Well, I’ve seen the latest Star Wars movie, and I am sorry to say I am disappointed.
Too much of the story feels like disguised fragments of the original trilogy. Too often it feels like characters needlessly draw out their actions solely for the sake of prolonged tension. Granted, I liked Rey’s journey, and I liked Kylo Ren’s inner conflict, but too much felt like a heavy handed callback to famous scenes from the original three.
For more specific remarks, keep reading. Warning, this may get a little ranty from time to time. Also, apologies if some topics end up out of order.
At first the choice to open with a base evacuation felt out of place. They just blew up the First Order’s superweapon, presumably costing them a great deal in resources and manpower. To learn that things are still going badly for the Resistance seemed strange. Of course then I remembered that Empire Strikes Back also features a base evacuation, which started a chain of comparisons that made Last Jedi feel entirely too familiar.
The extremely harsh scene where the Resistance targets the dreadnought actually sortof worked for me, though it felt rather grim and dark as an opening scene. There was an element of “oh come on,” to how Poe manages to so easily distract General Hux, and singlehandedly destroy all their defenses.
But then the story turns on a dime, chaining one bomber’s calamity into a string of losses. I did like how the one bomber crewmember really fought, and won, but it felt like a wasted opportunity. That scene could have been so much more poignant if the audience really knew that character, and cared about her. Not the biggest issue, but it was a very big moment. Overall I liked it.
Unfortunately the story doesn’t give audiences the necessary cool down time. There’s a brief calm as characters chew each other out, but then it’s right back into serious action. The First Order manages to follow the Resistance through hyperspace, a previously impossible feat that is never explained, and resumes their attack. Granted, that keeps the tension up, but it feels excessive, like a soap opera, constantly trying to one up previous situations.
And now we enter the main arc of the story, Resistance ships staying just out of range of the First Order weapons, which puts them on a definitive clock, but also turns the primary conflict into a passive one. We get to see some brief character exchanges, building personal relationships, but then the main characters go off yet again in search of a human McGuffin with the incredible power to save them.
Meanwhile, Rey finds Luke, only for him to reveal that he’s become a grumpy old man who just wants to be left alone. Rey’s story becomes a protracted argument with Luke, trying to convince him to help, while he adamantly refuses. Granted, his reasons feel like a good start, but in some ways it feels insufficient. And it really doesn’t make sense that a character who wants to isolate himself would leave a map behind.
Also, minor note, for the first few days the island is mostly deserted, but at a specific point some “natives” appear, as if by magic, to provide Rey with other characters to interact with. Luke tries to shrug it off as “they live here”, but unless they sleep for days at a time, I find it hard to believe that Rey simply “didn’t notice them”.
Which brings up another minor, but rough point. It is certainly possible that the story of Rey and Luke could occur prior to the evacuation of the Rebellion base, but the choice to intercut Luke & Rey’s story, which takes place over days, while formally declaring that the Resistance narrative is limited to 18 hours, feels odd.
Returning to the Resistance fleet, audiences are reminded of the danger, as one of the ships runs out of fuel and is destroyed. Fortunately the entire crew managed to evacuate onto one of the other ships, so in some ways it’s a bit of a hollow loss. (Though I can’t help but wonder, if the ship was going to be destroyed anyway, why not use it as a weapon, the same way Holdo eventually did. Granted, no one wants to go on a suicide mission, but considering how many lives were lost in the end, that seems like a viable alternative.)
Finn & Rose continue on to the resort city in search of their human McGuffin, engaging in a little side commentary about opulence and greed, which is an interesting theme, and a good character reveal for Rose, but it doesn’t fit with the rest of the story, and becomes a bit of a lost thread, since they have to focus on their own goals.
Despite getting thrown in prison, their luck holds, because they find yet another character in jail, who happens to also have all the skills they need. He’s so good he can break out of jail whenever he wants, but hasn’t bothered yet because apparently jail cells are like job fairs for thieves.
Returning to Rey, she opts to investigate a part of the island strong in the dark side. This is another segment I like. The suspense, the quiet tension of “what’s going to happen”, and the rather mellow otherness of her experience, trying to understand what she was experiencing, and what it meant.
I will say, the choice to have Rey argue that Kylo Ren can still be brought back, while Luke as a Jedi Master advocates that there is no redeeming him, felt too similar to young Luke’s debate with Obi Wan.
Diverse characters return, setting the stage for the fleet, Finn & Rose, and Rey to all simultaneously have their grand crescendos. Rey confronts Kylo Ren, and Snoke, who really emulates the Emperor confronting Luke in Return of the Jedi, though in this case Snoke has no intention of turning Rey.
Sadly, I feel that Ren’s initial choice in that scene felt a bit predictable. Snoke had pushed him too far, and the camera angles made it pretty clear. That said, I felt the fight that followed was very well done, and evolved the Rey Ren relationship very nicely, setting the stage for that potent conversation. I loved how Ren cited Rey’s origins. “You have no place in this story.” Using that to both establish his connection with her, and tempt her, that felt very strong.
Meanwhile, the Resistance fleet continue their tried and true tactic of “just keep going”, before eventually doing something they should have done all along. The fact that Holdo watched others die for so long before finally taking action felt like a shameless stalling tactic.
Unfortunately, even though the First Order has once again been dealt some pretty heavy blows, they manage to cobble together an attack force and pursue the Resistance to their new base, which they now must abandon yet again. But not before unveiling the latest version of the Death Star, the Death Star mini. They’ve gone big, they’ve gone small, what’s next?
Luke shows up to save the day, but just like Obi Wan, he can’t actually stop the main villain. Instead he simply buys time, stalling so that the young student can escape, and eventually face the villain themselves.
When the film ended I couldn’t help but feel that the entire story could have been resolved in less than half the time. Holdo takes command, evacuates the ships, and rams them through the fleet. The Resistance runs away, and the story has plenty of time to engage in issues of greed and economics, without being encumbered by an imminent deadline.
Granted, the execution was well done, but the underlying narrative felt severely lacking. Like The Force Awakens, Last Jedi felt excessively influenced by its predecessors. Numerous scenes were recreations, including one moment where R2 replays the original message from Princess Lea to Obi Wan, a move that even Luke can’t help but criticize.
Kylo Ren tells Rey to “let the past die,” advice that the writers of Last Jedi should have heeded. Sadly, the success of the original trilogy continues to haunt the series.