SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE! SPOILER SPACE!
YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
H.P. is a pretty casual Star Wars fan. Which is to say, she enjoyed the original three, tolerates the prequels, loves the porgs even if she wonders what they taste like, and her most pressing fan question is “WHYYYY hasn’t the Star Wars Christmas Special been re-released yet?”
Jacob is not. Which is to say, his first pieces of writing were Star Wars fanfic. He has a level of reverence for the Empire that would give Kylo Ren goosebumps. He decorated the Holo dining room with Imperial Fleet propaganda. The Holo dining room table is frequently covered with not dinner, but Imperial Star Wars Armada miniatures, their cards all arranged in the plotting of his next devastating fleet. His most pressing fan question is “WHYYYY does the First Order even exist?”
All this to say, we covered both target audiences that The Last Jedi aimed to please.
Which is to say, when a fan who wants to see a Christmas Special release is disappointed by your movie, you’ve done something wrong.
Which is to say, when a fan whose dining room is a mini Star Wars shrine erupts into an angry rant that ends in impassioned manly fanboy tears at your movie, you’ve done something wrong.
(Seriously, guys, you missed out on some potential Internet gold last week.
Jacob’s still so angry at the movie that H.P. had to write this review.
Also seriously, f*** the First Order.)
To be fair, The Last Jedi is not a bad sci-fi movie. It’s not even a disappointing sci-fi movie. It is, however, an intensely disappointing Star Wars movie. Star Wars is as looming a behemoth in the fandom world as Disney is in the moviemaking world, and both are at their height right now. Given this situation, and its great if derivative trailer, one would expect The Last Jedi to be a perfect marriage of everything fans love about Star Wars and the massive resources Disney can devote to a project of that scale.
Of the considerable resources Disney did fling at this movie, none of them were in the writing department, which is where every single piece of this movie fails.
There are plenty of good moments in The Last Jedi – most of its humor is laugh-out-loud (even if it approaches being too goofy), and the art direction is stellar, especially in the climax – but a movie needs more than a string of unconnected moments to pull it together.
The plot, simply put, is terrible. Its most glaring flaw is the pacing. Most of the film comes down to the Resistance fleet, low on fuel and unable to jump to hyperspace, slowly puttering just out of reach of the pursuing First Order’s cannons. This is literally the opposite of the exciting space battles one expects of Star Wars. Switch to Rey in her quest to recruit Luke Skywalker to the Resistance cause, and we have more waiting – first for Luke to be something other than a crotchety old man who has no time for Rey, then for him to decide to train Rey, then take it back when her power scares him. Switch to the First Order, where Kylo Ren has fallen from grace and struggles with his own deep internal conflict – which could be interesting, but is only expressed through strange Force conversations that he’s able to hold with Rey (any advancements made in which are completely negated by a late-movie twist).
I honestly do not understand how anyone could read this slow-paced mess and decide to throw millions of dollars of funding behind it.
Even worse, though, is the way the movie handles its characters. For all its flaws, The Force Awakens at least set up some interesting characters and relationships – Finn and Poe and their frequent Need of Pilot, Rey and her mysterious backstory, Kylo Ren and all his issues. The Last Jedi explores none of that. In fact, it separates Finn from Poe, reducing Finn to a coward who starts the movie by trying to desert (despite being able to go toe-to-toe with Kylo Ren in the previous movie) and ends up roped into an off-ship side quest trying to hide that he was deserting. Poe, meanwhile, is back on the Resistance cruiser being a loose cannon and generally not being a pilot (except for the movie’s opening scene). Rey spends so much time trying to win Luke that when he finally starts training her, it’s a relief, not a joy, and we don’t learn any more about her than we’d already guessed, even if we do get some neat, weird metaphysical scenes out of it. Of the new trilogy characters, Kylo Ren’s arc had the most potential for development—and did have several exciting “Ooo!” moments—but his considerable internal conflict doesn’t lead him anywhere new or interesting by the end.
Supreme Leader Snoke and Captain Phasma get the worst of it, though. Captain Phasma, at least among fan expectations, has been built up to be an imposing antagonist as cool as her armor. I forgave The Force Awakens for not cashing in on that because, after all, there were two more movies coming at that point, but in The Last Jedi, all Captain Phasma does is botch an execution, fight once, and then fall into a flame pit. Snoke’s identity and ultimate plan was another such highly-anticipated reveal, only to be revealed as…nothing. The only things we learn about him are that he is, in fact, not as giant as his holograms suggest and that he has really snappy taste in bathrobes. He dies without any meaningful bits of his mystery being solved, in the most obnoxious tease-without-a-payoff of the entire movie.
I feel you, Rey.
Again, I simply cannot understand why someone greenlit a script that solved none of the mysteries fans were clamoring to see solved. (We do learn the secret of who Rey’s parents are, and it is unexpected, but it also comes from an untrustworthy source, so who knows if that’s the actual truth?)
Now—ONLY NOW—do we come to the flaws that drove Jacob to absolute nerdrage on the way home from the theatre.
As an avid Armada nerd, Jacob knows his Star Wars military strategy. Whoever created the military circumstances of The Last Jedi does not, and does it hard. The First Order and Resistance are two complete disasters of military planning, and it’s evident from the very first scene.
In it, the First Order hypers in to take out a Resistance base, armed with several star destroyers and a dreadnought, which is basically a bigger, angrier star destroyer with nice guns…and apparently no shields. And no combat space patrol to escort it. Only after Poe—just Poe—flies in on his sassy X-wing and starts taking out cannons does the leadership think it prudent to sent out some TIE fighters to maybe wreck him. But oops, they’re too late; he’s done his job, which is apparently to distract the entire First Order fleet so that five big-ass bombers can appear out of nowhere and advance with excruciatingly slow speed toward the unshielded dreadnought.
Logical problems run rampant here: If the bombers are that slow, how could the First Order not notice them coming in the first place? And if they hypered in, why not hyper in on top of the dreadnought and drop their load there? But wait, you might say! “Drop their load? They’re in space! What gravity are they expecting to pull these bombs into free fall?” Well, The Last Jedi hears your question and answers…actually nope. It doesn’t. But the scene at least gives us some fun Poe being Poe and a touching self-sacrifice (not Poe), so there’s that.
Proceed to the main plot, during which the Resistance fleet is forced to slowly motor away from the ever-patient First Order, and you encounter the frustrating problem of “THE RESISTANCE IS TRAVELING IN A SLOW, STRAIGHT LINE, AND THE FIRST ORDER HAS HYPERSPACE CAPABILITIES. WHY NOT HYPER SOME STAR DESTROYERS OUT IN FRONT OF THE RESISTANCE FLEET AND WIPE THEM OUT IN A SECOND OR JUST SWARM THEM WITH TIE FIGHTERS instead of following them slowly and politely through space I swear is General Hux in the back playing Angry Porgs when he’s not on screen?
It’s not like he’s a competent general, anyway; otherwise he might have realized that the First Order—which nearly controls the entire galaxy—vs. the last 400 Resistance fighters is not a war. It’s an itch, a skirmish at most. A single star destroyer carries more personnel than remains in the entire Resistance (70,000 to be precise)! The scale of this conflict is so unbelievably one-sided that I can’t even fathom how these 400 fighters have managed to evade the First Order in the first place, especially as easily as they’re picked off in this movie, and especially since they’re traveling together in one convenient package. The only explanation I can come up with is that they’re protected by the sheer badassery of Carrie Fisher, which given the logic of this movie, is as reasonable as anything else.
Proceed to the next phase of the plot, where a forgotten, uncharted Rebel base randomly shows up to give the Resistance a big ol’ dose of Hope, and the Resistance decides to evacuate its doomed cruiser to make for the base. In transports that don’t have hyperdrives, even though EVERY Resistance ship has hyperdrives. (On that point, why all head to the base to begin with? Why not scatter and force the First Order to chase more than one target?) That’s another disaster of strategy, but worse is what the movie could have done with this scene, compared to what the movie actually did.
Early in the movie, Princess Leia is knocked out of commission, the rest of the leadership is blown to bits, and so a new character whom I’ve never heard of but is presumably a great leader steps in to take her place. I can’t remember her name, so I’m going to call her Effie Trinket, because she looks like her and has about as much substance…but still gets a heroic death when she decides to stay with the cruiser and provide a distraction…in the form of turning the cruiser toward the First Order and hypering through the whole fleet (more on that later. UGH SO MUCH MORE). Effie isn’t developed. We’re supposed to feel sad at her sacrifice, but we don’t, because we as viewers don’t know her. You know who could have gotten a deservingly heroic death out of that scene? PRINCESS F*****G LEIA. Or even Admiral Ackbar, going down on his iconic Mon Calamari ship. Not some invented one-shot who does nothing more than be a pretty purple piece of cardboard with the apparent ability to break the laws of even Star Wars physics.
Which brings up another great, frustrating flaw. In the very first Star Wars movie (okay, fourth by modern chronology), it’s clearly established that if a hyperdrive detects any obstacles in its path, it sits down like a finicky two-year-old and goes NOPE until its path looks perfect again. It doesn’t have any safeties to be deactivated. It just DOESN’T. And it certainly doesn’t hyper through an entire space fleet.
At least, it didn’t. But here, what makes for a superficially badass scene and sacrifice ultimately rips the world of Star Wars physics apart (and there wasn’t much to begin with). If it’s now possible to hyper through things, why not make hyperdrive-equipped missiles? In fact, why not just strap hyperdrives to anvils if that’s all it takes to wreck a star destroyer? That small suggestion alone completely changes the face of warfare in the Star Wars universe and brings up the all-encompassing flaw in The Last Jedi:
If the movie isn’t going to care about its own lore, why should I?
That is ultimately what sucks the magic out of The Last Jedi.
I can enjoy even a mediocre plot if the world sets and respects its own rules. Once a world breaks its rules for the convenience of its plot, I’m done, and unfortunately, The Last Jedi is a thorough world-breaker.
The film doesn’t even do its fan-service well. In the climax on the Rebel base, it misses a perfect opportunity to send the heroes out in classic X-wings and Y-wings, but instead sends them out in rickety space jalopies that don’t even have a particularly interesting design.
Mercifully, The Last Jedi does have one redeeming quality.
About the only thing it handled well was Luke Skywalker’s personal arc, which sees him through a hard, emotional transformation and drags him through a spiritual gauntlet before launching him out to a truly fitting end. The final battle of the movie has some logical flaws (in terms of military strategy, because of course), but beyond those it’s the stuff Star Wars dreams are made of. Visually, it’s damn beautiful, and emotionally it hits all the notes that the rest of the movie should have hit.
In retrospect, I probably should have cried at the end, and am actually tearing up a bit right now thinking about how well-done it was. But when it happened in the theater, I was so pissed at the rest of the movie that I was just ready for it to be over, which is something neither I, nor Jacob, ever thought we’d say about a Star Wars movie.
Except for its isolated high points, The Last Jedi is an expensive, flashy, unmitigated disaster that might even be on par with Episode III.
But hey, at least it gave us the porgs.
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