Movie Review: The Last Jedi

the-last-jedi-theatrical-blogThis is probably the most conflicted I’ve ever been leaving a theater. Usually, my reviews are either overwhelmingly positive (4+ stars out of 5) or just irredeemable (1-2). It’s rare for me to really give anything a medium grade. However, for Star Wars The Last Jedi, I find myself feeling that way on the first viewing. Let’s talk about the positives first.

I loved the character development for most of the main characters. Kylo Ren totally redeems himself as a villain here. He’s complex. He has external factors that have really driven him over the edge, including Luke, which is amazing and fantastic. Rey is interesting and emotional (I mean, maybe a bit too teary-eyed at every opportunity), but a fun arc. The total letdown of her heritage is forgivable. It’s not even a big deal. Finn? Man, I thought he was going to die here, and it was such a beautiful scene that the ending of it left me feeling totally robbed. I’ll go more into that later. Still, all of these had great character arcs. Rose had a good arc, and her sister’s death was beautifully done.

After this point, SPOILERS ARE HERE.

Some of the fight scenes were well done. I’ll go into one that I have major issues with, but the Snoke ship fight will be well remembered. Though, I did feel it was contrived and missed a huge opportunity to show the power of the characters. Specifically, Kylo is much more powerful than he’s made out to be in this scene. He uses force choking and pushes on almost anyone outside of fights like this, just as you might expect with Vader. Force Lightning. Rogue One introduced a Vader who used some of these while hand-to-hand fighting. Man, Kylo could have showed himself to be a total badass here. There are so many things at his disposal, and he uses none of them, opting instead to grapple with people. But it’s done for tension and, for the most part, this is well done.

Might I remind you that Jedis and Sith are so attuned to the force that they can react to light-speed blasters and deflect them with lightsabers, but they have issues avoiding simple grapples. Let’s put that aside for a minute, and just instead admit there are opportunities missed here to show just how powerful Kylo and Rey both are instead of constantly at the mercy of whatever reactionary events are around them and wanting to hit everything with lightsabers. I think we’ll see an even more dynamic fight scene, hopefully with actual force magic, in the third movie of this trilogy.

OK, we’re already bleeding into my issues with the movie. Let me try to just summarize some more good things.

I loved the Leia scene. Some people have made a negative thing about this, but Leia was always known as force-sensitive, and I think it’s an interesting arc to present that the force itself may have protected her from space because it had especial affinity toward her. That was pretty cool. I thought the porgs were fun, even if some of the puppetry was low quality. I remember a scene where a porg flies in the Chewbacca encounter where I found myself kind of thinking “ew, that didn’t even seem remotely real”.

I liked the tension and teases about a potential shift in both Kylo and Rey. It would have been really fun to see a full shift with the characters, with either Rey going full dark or Kylo going full light. This could have been a crazy interesting love plot too, but that’s unlikely to happen now.

Now, let’s get into major and minor issues that reduce this movie to a 3/5 and caused me to feel constantly uncomfortable, especially in the last 40 minutes or so of the movie.

My major problem with this movie is Luke

The major issue for me here is Luke’s arc and how it doesn’t mesh with any of his actions from the first trilogy. Luke is a man who literally went into a room, knowing it was almost certain death, with the two most powerful Sith in existence (Vader and Sidious) to fight them. In this movie, he remotely projects himself, keeping himself out of harm’s way. Some reviews have tried to tout this as some huge deal that obviously showed his power. Meanwhile, in the same movie, Rey and Kylo are remotely viewing and touching each other with the force across the same distances but safely. Wait, that’s apparently wrong. Snoke claims to have been the one who made that connection possible. Holy crap, Snoke must have been amazingly powerful right? No one even knew that was possible. We’ll get to Snoke in a moment. Let’s talk about Luke first.

Luke knows Leia needs him, and he knows he created Kylo. Rey has told him that there is still good in Kylo, and he can be saved. Do you remember how hard Luke tried to get his father to redeem himself? And he succeeded. His father, who had literally killed hundreds of children in Jedi temples, redeemed himself. Kylo killed a handful of people at the Jedi temple, and he’s irredeemable to Luke. And again, Luke knows he created Kylo, but he hides from him and his responsibilities. This remote projection thing? There is no indication that Luke knows he is sacrificing himself. In fact, at the very end, as he’s crawling back on top of the pedestal, he seems to finally realize what he has done. “Oh… right… I guess I’m fading away. Can’t help the resistance any further. Good luck, sis and galaxy!”


I mean, it’s not like fans hadn’t been dreaming of Luke fighting off Kylo and his cadre of dark knights and sacrificing himself heroicly to save Rey or something…

This is a huge missed opportunity to create a cohesive narrative and fitting conclusion to Luke. OK, so maybe he’s lost, but Yoda helps him really find himself and stop his childish antics. The director/writer chooses to put Luke in a situation where he sort of redeems himself but out of physical harm. This felt incredibly out-of-character to me. I’m sure we’ll get Luke as a force ghost in the third movie in this trilogy, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll teach Rey some of the amazing things he has learned since. All of that was wasted here though and the movie feels hollow.

That being said, I’m hoping to watch this movie 3-4 more times at the theater because I really, really want to like it. If I can just completely forget everything I thought I knew about Luke, I think I can enjoy this movie the second or third time around. There are some other problems though, and these might nag me too much for me to really want to raise this above a 3/5 rating.

My secondary problems revolve around illogical decision making, rationalization, and strategy

I’m not going to go into the casino scene. Believe it or not, it wasn’t that much of a problem for me. Yeah, it was drawn out, and yeah, it was ultimately pointless, but so are most actions in a resistance. For that alone, I saw points to keeping it in, just to show how sometimes you try something and it fails in its objectives but brings characters like Finn and Rose closer together.

There were some things that bothered me about the casino scene that you might not have even noticed. The first was how it was declared that everyone at the casino was an arms dealer to either the First Order or both factions. If you found this logical, you probably haven’t thought this all the way through. Or maybe you’re just better than me at letting little things go.

The richest people in existence will always be landowners and commodity traders. Even during war. If you control basic necessities, especially during war, you are going to always be rich. The richest person in history was not a weapons manufacturer. It was John D. Rockefeller, who supplied oil products for people at ridiculous markups, which just so happened to also be a lucrative industry during war. People still pay rent, and the galaxy has a lot of people living everywhere, even in the Outer Rim. People need food. People need oxygen, water, energy, etc. People especially need fuel and power. Weapons manufacturers often have really high overheads, but yeah, they can make a lot of money during wartime because the demand is so high. However,  the movie kind of put an ultra-liberal ideology into play here that made me roll my eyes a bit, and I’m an independent, liberal-leaning guy myself. It just seemed contrived to negatively designate everyone at a casino with arms sellers since they were so rich. How the heck does that make sense?

Version 2Which leads me to another thing that bothered me: men are really dumb in this movie and natural male tendencies are punished throughout the film. Women are overpowered and hyper-rational and guys are really stupid. Luke is childish and cowardly. Poe is headstrong and testosterone driven in all the worst ways. Kylo is a bit childish and irrational, and easily led astray and distracted (e.g. with Luke). Even Finn, who is probably the most relate-able male in the film, is ultimately saved from doing something that a woman deems to be stupid (because she cared for him). Nevermind that what Finn was doing was courageous and noble and might have saved all of the resistance hierarchy, including maybe even Luke, by destroying the device capable of busting through the armored bunker. Apparently, Rose knew it would all work out and Finn was being silly for risking himself–despite the fact that Holdo had literally just done something similar in what was obviously hailed as a hero moment.

Women literally know everything in this film. Men contribute no knowledge or useful leadership. Rey is Kylo’s equal with no real force training (some street-based training on her home planet, but if you think a person with street skills is equal to someone with formal weapons training, try convincing an expert in martial arts of this). Leia is cautious and thinks of all the things, unlike Poe who leaps before he looks and almost ruins everything, all the time.

Holdo has everything under control and knows way more than Poe. But it apparently took her her entire lifetime in command to figure out that a single flagship pushed to light speed at just the right moment would take out an entire fleet of star destroyers and Snoke’s mega flagship. OK. Why didn’t you just do that as soon as their fleet showed up, sacrificing yourself, and saving tens of thousands of people, including Akbar and everyone else? Heck, why not just put it on autopilot? Even our pathetic human civilization (in comparison to the advanced tech of Star Wars) has autopilots. If you were ready to sacrifice yourself for your people and you knew this would work, then why not do this right away to save your people? Why was there this super smart plot to run away for hours and lose every ship in the resistance fleet if you could just nuke the bastards and save a medical frigate and other ships? Why did dumb old General Hux not light speed just a bit ahead of the resistance, wait for them, and blow them out of the sky at any point in this slow chase scene?

Why? Because boys in this movie are dumb. We’re apparently overconfident idiots, all the time. I felt a bit insulted by this movie, especially after the first couple of times the theme kept coming up. Women and men think in complementary ways. We should all be working together. What exactly is going on here?

Other than Finn, I don’t think I like or empathize with any male character. I empathized and liked almost every female character. To me, this is poor writing. I’m not even going to chalk this up to an overtly liberal agenda, as I’ve seen others doing. I just didn’t think the male characters were portrayed well, except for Kylo Ren, who finally started to become a good villain.

To be honest, by itself, none of this was a problem for me. At least there were good, developed women characters. Combined with other minor problems, it all just started eating away at my enjoyment of the movie. It’s highly possible that I became overcritical of certain things because major satisfaction points were not earned at key points in the movie. I felt like so many major opportunities were missed that little details began to accumulate.

Minor problem: backstory and minor arcs

Both Rey’s and Snoke’s backstories are laughably bad. You might argue that you didn’t know much about Palpatine, and the treatments of Snoke and Palpatine were similar, but were they? Palpatine and Amidala were both from Naboo. Vader was from Tatooine.  Darth Maul was apparently from Dathomir. We learned this in the prequels. Palpatine has a pretty well developed arc, especially in that you know what he’s been up to. Meanwhile, Snoke seems more powerful than Darth Sidious (Palpatine) ever was, even creating tunnels between a Light and Dark avatars (Rey and Kylo) through space. He must have been alive while Vader and Palpatine were in existence. He must have been powerful and brooding and waiting. Doesn’t that sound interesting? We could have learned this with a short montage. Something. Anything. Nothing. Huge missed opportunity here.

Rey came from nothing. OK. That’s cool. Not a problem, but what about the first contact of Rey with the Dark Side? Let me note something that bothered me right away here. The Dark Side is alluring throughout the entire Star Wars series. If you need something, especially something emotional, man is it ever there for you. Remember when Anakin was having bad dreams about Padme dying? The Dark Side had an answer. Be like Plageis. Find a way to prevent your loved ones from dying. Vader tried luring Luke with a family connection and the promise to rule together as father and son. Did you notice what Rey wanted? What she asked the Dark Side on the island?

Who are my parents?

So what if they were nobodies? She wouldn’t have cared. It’s obvious that she wouldn’t have cared. The Dark Side could have traded for major brownie points here by trying to lure her over with any answer. Show a common junk trader and his smiling wife. Show a lie. That would have been even more appropriate. What did the Dark Side show her? Herself? Are you kidding me? The Dark Side is lame. It’s not even trying to win her over. What the hell? Like Luke, this felt really out of character for a side that has been characterized as powerful and alluring throughout the series. Here, it’s just lame. I wouldn’t want to join you either.

At least the director sort of made up for it after Snoke died by having Kylo appeal to Rey to join him. And there was an emotional connection that might have worked. For that reason alone, I was with the movie and forgave this problem with both the Dark Side’s original lack of overtures and Snoke’s lack of interest (which mirrored Palpatine’s initial disinterest in Luke). This did not really diminish the movie for me. I just thought it was a wasted opportunity to show the lure of the Dark Side and to, I don’t know, provide some consistent character portrayal in at least how the Dark Side interacts with people. The Dark Side plays with emotions. That’s literally what it does throughout the series. Oh well, first impression. Maybe The Dark Side was just really nervous. Poor Dark Side.

BTW, what happened to the Knights of Ren from the Force Awakens? If they really are students of Luke Skywalker turned to the Dark Side by the story of Luke’s betrayal of Kylo, then I’m hoping we see them in the next movie. I hope they don’t just drop out of existence.

Wrap Up

The movie had some fun fight scenes. The CGI and visuals were great. The emotional ties to most of the characters were great. The storyline was, for the most part, good. Kylo’s story here is significantly improved and he’s a villain you can really root for and against (perfect for villains). I’m looking forward to the third movie, despite the problems mentioned here.

On the con side, Luke’s character arc doesn’t really make sense, and he is very uncharacteristically cowardly here. Deus Ex Machina devices are introduced without foreshadowing. Leia’s scene has foreshadowing from other movies that she might be capable of extraordinary force usage, so that’s fine and I’m definitely giving her force scene here a pass. If anything, she should have used force gifts again. Oh well, no chance of that now (RIP Leia). Holdo’s novel usage of light-speed to destroy a fleet is so weird that foreshadowing would have been appreciated (such as a small scale example of this happening in the opening battle, for instance). I would expect both sides to start weaponizing this kind of tactic at scale, but I have a feeling this will never be used again, which makes this even sillier. Luke’s projection thing? Man, would have been great to see him do this at a shorter distance in front of Rey or something and show what he’s capable of so we’d all be prepared for it. I’m not a fan of Deus Ex Machina devices at all, especially in the 9th or so movie in a series without any warning.

Plot devices used here are sometimes ludicrous, especially the light speed martyrdom and when it is finally used–instead of at a time that would have saved most of the Resistance. The male characters in this movie are stupid (in that they are literally dumb and make all of the wrong decisions) on both sides of the battlefield. The only smart people seem to be women or men who know their role (e.g., Chewie just doing his job). Meanwhile, the “smart” decisions made by the resistance hierarchy seem more reliant on luck than some kind of super smart vision or strategy. Ultimately, many small problems made me like the movie less than I should have.

Still, 3 out of 5 is not a horrible score. It’s just that, for a Star Wars film, it’s not a good score either. After The Force Awakens and Rogue One, I was expecting a truly remarkable film. The trailer had me going nuts. The thought of Luke fighting again and even dying heroically was so much fun to think about, and I feel major opportunities were missed here that could have driven fans absolutely wild and made us all super excited about the next movie.

I do plan on going to the theater at least a couple more times to see this. I feel like I’m missing something or maybe my expectations were just too high about Luke and Kylo’s battles. I expected Luke to die. That’s not even close to my problem. The way he lived and died in the last thirty minutes, especially, just seemed really out-of-character for me.

Like me on my second viewing, I would recommend completely forgetting who Luke is and what has driven him in the past. Pretend like this is the first time you’ve ever seen him and maybe you’ll be ok. That’s what I’m going to try. I’ll add a comment to this post after my second view.

About Rex Jameson
Rex Jameson is the author of the three novels in the Primal Patterns series and half a dozen short stories. An avid history buff and an unabashed nerd with an appetite for science fiction and fantasy, he loves to create complex speculative fiction with layered characters. He earned a PhD in Computer Science at Vanderbilt University and researches distributed artificial intelligence in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. Rex and his wife Jenny live in Pittsburgh where they enjoy hosting family and friends.

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