Ok, I finally got see the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, this past weekend. What follows will be filled with spoilers; so, if you have not yet seen the movie, stop here, and do not read further. Here’s an image of Ewoks to remind you of your youth.
(image taken from one of the Star Trek movies, I think…doesn’t look like Star Wars!)
So, I’m guessing you either saw the movie or don’t care about spoilers. What did I think of it? Ummm…I thought it was mediocre as a film. The pacing was off; there were ridiculous timing issues; the central premise was kind of weird for a Star Wars movie…basically the whole thing is one long chase scene, with some people leaving it to go try to solve the problem. Meh.
However, I can see why some people loved this movie. What I don’t really understand is why some people hate it. I don’t understand the controversy around it. Since I thought it was mediocre, I can obviously understand that not everyone loved it. But hate? I don’t get it. Let me start, though, with why I understand the love.
Some of the fight scenes in this movie are pretty amazing. The opening sequence draws you in real fast, and I’ll agree with Kevin Smith in saying that the move that Poe makes in that X-Wing is brand new to the franchise and really, really cool. The sacrifice of the bomber to get the job done? Good stuff. The physics of it all? Pretty much nonsense, but these are fantasy films, not sci-fi. I can get past that. Thrilling opening.
Kylo Ren’s battle with Rey was great, too, especially the way that Kylo kills his master, hiding his true intentions somehow along the way. Oh, and that sacrifice Admiral Holdo makes by lightspeeding into the bad guys? Loved it, even if it does mess with some of the established physics once again. I don’t care about that. I thought it was a great sacrifice. I kind of wish it had been Leia instead, though. I really liked Holdo in the short time we get to see her, and knowing that Carrie Fisher has sadly passed away means that they will need to find a way to sacrifice Leia anyway. This could have been pretty meaningful, and Laura Dern could have taken over as the head of the resistance. After all, Poe would be a terrible choice!
That brings me to his character. I liked his arc. I think the exchanges between Poe and Holdo are part of the controversy, which I’ll get to in a moment, but I found this story compelling. Poe is a hotshot pilot, used to solving problems by shooting at them. He’s willing to give his life to help the rebellion, and unfortunately, he extends that recklessness to those under his command. That’s not good, and the movie does a good job of showing him learn this lesson. Sometimes, you have to live to fight another day, or the whole cause is lost. By the end, he learns this. He also learns about chain of command.
Now, this is one of the parts that annoys me about the movie. I liked Poe in the Force Awakens. We are meant to like him, and the writers know that. They used that to set us up a bit to be on his side in the conflict with Holdo. That’s fine. It sets up a twist of sorts (though not a huge one…Holdo is an admiral, a hero of the rebellion; of course she had a plan other than just dying eventually). But the trick is a bit forced (no pun). It would have taken her only a moment to tell him the plan. She doesn’t have to do so, of course. She’s in charge. But when she finally does, later in the movie, he agrees with it immediately. He could have helped her with morale on the ship, if she had taken a few seconds to explain what they were doing. And it’s not like she’s too busy to do that. Again, she doesn’t have to do it. I just don’t understand why she didn’t.
But this leads to the bigger issue. He mutinies against her! He sends people off, against orders. His plan ends up ruining everything, and even leading to the Empi…urrrr…First Order….finding out about the cloaked ships! Basically, he blundered big time. Leia even has to come and take him out. Ok….but then, once it’s all done, both Leia and Holdo agree that Poe is still a great guy. He’s just such a scamp!
Ummmm…what??? No way! No way, no way, no way, no way! This guy ignored direct orders, got people killed, nearly leading to the complete destruction of the rebellion. And he’s still basically second in command after all that? Nope! That’s just dumb.
Ok, that’s covered all the non force people, I think! So, what about the last Jedi thing? Well, as you know, Luke is not the last Jedi. Well, in a way he is. But Rey is, too, or something. This is fine. Jettison the Jedi order. It was pretty terrible anyway. Bunch of rogue vigilantes with powers that somehow magically enforce law throughout the galaxy, with a license to kill (or cut off arms). How many people have suffered because of the Jedi fighting the Sith? Lots! Just end the cycle of violence already.
I think Luke’s death was handled pretty well, though I think it would have been better if we learned that in fact Kylo Ren had killed him on that fateful night after all, and all this time, his force ghost had remained to resolve some unfinished business. But whatever. Luke learns that violence is not the solution to the problem, and he fades away.
This gets me to the controversial part. From what I can gather, there are two main sources of criticism for this movie, and I don’t really get either one.
The first source is something about women in control and Poe being a fool, and blah feminism or some such nonsense. This one is stupid. I had heard that some alt-right people didn’t like the new movie, and my wife and I tried to figure out why. There were no obvious social justice issues being portrayed in the movie. Yes, the admiral was a woman, but that was true in Return of the Jedi, and Leia is obviously a high ranking person in the rebellion. Putting Poe in his place isn’t new to the series, really, and I think it was well done.
The second one is about Luke, I think. Some people didn’t like this portrayal of Luke Skywalker. I disagree. I think this was a very likely arc to his story. Luke was a whiny fool in the first two Star Wars movies. He was absolutely annoying. He didn’t listen to anyone, and he always rushed into danger without thinking. In Return of the Jedi, he seemed to be progressing, maturing even. However, it’s really not a complete transition. Even in the opening saving Han Solo scenes, where he comes across as self-assured, he has moments of violence and apparent joy in killing others. Granted, they are bad people, but it’s still violence. At the end of the movie, Palpatine wants Luke to give into this anger and kill his own father, and Luke almost does. His anger erupts from him, and even though he does finally get it back under his control (to his credit!), it was there.
Now, let’s take this character a couple of decades later. He’s rebuilt the Jedi order, and he’s training young Jedi in the ways of the force. But he senses the potential for darkness in young Ben Solo. Remember that same potential was in Luke. It’s in Rey. It seems to be in every powerful Jedi. It’s a path that could be taken by any Jedi. That’s what makes the dark side so dangerous, and it only takes a split second bad choice to fall into the trap.
The movie shows Luke almost fall, again, as he considers ending his nephew’s life simply to avoid the risk of him turning to the dark side. Ultimately, he claims he wouldn’t have done it, but from Ben’s perspective? He saw his master about to kill him with a lightsaber, and he defended himself. Nothing Luke could have said after that would have changed that perception. Luke almost did it, and next time he might go through with it.
Thus Kylo Ren is born, a reluctant (rather emo) teenager who was betrayed by a family member who had authority over him. That would mess anyone up, bad. And it changed Luke too. He knows it was his fault, and he seems to decide that the only way to win this game of Light vs. Dark is not to play the game. He withdraws from the force, reluctant to keep making the same mistakes over and over. In the end, he turns back to it one last time in order to save the rebellion. This costs him his life, ultimately, but it keeps hope alive.
I love this, I have to say, and I don’t get the hate for it. I think it’s a brilliant end to the Luke story. He takes a path very similar to his own father. We see a cycle here, and we see that the person who can best break this cycle is someone who is not caught up in it at all- Rey. She is the real hope for the future of Jedi, and mainly because she is free of all of this historical nonsense. Her background as a random nobody makes her the ideal choice to form a new order, or even to reject the idea of a galactic vigilante police force altogether!
We’ll see what happens next. But what I hope is that the next Star Wars movie tells a NEW story already. The Force Awakens felt like a remake of a New Hope, and The Last Jedi feels like Empire Strikes Back. Yes, some of the plot points are inverted in order to shake up our preconceptions, and that’s fine. But I don’t want to see any more damn Death Stars or barely surviving groups of ragtag individuals who now have to rebuild from scratch…again.