5 v. 5: The Last Jedi
The Last Jedi is finally here. The Force Awakens re-introduced the Star Wars saga to audiences two years ago and the hype has been building to unprecedented levels ever since.
As the dust settles from the massive $200 million domestic and $450 million worldwide opening, fans are split. Critics love the film while fans are more in the love or hate category. It's no surprise that there are differences of opinion on the film. Don't be fooled by the trolls. There is real resistance to the idea that this was a great movie. Fans are split between a light and dark view of the film. The First Order and the Resistance within the Star Wars fan galaxy.
Let us balance the force around The Last Jedi with you. Then you can decide whether you stand with the light or the dark side.
We break down the movies 5 biggest achievements versus its 5 biggest mistakes.
It's 5v5 time! 5 👍 versus 5 👎 You decide which wins out. The light. The dark.
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FULL SPOILERS FOLLOW
An Old Friend Returns
The reunion between Yoda and Luke was super exciting. He comes on the scene just when Luke needs his old friend and master. It also felt like we really needed him in the story, a familiar face. He teaches Luke one last lesson. It was a little odd that he was able to interact with the real world as a Force ghost but we are reading that was an intentional escalation of how the Force was used. That was new and it wasn't the only time it happened in this movie. Will it mean something going forward? We don't know after the way some of the previous questions from The Force Awakens were handled. It may just be passed over and forgotten or explained away. We hope not.
Yoda was great! He didn't do too much nor did he simply cameo as fan service. This scene really got us into the movie. The reunion started to build some great suspense that carried into the biggest scenes of the movie.
Rey and Kylo Connection
The connection between these characters is the newest and most intriguing part of The Last Jedi. It really introduces a new and interesting dynamic. Reminiscent of a lot of different extended universe, Legends now, powers and storylines, we're super interested in seeing where this goes.
However, this doesn't come without a caveat. TLJ tells us that this was a force power from Snoke which used to trick both Rey and Kylo. It makes us a little less interested in the mystery behind it and what it will mean going forward because you know...Snoke really isn't all that important going forward being dead and all. The fact that it remains after his death but may have been closed off by Rey in one of the final scenes is a little less interesting than if we just started to explore what this was for the series.
Kylo defeats Snoke
One of our fanboy disappointments with the original trilogy is that Vader was never really that powerful. He was menacing. He was scary and iconic. He was always talked about as having so much power but he never steps out of the shadow of the Emperor until the Return of the Jedi where he dies shortly after. Vader was amazing as a villain but he was always some ones tool whether that was a tool of the Jedi as Anakin or a weapon of the Emperor as Vader.
Kylo Ren steps out from the shadow of Snoke and we're really excited to see where this goes, especially because he is clearly not a master of the force, though he is getting there. He isn't even fully a master of evil. He's still a conflicted kid. Perhaps there will be a time jump to Episode 9 and we'll see him at full strength for the final movie. We really hope so, if not in the next film then down the line. If we only get a brooding teenage Kylo Ren, we will be little disappointed. We expect him to "kill the past if he has to" to become a Master of Evil.
New Star Wars Universe, New Rules in the Galaxy
The Last Jedi was never really THE Last Jedi. It was really the first of a new Jedi. By the end of the movie, we see the Force's "awakening" has had widespread effect. It has led to a new generation of force sensitive people while the dogmatic order of the Jedi, along with all its failures has passed into shadow (mostly anyway).
The film ends with close to a blank slate going into the final film. Unfortunately, this includes the lack of really interesting threads heading into Episode 9. The point of the whole thing so far has been that anybody can be a Jedi and it doesn't matter who or where this new generation of Jedi come from. That is less interesting to us but it definitely paves the way toward moving beyond the Skywalker saga. We just thought they would do it in a more interesting and dramatic way.
This shift did really needed to happen to continue down a path to decades of new movies and entertainment in this galaxy. It couldn't all be about Skywalkers. We just wish they started building something new in the open instead of leaving a big void.
Luke's Graceful Exit
There is some part of us that feels disappointed by Luke's big finale. But, it was at the least a very graceful and heart warming exit. Juxtaposed with Han Solo being ripped from our hearts in an instant, Luke gets a nice send off.
He sits and stares off into the setting suns just like when he was our new hope decades ago. We can appreciate that. We will let go of our disappointment that Luke's greatest moment was basically a hologram. How cool would it have been if he had...in fact, faced down the entire First Order with his lightsaber? Even if he lost, it would have been something. We'll take the fake out and let it be.
We never got into Finn and Poe's storyline in this one. Finn had far more intrigue in The Force Awakens. Poe was able to do a lot more in TFA.
In The Last Jedi, these two are generic "rebels." Finn could have been anybody honestly. His knowledge of the First Order was used a little bit but any basic intel could have replaced his unique footprint on the story. Hell, we could have heard directly from one of those Bothan spies of legend. The closure he got with Phasma was basically the same closure he had in TFA. He defeats her and survives, again. There was no more development of the conflict between these two. Phasma just appeared and out of nowhere to catch him red handed. Finn just did it in a fight scene on camera this time. Generic. Boring. Weak character development.
Poe's storyline was clearly setup to him leading the Resistance, but he's no more cut out for it than Han was in Empire. We liked him much better when he was the reckless wildcard than where he ends the movie, as the voice of reason. The start to the movie with him joking at Hux's expense really fell flat with us. The fact that he takes out all of those surface cannons alone without the fighters being scrambled was less about him being a great pilot like in TFA and more about the First Order suddenly being bumbling idiots which they seem to have been from the moment Starkiller base was attacked.
Both deserved better stories or they deserved good on screen deaths. We like both characters but TLJ did them no favors outside of getting much more screen time.
Mysteries Closed in Unsatisfying Ways
This was the big one for us.
The Force Awakens built really great suspense and mystery around the new parts of the Star Wars galaxy. So much focus was made on Rey and who she was and where she came from and who her parents were that we went into TLJ with Kylo saying "What girl?" ringing in our heads.
The intrigue around Snoke was secondary but he certainly had a story. He stole Ben Solo from his family and convinced him to kill his father. Now he would complete Ren's training. How had he survived the Empire? Who was he? How old was he? How big or small was he? What could he do? What was his true aim?
We also thought there might be something to Finn and how he broke from the storm trooper programming in such an "awakened" jolt on Jakku. This was stretch but the thread was there.
The mystery around Luke, the lightsaber, the Knights of Ren. It was all at a fever pitch heading in. So much good stuff that they could have picked a few of these to advance and some of these to explore while pushing others into the next movie. So much could be developed.
Unfortunately, TLJ seemed much more concerned with wiping the slate clean than building or adding anything of value to these mysteries. It didn't matter to us really where they went with the story. It just mattered that these mysteries meant something. Most of them are now moot and boring. TLJ used most of them as misdirections without developing anything satisfying to take there place.
Rey's parents being nobody is just hard to swallow. It's not about this not being what we wanted. It's about this being basically about nothing.
We get that the overall arch of the story was that Jedi is now being expanded to "force sensitive" and that the story is moving away from the Skywalker saga.
We get that was going to happen. But, her parent's being nobody was disappointing and unsatisfying after all the build up.
Our main point is this...if her parent's were nobody and by extension, Rey is not of any special significance, then why have we been talking about it for two movies?
Why build up all the suspense if Rey is just a new character with no links to anyone else? We could have gone along with that from the start. We did it with Finn and we did it with Poe. Ben Solo is the link to the Skywalker saga so we didn't need another Skywalker. That would have been enough.
But to build all that suspense (and masterfully we might add) for the payoff being she is nobody...no matter what direction you wanted them to go....going nowhere isn't interesting and it isn't compelling.
The same can be said of Snoke or Luke or any of it. The answer TLJ seems to offer is that most of that didn't really matter. It's really a bummer of an answer. We're less interested now.
The sacred Jedi texts didn't mean anything. Luke going to the planet didn't really reveal anything interesting. All of this was just burned down. (We know Rey sneaks the plans off on the ship. But at this point, why? Yoda said it himself, they are boring. They don't mean much to the story.)
Even if it comes back around and this was a misdirection on Kylo's part, we're just not as interested in it anymore. The air is kind of out of the room at this point.
If you want to dive deeper into this dynamic, we explore this much further. Join us in our upcoming article. (link coming when we publish).
The movie is filled with missed humor from our perspective. Some of it is far too cheeky and other jokes just come off as cheap laughs. Some of it even seemed to be making fun of Star Wars which is odd for a Star Wars movie.
The movie starts out with Poe giving Hux a hard time while Hux drones on in one of his "evil" speeches. It goes a little too far and it just makes Hux look like a bumbling idiot. It takes away from the character's previously menacing level of evil. He was more evil than Kylo in many ways. They would have made a good team if Hux wasn't pushed to the background for no real apparent reason.
Luke tossing the lightsaber away wasn't funny. It undermined all of the emotional capital put into the final scene of TFA. It felt insulting. It made the McGuffin of TF into a big plothole. Why make a map if you don't want to be found and leave that behind to be found? Cringe.
The ironing misdirection playing on our expectation was silly and useless. It felt more at home in Spaceballs. It should have been left on the editing room.
It's hard to capture the humor that Han Solo brought to the series or the banter in the original trilogy between R2 and C3P0, but this kind of humor just didn't do it for us.
"Laser sword." OMG. Laser sword! This is what a girlfriend or grandfather who doesn't know anything about Star Wars calls a lightsaber when they see one in the movies for the first time. It hurt a little to hear LUKE SKYWALKER mutter these blasphemous words. It may be the fanboy in us, but we didn't appreciate this at all. Laser sword, from the central figure in the Star Wars universe....come on. What is next a Star Trek joke?
The humor didn't play in either of the theaters I personally saw the movie in. There were scattered laughs but the laughs were awkward amongst mostly silence for a majority of the humor in the movie.
Too Much Hollow Trickery
It feels like everything turns out to be a trick in the movie. Honestly, what wasn't a misdirection from TFA? I fully understand that the movie has to try really hard to be fresh. Fresh is good. Misdirection is good. The movie taking turns we don't anticipate is great. But, if all those are empty and don't reveal anything interesting, that's bad. Turning the audience around a corner they don't expect is what the best of writing accomplishes, but turning the corner to find the reveal is nothing in so many instances is frustrating and uninteresting.
It's the 8th Star Wars movie. Fans complained about TFA being too much like A New Hope. And, so this is what we get when they spend more time trying not to be something verses creating something new. It was too much for me. All of these tricks just add up and none of them really offer anything particularly satisfying. The answer to our suspense is most often, hmmm - that didn't matter really. Here are a few examples.
Rey's parents are nobody. Big misdirection. Not an interesting resolution or suspense going forward. Why build suspense where we or the character didn't need it?
Snoke's background isn't important cuz you know he's dead. Cool that it is all on Kylo now, but lame that nothing of Snoke was ever revealed. His powers were basic. His size was even basic. His death was a minor twist some think categorize as a plothole.
Kylo kills Snoke by tricking him, basically. He lets him read his mind in generalities. "He ignites the lightsaber killing his true enemy." Kind of cool, but yet another "trick." Wouldn't it have been even amazing if Kylo would have overpowered him using the vast POWER they always keep talking about and his uncontrollable rage? Yeah, it would have. Showcase some new Force abilities, expand on what the dark side can do. Finally show one of these Skywalkers actually wield a power that is great than their "masters." They were on the right track with Kylo but a precise sequence where Kylo "outwits" his master doesn't fit wit the character.
Luke faces off with his former student Kylo Ren. This was a "force projection" so some sort. Again, kind of cool but compared with the real thing...pretty lame. Luke's grand moment after finally becoming the Master of the Force after Return of the Jedi was basically a hologram. Creative but boring when tossed on the heap of tricks in this movie. He could have done so much more, even if it would have been a little fan service. They chose the surprising, boring choice.
Holdo's escape plan. Tricks the First Order. Tricks Poe. Bores us.
There is no way out of this bunker. Nope, there is. That's fine and not a big deal but another trick on the audience.
Kylo tells Rey who her parents are really. We think this is a trick. It sucks the suspense out of the room but it was creative, I guess. It just isn't very exciting.
The connection between Kylo and Rey...surprise it was Snoke, but we won't be exploring it with Snoke cuz he's dead. The connection remains so we're still interested in it, but this was yet another trick.
DJ tricks Finn and Rose, betraying them to the First Order making everything they did completely useless. It makes sense that DJ would betray them but it's another trick here.
Some of these are nitpicky. We get that, but we wanted to illustrate how many plot choices in the movie were unsatisfying misdirections in the plot and tricks on the audience. Most of these would never bother us or warrant inclusion in "the bad" section of our breakdown alone. But, they aren't alone. Most of the big moments of the movie were simple misdirections or tricks. Nothing was as expected but they sacrificed our interest to be fresh. All of their choices lead down paths that are much more boring for the sake of being different than our expectations.
To really have an effective story, you need to balance some of your misdirection with other suspense and with satisfying developments. If it is all just a misdirection, it takes a little bit of the emotional connection with the story and characters away from us. Simply re-directing our expectations just isn't satisfying or interesting. Expanding on some of our expectations does this.
No Lightsaber Action
Because the film uses so much misdirection and plays with our expectations continually, some very important elements in a saga Star Wars film were left out.
At no point in this movie do two lightsabers touch.
This is the first time that this has happened in an episode of Star Wars. (Rogue One was an anthology film, without Jedi remember).
That is just sad.
The battle between Kylo/Rey and the Emperor's guard was pretty great.
The battle between Rey and Kylo was interesting and cool. The force tug of war for the Lightsaber was new and powerful.
Luke facing down the entire First Order was awesome, less awesome after we learned it was a trick.
Luke squaring off with Kylo had so much suspense and build up. It was masterfully done. Until they don't even really fight.
These were all unique ideas and pretty cool in their own right, but it's been since the prequels that we got a good lightsaber battle. It made sense in TFA, and we like the different ways they did battle in The Last Jedi.
But, there is something to be said when a Star Wars film doesn't include a decent lightsaber battle...especially when they've called them laser swords. SMH.
The Last Jedi failed to meet our expectations of a good Star Wars movie. The Force Awakens exceeded them, so it isn't about our own astronomical fanboy expectations. We had that going into both movies.
It's about making a movie that combines the fresh with the familiar, the new with the old, the misdirections with the escalation or expectations, and suspense with delivery. TLJ succeeds in ramping up the suspense. But instead of delivering satisfying answers or continuing to explore these threads The Last Jedi answers many of the mysteries The Force Awakens built by brushing them aside.
It never mattered who Rey's parents were even though they've been talking about it for two movies. Snoke didn't matter, even if he was super interesting Finn and Poe are just generic rebels now. Phasma came back to basically exit with a little more action. Leia is pretty static in the story. Her character seems done developing past General Leia. The First Order look like idiots now, far dumber than the Empire ever did. The Resistance is nearly wiped out by these bumbling morons.
The Last Jedi burned down the interest we had after TFA and never really put much in its place. Episode 9 is a blank slate for the most part and that may be what they wanted. But the world they built is decidedly less interesting for us. It's in our DNA, this Star Wars stuff, so we'll be around for wherever they go but the fire burns a little less bright after TLJ.
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