Future me here: what you are about to read is cringe, and I apologize. I cared way too much about this in 2019/2020 and apparently had nothing better to do.
As I finish up this post, I am a couple of hours away from finally watching The Rise Of Skywalker. This is a collection of thoughts I have been adding mulling over and writing down since early 2018. Best to wrap this up before the deluge of new feelings and thoughts the end of the Sequel Saga will bring.
Homework for the writing of this post included watching all the trailers for the Sequel Saga, and comparing them to the final product. The Force Awakens trailer still holds the foremost spot in my heart, and I think I have more nostalgia for it than for the actual movie. I still get goosebumps watching it. The way it builds up to the force theme with the hyperspace visual is perfection.
I haven't rewatched the force awakens since 2016, but I remember it as a fine movie. Not legendary by any means. I ranked it just under the OT, far above the Prequels. The characters, banter, and little adventures were so fun to watch. Kylo Ren's force powers were brutal and menacing. The fan service (BIGGER Death Star, convenient Anakin's lightsaber, Han shooting a dude behind his back, bowcaster joke, etc.) was a bit much at times, but it had the BB8 thumbs up.
Force Awakens leaves the viewers with a few questions, mysteries even, to be revealed Next Time on Star Wars:
- Who are Rey's Parents? - Who is Snoke? - Why is Rey able to use the force with no training?
All these mysteries promised such a wonderful resolution, one which would make up for the inconsistencies they created with established lore. Surely, the Last Jedi would elevate The Force Awakens with its new Lore!
narrator: it didn't
I'm Not Angry, I'm Just Disappointed.
After the first showing I sat through, I was in a state of shock. I loudly proclaimed that The Last Jedi was definitely better than the prequels, maybe even better than Force Awakens.
I was lying to myself.
Second showing left me in true despair. Telephone jargon in space. General Leia "Marry Poppins Y'all" Organa. Pointless mutinies. Casino Planet. One hit wonder Snoke. It couldn't be real. I haven't been so disappointed in a movie since The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader*.
Rey is no one, Her force power is a natural reaction in the force to Kylo's training, and Snoke dies without any backstory or purpose.
The movie that would have retroactively fixed The Force Awakens was garbage.
My hopes were shattered.
Ok, Maybe I'm Also Angry
Where were all those hopes and dreams supposed to go now? Over the course of the next few weeks, I redirected my leftover excitement in a different direction. If I couldn't extract fulfillment from liking The Last Jedi, I would instead derive enjoyment from hating it.
Fortunately, my feelings cooled down before they overflowed into the territory of clickbait "SJW's have RUINED starwars" youtube videos. However, the impending Rise of Skywalker has stoked the dormant embers, so I shall attempt to put my feelings into words.
Warning: This Movie Contains Elements Known to the State of California To Be Not Terrible
The thing that hurts me the most about this movie is that parts of it are really good. I personally loved the idea of the low speed capital ship chase, fuel constraint and hyperspace tracking. Luke's rant about the force and failure of the Jedi order is great. Rey and Kylo's relationship, with both genuinely wanting to convert the other is a strong core to the movie. The visuals are a feast for the eyes.
However, since this is a rant, I will now list the main things I didn't like.
The Worst Part: Holding for a Better Sense of Humor
The movies begin with Poe stalling the First Order so that the Rebel transport ships can escape. Here is the quote from IMDB. It's more terrible than I remembered:
Poe Dameron: Attention! This is Commander Poe Dameron of the Republic fleet, I have an urgent communique for General Hugs.
General Hux: This is General Hux of the First Order. The Republic is no more. Your fleet are Rebel scum and war criminals. Tell your precious princess there will be no terms, there will be no surrender...
Poe Dameron: Hi, I'm holding for General Hugs.
General Hux: This is Hux. You and your friends are doomed. We will wipe your filth from the galaxy.
Poe Dameron: Okay. I'll hold.
General Hux: Hello?
Poe Dameron: Hello? Yup, I'm still here.
I don't usually like using the word "Immersion", but the modern, earth human telephone jargon completely Tonya Harding'inged my Immersion's kneecaps.
This incident was the first of several instances of "Marvel" humor. This particular flavor of humor relies on building a emotional moment, and then abruptly sidestepping its expected conclusion with a unexpected alternative.
While ever present throughout the Marvel franchise, albeit in trace amounts, "Marvel" humor is most evident in Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok. I personally enjoyed it more in "Guardians", as I felt the tone and characters were better built around that style of humor.
On the other hand, if a movie is not built around "Marvel" humor, its inclusion feels jarring and detracts from both serious and humorous scenes.
The Holding joke is not Poe's first time subverting a tense moment with a light hearted quip (the discerning reader will remember a similar situation in The Force Awaken's opening scene), but soon, even Luke would be throwing heirlooms over his shoulder for a cheap reaction.
The Real Worst Part: Casino Planet
Wherein Finn and Rose visit Casino Nights Zone 2 to find space James Bond, but forget and leave with an obvious villain caricature.
The reason for this loathsome plotline's inclusion appears be for Finn and Rose to learn an important moral:
- The First Order aren't the only people exploiting the weak to gain power and wealth
Which is a fine theme to explore, but The Last Jedi has no time for meaningful consideration.
After smashing up the casino, Rose concludes the arc by removing the saddle from a previously enslaved animal, and triumphantly stating:
Now its worth it
dredged up from my memory, as--for some reason--this wasn't memorable enough a quote for the IMDB quote page)
Now, obviously there is a certain futility in extrapolating fictional scenarios to find flaws in the author's logic. Fiction is, necessarily, an infinite fractal of lies and concessions.
However, because this whole post is already pointless venture, I'm going to extrapolate anyway!
As soon as Rose and Finn leave the planet:
- The pack of animals that were freed will be rounded up and imprisoned again, now with a taste of freedom that will never again be sated.
- The slave children, after being punished for letting the animals go, will toil away at rebuilding the casino.
I do not wish to imply that noble actions have to be pragmatic to be morally right. I just think that Rose and Finn shouldn't have left the planet patting themselves on the back. A more poignant conclusion might have been one where Rose and Finn realize the First Order is a priority and have to leave, unable to alleviate misery that they witnessed.
The Even Worse Part: The Holdo Arc
The Holdo Arc is a dead horse that needs no additional beating.
I think a lot of contention comes from her character design. One part of the audience might see it as a bold and progressive design choice, and another (the clickbait youtuber type mentioned above) will see her as a weirdo who doesn't fit the military leader backstory provided. The only possible story to tell with her character is a subversion of the audience's perception of her. Either she looks trustworthy and isn't, or looks like she might be a traitor but isn't. One vocal group is guaranteed to be angry when its all over.
I don't particularly care which twist they used, I just wish it was more compelling.
Regardless of whether Holdo is at fault for not explaining her plan, or Poe is at fault for not blindly trusting authority, Holdo's plan is only saved because Leia happens to wake up and sort things out. Not because Holdo is a good leader or tactician, but a coincidence. There is a cavernous divide between Holdo's backstory and what we see on screen.
Absolute Pinnacle of Worst: Saving Those We Love
This one's pretty obvious, but its also a line that I find completely inscrutable. During the attack on not-Hoth, Finn flies his not-a-snow-speeder at the not-AT-ATs, to take out a battering ram that will expose his friends to not-the-Imperial-Army. Finn hesitates momentarily, and then accepts his fate. The music builds. For a moment, I thought that The Last Jedi was actually going to do something genuinely emotional and unexpected.
Then, to save Finn from throwing his own life away to save his friends, his friend, Rose potentially kills both her and Finn by crashing her ship into his at high speed, thereby both dooming their collective friends to the battering ram and dooming her and Finn--in the off chance that they survive the crash--to be picked off by the surrounding First Order.
Rose clarifies that true victory is found "not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love!", a victory made possible minutes ago when Rose, Finn, and the Resistance were saved by Holdo's sacrificial death in the exact maneuver that Finn was attempting.
I can only guess this was a ham-fisted attempt to condemn a suicide bomber type mentality that small rebel groups so often fall into. Maybe Rose feels so strongly about it was because her sister died at the beginning of the movie sacrificing herself in the same way. But if you are condemning violent sacrifices, maybe don't portray 2/3 instances of them as heroic.
My TLJ fanfic
I've built a case for why I believe The Last Jedi is garbage. What kind of self important commentator would I be if I didn't propose a solution?
I think The Last Jedi could be saved with minimal alterations. All I ask is three concessions:
- The Resistance do not know about the Hyperspace tracker, because Finn was a janitor and never heard about it.
- General Leia is on the last transport off of the Resistance Base.
- Let Rey make a more interesting decision.
Simple, Finn doesn't doesn't know that the Hyperspace Tracker exists, because he was a janitor! Without that vital clue, Poe assumes that there must be a Mole aboard, and without Leia's guidance, Poe eventually suspects Holdo.
To avoid her space walk later on, we are going to have to find another way to incapacitate Leia. Lets move her to the last transport away from the Resistance base, where she has insisted on being evacuating last. The Dreadnaught attack can happen as the transport is headed toward the Resistance fleet, with Leia clashing with Poe over Radio like before. To expedite their escape, Leia's transport docks with a different capital ship for the jump to hyperspace, to cement the fact that the transports cannot make the jump by themselves.
After the space battle and the ensuing jump, Leia's transport leaves its dock to make its way to the main Resistance capital ship, just as the Super-de-Duper Star Destroyer and the rest of the First Order fleet arrive. Kylo and Co. deploy as before, knocking out the Resistance hangar before turning his attention to Leia's transport. The scene can play out in the same way, with Kylo hesitating, and his Wingmen firing on the transport, damaging it critically and killing or incapacitating those aboard. The transport is able to limp back to the hangar as Kylo is ordered to withdraw. As the chase begins, Leia is recovered, unconscious, from the transport. Command defaults to Holdo, who inspires distrust in Poe as before.
Rey's storyline can proceed as before. With the time saved setting up the lightsaber-over-shoulder-toss joke, Luke can have time to show how mournful and defeated he has become.
With the chase on and the First Order following relentlessly through hyperspace, a suspicious Poe suspects that there must be a Mole aboard the ship, who is reporting Resistance fleet's location to the First Order. He and Poe set out to identify the Mole, and without the help of the unconscious Leia, Poe suspects Holdo, who has refused to let Poe in on her plan to escape.
For simplicity, lets say that they figure out that the First Order is following through hyperspace too quickly for the Mole to be using a regular tracking beacon, which is exact but works slowly over long distances. Poe and Finn examining the ship's transmission equipment, where they meet Rose. Rose can be a low level crew member like before, but now an communication technician. Rose can help the Mutiny Gang figure out that the Mole must be on the bridge, observing and transmitting the jump coordinates just before the jump is made. This solidifies Poe's suspicion of Holdo, who was the only one on the bridge for every jump. Rose can now join the Mutiny Gang, as before.
The Rey and Luke arc can continue on as before, with Kylo and Rey communicating, Rey investigating the Force Cave, Rey and Luke clashing and Rey setting off to find Kylo, who has retreated to wherever Snoke is. Snoke can feel free to exposit some backstory, at his leisure.
Also, let Chewey eat the Porg for crying out loud! He can even keep a bunch of them in the Millennium Falcon like before, now subtly implying that he is keeping them to eat later.
With Poe suspecting Holdo, the Mutiny can proceed as before. Poe, now alone on the bridge, makes a jump to hyperspace to a system he is familiar with, before Leia intervenes. Leia reveals that Holdo had suspected a Mole as well, and was therefore unable to let Finn or anyone else in on her plan.
The First Order appears again instantly, and since they followed both Holdo and Finn's hyperspace jumps, the Resistance concludes that there must be a rumored hyperspace tracker on the First Order capital ship, making their last jumps worth of fuel useless.
Holdo adapts her original plan from before the mutiny to a new planet in the system Poe has jumped to. The First Order seem to jump immediately to keep up with the Resistance, so Holdo will stay aboard the Resistance capital ship, and make one last jump after the transports are jettisoned. Holdo surmises to Poe and Leia that because The First Order always jump immediately to follow the capital ship, they will completely miss the transports, who can then hide away at a nearby planet.
With the transports away, Poe and Leia notice that the First Order fleet has started to break off, moving to intercept the transports before they reach the planet. The crew of the transport begin to panic, insisting that Holdo was a traitor after all, and had sold them out. Poe completes his character arc, and trusting Holdo, points out to the crew that the Resistance capital ship is turning around.
Over the radio, Holdo admits to the Mutiny Gang that her plan had been a gamble all along, that she had expected that the First Order might notice the transports. Knowing that Leia would not have allowed anyone but herself to be sacrificed, Holdo convinced Leia to leave on the transport. Saying farewell to Leia and encouraging Poe, Holdo executes the Hyperspace attack. With the First Order fleet temporarily disabled, the Rebels make it to their surface bunker.
Meanwhile, Rey and Kylo vs Snoke can continue as before. Kylo kills Snoke, Rey and Kylo team up to defeat the guards. Hux contacts Kylo, who confirms himself as the new supreme leader. Hux informs Kylo that part of the First Order fleet that hasn't been damaged by the Hyperspace attack is now battering away at the Rebel's surface defenses.
Kylo ask Rey to join him, maintaining his "Let the past die" monologue.
Rey is still convinced that Kylo can be pulled back from the Dark Side, and Kylo seems to be intent on cutting away from Snoke's designs.
Rey challenges Kylo to prove his change of heart by letting the rebel fleet escape. Kylo accepts, contacting Hux again to call off the attack.
The Rebels limp away, and Poe, Finn, Rose and Leia receive a message from Rey, informing them that she will be fighting the First Order from the inside. The transmission concludes with Rey assuring Leia that she will bring Kylo back to the Light Side and back to Leia. As the hologram fades away, The Mutiny Crew are left staring out into space through the Empire Strikes Back window. Leia comments darkly that Kylo has not changed as much as Rey thinks, and credits roll.
See, that was easy!
A Saga Subverted
Rian Johnson's claim that he was going to subvert expectations highlights the source of my disappointment, and a stab in the side of an ill fated saga. Not because he subverts expectations in any meaningful way, but precisely because he doesn't.
Empire Strikes Back shares a similar climax to The Last Jedi. On Bespin, Luke is tempted by Vader to compromise his morals and live. Luke sticks to his newfound jedi code and throws himself off of Bespin rather than take a path that leads to the dark side.
Rey has no such jedi code. The Last Jedi shows that she is a kind and strong willed person, driven by curiosity, benevolence, and to some extent, loneliness. She adheres to her own morals, ignoring Luke's warnings about the cave and Kylo, while still opposing the evil that was Snoke and the First Order.
If Rian Johnson really wanted to subvert expectations, to set The Last Jedi apart from previous sagas, why not explore a theme of well intentioned compromise, setting up a final movie where, instead of succumbing to the Dark Side, Rey must triumph over the consequences for her actions, and ultimately defeat Kylo Ren.
And while I'm stealing the theme from the conclusion of the Dark Knight Trilogy, why don't we alter the title of this saga's conclusion to reflect it.
Coming Christmas 2019: The Skywalker Rises
* looks like the writers from Voyage of the Dawn Treader moved on to write some competent Marvel movies. Good for them!