While Rules of the Game is largely intended to reflect on the rules, regulations, and incentives that help influence our lives, occasionally something hits close enough to home that I feel compelled to write about it on this blog. This is one of those times.
NOW A (NOT SO) MAJOR MOTION PICTURE ON YOUTUBE!
Let’s get this out of the way first. The Last Jedi is a poor film (91% fresh!). As a Star Wars film, it’s even worse.
Before breaking down The Last Jedi, I feel it’s important to make some disclaimers. I have attended Star Wars Celebration. Multiple times. I have a robot BB-8 and a Millennium Falcon pillow. My wife dressed as Padme Amidala for the release of Episode II. My Internet handle has been (and apparently always will be) a major Star Wars character. From any angle in either my formal or home offices you can see something from Star Wars.
I am invested.
With that as context, I sat down last Thursday with hope in my heart ready to be taken on another journey to that galaxy far, far away. While The Force Awakens was not my favorite Star Wars film, it was a decent enough re-entry for the franchise, and I was excited to see what the series could do outside of the long shadow of A New Hope. I had no particular “theories” about where the story would go, or what Writer/Director Rian Johnson and Disney would do with some of the hooks that The Force Awakens had left to them. I simply wanted to be told a good story.
Roughly three hours later, my excitement was largely dashed, and more than anything I was surprised to find how negative my reaction was. I didn’t feel I had “over-hyped” the film in my own mind going in. I knew that it had received strong critical reviews, but I had not read them, and I had been relatively luke warm (no pun intended) towards the two trailers I had seen. But still, Last Jedi felt like a punch in the gut.
Only days later do I feel I’ve digested enough about the film to understand what I think went wrong.
Let’s dive in.
Last Jedi is a Rambling, Poorly Paced, Over-Long Film
The majority of the plot of Last Jedi can be summarized as follows: The Resistance “fleet” flees from its destroyed base in the world’s longest chase (18+ hours!) while various players from The Force Awakens seek to help. For Rey this takes the form of pounding on Luke Skywalker’s door for hours at a time, periodically pausing to cut rocks with her lightsaber. For Finn and Poe this means, to various degrees, organizing a casino heist, a mutiny, an infiltration mission, a meet-cute, and a suicide run (but not together, never together).
In between, our stars learn a little something about not believing in heroes, the importance of chain-of-command, the dangers of needless risk-taking, parentage, war profiteering, casino operations, horse racing, zero-G force bubbles, facetime, animal cruelty, unfettered capitalism, floor sweeping, and (very little about) each other.
Like Empire Strikes Back (to which Rian Johnson clearly turned for inspiration), Last Jedi does not feature a traditional three act structure. Unlike Empire, which leaned on the burgeoning romance of rogue pilot Han Solo with princess and leader of the rebellion Leia Organa, in Last Jedi our three main heroes are kept entirely apart for the bulk of the movie’s screentime.
This has two effects. First, it separates the various plotlines much more than one might expect, resulting in a movie that feels like an elaborate (and high budget) Netflix series binge watched all at once, rather than a cohesive narrative. Second, it prevents our three main leads from growing the bonds between one another that we would expect to find leading into the third and final movie of this “trilogy”. They are effectively unchanged (as between each other) from the end of The Force Awakens to the end of this one. As a result, it is very easy to become bored while watching Last Jedi, particularly if one (or more) of the disparate plotlines don’t work for you.
Making matters worse, Johnson clearly had a mission statement for Last Jedi which is framed by series favorite Yoda in a delightful scene with Luke Skywalker: “The best teacher, failure is”. So not only do the leads very rarely interact, they also generally fail at whatever they set out to do. This results in a very shaggy, meandering film in which, for the most part, nothing of note is accomplished.
Because of the acute separation of the various plotlines until the very end of the film, it is easy to imagine a version of The Last Jedi where, say, Finn’s casino adventure, or Poe’s fleet mutiny are cut for time. Given that Last Jedi is the longest Star Wars adventure by a fair amount, it seems that a tighter editing pass may well have resulted in a better, more effective movie.
So why then did critics like it as much as they did (93% Fresh!)?
Critics in general are asked to see a lot of movies (obviously, it’s their job). Because of that, they tend to enjoy big screen blockbusters, known for their explosions and broad characterizations, less than the average moviegoer. When a major blockbuster goes off the beaten path like Last Jedi inarguably does, they are more likely to treat it positively and to perhaps look past some of its shortcomings.
In other words, critics love a non-blockbuster blockbuster and generally always have.
Last Jedi is more interested in being Subversive than in telling a Coherent Story
One of the things that Last Jedi is getting a lot of credit for in some circles is the “risks” that it takes in telling this brand new Star Wars story. In particular, how it subverts the audience’s expectations at every turn.
Long lingering shot of Rey holding out Anakin’s lightsaber? Boom. Luke chucks it over his shoulder like he’s in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Rey wonders for two movies who her parents are? Boom. They’re nobody.
Supreme Leader Snoke, the strongest force wielder in the galaxy and seemingly older than most of the cast? Boom. Sliced in half.
Poe’s going to save the day (twice)? Boom. Everybody dies.
Finn’s going to save the day (twice)? Boom. Everybody dies.
Carrie Fisher’s gone (rest in peace) so surely she’ll die here (twice)? Nope. In fact, she’s the only original trilogy character to survive.
On and on, The Last Jedi goes, and because Rian Johnson is a more than competent director, at each given point there is a certain amount of entertainment value in the shock of it all. He plays it well. But at a cost.
Crafting a compelling narrative comes with certain rules (of the game), not out of some centuries old adherence to an ancient text, but because the arcs of characterization, growth, and plot matter to whether an audience can engage with the story that is being told. In Last Jedi it seems clear that Rian Johnson prioritized shock above all else, whether or not it made the story more compelling, better, or even coherent. One event simply happens after the next, and the characters react.
Part of the reason for this may well have come from Disney’s signing of multiple directors to handle the trilogy while apparently giving each free rein to mold their individual stories. One can hardly blame Rian Johnson for not being terribly interested in the hooks put forth by JJ Abrams and The Force Awakens. It wasn’t his movie. That said, there is a certain amount of glee with which Last Jedi dispatches with Force Awakens plot points, so much so that it can come across as a deliberate shot across the bow to some of Star Wars‘ biggest fans.
It’s worth noting as well, that despite what some Last Jedi proponents are saying about folks dismissive of the value of these shocks, the expectations for receiving real plot advancement and “answers” from the film did not come (entirely) from over-eager Star Wars fans.
It was The Force Awakens that ended on the lingering helicopter shot of Rey’s handoff to Luke. It was The Force Awakens that had the primary antagonists speaking to a 100 foot projection of a man with a caved in head that they referred to as Supreme Leader. And so on and so forth.
Regardless, the end result of this “shock for shock’s sake” approach is a movie that feels like a series of separate vignettes with “failure” as a theme, rambling slowly forward until the projector (and Resistance Fleet) runs out of gas.
Last Jedi is not a Star Wars Film
I framed my Star Wars bona fides up above as a disclaimer, because as more and more folks have spoken about Last Jedi online (positively or negatively) it has become the rallying cry for the film’s proponents to point to “hardcore fans” or “Star Wars nerds” and exclaim that such folks are simply unhappy with the film because they didn’t get what they wanted out of Star Wars.
I admit that this is true, in part, but not in the way that they imagine.
Last Jedi is a very modern (or post-modern) film. Where the original trilogy (A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) is comprised of sweeping tales of heroism of almost mythological stature, Last Jedi is small, concerned primarily with establishing that there are no real heroes and that the actions taken in the original trilogy would more likely end up killing people than saving the galaxy for freedom and the force.
And I don’t think that Last Jedi is wrong…exactly.
There are no heroes in the real world, not as we know them in movies. It’s foolhardy to rely on “one shot in a million” or “the odds are three thousand seven hundred and twenty to one” to save the day, and if your leadership does so then people will most likely die.
Star Wars has always been about heroes accomplishing the impossible. Of believing in the smallest glimmer of hope to see light through the encroaching darkness. Last Jedi stands as a deconstruction of that, and as an essay, an academic whitepaper, one might even find it well-considered, nuanced.
But it is not Star Wars.
The backlash isn’t (entirely) about who Snoke is, or who Rey’s parents are, or even how Luke treats his father’s lightsaber after 30 years of separation, it’s about ordering a pizza and receiving a hamburger. The chef could explain to you that the hamburger is comprised of Wagyu beef on handmade rolls cooked to perfection over open flames crafted solely for this burger experience, and…it still wouldn’t be a pizza.
Sometimes people just want to believe in heroes.
In “Deconstructing” Luke Skywalker, Last Jedi does Lasting Harm to the Legacy of Star Wars
Here’s where things become a bit more important to a Star Wars fan (rather than a fan of cinema in general). Luke Skywalker.
To understand why Last Jedi is so destructive to the legacy of Star Wars one first has to understand what Luke Skywalker has represented for more than 30 years.
Luke is the kid growing up apart from it all who wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself. The kid we all wanted to be. In that quest, he found a mentor, he found his father, he found power (and the force), and he found a legacy of both good and evil that would define him and his story.
The most powerful scene in Star Wars, to me, has always been the “throne room” scene of 1983’s Return of the Jedi. In the scene, you may recall, the Emperor revealed to Luke that the Rebellion had been lured into a trap and is doomed, but that Luke can save them all if he would but “strike him down”. It is “The Last Temptation of Luke”, and when Luke succumbs for the period in which he and his father exchange lightsaber blows, the darkest music of the trilogy punctuates the steep fall we are witnessing. It is a transformative scene, and for my money, one of the best in cinema history.
It is after this fight, after Luke removes his father’s hand and reflects on his own, that he comes back to the light. He had originally surrendered himself, after all, because he knew there was “still good” in Vader. The man who had killed younglings, exterminated the Jedi, force-choked who knows how many officers, and stood guard on the dreaded Death Star. But he knew there was still good. He could “feel it”. And in that moment he throws away his lightsaber, sacrificing himself to the will of the Emperor.
“I am a Jedi. Like my father before me.”
And with that self-sacrifice, the Jedi are returned.
Fast forward 30 or so years, and Last Jedi does away with all of that. Completely.
As we learn over the course of the film, Luke Skywalker has hidden away on his island mountain solely to die.
He had been training young Ben Solo (the former name of series antagonist Kylo Ren) when he discovered that Snoke had “got to him”. Peering into young Ben’s mind while he slept, Luke saw unimaginable darkness, and in that moment ignited his lightsaber with murderous intent. It passed, but unfortunately, Ben awoke at such same moment, and Kylo Ren was born (as might be expected given that his mentor and uncle was set to murder him).
Faced with such grievous error, Luke could not face his sister, his best friend, or the force again, and chose to allow Kylo free reign over the galaxy, hiding out on Porg island to die. Or so Last Jedi tells us.
This is not Luke Skywalker.
To head off complaints at the pass, I am not beholden to treating Luke Skywalker as an untouchable paragon of saintly virtue. Bringing him back in the sequel trilogy was always going to require him to have some form of character arc, which was going to roll back at least some of his growth. That is the nature of revisiting otherwise completed stories. What I am beholden to is treating the characters we know and love, the very characters that gave Disney its multi-billon dollar prize in the first place, with respect for their previous characterization and what they accomplished in their previous films. Their “legacy” and the legacy of Star Wars itself.
I don’t envy the task that Rian Johnson was given by JJ Abrams. Coming up with a reason that the hero of the galaxy absconded to drink green milk direct from the source while the galaxy burned, his friends were killed, and his sister put in danger is a tough nut to crack for anyone (which is probably why JJ set it up and then skedaddled).
That said, if there is one thing we know about Luke Skywalker, arguably his defining characteristic, it is that he believes in the redemptive power of the good in everyone. Further, he had his entire belief system actually reinforced in his darkest hour. This is not someone who should be swayed by future premonitions of darkness, especially when even in the current timeline we can see how much light is left in Kylo. It’s Kylo’s entire arc that he is trying to snuff that light out.
If there is one thing that should not have been the cause of Luke’s exile it is overreaction to the darkness in someone or not believing in the power of the light.
Compounding this significant mischaracterization are Luke’s actions immediately following his error. In Last Jedi we are told that he flees the scene after causing the birth of Kylo Ren. This singular act of cowardice results in the submission of the galaxy to a new empire, the death of his friend, and who knows what other atrocities. All while Luke possesses the power to stop it (or at least fight the good fight).
As a Star Wars fan, Rian Johnson simply failed in every way one can fail (one hopes it was the “best teacher”) in determining how Luke arrived on that island, and in doing so he hurt the legacy of the entire series. I don’t know how it will affect how people see Star Wars in the future. I suspect, perhaps, significantly.
Last Jedi (like its predecessor) is uninterested in World Building
This criticism could just as easily be laid at the feet of JJ Abrams as Rian Johnson, but there is little question that none of Disney, Abrams, or Johnson have any deep and abiding interest in the actual nature of the conflict presented in Last Jedi (or Force Awakens), the size of the forces, the state of the galaxy, the nature of the First Order or where it gets its resources, or anything that the more “hardcore” Star Wars fan so often likes to dig his or her teeth into when considering the galaxy far, far away.
As a result (and compounded by Last Jedi‘s impulse to shock by “clearing the board” of players Johnson found uninteresting), it is very difficult to get a sense of the meaningfulness of what we are seeing in these films, and even harder to extrapolate any additional meaningfulness for the space between films. Of course this is undoubtedly covered, in part, by Disney’s new novel canon, visual encyclopedia, or Porg name tags (for all I know), but whatever context there is for this third galactic war, it is entirely missing from “the screen”.
This shallowness is not the death knell for a series like Star Wars, but it is a marked departure from the films that came before. Even the much maligned prequels often felt like a universe with rules and background elements living out their own lives beyond the borders of the screen. In Last Jedi, instead it can often feel like the inhabitants of Tatooine, Cato Bight, and every other Star Wars location are simply pointing and laughing as the one fleet with 10 ships chases after the one with 3 ships for 18 hours.
It’s a small difference, but a meaningful one, and Snoke’s death in Last Jedi highlights the fact that Disney is generally more interested in telling character stories than anything with actual “Wars” (despite what the name might otherwise suggest).
Last Jedi Undermines its Message at Every Turn
One could define comedy as words or actions which subvert the audience’s expectations for what is about to be said or happen next. In that context, the sheer amount of “humor” (or at least jokes) present in Last Jedi can be seen as a natural growth of Rian Johnson’s attempt to subvert absolutely anything and everything in the film.
But what happens when you subvert the subversion?
In Last Jedi, virtually every strong, emotional beat is punctuated by some kind of deflating joke, action, pratfall, or other attempt at humor. General Hux’s initial threat to the Resistance, that they will be destroyed (in a scenario in which the First Order seems eminently capable of doing so), is derailed by pilot Poe’s extended “Can You Hear Me Now?” and “Yo Momma” jokes.
Similarly, while Luke’s plot trajectory requires him decline Rey’s advance of Anakin’s lightsaber as something dangerous and to be avoided, having Luke throw it over his shoulder like a cartoon character is deflating an emotional moment solely for the sake of subverting the audience’s expectations.
This happens throughout Last Jedi and in instances too numerous to mention here. Suffice it to say, the movie takes the Marvel approach to comedy, telling everyone who is watching that the film is in on the joke and understands that you can’t take space wizards fighting with colored sticks seriously.
But what if you could?
Star Wars is just a film series like any other, with some silly conceits and fantasy elements designed to provide “wow” moments. But at its best, it can use those silly conceits and fantasy elements as a vehicle for providing real emotional resonance, either in respect of heroism (as in the original trilogy) or as Rian Johnson wants here, to reflect on the nature of idolatry and failure. But either way, making fun of yourself at every turn deflates the ability of a movie to sell these messages.
At some point in the past couple of decades (maybe Shrek, maybe Iron Man, maybe earlier than both) Hollywood lost its confidence. Under the harsh light of the Internet, movie studios realized that there was a large (or at least vocal) segment of the fanbase that made fun of movies regardless of how well they were made. The “cool kids”, if you will, that elevated themselves by denigrating what others liked. So Hollywood tacked into the wind of this phenomenon, adding jokes of every kind to every serious moment, as if to get in front of the folks that would otherwise be mocking their efforts.
“We know this is stupid and you can’t take it seriously. See? We are making fun of it ourselves.”
But it doesn’t need to be that way. Earnestness has a place. Believing in the good in people has a place. Real evil (as far as stories go) has its place. And not every movie needs to be tongue in cheek about it.
Let the story breathe and believe in it, Hollywood. Regardless of how I feel about the messaging of Last Jedi, I have little doubt that it would have been better delivered if it wasn’t deflating itself at every turn.
Last Jedi (and Hollywood) has no “Hope” in the Age of Trump
I’m not really a political guy, but I am a guy who loves stories, whether in books, movies, television, video games, or anywhere else. As I’ve grown, I’ve seen those stories morph and change to reflect the world around them, most notably (from my perspective) after September 11, 2001, when the world of entertainment looked inwards to consider how people felt after the terrorist attacks of that day.
Now, after the so-called “loss of innocence” of 9/11 and the rise of political figures which many can’t stand for reasons both real and imagined, we appear to have come to a point in our culture where at least the media gatekeepers don’t have it in them to continue the “heroic monomyth”.
We don’t live in a world where paragons of virtue exist to defend the helpless, they say. We live in a fallen world where heroes are just people who haven’t lived long enough to become the villain (to paraphrase another very popular work from the 2000s). To believe in them is the height of folly and to make stories recommending such belief is wrong, they tell us. All is desperation and decay.
I believe that this is the environment in which Rian Johnson created Last Jedi, and I can hardly fault him entirely for following the movement of the day.
But for me, I find it tremendously sad.
Star Wars was, is, and should be a tale to inspire and to which we aspire. Luke Skywalker may be unrealistically noble in Return of the Jedi, but by God, who didn’t want to stare evil in the face and say “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” It disappoints me that my children will grow up in a media age where that hope (that real hope, not the “hope” tossed out as just a word in places like Last Jedi) appears entirely snuffed out in favor of “deconstruction” and “subversion”.
No matter how bad you believe the state of the world to be (or don’t believe it to be), there is always a place for heroes, for paragons, for knights.
Contact Rick Hoeg at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 734-263-1001, or follow him on Twitter at @hoeglaw.
36 thoughts on “The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker, and Heroism in the Age of Trump”
Expertly written! I think the part about Hollywood being too afraid to put out anything earnest is on point. It’s okay to be hokey. Those are the best stories. Just be confident.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you so much! Yes I think there is a place for both detailed deconstructions of heroic myth as well as the heroic myths themselves. Unfortunately, everything nowadays seems to revel in irony and meta context, but perhaps the pendulum will swing back one day. Thanks again!
This is BY FAR the BEST insight into and article about Star Wars I have ever read and perfectly sums up in every aspect why I have been so upset at these new films. To go from the prequels, to THIS, is absolutely heartbreaking: if only because it shows how little of the spirit which underlies those original films is left in the minds and hearts of those who create our art. Thanks Rich.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Wow! Thanks for the kind words. I too have found the new “saga” movies to be “shallow” or “hollow”. Maybe one day someone focused on world building will be given the wheel. Heck it may even be Rian Johnson, unfettered from having to “deal with” legacy characters and The Force Awakens. We can only hope!
Very thoughtful and though-provoking review! I too did not enjoy the movie. However, I simply did not like the way that Luke was portrayed and then killed. To bring him back just to kill him (especially after Han’s demise)? They could have left him on the island. If they kill Chewy, Disney should sell the franchise. Have a wonderful holiday and glorious New Year!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Well, they don’t have Leia to kill in IX, so maybe Lando? C-3PO? Thanks so much for reading!
Star Wars has meant so much to me because of the hope. Something much needed with all this Trump and Brexit nonsense… I’ll admit I went in prepared to be hurt again after Rogue One (here are some great diverse characters that you’ll love… oh, whoops, they’re all dead!) and I was kinda expecting to have problems with some of it, but I wasn’t expecting to be *bored*.
I also wasn’t expecting to come out thinking that it could have been a lot better with a small amount of changes (such as bringing Holdo in as Poe’s commander at the start and setting up them not seeing eye to eye because of how close to her chest she plays things, having him disobey *her*. It would have been better and more believable for him, her *and* Leia – her hitting a subordinate? Really?) It felt like a first draft.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks so much for the comment! I agree that the film seems close to something that could work, if only a bit more work had been done to “clean it up”. Separating the characters that much (and then not treating their separate plot lines with any urgency) really sets someone up to be bored if they don’t like *every* substory. Thanks again, and have a great holiday!
Wow, you’ve put into words a lot of my problems with The Last Jedi! I think it’s especially important how you mention they shallowly throw around the word “hope” in the movie, because it really is just shallow lip service. The quote (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Hope is like the sun, if you only believe it when you see it, you’ll be lost in the night” could have been really meaningful but it falls flat because Holdo’s actions had her willfully withholding hope from the crew. I feel like the movie as a whole willfully withholds glimmers of hope, heroism and love in an effort to seem cool or “intellectual”, but I haven’t been able to put that feeling into words until I read this! I feel like Rian Johnson really wanted to make this subversive kind of movie, but instead of making his own original stand alone movie, he inserted it into a saga it has no place in and butchered many characters to try and make it fit. It fails as part of the saga, but also as a sequel to The Force Awakens, and this narrative that everyone who doesn’t like it is a bitter, entitled fan has been upsetting, so it really raises my spirits to see a thoughtful and thought-provoking article like this!!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks so much for the comment! That’s a great point about Holdo and the nature of hope in the movie. One of the things that I don’t touch on so much in the piece, but which can really grate if thought about extensively, is the fact that Johnson and company do try to have their cake and eat it too in their approach to the film. Legends aren’t real…until they need to be. Hope (which is at the heart of the “needless” risk taking that motivates Poe) is folly…until it isn’t. That’s simply handwaving after the two and half hours of content before, and it’s one of the reasons the narrative feels so “weak” at the end of the day. Thanks again, and I’m glad you enjoyed the read!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for this! The most frustrating part of the discourse around this movie is the condescending way some people and critics are treating fans as if we’re just entitled obsessives who are mad that our theories didn’t come true. This is a fantastic breakdown of most of my issues with the film, both as a movie and as a Star Wars project. The only thing I would add is that not only were our main trio separated from each other but the shifting of emphasis to Kylo Ren and the subsequent bait-and-switch of his character arc (will he be redeemed?? of course not!) was a huge waste of time at the expense of the other characters’ development. They spent too long on our antagonist without any emotional payoff by the end and now I barely care what happens to the protagonists going into the next movie. There are no more stakes, it seems like. But anyway, great piece!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks so much! I absolutely wanted this to be an article that focused on the real, structural issues I saw in the movie (both as film in general and as “Episode VIII” of Star Wars in particular. Your point in respect of Kylo is well taken, and speaks to the fact that Rian Johnson and his team really wanted to “subvert” things…until they didn’t. When the chips are down, legends are good, light is light, and dark is dark. It feels very much like stepping to the edge of real “risk” and then stepping back. The end result is that, in my opinion, neither approach is well served.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Great article. Sums up how I felt walking out of the theater–it technically was a Star Wars movie, but it didn’t feel like it. Star Wars is about hope. I’ll definetly be sharing this!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks so much! Please do, and glad you enjoyed the piece!
Yes! And there are even more worldbuilding and technology problems that you haven’t touched on. And, yes, I know Star Wars is hardly hard sci-fi, but the new movies keep introducing stuff that’s just not even momentarily believable. Starkiller Base in TFA was bad, but in some ways the gravity drop bombers in TLJ are worse because they’re unbelievable technology in service of a sacrifice that the movie will then tell you was pointless (while not coherently portraying it as pointless…wouldn’t the ship that they destroyed have destroyed the fleet if it had still been there to follow them through hyperspace?).
And the really weird thing about this movie’s treatment of hope is that, at least by my understanding of the 70s, Star Wars was being different by being hopeful and heroic. So, TLJ is deconstructing that, while not even being as subversive as the original was. (But TLJ suffers from that a lot. Oh, look how different it is that there’s a woman in a dress leading the resistance. Because that doesn’t at all describe Mon Mothma or anything.)
Worse, TLJ keeps undercutting whatever messages it thinks it has. Augh, this movie. Why.
LikeLiked by 1 person
That’s right. When SW was released in ’77, people had been inundated with anti-heroes in an age of Watergate. SW was a throwback to earlier Hollywood heroes in many ways. Solo was the one character Lucas pointed to that was most like contemporary audiences: world-weary, cynical, etc. Luke was not. And even Han was won over by the end of the movie.
TLJ undoes so much of what the SW saga built. It is a post-modern debacle.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thanks so much! That’s a great point.
“I’m not a political guy”….but I’m gonna try to make some strange disparaging albeit awkward connection between SWTLG and Trump. Thanks but your attempt at political made zero sense and if any connection is to be made it should be SWTLG and heroism in the age of out of control leftism. Now THERE you have a story. But nice try Hoeg.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for reading, Gary! I appreciate it, and can always appreciate disagreement. My point regarding TLJ (and to some extent greater Hollywood) is more premised around the general mood of the “tastemakers” in the media. Rightly or wrongly (and you clearly feel it’s “wrongly”), the folks making media seem presently incapable (or at least undesirous) of telling stories of true heroism. In the article, I posit that it is related to their feelings regarding the current political clime. Thanks again!
Very much enjoyed this. My initial reaction (and problems) with the movie were the many plot holes, structure issues, and pacing. It was only after digesting the ‘story’ for longer that I began to think about all the issues you have presented here. The world building problem was my main issue with Force Awakens; but I was willing to give it a pass, and hope for the best, as this was setting up a new trilogy. Obviously, tFA wasn’t setting anything up, but was just the traditional mystery building for JJ, with no resolutions planned. Ultimately, this is Disney’s (or Lucas Film’s) fault, and not Rian’s. They let him run wild, and it seems like he made his own ‘first’ movie in a trilogy, except its the middle film, and it just came off as awkward.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I think this is a great point. Some of the disappointment of Last Jedi definitely comes from an allowance for Force Awakens to be “less than” on the premise that Episodes VIII and IX could fill out details and really bring the whole trilogy together. That didn’t happen, and so VIII’s “gleeful” reduction of even the minor plot hooks put forth by Force Awakens can feel more damaging than it might otherwise have. Thanks for reading!
NIce write up. I agree with the many plot holes, especially the world-building. I can almost live with every complaint you made, but to me, nobody had a plan as to how these movies would fit in the Star Wars universe.
Luke had adventure after adventure with incomplete training through two movies to set-up a fight with Darth Vader that was lopsided. Aftger training and mentoring with two of the greatest Jedi Masters, he could barely lift rocks and Artoo. Vader toyed with him in a one handed light-saber duel until he decided to go at him with the force and two hands to take Luke’s hand. Kylo was trained by Master Luke and Snope to become a badass in his own right. All of the movies, books, and cartoons have taught us there are padawans, apprentices, masters that are involved in a heirarchy of training for thousands of years to teach how to weild thre force expertly.
In contrast, Rei can best a Dark Lord of the Sith, albeit hurt. She is his equal in TLJ in force weilding, and has not been trained by anyone. Luke was 19 and didn’t know anything about the force, but sweeper nobodies know how to bring a stick, and Rei can aid the resistance escape by moving many tons of boulders. She is a nobody from nowhere that has no force training, but is seemingly the most powerful jedi that has ever lived. I guess that is the point of the movie, but neglecting thousands of years of universe to do it is not the best move.
I believe the franchise was turned over to people who are movie experts and fans, but not the people like you and me that have lived it and breathed it. They didn’t watch the movies hundreds of times. They didn’t read all of the books, which would be easy scripts that are congruent with the Star Wars universe. Fans of the movie don’t know or care about the lineage this movie destroyed.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This was an informative review, and I found myself agreeing with a lot of it. That said, an explantion for the cultural context of these new Stars Wars movies is in order:
The world that produced Star Wars between 1977-1983 is gone. The themes, plotlines, and character arcs that appealed to people in that time period don’t appeal to people anymore. The theme of the current era is darkness, and if you do it right, like Christopher Nolan did in his “Live long enough to aee yourself become the villain” trilogy, you have yourself a great story. Admittedly, darkness is a difficult theme to execute (witness the failure of the new spat of DC Comics movies), but that’s what audience members want. And since darkness alone is too damn depressing, it must be balanced by humor, usually of the self-depreciating kind.
“The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” were crafted to appeal to the crass and cynical sensibilities of the “Eat at Arbys” generation. And I love it. Kylo Ren and Rey represent two different but similar versions of what every Millenial is going through: The urge to give into the Dark Side and become something angry and hateful – hence why Donald Trump is President, and hence why the Alternative Right has burst onto the public scene – and the urge to discover oneself, find one’s place in this world despite having a shitty childhood, and do what the media and the education system tells them is right. Both Kylo and Rey are lost souls, both are desparate for something meaningful in life, and both are driven by anger, fear, and hate, the very passions that Yoda taught an entire generation of kids to avoid, but that have now been embraced in full.
“The Last Jedi” is a reflection of the New Normal. Heroism is dead, and I say, let it die with the past. The New Normal is a struggle for dominance between two opposing forces who both want to tear the old world down and build a new one in their image. It doesn’t matter at this point who or what destroyed the Center – the media, corporations, Obama, Trump – because Extremism is the Order of the day, and everyone is either walling themselves off in their own bubbles to avoid it, or watching the #Resistance and the Angry White Men go at it.
I loved “The Last Jedi,” and I loved it in no small part because it deconstructed the Classical Liberal ideals of a world that was morally rotten to its core and deserves to be tossed into the dustbin of history. Luke learned in this movie what Bane was teaching Bruce: “Once you have realized the depths of your failure, then we will fulfill (Darth Vader’s) destiny.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you very much for the detailed thoughts! What a fascinating perspective, and one I hadn’t considered. I will say this. You may well be right. Disney certainly appears to agree with you. That said, I can’t help but feel that the very plot points and characteristics that resonated with you, might well have been better delivered in a package that didn’t simultaneously try to serve the past that it seems so “done with”. The end result of their presently chosen approach is, to me, an unsatisfying melange that depends on selling tickets to folks (like me) who wish to see the old “Star Wars” while simultaneously telling such same folks that they shouldn’t want (and won’t receive) such stories anymore. For me, I find that very unsatisfying (and borderline destructive to what came before/the value of the IP they paid billions for), but I am very glad it resonated for you. Thanks again.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Rich, I agree with your reply here. And it also needs to be said, that just because this generation may have failed to appreciate timeless notions of good and evil, heroism and cowardice, doesn’t mean they cannot stand in their own right and should not be celebrated by those who know.
It’s a great idea to have characters that wrestle with modern dilemmas – abandonment by society, dodgy parenting, a feeling of not belonging. That I applaud (though I don’t think such things are well depicted in TLJ, merely referred to or “signposted” – the hallmark of bad storytelling). But you still need to show that the solutions to these dilemmas are the same as previously idealized (despite or perhaps even BECAUSE OF our current failure to embody these virtues as a society): detachment, self-sacrifice, transcendence, dedication, perseverance, generosity of spirit, love, you name it. No matter how poor our societal understanding of these concepts becomes, one would hope the artists might still present to us the inspirational ideal.
As you so beautifully wrote in your article, Luke’s self-sacrifice was the piece-de-resistance of the original trilogy, and “returned” a Jedi order which had succumbed to its own arrogance in the earlier stories (arrogance being self-sacrifice’s mortal enemy). Not a viewing of RTJ goes by that doesn’t see me in tears at those final images and the heartfelt appeals of a son delivered to a father he has saved by an intense act of enlightened love.
To see the same character toss that lightsaber behind him, utter a string of Marvel inspired drivel, and hide away on that island while some untrained upstart with little or no perceived understanding of those great and hard-won qualities rushes off to “make things float”, causes my blood to boil.
Could not Luke simply have tried and failed to teach these qualities to a new generation, while still leaving them to discover these qualities and live their own new stories? Was there no other recourse but to send the narrative off in this cockamamey direction?
The movie has moments of greatness, to be sure, but it sure as hell doesn’t depict a moral journey with even half the skill the originals were packed with. And worse, it mutilates the beauty of those timeless lessons taught us in the originals.
Thanks again Richard.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks so much! It does appear that much of the present media is more interested in “modern dilemmas” than universal truths, but I think that has always been the case. The original Star Wars was, after all, a breath of fresh air after the cinema of the dour and cynical 70s. If I had my druthers it would have stayed that way (an antidote to modern considerations of all stripes), but I would be wrong not to acknowledge that Last Jedi seems to be working for a fair number of folks. It just isn’t Star Wars to me. Thanks again.
Your points are understandable. I can see that you are viewing things from the same perspective as young Luke’s eternal optimism. My guess, although you’re free to correct me, is that you are likely a Baby Boomer who doesn’t get why the young(lings) are so gosh darned negative. Why oh why can’t we embrace those timeless values, you ask.
The answer is simple: Because having grown up in a culture that was the direct result of what Baby Boomers and the remnants of the so-called “Greatest Generation” started between 1960 and 1990 – an era that saw the Progressive Revolutions of the 60s and the reactionary NeoLiberalism of the 80s – we are basically disgusted with that culture to the core of our beings, and we wish to see it burn. And since we are currently powerless to truly change things – for now anyway – the result is a dark, pessimistic view of the world.
To us, Good and Evil are morally relative concepts that exist only from the perspective of individuals and groups, like Anakin said to Obi Wan on Mustafah:
“Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil!”
“From my point of view the Jedi are evil.”
“Well then you are lost!”
Like Anakin, and Rey, and Kylo Ren, we are lost as a generation. Depending on who you talk to, America is either a White Supremacist nightmare or an Egalitarian Marxist Nightmare. Either way, it’s a society most young people have turned against, just like Anakin turned against the Jedi, just like Kylo turned against Luke, and just like Rey damn near turned against the Resistance until her liberal idealism got the best of her at the last second.
Good and Evil, Heroes and Villains, Light and Darkness – all of it is relative, all of it is subjective, none of it is universal. All life is struggle, a battle between Will’s. It’s not a matter of who is right and who is wrong, it’s a matter of which side you choose to join based on your own internal sensibilities. I want to see Hollywood continue to stoke that moral relativism. They think it will result in the world they wish to see. But things might not go the way they think they will.
BTW, from my perspective, one of Rey’s best lines is when she naively, yet innocently, answers Luke’s question about Jedi by telling him “they can move rocks and can make things…float.” I didn’t understand what the Force was until I was an adult and read about it on the Star Wars wiki site. I would have answered the question just like Rey did if someone asked me what the Force was when I was a child. My point is, my generation likes to call things like we see them, even if we don’t understand their nuance and depth just yet. The Boomers call it Shallowness. I call it Honesty.
Finally a review that matches my thoughts and the feelings that I could not put my finger on. Well done and Go Blue!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks so much!
A friend just sent me this article, and I’m so glad she did. What a wonderful, thoughtful breakdown of all the ways TLJ went wrong. Bc you’re so right – at the end of the day, all fan theories aside, fans just wanted to be told a story about hope. And instead, we were mocked for wanting hope and heroes. In a SW franchise. (How dare we.) /sarcasm
Anyway, I appreciate that you took the time to write and share this. There are far too few critical articles out there right now, and it was refreshing to read a different perspective. So thanks!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks so much for the kind words. My hope (no pun intended) in writing this was to give voice to some of the legitimate criticisms of the film, in the face of defenders attempting to cast every detractor (and criticism) in a negative light. I’m glad it worked for you. Thanks again for reading!
Last Jedi IS heavily concerned with hope. In fact, I’d say it’s the best presentation of this, because they maintain hope despite the fact that heroes likely don’t live up to their legends, despite all the terrible shit that happens to them. They are motivated by hope to continue, even if it doesn’t pay off immediately. Rey’s hope in Luke doesn’t pay off immediately, but at the end of the film, he returns, appearing like a legend from nowhere, taking shots from The Empire without a bit of damage. Even though no one responded to the Resistance’s call, there’s still hope, and that’s reflected rather well in the final scene with the kid telling the story of Luke and it inspiring him. Hope is worth having, even if it doesn’t seem like it pays off, because it keeps us going through the worst of times so we can eventually make it better.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I think that’s a lovely read of the film, Benjamin. Thanks for sharing it. Unfortunately for me, I see a film that wants to be about “hope” (as indicated in the finale), but who’s premise, that heroes and odds-defying actions ultimately cost more than they help, is the antithesis of that hope. We can’t have faith that heroes will beat the odds, that noble folks wanting to do right will win the day, because to have that faith is folly. Regardless of the words used, that is what the plot of Last Jedi actually says. I agree that in some respects the movie wants to have its cake and eat it too by reverting a bit in the ending scenes, but the overall package simply doesn’t work in my opinion. I’m glad it worked for you, though, truly.
it’s pretty weird to use a blog in the name of a law firm to vent about a kid’s movie…
Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment! In general, this blog serves as a discussion of all sorts of things. Lawyers are people too! That said, obviously no one has to agree with anything written here, or the fact that it was written at all! Still, if you’d prefer to drop by our discussion of the Special Counsel’s appointment, our reading of the Facebook Terms and Conditions, or our deep dive into the nature of a venture capital term sheet, those are here as well!