Seeing the Movie:
The Last Jedi caused bitter strife among Star Wars fans ever since it first came out, and it will probably do so until the heat death of the galaxy. I saw The Last Jedi with my father last December partly for that reason, to see what annoyed the crying manbabies this time, and I liked the film on the whole. Even my father liked it, saying it was different from the other Star Wars movies. I found his comment striking because he hardly likes anything; he even trash talks Shakespeare and Mozart for being commercial artists, which he is right.
But commercial artists are not bad artists by nature. We admire Shakespeare and Mozart for good reasons while Disney, a big businessman, keeps making enchanting powerful fairy tales to this day, despite being dead for fifty-two years. Not even death cheated Disney, so I am not too surprised he claimed Star Wars as his own, and The Last Jedi is the fruit of his labors.
I saw The Last Jedi again, this time with a friend, about a week ago, and I still like the film for all its faults. I would say the Last Jedi is excellent when dealing with the larger difficult themes but is weak with details in the plot. Whether you like the film or not depends if you spot the larger themes and, if you do, whether it outshines the plot holes.
What Critics and Audience Say:
I checked Rotten Tomatoes for a good sample of critic and audience reviews, one that reflects of the mood of the public I see a stark difference, not in what critics and fans saw in The Last Jedi, but how they saw it. Critics see movies with trained eyes, seeking all the things your high school English teacher taught you to see in stories: motifs, symbols, characters, motives, plot, development, and so on. They see the film from a distance, with their head more than their heart.
But fans see franchise films from a very close point of view; looking for the characters they love so dearly, they want the franchise to be consistent more than anything else, but while they are deeply involved in the story they are also shortsighted. Film directors carry a burden because of this, where they must struggle to make a new movie like the old movie, but add enough new things to make the new movie a new movie. The Force Awakens is too timid, so fans complain of it being a rehash of A New Hope, while The Last Jedi is too bold, so fans feel betrayed by Disney. The directors cannot win; the fans know this, and enjoy holding the unfair advantage.
The critics gave the Last Jedi rather positive reviews, sometimes with too much optimism. Leah Pickett of the Chicago Reader discusses the themes in The Last Jedi shared with the other Star Wars films . Christopher Orr from the Atlantic discusses how director Rian Johnson approached the film, by toying with the themes seen throughout the Star Wars franchise and confounding our expectations . Ron Gonsalves from E Film Critic makes the most insightful review, pointing out how The Last Jedi subverts the Hero’s Tale, a classic archetype that forms the backbone of the original trilogy .
So what did the audience say? Well, some people were intelligent, some not. Sanjay Rema and Phil Hubbs criticized the Last Jedi for its many plot holes, which Hubbs listed in lengthy detail . The Internet talk show host known as Destiny explained how the movie did not properly justify the subversions in it . Meanwhile, Plinkett and friends from Red Letter Media whined for 47 minutes how the film was only about failure, with the moral being “don’t try anything” . As for the racist morons who hate Finn for being black, they are the source of my contempt.
What did I think about The Last Jedi? I will describe the movie’s faults first, its virtues second.
Rey’s character jumps at me first: she grew up on the wasteland planet Jakku but speaks with a perfect British accent, as if she lived her whole live on wealthy Coruscant. A woman who trades junk for bread in the middle of nowhere is a coarse creature, Daisy Ridley homeless, not Daisy Ridley without makeup. If she must have an English accent, it better be cockney. Her power in the Force and skills with the blade are absurdly advanced despite her small amount of training, something many fans pointed out.
I found it weird when Leah, blasted into space, uses the Force to fly back to safety. There is no technical fault in the scene: you can indeed survive in outer space for a few minutes and Leah has the Force, as much as Luke does, to perform a superhuman feat if she needs to. I can only justify Leah for her Marry Poppins act if she uses the Force in next film to fulfill such an extreme foreshadowing.
Rose and Finn’s subplot is, as fans claimed, the weakest in the film, which I agree. But the subplot has to exist, to give Finn something to do and a way for the Resistance to escape the First Order. On the good end, it explores how businessmen profit from war by selling weapons to different armies, not caring who wins. On the bad end, we brush that theme for only a few seconds and never hear from it again. I like Rose; she is adorable, but she acts at times like a righteous liberal stereotype.
I think Rose is really cute, and actress Kelly Tran even cuter, and I still cannot fathom why so many fans hate her guts. Is Rose the best writ character in Star Wars? Clearly not, but neither are Boba Fett or Admiral Ackbar; the latter is a walking Internet meme but little more, but fans collect Boba Fett action figures and shed bitter tears when Ackbar dies.
And what of the virtues, the difficult themes I mentioned earlier? For one, it is Luke’s character. In Star Wars Legends (no longer canon), Luke creates a new Jedi Order, fights several new Sith Lords, and gains godlike powers in the Force – and people complain about Rey! It rehashes the old religious war between Jedi and Sith, taking the Star Wars franchise nowhere. Most of the Legends storyline is stagnant; even the technology barely improves, and the archetypal themes of Star Wars are rarely improved on with any depth.
When creating Star Wars, George Lucas avoided making Space Rambo characters like Flash Gordon and James Kirk, but instead made characters who were weak and insecure. Luke was a whiny teenager and Darth Vader was sick depressed man in an iron mask. Making the older Luke into a disgruntled hermit makes sense, since the old hippies who did not sell out to the establishment become a kind of strange outcast. Luke does not become Space Rambo like he does in Legends but is punished for his hubris. In trying to rebuild the Jedi Order, he destroyed it, having the same Error as Yoda and Obi-Wan did.
Ever since Disney took over Star Wars, he has undermined the old morals of good versus evil. The Jedi failed so often because they feared the Dark Side of the Force, the primal intense selfish passions all humans have, and in doing so they cut off the deeper needs we have that make life worth living. They often remind me of 19th century puritans who think if you masturbate you will fall into a path of crime and decadence. Deep in the past, the Jedi and Sith were of one school, made of students who used all aspects of the Force. It only makes sense for Star Wars to overcome its Manichean philosophy to go to the future.
Some fans complain of the First Order being a rehash of the Empire, but that is the point. I write these words in a time when fascists have resurged in mainstream politics, aiming to commit the same crimes their fathers did: to strengthen an oppressive government, to expel nonwhites from the country, to subjugate women, to cull the country of “degenerates”, and so on. General Hux and Kylo Ren, as chiefs of the First Order, wish to oppress the galaxy as the Empire did, but with bigger weapons of war. One fan on Facebook called General Hux a screaming Neo Nazi buffoon, but that is the point of his character.
I also like the plot twist with the Codebreaker. Rose and Finn find a shady man, the Codebreaker, who promises to deactivate a tracking program in the First Order’s flagship, allowing the Resistance to escape. Yet the Codebreaker also turns over his clients to the First Empire to gain a reward for their capture, not caring of the fate of either faction. Fans who have seen the Original Trilogy were trained to see shady allies of the hero, like Han Solo, as a “thief with a heart of gold”, meaning he had his heart in the right place all along and could be redeemed. But the Codebreaker acts like an actual criminal mercenary, not giving a damn of anyone’s fate but his own.
Maybe the best way I could describe The Last Jedi would be “growing pains”. I give the movie a 7/10, for having mixed feelings for such a tricky work, but liking it anyway. I wait for the next Star Wars movie with apprehension, hoping it finishes the Sequel Trilogy with a good taste in my mouth. Let it be so.
1. Pickett, Leah. “Luke Skywalker Still Has Lessons to Learn in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”Chicago Reader, 20 Dec. 2017, http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/star-wars-the-last-jedi-luke-skywalker/Content?oid=37051070.
2. Orr, Christopher. “The Last Jedi: The Best Star Wars Movie Since 1980?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 14 Dec. 2017, http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/12/the-last-jedi-may-be-the-best-star-wars-movie-since-the-empire-strikes-back/548363/?utm_source=feed.
3. Gonsalves, Ron. “Overall Rating.” Movie Review – Star Wars: Episode VIII : The Last Jedi – EFilmCritic, 3 Apr. 2018, http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=28770&reviewer=416.
4. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” (2017) – Rotten Tomatoes, 25 Apr. 2018, http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/star_wars_the_last_jedi/#audience_reviews.
5. Destiny. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Review with Kyle, Devin Nash & MrMouton.” YouTube, 16 Dec. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNU_5og95fs&t=4865s.
6. RedLetterMedia. “Half in the Bag: The Last Last Jedi Review.” YouTube, 19 Dec. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9hwGZFPSmw.