Revisiting Star Wars: The Last Jedi

A complete cinematic failure. A betrayal of the character of Luke Skywalker. Feminist, SJW garbage… the worst film of 2017.

That’s what I found from making a brief search for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I did find it interesting that The Emoji Movie, another 2017 release, apparently ranks higher than The Last Jedi. I’m the last to impose my tastes on others but I think we can agree that’s a bold decision. I find the hostility around the film rather surprising given I really enjoyed it.

With May the 4th being Star Wars day and having seen earlier drafts of Stephen’s excellent Making the Kessel Run through the Star Wars RPG Universe, Star Wars has been on my mind. (And it’s worth noting that Stephen also takes a very different view on The Last Jedi – albeit not one that gets angry for “SJW agendas” and what have you.)

I suppose to give people an idea as to how I found the film, I should engage in the never ending task of ranking the Star Wars films, to give an idea where I put it. For me, I kind of see the films as being in tiers – within those tiers, the ranking is fairly fluid and I rank them very close together.

The top tier for me is Empire Strikes BackA New Hope, and Rogue One. They’re the films that I consider Star Wars getting everything right. The second tier are the films that I consider really good but have a few flaws that sometimes get to me. I’d put The Last JediThe Force AwakensRevenge of the Sith, and Solo on that list, with the Last Jedi straddling that line between first and second tiers. The third tier are still films I enjoy but have some pretty strong flaws – Return of the JediAttack of the Clones, and The Phantom Menace make that list, with Return of the Jedi kinda bouncing right at the boundary of the second and third tiers. It’s also the one that suffered the most from post-release revisions. If you were to eliminate “Jedi Rocks”, the super-animated Sarlaac, and the Darth Vader “NOOO!!!” it’s safely in the second tier. In the fourth tier, all alone is a film I consider absolute garbage. There’s only one film there, The Clone Wars animated film. While I think The Clone Wars animated series was fantastic, the theatrical release that preceded it was horrible. (And the Holiday Special thankfully only got a television release, which even at the age of seven and a full Star Wars maniac I found horrible – aside from the Boba Fett cartoon.

But this article is about The Last Jedi so we’re going to remove most of the discussion of the other Star Wars films save in comparison with The Last Jedi_.

Let me start with why it’s not a “top tier” movie for me? What are the flaws that bother me? There are two aspects of it that I think were poorly done. First, the First Order fleet’s pursuit of the Resistance fleet was, in my opinion, poorly paced and lacking tension. In his novel Master and Commander, Patrick O’Brian did a masterful job of showing a single ship struggling, in vain, to overcome pursuit by a faster and more powerful enemy. Some people have complained it was the importance of fuel, something that never came up in any other Star Wars film. I’m actually ok with that – I always assumed ships in Star Wars used some fuel and A New Hope shows hoses connected to the X-Wings on Yavin – used, I always presumed, for fuel. I did find the technobabble about how the First Order tracked them a bit odd, however. In any case, the whole chase sequence needed something to make the stakes clearer – the Resistance making various attempts to get away, a more dynamic environment, something. Imagine how boring The Empire Strikes Back’s pursuit of the Millennium Falcon would have been in empty space instead of an asteroid field. Part of this problem was flashing to Rey spending at least a few nights with Luke. Again, let us look at the Empire Strikes Back – our heroes took the slow path to Bespin, giving Luke plenty of time to spend on Dagobah. 

The other poorly done aspect was, in my opinion, the Canto Bight sideshow. I really liked seeing Rose and Finn working together and enjoyed those characters getting some spotlight. But that sequence didn’t quite work for me – they’re told by Maz, in the middle of her having a blaster battle, that the only person who can help them is a master codebreaker who is apparently always found at a high stakes table at Canto Bight. I almost expected a flashing message saying “mandatory side plot”. And they didn’t even get the master codebreaker, but another codebreaker who just happened to be there. As most of this audience is made up of roleplayers, it struck me as a scene where the players go radically off-track and the GM salvages what he or she can of the original plot. “OK, so you don’t want to go after the codebreaker at all?”

Those objections aside, I really liked The Last Jedi. I especially liked its treatment of Luke Skywalker. One of the biggest complaints about The Force Awakens was how safe it played things. The Last Jedi took some real chances. Like I said in my objections, some of it didn’t work. But I loved how it handled Luke.

But wait, Dan. Can’t you acknowledge that the film ruined the character of Luke Skywalker, who defeated the Dark Side and redeemed Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi? No, not for a second.

I’m going to take an odd side-step to explain why. Issue #6 of Neil Gaiman’s comic Sandman features a bunch of characters in a diner (it is an experience which does not end well for them). The waitress, Bette, is an amateur writer. About that, Gaiman writes:

All of Bette’s stories have happy endings. That’s because she knows where to stop. She’s realized the real problem with stories – if you keep them going long enough, they always end in death.
Excerpt from Sandman #6

It’s a line that really stuck with me over the years. There’s no happy endings, not really. The United States wins the Cold War. A decade later the World Trade Center tumbles. A generation later liberal democracy itself seems to be threatened.

Yes, Luke Skywalker triumphed against the Dark Side. And it was a very near thing in Return of the Jedi. Really, the only thing that stopped him from giving in to his hate was the sound of Emperor Palpatine cackling and cheering him on.

So let’s go a generation later for Luke. He’s training a new generation of Jedi. And he’s been getting bad vibes from his nephew Ben for some time now. He knows Snoke has his claws into Ben Solo. He probably doesn’t want to admit it. Hasn’t the Skywalker family finally triumphed over the Dark Side? So he goes to Ben Solo while he’s sleeping, to investigate just how corrupted Ben has become. He opens himself to the sleeping Ben and HOLY SHIT HE’S TOTALLY EVIL!!! Luke knows the damage Anakin Skywalker did to the Jedi when he turned. He nearly wiped them out. Luke is still trying to rebuild the Jedi, it is the most fragile of trees. He knows the damage that one fallen Jedi did at a time when the order was still a force to be reckoned with. He ignites his lightsaber, likely convincing himself he is acting without hate, just doing what is necessary. And even that is just for a second. He quickly comes to his senses. He can’t kill a boy. He has to find another way. Unfortunately, at that moment Ben Solo awakens, seeing his uncle holding an ignited lightsaber. Luke made an error. A terrible error, one that leads to the very thing he was seeking to prevent, the destruction of his fledgling Jedi order. I especially enjoyed seeing three perspectives of the scene. First, Luke tries to tell it in a light more favorable to himself. Then Ben Solo, now Kylo Ren, portrays Luke as a child murderer. And finally Luke just lays it all out. That for one brief instant he let his fear cloud his judgment.

And so Luke runs off. He’s not waiting for any chosen one. And I get the impression he didn’t leave a map behind – he didn’t particularly want to be found. Recall that in The Force Awakens, Lor San Tekka gave Poe a map to the First Jedi Temple. Background information on him is that he helped Luke retrieve Jedi lore – like many, he believed Luke had fled to the Temple and therefore made sure the Resistance had a way to find Luke. I’m not certain Lor San Tekka had the location all along or if he found it later – I suspect the latter.

What has Luke decided? That the Jedi are a bad idea. That trying to contain the Force is a bad idea. That he’s not a hero and shouldn’t try to be. Maybe, by shutting himself off from the Force the whole cycle of war can end. I wonder if the explosion of Force users we see in The Force Awakens (with Rey) and The Last Jedi (with an orphan boy) was the Force’s reaction to Luke cutting himself off. The Force seems to want balance and harmony – without the Jedi order constraining the Force, there is indeed an awakening in Force users. Heck, that’s the whole title of The Force Awakens.

I particularly enjoyed Luke’s end. Rey having left his X-Wing, ruined by years in the water, he has to do something to keep the spark of hope alive. He projects himself to see his sister one last time and then to confront Kylo Ren. There’s a million ways Luke could have bought the Resistance more time. He chose to take his laser sword and confront the First Order alone. He makes Kylo Ren look like a fool. And he turns himself into even more of a legend. A Jedi Master who has returned from fables to confront the forces of evil. I found it telling that the theme music played for Luke as he walked out to face the First Order was essentially a variation of Darth Vader’s theme music – showing just how dreaded Luke was to the forces of darkness.

While I’ve focused on Luke, there’s a few more random things I really liked about the film.

  • I loved it was Yoda who returned to impart one last lesson to Luke. “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”
  • I liked Poe’s story arc in this film. He’s a great pilot. But he needed to learn to become a great leader. To learn when it is time to sacrifice the men and women under his command and when to protect them. When to fight, when to flee…
  • I agree a rather frequent criticism that Admiral Holdo could have been more forthcoming. Of course, it’s understandable she’d be hesitant to trust a man who can’t be relied upon to follow orders and got many pilots killed in an unneeded battle. She probably made the wrong call, but it is understandable she did.
  • I don’t particularly object to Rey mastering the Force so quickly. Luke’s early flaw, as put by Yoda was, “Always with you it cannot be done.” It’s a flaw Anakin never had and it led to him as a Padawan being powerful enough to slaughter an entire tribe of Tusken Raiders and as a child to be a masterful pilot. The challenge isn’t the raw power, it’s learning to use it wisely. And there, Rey was lacking – the only reason she survived is she was used by Kylo Ren in a coup against Snoke. Much like the only reason Luke survived The Empire Strikes Back was due to his being a pawn between Vader and the Emperor. I find her far from a Mary Sue character.
  • I get the frustration about not knowing more about Snoke. But I’m not sure how vital to the film it was – consider, for example, how little we knew about Tarkin or Palpatine in the original trilogy. Perhaps we’ll learn more about him in Episode IX, but I think we already know what we need to about him – he was a powerful Dark Sider who ruled the First Order and corrupted Kylo Ren.
  • The scene of Rey and Kylo Ren fighting Snoke’s guard was an action highlight of the film for me.
  • I’m apparently in a minority, but I loved Leia’s “flying” through space to survive the First Order attack. It would have been easy to have written that scene to have that be the death of Leia, given the tragic death of Carrie Fisher. But instead, we were treated to the other son of Anakin Skywalker showing that she too was strong in the Force. I don’t really see that as “flying” – I viewed it as she was “pulling” the ship to her but, given the massive differences in masses, it had the effect of making her fly to it. And her survival is quite in keeping with her father, who endured losing three limbs in battle with Obi-Wan and catching fire.
  • I found the ending scene of children telling the legend of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker – and using the Force – a wonderful way to end the film.

I can totally get not liking The Last Jedi. People have different tastes. One of my favorite movies is the Costner/Eastwood film Perfect World which was a box office dud and I’m not a huge fan of Pulp Fiction. Different people will have different tastes. But I hope I’ve given an accounting of why I greatly enjoyed The Last Jedi and what people might find interesting about it.

 

~ Daniel Stack

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m sorry, I have to disagree. Rey is a Mary Sue, and the comments that this is a SJW film hold true. Not only for this but for Star Trek Discovery as well. It’s about what the producers want now, and no longer what the fans want. My 2¢

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric VanNewkirk says:

    It’s a great film, and in my opinion it’s the best Star Wars film since Empire. I love that it takes chances. I love that it deconstructs its own mythology. I love that it celebrates passing the torch to a new generation.

    Like

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