do not flow naturally, and it wouldn’t hurt to sweat the small stuff now and again. I am also looking forward to see how J.J. Abrams takes the story back from Johnson in Episode IX. His writing and directing will have to be a mix of backtracking and damage control.
I would like to thank Scott for his support.