Star Wars: The Last Jedi is already something of a unicorn: it’s that rare blockbuster capable of generating huge box office revenues and major love from critics, but also massively polarizes its audience. It’s usually the other way around (see: Blade Runner 2049, Justice League). There’s a clear divide between critical and fanboy reviews, on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic — many fans outright hate it. The growing fan backlash suggests that The Last Jedi might not have long legs at theaters (but when you open globally at $473 million, you’re already on-track for a cool billion).
Here at LRM we also have diverging feelings about The Last Jedi. Yesterday, Jammer posted his perspective — he loved it and agreed with critics — and our readers quickly snapped back in opposition (with a vengeance, I might add).
I differ with Jammer in a number of respects, so I’ll take a crack at counterpointing his assessments. (I might even make a few friends for a change!)
Critics universally agreed that The Last Jedi was flawed but fun, and stayed true to the spirit of previous Star Wars films. Most critics also agreed that director, Rian Johnson, was solid (if unspectacular), and faintly praised him for “not screwing it up.” Fans, as you might have guessed, see things quite differently.
Fairly or unfairly, The Last Jedi will be forever compared to The Empire Strikes Back, which is a much better film, I think most would agree. Additionally, similar to The Force Awakens, this movie repeats several beats from both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which is I found jarring and yanked me out of the narrative.
Here are my biggest issues with The Last Jedi:
The First Order And Kylo Ren Are Weak Antagonists
Kylo Ren is a mess. His inner-turmoil was viewed by some as complexity, but I just found him to be annoyingly wishy-washy and flip-floppy. In The Force Awakens, he kills his father, Han, but in The Last Jedi, he hesitates to kill his mother, Leia… Why? We also see Kylo have another major temper tantrum, wrecking his helmet in the process, which makes him look weak rather than powerful. Throughout the entire movie, Kylo wavers between “will he or won’t he” fully embrace the dark side or come back to the light?
Additionally, the First Order received short shrift in The Last Jedi. While the Empire from the original trilogy was a sprawling, fascist organization focused on controlling the entire galaxy, I honestly can’t tell you what the First Order was trying to achieve in this movie. They seemed like bumbling idiots and comic relief more often than not — especially their leader, General Hux. Plus, their entire mission was solely dedicated to wiping out the Resistance, who was fleeing them in one long, desperate, low-speed convoy (don’t say Battlestar Galactica, even though we’re all thinking it).
Oh, that’s funny, I almost forgot about Snoke… and maybe the writers did too. Snoke is no Palpatine, that’s for sure, he’s not even at the level of Jabba the Hutt. Snoke is (was) an overconfident troll whose hubris and arrogance cost him dearly during a lightsaber/Force fight with Rey and Kylo — did anyone else feel like this scene was right out of Return of the Jedi?
The Rey-Kylo-Snoke fight was actually pretty cool, but I still don’t get how Rey learned how to fight so effectively — she’s had almost no training thus far, but she can take out a room full of Snoke’s Praetorian Guards (the guys in red armor)? C’mon, man! When Snoke is dispatched, the entire audience in my theater laughed, because it was so absurd and disappointing — this is the big-bad threat promised by The Force Awakens? Sigh.
Too Many Characters Were Wasted Or Under-Developed
Star Wars characters have never been particularly deep; in the original trilogy and the prequels, they mostly got by on charisma (Solo, Vader) or action (Skywalker, Obi-Wan). In The Last Jedi, most of the characters were a little more rounded, but they lacked the chippy, enduring personalities of Han-Luke-Leia from the original trilogy. Additionally, the performances in this film seemed driven by the needs of the script, rather than the needs of their characters. It all adds up to a sloppy, mish-mash of motivations and actions.
Take Poe, for example, whose arc took him from a cocky, headstrong pilot to a seasoned, trusted leader over the course of the film. The problem is, his choices and failures got a lot of people killed and he was an insubordinate ass at precisely the worst times — it’s hard to cheer for an idiot, which is how he often came across.
Also, many of the characters in The Last Jedi didn’t have a helluva lot to do. Snoke and Phasma were barely props; Laura Dern and Carrie Fisher’s characters should have been combined; Finn and Rose had an inconsequential (and forgettable) subplot; also, does anyone know what in the hell Benicio Del Toro was trying to accomplish with that stuttering accent?
The most compelling character dynamic was between Rey and Luke, who had a clear chemistry and shared some fun dialog together. Unfortunately, they spent too much time apart, and their pairing simply wasn’t as fun (or as engaging) as Luke and Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back, unfortunately.
What’s Up With The Weird Force Powers?
The Force was an organic element from the original films that was restrained and personal — you can choke a guy, catch a blaster shot, or knock a droid across the room… but that’s about all. In the prequels the Force was a bit more enhanced and over-the-top, but still largely consistent with the original trilogy. In The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, the Force is so overpowered and hopped-up on steroids that it seemed like a joke… and it’s not clear why.
For example, we see that Rey and Kylo can share a “mind-meld” (for lack of a better term) across the galaxy, which I could accept, until they’re shown physically holding hands in the same physical space. Oh, and apparently Force ghosts can also summon lightning, which is new. Finally, and this is the one that really yanked me out of the story, was the realization that not only could Luke could project himself across the galaxy, he could even cause non-Force enlightened folks to see him.
Do we even want to talk about that moment where Leia is blasted into space, only to subsequently float back into her ship via auto-Force-mode? No? Good, because that was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen (and spawned another uncomfortable laughing outburst from the audience in my theater).
Luke Skywalker’s Arc Was Uneven And Dishonorable
Star Wars is essentially a Samurai-Western in a Sci-Fi wrapper. Martial arts are a key, underlying element in these films, but almost entirely absent from The Last Jedi. Luke Skywalker is the ultimate grandmaster of his fighting order, the Jedi, and he expresses a vaguely zen attitude about it that worked for me. I even liked his cantankerous, shitty attitude at the start of this film — there was still a bit of the younger, mischievous Luke shining through.
I thought Mark Hamill’s performance was amazing, even if the script constantly betrayed him. Basically, Luke was made to do things in this movie that didn’t fit his character. Take the Luke-Kylo backstory, which was slowly revealed throughout the movie (via a subtle nod to Kurosawa’s Rashomon). This flashback revealed a darker, weaker side of Luke that didn’t ring true to me, at all. When Luke realized that Kylo had been turned to the Dark Side, he decided to kill him before his inner-Vader fully emerged. However, instead of confronting Kylo straight-up, as Mace Windu and Obi-Wan had done with Palpatine and Anakin, respectively, in Revenge of the Sith, Luke snuck into his tent while he was sleeping and raised his lightsaber for a kill strike. Heresy!
This is NOT how a martial arts grandmaster would treat his top student; the choice is NOT true to Luke’s character, and it’s simply dishonorable. I realize that Luke was scared and emotional, but this is a cowardly act and without honor — this moment nearly ruined the film for me. And finally, during the final scenes of the film, Luke suddenly vaporizes into the ether — a parallel to Yoda’s demise in The Empire Strikes Back. Sure, Luke died while conducting the ultimate act of heroism, and while it certainly redeemed him from Kylo’s assassination attempt, watching Luke simply fade out… it just sat wrong with me and was the final straw that ruined the film.
There are probably another dozen things that I could bring up about this flawed movie, but it becomes needlessly nitpicky. For instance, the runtime was much too long given the events on-screen — The Last Jedi should have been 2 hours max! The Last Jedi is not a bad film; it’s polished, often beautiful, and contains several really exciting moments. However, it’s not the successor to The Empire Strikes Back that so many want it to be — nor should it, this film needs to stand-alone while remaining a connected experience.
Ultimately, The Last Jedi has the impossible job of living up to the expectations of three different audiences (the original trilogy, the prequels, and the post-Disney films). The Last Jedi moves the Star Wars saga forward, as it should, and I honestly have no idea where it goes in Episode IX. However, similar to Justice League, I left the theater with the sad feeling that I won’t remember much about this film in a month.
What are your issues or complaints about The Last Jedi? Let us know in the comments down below!
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