So before I jump into the most popular movie of the holiday season (and potentially year), I would like to point out a few of the key facets of The Last Jedi that I actually enjoyed. And before you read any further, this column will be spoiler HEAVY, so stop now or may the force be with you (get it? It's a lame reference that's been so overdone that at this point we're doubling down for comedy instead of drama).
Okay. So the porgs. For the first time in many films, I actually enjoyed some of the creature creation within the Star Wars universe (EU and former EU/Legacy content not withstanding). At their core, they are space chickens (made evident by Chewbacca's festive roast as a porg nears tears closeby) that bear a large amount of personality without being overly annoying or out of place. Anybody that has ever met, been or seen a person that exiles themselves from society wouldn't find it that uncommon or strange to live in an area with farm-type animals (for both company and resource). So in terms of detail, the porgs were a nice touch.
The Throne Room scene is incredibly well constructed (minus Snoke's lame excuse for a death that I have several issues with). The fight choreography is excellent, spatial awareness of the fighters make sense, and the small moments that Rey and Kylo share are actually really, really nice (until Kylo decides to go full Vader. More on that in a minute).
And to be honest, the lightspeed crash through the First Order's pursuing ship is a really fun visual setpiece that I can't believe took this long to happen in a film. Great visuals, great (absence) of sound design, and it comes in pace with the rest of the action surrounding it.
Alright, what you all came for (either to support your own pre-existing opinions which you should constantly evaluate, or because you came to find something to denounce. Either way, art is subjective and shouldn't be taken to a degree that the comments get violent or negative. Keep it clean).
First and foremost, the screenwriting is pretty terrible in this film. There are a number of great cinematic moments full of potential that fall flat for two reasons: lack of payoff or for the sake of comedy. And in Star Wars, comedy is necessary but not at the cost of theme or dramatic tension. All too often I found myself saying "WTF?" as jokes were plopped and padded throughout the movie. Poe's phone call to Hux (they even have him reference going on hold? This isn't modern day Earth, it's a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away) is annoying and ruins the pacing of the intro sequence. And while nothing may be worse than my blog grammar (I'm aware I use a lot of parentheses, it mirrors my tangent like approach to conversation), the jokes are just flat and mostly lame. The only redeeming bit of humor I found was Luke's "do you feel the force?" bit with Rey if only because it perfectly mirrors the type of humor that Yoda would have pursued in The Empire Strikes Back while training Luke. This is itself a nice payoff to Luke's character, revealing his personality gains from his mentors. But virtually every other punchline is either mistimed or unneeded (why was Kylo not wearing a shirt? For the sake of the lame-ass joke to "please put a shirt on").
Again, the writing lacks heavily in finesse and ultimately doesn't provide the payoffs that are marks of great screenwriting (or not even great screenwriting, but passable screenwriting). Early in the film, Poe embarks on a risky venture that ultimately results in the death of multiple dozens of Rebel pilots (yeah, if you haven't seen the movie they're back to being Rebels which I fully don't understand as the Republic was forming strongly just days ago in the timeline). Then, at the end of the movie, Poe seemingly learns his lesson and advises all the charging ships to divert from attacking a key enemy position as he realizes it's a suicide mission for some. Great! He learned! Except that Finn then decides to say "forget Poe, I'll just do it myself". So while we seemingly have a lesson learned, we immediately face that someone else is letting selfish pride get in the way.
I know, I know, "But Steve, Finn was a coward that was running at the beginning of the movie so this is his overcoming that fear and facing it head on." Except that it isn't. Finn faces his fear of The First Order in Episode 7 when he decides to assist and help destroyer StarKiller base (remember? He just wanted to leave The First Order with Rey but then decides to help? Yeah, he already overcame that fear). So either A. The screenwriter didn't take the time to think out these two story arcs and how they relate to each other, or B. Finn somehow reverted to a previous, cowardly version of himself. "Well Steve, some people do fall back into their old ways." True, except that argument isn't valid either because Finn isn't a coward in Episode 8 because he is trying to run away to protect Rey from returning. He is being a hero to his friend, which has been one of the core themes of Star Wars since Han decided to stay and help during Episode IV in the original Star Wars.
Building off Finn's attempted protective moment, Rose appears. And their relationship is downright bland. Every adventure they embark on feels like filler in a bad run of anime. I love Finn and Rose as individual characters in Star Wars, and I love that the expansion of casting beyond white characters and aliens is happening more and more in Star Wars. What I don't like is that Finn and Rose's journey together isn't well constructed. And it's full of in-your-face political commentary. I don't mind having reflections of real-world issues in film, but when it's presented as a monologue that attacks socio-economic issues of our real-world directly and feels inserted rather than integrated into the screenplay, I take issue. That coupled with the fact that Rose is killed off at the end of the film (thus negating Finn's relationship with her entirely irrelevant since it lasted all of about two days) makes me care little to none about her character.
Lastly (or at least for the blog, comment for more reasons why I don't think this movie stands-up to any other Star Wars film, prequels included), Rian Johnson took far too many risks that did not pay off and were unnecessary. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad risks are being taken. I thought Episode 7 played the audience wayyyy too safe. But when you take risks as a Director, or Screenwriter, or even Editor, they need to have payoffs that not only mean something significant, but that also make sense for the characters. The bold and most apparent example is what happened with Luke. While the force apparition power is really cool (four year old me would have loved that and twenty-three year old me does too), Luke's choices and motivations do not match the Luke that we last saw in action during Return of the Jedi. Full of hope, promise, and ambition, Luke embarked to restore the Jedi as the peacekeepers of the galaxy. Only to then have a small afterthought that leads him to, if only briefly, consider murdering one of his pupils. Nope. Sorry. Luke as we have always known him would not even consider that for a moment, especially considering the fact that he is fully aware of his family history thanks to the stories provided by Old Ben Kenobi via Force Ghost apparition. "But Steve, Luke is human, he makes mistakes." Yes, and he learns from them. The fact that he even considers killing Kylo makes the lesson he learned at the end of Return of the Jedi completely irrelevant (I'm referencing when he has Vader on the ground ready to kill him but doesn't and instead tosses his lightsaber to the side). Yes, The Last Jedi makes Return of the Jedi pointless (in terms of lessons learned).
While The Last Jedi is fun, and not a waste of a movie-ticket or Blu-ray purchase by any means, it does not stand up to the growing pantheon of the Star Wars saga and, for me, stands as the worst Star Wars movie yet.
This article was written by Steve Douglas, editor and producer for Tek5Music.com.
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