This Star Wars Guy short is the height of Sam's acting career.
SamB: Let’s do this thing.
So Steve, you recently saw Breaking Bad all the way through. Allow me to turn your attention to an episode towards the end of season 3, titled Fly. It deals with Walt and Jesse, primarily stuck in their lab, dealing with what Walt thinks is a fly that’s bothering him in the lab and might be contaminating their product.
It’s the most divisive episode in the entire show’s run, and that includes the infamous plane crash episode. Some fans derisively call it a “bottle episode,” which is a TV term that describes an episode that takes place only in pre-built sets whose production costs very little in order to save money for larger episodes down the line. Detractors often cite the lack of meaningful plot-driven action in the episode, and that it completely shifts the audience’s view of Walt that somehow contradicts the one that was constructed in their heads prior. People who champion the episode (full disclosure: I’m one of them) say that it develops the main leads’ relationship better than any other earlier episode, introduces an incredibly important visual motif that continues throughout the rest of the series, and with that, actually predicts how the characters will behave in the darkest parts of the rest of the series.
It was the first Breaking Bad episode to be directed by Rian Johnson.
I mention this because, in the hype season of The Last Jedi, everyone talked about what a coup it was to get the director of Ozymandias, one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of Breaking Bad, to direct a Star Wars movie. But in order to have gotten to that episode, you needed to get through Fly…
You’ve made your thoughts on The Last Jedi clear here, so it’s time for me to put my cards on the table.
I really, really liked this movie.
I think it’s easily the best Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi.
And I disagree, fundamentally, with almost everything you wrote about it.
Let’s talk about Luke, because I think that’s one of the driving forces behind the divisiveness of this movie. This movie shows that he failed; he had a moment of weakness that made him give up completely on the Jedi Order and abandon everyone. He just wants to die alone and disappear with his shame.
Now, in your article you state that Luke’s momentary thought that he might be able to snuff out Ben Solo’s evil by killing him is incongruent with the way we leave him in Return of the Jedi. That it somehow makes Luke’s arc in Jedi irrelevant.
In my mind, it doesn’t. Luke has a tendency to make decisions based on this fundamental thing: he always wants to have control. In A New Hope, he returns to Ben Kenobi after the Empire kills Uncle Owen and he shows up late, powerless to stop it. In the throne room scene in Jedi, the Emperor toys with Luke by showing him that the Death Star is actually fully operational, thus endangering the rebels. He does this not to show that resistance is futile (Star Trek reference, boom), but because he wants to gets Luke’s blood boiling. He wants to show that Luke is not in control. His friends are in danger and he’s helpless to stop it. By doing this, the Emperor believes that Luke will lash out and attempt to do something that will put him back in control. And it works! Until Luke realizes that this is manipulation in the end, and refuses to kill Darth Vader because he still sees good in his father, and that dying for your ideals is better than momentary emotional gratification. “Exactly!” You say. “That shows that he learned and he would never do that again!”
But that was actually his second offense on the same flaw. He should’ve learned not to rush into something emotionally when he ran to Bespin in Empire and got his ass handed to him by Vader, making no difference at all in the overall outcome there. It was the exact same “I’m a Jedi Knight, people are in danger and I have the power to help them!” mentality that the Emperor exploited in the next movie. This is a systemic issue in Luke’s character. Multiple people exploited it. He was able to see through the Emperor’s manipulation, but that doesn’t mean he’s fully buried that character flaw, because if you haven’t learned a lesson after getting your hand chopped off, it’s never gonna stick.
Flash forward like twenty or so years.
He has a pupil, a really strong pupil, one whose force sensitivities are equal to his own. But he sees this child of the two most important people in his life turning irreversibly to the dark side. When he peeks into Ben’s mind, he sees that it’s worse than he could have ever imagined. That the dark side has consumed him, and there is nothing Luke can do about it. In a brief moment of shock and horror and extreme sadness, he reverts back to that “I’m Luke Skywalker! I have to control this somehow! People are in danger and I have to do something!” mentality before he comes to his senses. This is the exact same mentality that led him to Bespin and led him to fight with Vader in the throne room, but both those times have worked out in the end for him. This time was much more damaging.
Now, you can ultimately reject that explanation, that’s fine. But JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan made the decision to make Luke flee from his failure and go into hiding, and Rian Johnson inherited it. When you inherit that kind of decision, you have a decision of your own to make: you can keep the status quo, or you can try for a character arc.
He chose the latter. Which leads us to…
The structure. I hesitate to use the term “screenwriting” here, because I’ve not read The Last Jedi script and don’t know its contents. I’m just going to talk about the structure of the story shown on screen. What I can say is that there is nothing wrong, structurally, with this movie. You say you thought the humor was trash. I’ve also heard from other sources that it’s cheese ball and undercuts the story, and I’d say it’s a valid criticism. Humor is subjective, and all I can say is that I really enjoyed the humor, as it’s similar to of one of Rian Johnson’s previous films, The Brothers Bloom. If people hate it, that’s fine, but just remember that “laser brain” and “I’d rather kiss a Wookie” are lines from the original trilogy.
Now for the story itself, each of what amounts to the three vignettes in the movie all stitch into one overarching theme: failure, perceived failure, and hope in the face of it. Every major character fails horribly at some point in the movie. Luke failed with Ben Solo. Finn and Rose fail and are betrayed on their mission. Poe doesn’t want to retreat for fear of perceived failure and causes an ill-informed mutiny because of that fear. Rey fails to turn Kylo Ren back to the light and is easily handled by Snoke. Yoda’s return is a lovely little reinforcement of the theme, as he says something to the amount of, “failure is the best teacher.” Which it is! And each character has an opportunity to learn from their failure in the film and do so.
From what I’ve read on this movie, the most hated sequences of the film are the ones with Finn and Rose. Either people don’t like the relationship and think it’s flat, or they hate the perceived political commentary, or they don’t understand how it connects to the overall story, or all of the above. Again, no one has control over how you perceived the movie and if none of what it was trying to do landed, that’s perfectly fine. However, I think there are some things to discuss. Firstly, Rose. Rose is an embodiment of the true cost of Poe’s thoughtless actions at the beginning, as her sister is the one who sacrificed herself to destroy the big ship. She also, while seeming naïve at first, serves as a nice foil to Finn, because she’s somebody who understands the details of what the First Order has done to the galaxy. Remember, Finn was a Stormtrooper trainee and has been asleep since the last movie, so he has zero real world experience outside of the First Order/Resistance bubble. He’s headstrong, he wants to make a difference, but he doesn’t really understand the true value of life the way Rose does.
On to the casino stuff. People really, really hate the perceived social commentary in this sequence. Is it social commentary of the real world? Maybe, but if this movie is hanged for thinly veiled social commentary, then hang literally every iteration of Star Trek up by its toenails, because that property has committed sins much worse. I perceive it as more of a commentary on the universe itself. Think about this: a version of the Empire has been fighting a version of the Rebels for over thirty years now. You don’t think there would be a class of people who would find a way to benefit from that kind of strife? That, in turn, they would create the kind of exclusive club that was shown in The Last Jedi? That’s a really interesting aspect of the universe to explore even if it’s only a small set piece. Also, Rian Johnson is an old school director. His first film, Brick, is a Dashell Hammett film noir like The Maltese Falcon, with the same type of rapid-fire pulpy dialogue. What I’m trying to say is that he takes influence from old school films, and I saw a lot more emulation in terms of composition and character designs in that sequence from films like Casablanca and The Killing than a real attempt at major social commentary. Benicio del Toro’s character would’ve fit impeccably within either of those movies, by the way, and it was refreshing to see a Star Wars movie that doesn’t just take influence from itself.
All that’s well and good, but there’s still the argument that their story doesn’t really connect to the rest of the movie. It doesn’t, in the same way that a young Vito Corleone’s storyline doesn’t fit into the ultimate storyline of Godfather Part 2. Their story connects thematically. Failure, and hope in the face of failure.
You pointed out that Finn acts exactly the same way as Poe does in the end of the movie, and say this is bad screenwriting in terms of characterization, because what is Finn learning? However, let me point you towards another movie: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At the end, Indy’s pseudo love interest, Elsa, has the Holy Grail within her grasp. They know she can’t cross the seal of the room, but she does so anyway, because she sees an opportunity to use it for herself for glory. She causes a huge earthquake within the temple and opens up a chasm in the floor that she falls through. Indy leaps to save her, but she still attempts to get the Grail, as it’s sitting just out of reach. This causes her to fall to her death and Indy to fall with her. He’s saved by his father, but is still hanging precariously. Logic states that Indy, seeing how Elsa just died, would just cut his losses and get up with his dad. But it’s so close. The Grail is right there, he can touch it, he can reach it, glory is so close. It’s only until his father, the man whose life obsession was to find the Holy Grail, tells him to let it go that he gives up. It’s terrible logic, yes, but makes sense in the moment with those characters, and serves as a completion of their arc.
The Finn situation is similar. He’s failed, horrendously, at everything he’s attempted in the movie. He’s been betrayed, the rebel base is going to be destroyed, and the only thing that will stop it in his mind is his ship ramming right up this laser. Finn and Poe are cut from the same cloth; it’s why they get along so well. What they want most is to make a difference, and get glory for doing so. And it’s so close! Glory is right there; he’s coming up on it and he just once wants to not fail, damn the costs. But it’s a futile gesture. What does it prove? The First Order is getting through that door one way or another, and he would just be prolonging something inevitable. This is why Rose is necessary, because she values life in a way the Finn does not. I don’t think she dies in the movie, just to be clear, I think she’s badly injured. Is the line, “we need to save the things we love,” cheesy? YES. That is the point though. In that moment, she valued his life more than anything, and she certainly valued it more than glory.
We can discuss schematics, like Rey’s parentage or who Snoke was or why the Rebels exist again, but those questions fundamentally lie at the feet of JJ Abrams. He’s such an excellent constructor of scenes and emotional moments, but gets so caught up in that mystery box of his, and the need for nostalgia. The Force Awakens made the decision to bring back rebels, to have a new Death Star kill off all of the major Republic planets and cripple the Resistance, and, most importantly, have Luke flee with no reason as to why. Who is Snoke? Why does it matter? Kylo Ren is our primary antagonist. Who’re Rey’s parents? No one important, because the force doesn’t belong to an important bloodline. Why would Snoke not sense Kylo’s murderous intent? Because he’s full of himself and believes he always has the upper hand. It’s the same reason the Emperor didn’t fight back when Vader lumbered over and picked the Emperor up, walked a little bit, and threw him down the shaft.
Lightning round: The Leia force thing was dumb. It’s the worst part of the movie by far, and it 100% feels like fan fiction. Jacked Kylo is best Kylo. A subtheme was that the force belongs to everyone. Luke says it early on, Snoke is the inverse, as he’s obsessed with bloodline, and the theme is reinforced with the reveal of Rey’s parentage. She’s nobody, and she doesn’t need a special parent to be special herself. The kid at the end was icing.
I hope it’s not coming across that I feel anyone who didn’t like this movie is stupid. That’s far from the truth. I feel about this movie the same way I do Twin Peaks: The Return. I think people who dislike it absolutely have reason to, as there are stylistic decisions that may not jive with people, but I think a lot of times the main criticisms ignore or are oblivious to the answers they want that are embedded into the DNA of the story. They both are criticized for not doing things they clearly never intended to do, and have something to say that is unpopular in pop culture right now. Both take a widely beloved property and skew it in ways that often were uncomfortable with the fan base (Dougie Jones for life, by the way), and both get downright weird with it (that Rey mirror scene was straight Lynchian). For better or worse, Rian Johnson emulated what he did with Fly at a larger scale in The Last Jedi, and we’ll just have to wait to see if he brings us an Ozymandias in the future.
All I know is that, for me, it was a hell of a ride.
SteveD: As a fore-note to what I have written below, I have been traveling for work and have not had the time to write out as much as I would like to. That being said, the essence of my volleyed counter argument are as follows:
You state that Luke "always wants to have control". As you fundamentally disagree with everything I wrote previously, I believe this statement couldn't be further from the truth. As you mentioned in Jedi, the Emperor attempts to toy with Luke by demonstrating the full functionality of the new Death Star. The Emperor is toying with Luke not by showing him that he is not in control, but rather that Luke is powerless to help save his friends.
And I stand by my original statement ("that shows that he learned and he would never do that again!"). Let's ponder for a moment what happened on Bespin vs. what happened on the Emperor's Star Destroyer. On Bespin, Luke rushed in, driven entirely on emotion without any form of analytical thought. He lacked clear, thorough thinking. That is why he "got his assed handed to him by Vader". In Jedi, Luke approaches Vader without drawing his lightsaber. He asks Vader again to join him and leave the Dark Side behind. When Vader refuses, Luke simply turns himself over. You claim he wants control, yet he gives up his sense of control in this moment. To further this point, one might consider the recurring reference to Samurai that Lucas, Kasdan and the original writers often utilized. One key component of becoming a Samurai under a Feudal Lord of Japan was giving up control and allowing oneself to flow with the tides of overarching influence (this is highly summarized, but the point remains). So, Luke gives up control, demonstrating his maturity as a Jedi. And when his maturity and lack of control are put to the test and pushed to the nth degree by the Emperor, Luke nearly fails and strikes down Vader. Yet, he doesn't. He matured, allowed himself to not be in control over the life (lives) of others.
When Luke contemplates striking down Kylo, the writers and directors of The Last Jedi do an incredible amount of dis-service to the source material for which they are creating.
As far as the humor, that's most likely the most subjective element of any piece of creativity (not to say that every other element isn't, but this is arguably the most subjective). But, to defend my position, the clever bits of comedy that were endearing or referential to the universe are good (the obvious example are the Porgs). Where the problem exists is when Kylo isn't wearing a shirt so that Rey can make a bad joke. As for "laser brain" and "I'd rather kiss a wookie" (hell, I'll even through in the Nerf-Herder comments, and even Bantha Fodder (yeah, Episode 1)), those are referential to the environment and are jokes, jabs or comments that would only exist in the Star Wars universe. Jokes that don't fit the universe (shirtless Kylo, on-hold Poe, etc.) shouldn't be present. They're tacky, unoriginal and the easy picking of comedic fruit in this universe.
I don't disagree that Rose is the embodiment of Poe's failure. It's moreso that she's a downright boring character, and that while she does act as a foil for Finn, she doesn't do so in a way that makes her memorable. In fact (and the rest of this paragraph is total speculation), I'd be willing to bet that either the writers and directors realized that she was forgettable and that's why they killed her off rather than letting her survive the incident, or it was contracts.
Full subjectivity here, I found young Vito Corleone's storyline in Godfather Part 2 disjointed. I would have much preferred a separate film, or shorter snippets. I recognize and appreciate the thematic parallels that were in play, but they made the film too bulky and far too long. Just for readers (and I know I'll get hate from a lot of people for this), Godfather (any of them) don't even rank in my top 20 films, arguably my top 40.
After reconsidering, I do agree with your points on Finn's actions as he attempts to ram the First Order's mega pizza delivery service tool. But, this also makes me not like Finn as much as I want to. While before I just considered it either bad writing or a bad directing move, I now just think Finn is dumb. Not in a cute or fun way in which he learns from his mistakes or the mistakes of others, but moreso that he acts irrationally and in the moment rather than for the greater cause and help of his friends.
And Rose's kiss at the end? Cheesy is undercutting that an infinitely great amount. It wasn't earned, their relationship revealed little to no romantic intentions before 5 minutes prior. If they wanted me to cheer or feel anything in that moment, they should have indicated something a bit sooner.
To quickly respond to Rey's parentage, Snoke, and the lightning round comments: Rian Johnson lazily answered all of those questions by not actually answering any of them. He became too caught up in what he wanted to say and focus on (cough cough, the obvious socio-political commentary on the casino planet) and dismissed some of the great questions we were left with two years ago with "ehh, it doesn't matter and Snoke is weak so who cares, Rey's parents are nobody because Kylo is probably lying about that and whoever directs next can answer that". Oh, and the Emperor did fight back by striking Vader with lightning as he threw him down the shaft (which is what ultimately killed Vader because it destroyed his suit if you recall). Snoke didn't do sh**.
As Sam said in his initial response, I don't think anybody that likes, dislikes, loves or disregards this film is in anyway stupid, right or wrong. Art, in this case film and movies, are subjective and should be open for a dialogue, discussion, and disagreement. It challenges us to think, reconsider and reassess our opinions not only on the film or piece of art at hand, but also our overall moral compass. As you're reading these pieces (if Sam and I continue them), think of them more as a sportsmanlike rap battle (at least that's my approach, I can't speak for Sam).
But, as with any rap battle, I must end my final turn with one last dope line of diss delivery: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is a better movie than The Last Jedi, and that's saying something.
TO BE CONTINUED?!?!?!?!?!?!
I mean, probably....