When the Internet is Forever … or Regrets? I’ve Had a Few.
It’s been more than a year since The Last Jedi came out, and we’re halfway to the next chapter in the Disney sequel trilogy. My original review is still up on this site. I gave it a tepid positive review. I don’t regret all of my review. I think I very pointedly complained that it was, to be kind, a mess of meandering, mediocre movie-making. I also didn’t want to pick at too many plot points for preventing spoilers at that time.
My biggest regret is that I defended, quite incorrectly, that the movie was respectful of the Force and StarWars-y things. I have no excuse. My reasons for doing this are probably a mixture of giving the movie too much credit from past good will, and perhaps a bit of a moment of shock of looking on the bright side after watching StarWars fade like so many neuminal Lukes into dual sunsets.
The Last Jedi has become a bit of a polemic by itself. Much more iconic than its status as a part of the StarWars saga, it is now really a symbol of where entertainment is going in the conglomerate age, and how far large entities can push their fans, via social media, before they break their trust.
I will get this out of the way. I gave positive reviews to the way The Force is used in the Disney sequels out of a sense of nostalgia. While The Force Awakens also suffers looking back with a critical eye, I thought JJ Abrams at least was true to much of the aesthetic which made StarWars so memorable. I will give him that. I did enjoy a lot of The Force Awakens, and I don’t regret enjoying it for what it was. But I see Disney as having duped the fans, exploiting and mocking their nostalgia and enthusiasm. Shame on them and those who enable them.
My tl;dr gripe with The Last Jedi:
- The movie is not well plotted or well directed. You could excise Rose and Finn’s arc from the entire film and lose nothing in particular. The Crait scene at the end makes no sense. At several points characters go unconscious in order to transition to the next scene. Characters have to get to a particular location because the plot requires it, and they are constantly able to just be in the right place regardless of guards or distance or any other obstacles.
- So, if the goal was to introduce more women into significant roles, they had two new female characters in Holdo and Rose who were just terrible. Past characters from the Extended Universe (EU) of novels, comics, and games included Mara Jade, Satele Shan, Ahsoka, Ventress, etc. All were all female characters with real arcs, who fit in well with the space-fantasy genre of StarWars. These characters did not.
- Maybe this is 2a, but as far as the Holdo maneuver went, it really should have been a chance to give a heroic exit to Leia, excising Holdo entirely from the story. Also, it broke my disbelief very heavily that the maneuver wasn’t done earlier once all the transports were away and they were being fired on. Also, yes, it was pointless as they could have had a droid do it.
- Ultimately, Luke was very ill-served by this story. I could handle that this would have been Luke’s exit from StarWars. I could also accept if he were a minor character in this particular story. But they relied him as the MacGuffin for putting the whole story into motion. We spent a lot of time with him only to have him pointedly be a tragic figure, negating his previous incarnation as an optimistic cipher. They turned a classic hero story into a meditation on failure. We lost the EU, and all of Luke’s great adventures, for this?
- Rey is the protagonist in the story, and there was little to no growth of her as a character. They introduced her as a mystery box, but she still seems to have nothing at stake, and it’s not clear who she is as she deliberately has no back story.
The Soft Reboot Used the Original Characters for Nostalgia, but Impeached their Stories
The original trilogy (OT), the story that started all this, ended in failure. Nothing the original characters did had any effect on the galaxy. The Empire returned, the Jedi did not. All their plans turned to ashes.
Han and Leia gave birth to an emo Vader cosplayer who killed his deadbeat Dad. Luke ended in complete failure, and failed to “return” the Jedi. Even poor Akbar just got unceremoniously sucked out into space.
The New Republic failed, ending with the Empire’s successor building a superweapon which created a larger genocide than the original Death Star. In the end, when the Resistance sent out the call for help from Crait, everyone in the galaxy who said “we would have been better off sticking with the Empire” turned out to be correct. No wonder nobody answered the distress call.
Return of the Jedi Turned Out to be No Such Thing?
After Return of the Jedi, the first dialogue Luke Skywalker has in a movie is a discussion where he says “it is time for the Jedi to end.”
Technically, his first line is “go away.” Then he throws his father’s lightsaber — his first lightsaber — over his shoulder.
Just let that sink in. Disney thought they’d mine nostalgia. Then they frame their story so that the original heroes ultimately ended in complete failure with no effect on the galaxy. Contrary to the triumphal ending of Return of the Jedi.
Luke would have saved more lives, and possibly kept hope that Jedi knowledge would stick around, if he had surrendered and served Palpatine and learned the ways of the Sith. Even if he had, and ended up as an evil emperor himself, that would still be a better story, as it would give a clear course of action for the next hero in the next story.
With Luke serving the Dark Side and helping the Empire triumph, there would have been far less destruction and chaos in this fictional universe. The Empire’s infrastructure would still exist, an entire system of planets presumably would not needed to have been destroyed by the campy First Order. And the whole apparent war profiteering going on with the arms dealers on Canto Bight would have been mitigated by an Empire at peace rather than endless civil war.
Instead, they impeached all impact Luke had on the galaxy when he and his friends previously triumphed over the Galactic Empire. Now, Rey, this ungrounded mystery box, is the Last Jedi, and supposedly will be the one to bring back their return. This isn’t merely a sequel. It’s essentially a reboot of the same story as Luke’s. Which belongs in a cheap copy of StarWars, not an authorized sequel.
Had Luke trained a generation of Jedi, and then the sequel trilogy dealt with their conflicts in a new era, which Luke in the background, serving as a coda to his story, allowing him to die with some meaning, even tragically, I would have taken it for what it was. I wanted to believe very much that this would have been what we got that I suspended my disbelief and shamefully made myself feel as if it is what we got. But this was not even close. So I rescind all prizes and ribbons I’ve sent to Disney since.
It’s a Shame About Rey
One of the more outlandish theories of Rey I heard was of Rey being a chromosone-switched clone of Anakin. Not my favorite theory, still better than the worst EU. But also better than what we got.
Story-wise, she should have been an orphan/servant in that Force cult we saw at the beginning of The Force Awakens. She could have been the mistreated washer girl. We see her at the beginning, grounded in a society, but also being on the bottom of that society: forgotten, dismissed, etc. All part of the necessary trope of the hero’s journey.
My proposal would have been to cast Temuera Morrison as her servant/mentor in the Force Cult. Perhaps a scene where he gives her some basic advice, muses on his own history as a “warrior,” and also we also see that he’s the one who has taught her how to fight with a staff.
Then, when the cult was all slaughtered by the First Order, she goes out in the desert to be a scavenger and eventually discover her destiny. This kind of quick setup could have added a lot of worldbuilding to the story with minimal screen time.
The throne room scene was the strongest sequence in The Last Jedi, and was the last moment that this movie (and the new trilogy) could have been saved. There was a storyline possibility with her joining Kylo Ren somewhat. She was a bit of a Mary Sue in the first movie, but in this, we are only told that she is vacillating between the Light and the Dark. Told, now shown.
Yet, there is literally zero worldbuilding for Rey. She grew up on a flat, completely featureless desert. We know nothing about her hopes or fears, how she can read or fly a ship or know how to live as a feral teenager. Luke originally dreamed of a wider world, but felt an obligation to his aunt and uncle who raised him. When they were killed, he instantly had a reason to enter that wider world and a very personal reason to fight the Empire. Rey has no grounding whatsoever for any decision or action she takes. The story just lurches forward from The Force Awakens to The Last Jedi with her having no moral dimension to decisions she makes.
If Rey was supposed to have a whiff of darkness, we should have seen her do things like steal BB-8 rather than just ask nicely. Rey only ever faced obstacles in theory, and succeeded at everything she tried on the first try. She only has radiated goodness in the stories thus far. And having some connection to Kylo was the only thing which could presented moral depth.
I was fine with Rey not being a Kenobi or Skywalker. I do think it redeemed the meaning of the Force to me to have broom boy at the end. But none of that in the end goes anywhere with this story.
Was it Just Rian Johnson or was JJ Abrams Our Last Hope?
I would like to defend JJ, and have hope he’ll make something worth seeing in Episode IX. (Edit: title is Rise of Skywalker? There’s your nostalgia plea.) But The Force Awakens still shoulders the blame for putting this trilogy on a dive which it could never recover from. I’ll explain:
The essential problem set up in TFA is that they simplified the story by keeping it focused on a few main characters with Rey as the protagonist. This could have been fine as the template. But they put it on a trajectory where the original trilogy had no effect on the universe. Everything they did ended in failure, with the Empire’s inheritors returning with a bigger genocide than Alderaan in the originals.
I can forgive using Luke as a MacGuffin in the first movie. But they needed a deeper story. There needed to be a generation or two of Jedi which he had trained, who operated inside the story. Not just that they all died in some throwaway line. There needed to be more of a story arc to give us genuine sense of something at stake rather than just CGI genocide happening in an expository shot.
We didn’t get anything which stands alone from the original series. And that fault was present with the TFA.
Yes, But is it Art? Subverting Expectations, You Incel!
I like artsy-fartsy movies as tone poems. But I have a problem with David Lynch as a storyteller. He only enjoys making movies like the way he makes paintings; he likes to make something you experience, or that washes over you with your own internal interpretation, giving you a take-away. Plots or satisfying stories are not his thing.
Twin Peaks new “season” I thought, was mostly a waste. Because he teases out characters and storylines as though it will go somewhere. You get a sense of a plot or a resolution, but in the end, there is none. I find this frustrating because it’s “subverting expectations” just to do it.
If you are going to do this, I can handle artsy-interpretive things. I recommend watching Twin Peaks: The Return Episode 8 as a standalone movie. None of the other episodes are necessary. It’s a completely meandering, interpretive film, mindfuck. It’s horror and sci-fi all combined. None of the other episodes explain it, and it does not lead into any other resolution. It stands alone on its own as David Lynch doing his thing as he does best.
The Last Jedi defenders are doing a rearguard action, like they’re explaining some kind of David Lynch artsy-fartsy tone poem. But it’s not. It’s a plot-driven movie with characters who are supposed to serve as the guides to a story of adventure and heroism. Giving us some sort of muddled, wet-fart characterization and plots which are perplexingly incomprehensible is not art. It’s just a shitty film. And everyone in the film industry, in the creative industry, all know it. The only people who are vocally defending this movie seem to have career incentives to do so, or otherwise fans with Stockholm Syndrome.
But Wasn’t Lucas a Gadfly Auteur Who Had a Vision?
George Lucas took a major personal risk on making the first Star Wars, and then another big risk in using that to finance The Empire Strikes Back. With both of those, he couldn’t afford complete creative control, and had to compromise more than he wanted to.
Compromise was a very important part of why the original Star Wars worked, and what the prequels lacked. It was saved in the edit. I really cannot stress how important that movie about the editing of StarWars is to any fan who is interested in the process of creativity.
He offloaded a major part of the writing work in The Empire Strikes Back to Lawrence Kasdan, and less mentioned is Leigh Brackett, who was a solid sci-fi storyteller who provided many of the solid story beats (and fantasy elements) to Empire. Sadly, she died in 1978, and didn’t help with Return of the Jedi. Yes, a female writer provided the bones for what became the primary story arc of the original trilogy. The Force may in fact be female, but it’s not the current story group who made it so.
David Lynch famously went to meet with George Lucas about possibly directing RoTJ. You can hear him speak for himself. Obviously, Lynch himself has a huge ego. But it’s pretty clear that Lucas wanted someone who would just do a journeyman job, which would be aggravating for a lot of creative people.
The Reaction to Criticism Brought Out the Worst Kind of Corporate Remoras
After The Last Jedi came and went I shrugged and realized I wasn’t interested in the rest of where this story is going. Given the shortcomings of it as a movie and story alone, I didn’t think they could really take it anywhere after all that, and closed that chapter of my mind as no longer being interested in Disney StarWars. But the fierce defense of the movie, as if it were something of object quality which was being criticized as a result of edgy philosophy — attacking the detractors as incels, MRAs, Trump supporters(?), garden-variety misogynists, and of course as racists — became part of the script used in defending this poorly-received corporate product. This has become interesting on its own, as the attempt to gaslight the public, with massive, paid media campaigns to mock former fans and customers, strikes me as a particularly terrible precedent.
My own experience online has included giving mild criticism to the current StarWars direction. In my case, a paid radio host for Lucasfilm forwarded me screenshots of a seemingly angry and mentally-defective juvenile making some kind of horrible threats in Tweets. The radio host asked me if I thought this was “OK.”
And there you have it. With Twitter, and social media in general, we have this brigading effect. Not only do people pile on, flood, dox, and anathematize contrarian opinion, but they will hold up random, bad eggs as if some barely-literate twitter person says something hateful or misogynistic, that random person’s tweet automatically counts as a press-release from your camp. This is gaslighting, and it has destroyed the integrity of genuine disagreements among fandom.
George Lucas received a lot of criticism from his fans for meddling with his own movies and doing odd things with the prequels. It’s still a worthy discussion of who really owns something which lands so large in public consciousness. I always fall on the side that it was Lucas’ right to do what he wanted with his creations, just as his fans have every right to point out where he isn’t honoring his own creations. I think he could never really reconcile that with himself, and for that reason I’ll bet it was a relief for him to offload all this to Disney.
But sold them he did. And Lucasfilm and the StarWars legacy is not in the hands of a visionary, but a large, multi-billion dollar corporate entity. There was a massive investment here, and then there an intention of having it all pay off. There is no hiding that Disney’s appeal is calculated to get customers. There is no other reason for it to exist.
Lucasfilm now, which is an entity which does hire public-relations employees who do issue press releases, seems indifferent to their employees who have open contempt for their fans. This is completely bizarre to me. This justifies to me every notion of refusing to purchase product from these people. They only tolerate this contemptible behavior from their employees, I assume, because they calculate that enough people won’t be driven away.
Corporate decision makers do love the idea of an entertainment product which appeals equally to boys and girls. They would love to sell movies, books, toys, comics, games, etc., equally among both sexes. As it has always been, StarWars had a primarily male fanbase, and entities like Twilight have primarily female fanbases. I don’t fault the mammoth corporation of Disney for trying its mightiest to make StarWars appeal to more female fans. But they’ve done it so ham handedly, so contemptuously, they’ve isolated their current fans, including their current female fans. (If 20% of their fans were female, still one presumes that they liked it the way it was.) I’m sure that George Lucas is having himself a mighty laugh.