SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi follows.
You might have heard, there’s a new Star Wars movie out, and there are two big takeaways from its opening weekend:
- The movie is going to make a lot of money
- The audience reaction to the movie is a little less stellar than the overwhelmingly positive critical reaction
I saw the movie last week, and while I don’t think it’s the worst movie ever, I definitely count myself as one of the disappointed fans. In fact, I was so disappointed that I found it hard to believe why the critics were so effusive in their praise for the newest installment, to the point where I wondered if we were watching the same movie. What follows is my spoiler-filled list of reasons (in no particular order) why I didn’t enjoy The Last Jedi.
Too similar to previous movies
One of the most common points of praise that I’ve heard from critics regarding The Last Jedi that I simply don’t understand is how it “subverted expectations” and was “fresh” and “new”. In my opinion, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Last Jedi felt like little more than a merging of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (with the run-time to match). Observe the similarities:
The Empire Strikes Back – The movie kicks off with the bad guys having tracked down the rebellion/resistance base and the good guys desperately trying to evacuate on time. The heroes seemingly manage to escape, but end up in an extended chase scene due to *hand waving* hyperdrive issues. Meanwhile, the Jedi protagonist travels to a secluded planet in search of a legendary Jedi master for training. After first being rebuffed by the hermetic master (who seems to be purposefully acting crazy and living a distinctly low-tech life), the master begrudgingly gives in despite not thinking it’s a good idea because of the pull of the dark side and being haunted by the fall of a previous student. During training, the student travels to a random nearby cave that is strong with the dark side and has a weird vision that climaxes with the student coming face to face with himself/herself. After seeing a vision of things happening far away, the student leaves to confront a dark side counterpart against the wishes of the master, who ends up discussing the departed student with a previously deceased Jedi master. Oh, and there was an assault of AT-AT walkers against a rebellion/resistance base on a snow planet (I don’t care that they cheekily called it salt instead).
Return of the Jedi – The Snoke throne room scene was so much a carbon copy of the Palpatine throne room scene from Return of the Jedi that I found myself literally rolling my eyes during it. Both scenes involved our Jedi hero giving himself/herself up to get captured by a dark side counterpart in the hopes that the Jedi can turn the dark side apprentice against the dark side master. Both scenes took place in the throne room of said master in the middle of space while a battle raged between the good guys and bad guys. Both scenes involved the evil master taunting the Jedi with the Jedi’s own lightsaber while bragging about the good guys losing the battle. Both scenes culminate with the master unsurprisingly being betrayed by his apprentice to save the Jedi.
There was very little that was fresh or new with The Last Jedi. So much of what happened not only was a copy from previous movies, but was completely predictable. My only expectation that was subverted is just how slavishly they followed previous movies considering the criticism The Force Awakens received for copying A New Hope too much.
Discarding all the interesting plot threads from The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens introduced a ton of mysteries. Who was Supreme Leader Snoke? What was he doing during the original trilogy? How did he build up the First Order to be such a significant threat to the Republic and how did he get so much influence over a young Ben Solo? Who were Rey’s parents? Why does she have such an affinity for the Force? Why did she seem to have a connection to Luke’s lightsaber and what was up with that vision of Kylo Ren? Did it seem like Snoke and Kylo knew her? How did Maz Kanata get Luke’s lightsaber? There were plenty of hints dropped throughout the movie that these were important plot points to be addressed later. Maz Kanata even commented, when asked about how she got the lightsaber, “A good question – for another time”.
The Last Jedi wasted little time in unceremoniously dispensing with these mysteries in some of the most unsatisfying ways possible. Maz Kanata has the briefest of cameos. Snoke is dispatched without any insight into his backstory at all, and seemingly none will ever be forthcoming. Most disappointingly? Rey’s parents are revealed to be… nobodies. One of the biggest and most compelling mysteries in the whole Star Wars saga turned out to be one giant red herring. While a small part of me appreciates going against the grain and doing something unexpected with Rey’s parents, I mostly just found it amazingly annoying. It felt like incredibly sloppy writing to have introduced these characters and mysteries (and to focus on them so heavily in both movies, in the case of Rey’s parents) and then just cut those threads off in such an unsatisfying way. It really draws attention to the fact that The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi had different writers with different visions for how the trilogy should move forward.
Questionable decision making and uncertain character motivations
Something that really pulled me out of the story was my inability to relate to some of the decisions made by key characters and what their motivations were throughout the movie.
Let’s start with Luke. I found it unbelievable that Luke Skywalker was really considering, even for the briefest of moments, killing a boy who had done nothing wrong yet simply because Luke sensed that he had some darkness in him. This is the same Luke Skywalker who steadfastly refused to fight his father, who at the time had already murdered hundreds (if not thousands) of people, because Luke still saw some good in him. This was before Luke soured on the Jedi Order, so there’s nothing to explain the change. Also, while training Rey, Luke mentions, “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now”. The implication being that the time he saw it before was Ben Solo. It’s interesting that when he saw it in Ben Solo (and wasn’t scared enough), he considered murdering an innocent boy in his sleep. Now when he sees it in Rey (and is scared enough), he… proceeds to train her? This is even after Luke notes in amazement that Rey didn’t even try to resist the call of the dark cave.
It also felt like The Last Jedi didn’t do enough to show why Luke went from idealistic and heroic to a bitter and dejected old man fed up with the Jedi teachings. It’s not like the Luke of the original trilogy didn’t go through some heartache. He lost the only family he knew, found out his father was one of the worst tyrants the galaxy has ever seen, kissed his sister, lost his hand… I understand that having your nephew murder most of your students and try to kill you is no picnic, but it seems overly dramatic and frankly cowardly for his response to be to abdicate all responsibility and run away to a secluded planet in the hopes of never being found again and dying as the last of the Jedi… as the Sith are running rampant across the galaxy.
Which brings us to the title of the movie and the question that fans have been asking themselves ever since Luke spoke these words in the trailer, “It’s time for the Jedi to end”. Why? Why does Luke think the Jedi need to end? Even after its two and a half hour run time (the longest Star Wars movie), we still don’t have a good answer to that question. Yes, the Jedi aren’t perfect and they make mistakes, but the galaxy clearly seems better off when they’re around to fight against the dark side. If he really wanted to end the Jedi, why not destroy the ancient Jedi texts and then kill himself? Is it really so easy to change his mind by simply having Artoo show him old video of his sister?
It’s interesting to note that Mark Hamill himself apparently had some initial issues with how Luke Skywalker was portrayed in The Last Jedi.
On the other end of the spectrum, Snoke’s motivations and decision making was equally bizarre. What was his end goal? Was it to kill Luke Skywalker? Replace Kylo Ren with Rey as his apprentice? Make Kylo Ren an even more powerful Sith Lord? If he could somehow connect Rey and Ren’s minds so powerfully, why couldn’t he track down where Rey and Luke were? The movie doesn’t make any of that clear at all. What is clear is that whatever his plans were, they failed spectacularly. Snoke boasted about seeing into Kylo Ren’s mind so clearly and yet couldn’t see the clear and obvious betrayal coming? Snoke even pointed out earlier in the movie how Ren was still conflicted. Ren’s idol was Darth Vader, who quite memorably betrayed his master in almost identical circumstances (see above comparison to Return of the Jedi). The whole legacy of Sith Lords is that the apprentice overthrows the master. Being betrayed by Kylo Ren should’ve been the most obvious thing in the world and I fail to see how connecting his mind to Rey’s did anything but help further his own downfall.
Speaking of Rey, I found it a little disturbing how quickly she went from loathing Kylo Ren to wanting to save him after seeing him shirtless. It’s quite a stark change in perspective considering that even the most charitable interpretation of what happened to Ren is that he unrepentantly murdered a bunch of innocent Jedi students and then killed his dad to try to prove how emo he is.
Why the hell didn’t Vice-Admiral Holdo just tell Poe what her plan was from the very beginning? There was never any explanation as to why it was necessary to keep it a secret and open the door to a coup. It also made zero sense why she acted so coldly towards him the entire time but then mentioned to Leia that she liked him.
As for Poe, there is a fine line between simply being a hot-head and simply being stupid. Why did he immediately distrust Holdo? Also, what the hell was with that skipper attack? Everybody seems to know the risks and that it was virtually a suicide mission. After the majority of the skippers are destroyed there is still a chance of success (courtesy of another dramatic Millennium Falcon entrance), but Poe inexplicably calls off the attack. Why? Finn seemed to have a good chance to make the mission a success and save the resistance until Rose rammed his skipper (somehow catching up to him despite him presumably going full speed) in a move that should’ve doomed the Resistance and could’ve killed both of them. As a result, Luke has to sacrifice himself to save the Resistance instead. If they weren’t going to follow through with the plan, why even start it? A bunch of Resistance pilots died for no reason.
The central premise behind the main conflict was dumb
Star Wars has always played a little loose with its science. There are explosions and noises in the vacuum of space. A parsec is apparently both a measure of time and distance. Ships are inexplicably affected by gravity in the middle of space. Normally these minor issues can be ignored since they are fairly tangential to the plot or can be explained away by saying the hyperspace drive was malfunctioning. The problem is The Last Jedi turns these usually minor inconsistencies into major plot points that the central conflict of the movie revolves around.
I couldn’t get over how nonsensical the First Order’s slow-motion chase of the Resistance fleet was. Apparently the Resistance ships were fast enough to get out of range of the First Order fleet, but then slowed down so they stayed the same distance away after that? Why couldn’t the First Order just jump ahead to cut them off or call in reinforcements to encircle them? Hyperspace fuel is different from normal fuel? What happened to tractor beams or launching TIE fighters? How was Starkiller Base capable of destroying entire star systems halfway across the galaxy but a fleet of ships can’t do anything to targets within visual sight?
But the biggest head scratcher of them all is the revelation that hyperspacing through a ship is a very effective way of destroying them. This is a total game changer that frankly breaks the logic of much of what we’ve seen not only earlier in this particular movie, but earlier in the Star Wars saga. Why bother sending swarms of fighters against the Death Star to try to hit a womp rat sized thermal exhaust port with proton torpedoes when fewer lives can be lost by just kamikaze-ing a ship through it? Even if this was some sort of modern development, it really calls into question why this wasn’t used against the dreadnought that was so hard to take out earlier in the movie. Hands down, though, the stupidest non-use of this tactic had to be by Vice Admiral Holdo during the space chase. We see a scene where the resistance medical frigate has run out of fuel and is simply drifting back towards the pursuing First Order fleet where it promptly gets destroyed with its captain on board. If the plan was already to sacrifice the ship and captain, then why not take out a few pursuing ships with a suicide hyperspace charge? I’m not the only person to have noticed this. The Ringer went into great detail about how, considering the long history of intergalactic war, this type of maneuver should’ve been tried before and the effectiveness of it should’ve revolutionized how space battles were fought.
Lastly, the whole Finn/Rose subplot where they traveled to Canto Bight to track down a master code breaker just seemed boring and unnecessary, as if the filmmakers were trying to find something for Finn to do. It didn’t help that Finn and Rose didn’t find their man, but somehow the random person they escape the planet with was also somehow able to break the First Order codes (despite it being established earlier how few people in the galaxy can do it) and, oh yeah, they got caught before they were able to disable the tracking device anyway. If this is how we can expect them to treat Finn going forward, I don’t understand why they didn’t give him a heroic sendoff in this movie.
(Yoda summoned) Lightning round
While I have no problem with humor in my Star Wars movies, the attempts in The Last Jedi were a little hit or miss to me and it felt like some jokes went on a little too long. The Hux/Poe “I’m holding for General Hux” exchange was funny the first time, but it very quickly got old for me and I was ready to move on after the second and third time going back to the same joke.
Considering how popular a character he has become, I really wish the death of Admiral Ackbar had been given a little more weight rather than a throwaway line. Speaking of neglected aliens, what does Nien Nunb have to do to get a promotion? He’s been with the Resistance/Rebellion since Return of the Jedi and seems to have the exact same job despite their leadership getting obliterated and people like Poe getting promotions over him.
I thought it was ironic that literally minutes after Leia chastises Poe about how Holdo was prioritizing saving the resistance over going out in a blaze of glory… Holdo goes out in one of the most spectacular blazes of glory in a Star Wars movie yet.
There seemed to be a disconnect regarding exactly how long of a time period over which the movie took place. The events with the First Order and Resistance fleets seemed to be taking place over the course of hours or at most a day or two (I believe there was a reference to there only being 18 hours of fuel at one point) whereas it felt like Rey was observing and nagging Luke for days or weeks before finally beginning her training.
Don’t even get me started on all of the subtle (and non-subtle) romantic hints dropped all over the place. The Force Awakens gave us the obvious hints of a Finn/Rey romance and an underdog hint of a Finn/Poe romance. Now The Last Jedi is forcing us to confront the idea of a Ren/Rey romance and pushing a Finn/Rose romance to the forefront that felt like it came out of nowhere and wasn’t earned at all.
What is the statute of limitations on Force ghosts and could they always call down lightning? Because that seems like it could’ve been useful in earlier movies, and it would finally make sense when Obi-Wan said he would “become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”.
I need A New Hope
As much as I found wrong with The Last Jedi, I didn’t think it was an absolutely terrible movie. I was, however, pretty disappointed, and I am not nearly as excited for the conclusion of this trilogy. It felt like The Last Jedi had an opportunity to break new ground, but in reality missed its chance. Now we’re left hoping that J.J. Abrams can breathe new life into Star Wars one more time. But I’m not optimistic that Abrams can be the new hope this trilogy needs.
We have a diversity of opinion here at Rampant Discourse. Check out an alternative take on The Last Jedi here.