Like Kylo Ren ‘The Last Jedi’ left me conflicted. I’ve seen it twice and my emotions have been all over the place. I can’t say whether ‘The Last Jedi’ was a good movie or not, but I can say that it’s given me a lot to think about. So, like grumpy Luke I too have returned from novel writing exile, to share a blog trilogy on ‘The Last Jedi’, the Star Wars Legacy, and what the future holds when Disney owns everything.
The Last Jedi does two very important things right. It is full of scenes that taken on their own drip drama and that Star Wars magic. The fight scene in Snoke’s Chamber, Leia in that giant coat staring out into the cold, the Porgs being less ‘ewok’ and more Jim Henson background cute. More importantly, The Last Jedi introduces strong characters like Rose and further develops it’s already solid cast. Poe and Finn get arcs, Rey loses what drives her in a powerful way. And then there’s Kylo Ren, who is the most fleshed out villain in the current pop culture landscape and might be the most complicated character Star Wars has ever produced.
I will suffer through the most cliched of plots if I love the characters, and I did love them. Throw in some cool scenes like that awesome Lightspeed ram (which was a clear shout out to Gundam and anime) and I should be sold. But I wasn’t. Something was wrong, something I couldn’t place. It was a feeling.
My best friend felt it too and we spent hours discussing it. Like any good nerd we started to pick apart the movie, examining plot holes, cracks in the world building and character motivation. There were a lot of plot holes, but there always are. Every story has plot holes, sci-fi and fantasy even more so because they offer near infinite solutions to the problems the heroes face. It occurred to me days later that the plot holes and nitpicking wasn’t the problem, it was a symptom.
At some point while watching the Last Jedi my willing suspension of disbelief snapped. I can’t say when or how. Suspension of disbelief is hard thing to explain. It’s the ebb and flow of tension, the weaving of a spell that keeps the audience locked in to the events on the page or screen. And it’s personal. Some people will suspend their disbelief for a ‘Transformers’ movie, some people won’t do it at all for genre films at all.
But saying it was all a matter of taste let’s ‘The Last Jedi’ off easy. Maybe, I’m harder on it because it’s a Star Wars film, but while it’s ideas are good it’s execution is sloppy. It cuts between scenes were near manic. Moments that are supposed to inspire high drama felt exhausting. The chase between the Resistance and the First Order goes on forever. By the end I just wanted it over and even groaned when they made it to the salt base and did the whole ‘Hoth’ quote.
And then there’s a strange imbalance of tone like its own characters don’t believe in its stakes. Luke making a joke about not reading the Jedi scared script might be funny, but it drains the meaning of him burning them. The Resistance is supposed to be having the hardest day of it’s life. But everyone remains plucky. They come up with zany plots almost immediately. Finn and Rose go on whacky adventure and Poe, (who is never phased by anything including his whole squadron being wiped out twice,) stages a five-minute munity. Individually these aren’t a problem, but the sheer volume was like a death by a thousand cuts.
And look I wanted to suspend my disbelief. During my second viewing I could feel my interest wax and wane. Every time Kylo Ren and Rey were interacting I was engaged. The movie slowed down for them to talk and grow. The opening was perfect. I felt for the bomber crew and the nameless gunner who goes through silent hell to blow up the Dreadnought. Rose morning her sister helped make that sacrifice meaningful in a way that the other sacrifices weren’t. I liked Holdo well enough and that scene was cool, but it gets cheapened by the sheer volume of people who blow themselves up, or try to, in an attempt halt the First Order. On top of Rose’s sister and Holdo, there’s the nameless crews of several of rebel ships, Finn and ultimately Luke.
And as my suspension of disbelief broke more evident cracks to started to show. I left the movie unsure if I wanted to continue to explore the Star Wars universe, not because it ‘ruined my childhood’ or ‘dashed my fan theories’, but because it had exhausted itself. What’s left for these heroes to do but kill Kylo Ren? They can’t redeem him, that’s already been tried twice. What other questions are left to be explored? What other ends are there?
I’m now at a point where my doubt extends beyond ‘The Last Jedi’ and into this new trilogy. There are problems with Disney’s Star Wars. It has everything to do with our expectations, the question of ‘what is a Star Wars film?’ The current thread on the internet is that the criticism of ‘The Last Jedi’ only comes from cranky neckbeards who felt like it was too different from the Star Wars they grew up with. If anything the ‘The Last Jedi’ suffers from being too alike the originally trilogy. It labors under the weight of it, trapped by a need to explore old characters and ideas rather than new.
I’ll talk more about that next week in ‘The Burden of Legacy’.