OK, here’s some thoughts on Star Wars, having watched The Last Jedi twice now. Spoilers ahead. You are warned.
There’s really three ways in which to analyse the film.
- As a standalone action/sci-fi/adventure movie
- As the second in a trilogy, started in 2015
- As a piece of a huge, multi-generational mythology, started in 1977
In the case of (1), it’s kind of a mess. Imagine someone who has never seen Star Wars sits down to watch this. Can they make sense of it? Not really. True, there is definitely some gripping action scenes, especially relating to space battles and that bit of martial arts, but this movie is looong, and essentially non-stop action. Too much of anything is not good.
Too much action? Yes. Things are explosions everywhere. Dozens of characters we barely meet are getting blown apart like crazy. Entire ships are being destroyed in just about every shot. Big guns, big ships, big fires, big cliffs, big doors … no subtlety. A lot of people die. But most of them were barely introduced in the first place. If I were watching this movie alone, I’d be asking — “wait, who was that?” every five minutes. I guess if they died they were no one important … but does that mean Luke wasn’t important?
It’s long. 2 hours, 35 minutes, specifically, but it feels like there are multiple movies linked up like some crazy train. It very easily could have ended with the destruction of Snoke’s ship, skipping the planet-surface act entirely. The same character moments — Rey learning to lift heavy stuff, Rebels sending a signal to the outer rim, Luke duping The First Order so he can diss Kylo and help the Rebels escape, Rose and Finn kissing — could all happen aboard the various spacecraft. The film could have ended 30 minutes sooner and still got everything done. The limit of settings might have even been an improvement, creating a more controlled, subtle film even with lots of action.
There is, though, some interesting film-school stuff happening here. Mainly, a kind of spectrum of Light, Dark, and something in the middle at work on the four Jedi/Sith characters. Luke represents the pure Light side, and pulls on Rey to steer clear of temptation. Snoke represents the pure Dark side, and scolds Kylo for having an unclear mind. Kylo and Rey are both tempted, both conflicted, even debating it among themselves. There’s some serious should I/shouldn’t I at work with those two resulting in a trail of destruction, in the case of Kylo, and lots of tears, in the case of Rey.
And to complete the parallel structure, both Luke and Snoke are ended. Not sure what that means — maybe that life isn’t so cut and dry.
Most people are examining it relative to its predecessor, The Force Awakens. As part of a trilogy, (2), we’ve been short-changed. Interviews with Rian Johnson reveal that The Force Awakens was produced without a “here’s what happens next” guide. It was purposefully left vague so the next writer could take it and go in whatever direction he chose. But for a trilogy, this seems just plain wrong. For a movie with so many mysteries to examine, The Last Jedi simply punts, and tosses aside the big questions we’ve been pondering for 2 years. Considering how much of an endeavor a Star Wars movie is, this can’t be the best way to serve the franchise, let alone to make a great movie.
People talk about the prequel trilogy and how you can get everything you need while skipping Episode I. Pod-racing, Boss Nass, Qui-Gon Jinn, even Darth Maul are not terribly important to the subsequent movies and to the larger rise-of-the-Empire-fall-of-Anakin-Skywalker. We get all that info in dialogue from Eps. II and III.
Similarly, you can watch The Last Jedi and get everything you need to know without seeing The Force Awakens. Rey’s life as a scavenger is irrelevant. Finn’s defection is ancient history. Captain Phasma doesn’t have a major role. The quest for the map is done and dusted. Starkiller Base? Might as well not have happened. Think about questions we had in Dec. 2015 — they all get answered in TLJ: Where’s Luke? Oh, he’s here in an isolated place. Where’s Chewbacca? Oh, he’s here. What happened to Han? He died. Who’s Rey? An eager girl with some skills. Who’s Snoke? Some bad guy. Who’s Kylo? Leia’s fallen son. Who’s Poe? A good pilot. Who’s Finn? A stubborn rebel with insider knowledge of the First Order. C-3PO? Still a stuck-up butler. R2-D2? Still a walking USB thumb drive. The Last Jedi even explains things like Kylo’s injuries and the fact that Rey somehow bested him in spite of no training. The Resistence is scrappy and getting routed. We don’t need to know the backstory.
It’s very strange to watch the second film of a trilogy pay so little respect to the first one. It was truly like starting over. But thinking of it this way allows us to be much more open-minded to where they’re going next.
(3) is a tough one. Mostly, they’ve ignored the rich archive of films, cartoons, comic books, novels, and even video games, but did make passing references to Darth Sidious, the first Rebellion, Darth Vader, The Death Star(s), and a few other things.
But in overlooking the extended universe (or whatever it’s called), they now have to explain why Leia has skills of a Jedi, like surviving in space or sensing people’s emotions from across the Galaxy, and what state the New Republic is in. Yes, the opening crawl tells us “The First Order reigns” but that doesn’t tell us why the New Republic doesn’t have a fleet of its own, or how The First Order came to power if the Empire lost its Emporer and #2 in the same moment all those years ago.
It’s a shame we haven’t explored certain characters more thoroughly. Captain Phasma was all but wasted. Snoke, without a story attached to him or closer examination of his skills and goals, became a generic blend of villainy. We’re already done thinking about him.
It will be interesting if we see some elements from the larger Universe brought onto the screen. Will we meet Bothans? Will Rey find a Jedi holocron? Will Kylo Ren adhere to the Rule of Two? Is Lando still around?
Or will we just be treated to another Michael Bay movie in space?
So, to recap.
- It’s convoluted as a movie. Too much going on. Too many characters, too many deaths, too many explosions (yes, I said it.)
- The storyline shown in The Last Jedi gets a lot more interesting if you ignore the precedessor. If we can keep our wonder on the next film, we might be entertained.
- Lots of good stuff to pull from, let’s hope they use some of it.