The most interesting thing about The Last Jedi is that it’s the latest example of the polarizing split between critics and the movie audience. Critics love the latest Star Wars film, with aggregate review sites like Metacritic (86%) and Rotten Tomatoes (93%) rating the film very highly. As of this writing, only 3 critic reviews on Metacritic are “mixed” on the film with the other 51 being positive. Contrast this with the 4.9 user score on the same site, where the most numerous reviews are negative as well as positive (both over 1,300). By the same token, only 56% of Rotten Tomatoes’ user base liked it.
So, let’s make a checklist and see what’s +good+ and what -sucks- about The Last Jedi.
– The opening sequence where Poe Dameron calls the First Order commander and puts him on hold is something you’d see in a Marvel film and not a Star Wars one. Han Solo didn’t make any cracks to the Imperial officer during this scene because it would have undermined all the dramatic tension.
+ But it’s OK because Poe Dameron is a deconstruction of the military maverick. Poe’s a talented Resistance pilot but that talent doesn’t excuse his fatal flaws. He’s hot-headed, impulsive and doesn’t see the bigger picture his superiors do. His plan to take down a First Order capital ship gets his entire team killed and leads to his demotion because he went against Leia’s orders to disengage. So what if he took down a ship? The First Order can rebuild a ship whereas the Resistance can’t replace those pilots and crew members.
So, Poe making that call to the First Order? He’s just a stupid asshole whose bravado gets his comrades killed. Thumbs up!
+ I didn’t mind Luke being a failed Jedi initially. Obviously he’s in hiding because he fucked up training Ben Solo and feels regret over it. The idea of Luke failing to train a new generation of Jedi isn’t a bad one. The idea was horribly implemented, though…
– I can see why people are annoyed by the Porgs, though. They’re fucking everywhere on Luke’s planet. If not visible, they’re in the background chirping away.
+ At least they’re not like the Ewoks (who play a pivotal role in Return of the Jedi’s climax) or Jar-Jar Binks…
– The Last Jedi has two main plots. The First Order has recovered (quite quickly) from the destruction of Starkiller Base and is on the cusp of wiping out the Resistance forever. Somehow, The First Order has learned to track ships through hyperspace? Like a few things in Last Jedi, this isn’t really explained and the audience is supposed to roll with it. This technology has also not been mass produced, since Supreme Leader Snoke’s vessel is the only ship that possesses it.
In order to deactivate the hyperspace tracking mechanism, the Resistance needs to board Snoke’s ship but they need a code-breaker. So Finn and some girl he just met go to some casino planet because that’s where they can find one. This whole sequence is just padding to fluff out a 2.5 hour film, really does John Boyega a disservice and is in the running for “worst part of the film.”
+ On a personal level, I loved the idea of the code-breaking character being a selfish bastard who sells out Finn and the Resistance. In the Star Wars RPG I ran, one of the things I wanted to do was show players that recruiting the dregs of society to rebel against The Empire wasn’t the best move. It was up to them to make the Rebellion the idealized version it is in the original trilogy. Finn and his friend find this code-breaker in prison and don’t consider that this guy may not be the best ally. Especially since the two of them fucked up and didn’t find the code-breaker they were supposed to.
– While all that’s going on, the Resistance fleet has about 18 hours of fuel left before the First Order catches up with them. It might be the most boring chase sequence ever put on film. Leia gets knocked out of commission so command passes to some lady with purple hair who has no idea how delegation works.
Consider that the Resistance’s ultimate plan to escape the First Order is to hunker down in an old Rebel base that’s in the vicinity. Why this is kept on a need-to-know basis is only so Poe Dameron can get impulsive and stage a mutiny. Because to him, since he wasn’t told of the plan, it just looks like Resistance command is going to do nothing but get killed. Someone might bring up that Poe was demoted and thus not given clearance to know but that doesn’t answer the question of why the Resistance’s plan is need-to-know.
+ The other main plot revolves around the Force-users. Luke eventually decides to train Rey in the ways of the Force and become a Jedi…
– …Except he doesn’t really train her. Luke tells Rey what the Force is, she ends up destroying some rocks and then he backs off again because he’s scared of her raw power. Luke then leaves Rey to her own devices.
+ But that’s just a reason to have Rey develop a Force bond with Kylo Ren (Ben Solo). Throughout the film, the two of them link and can see/talk to each other (although not their surroundings). The two characters have a lot in common; both are powerful Force-users who are being trained by masters who aren’t really solving their true ailment of self-doubt. Kylo’s conflicted after killing his father and is unsure of his role in all this. Rey doesn’t know her parentage (or won’t acknowledge the truth about it) and is unsure of her role in all this. Each have their own agendas too, with the each thinking they can turn the other to their side of the Force and restore peace to the galaxy. Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley have amazing chemistry together and their scenes are the highlight of the film.
– How Luke, who is so powerful he can cut himself off from the Force and project himself across the galaxy, does not sense the Force bond between the two of them is…???
– While we’re on the subject of Luke Skywalker, let’s remember that Mark Hamill fundamentally disagreed with just about everything director Rian Johnson had in mind for his character. And who better to know what kind of character Luke Skywalker is than the actor who played him?
The main crux for me is the truth behind why Ben Solo became Kylo Ren: Luke saw the darkness in Ben and considered premeditated murder with a lightsaber. Never mind that Ben is his nephew and that explaining to Han and Leia why their teenage son is dead would have been real awkward…I guess he really was a Jedi, like his father before him. Ben wakes up, sees his Jedi Master with an ignited lightsaber and correctly assumes the worst. This would have been a neat set-up if it was a Dark Side ploy by Snoke or Kylo to plant discord between Rey and her master…but Luke confirms it all as true. Rey storms off to try and convince Kylo to come back to the light side of the Force (you know, the side of the Force that considered murdering him as a kid?).
+ Rey surrenders herself to the First Order and gets brought before Snoke. Each of the major players has their own gambit going and the scene in the throne room is an exciting car-crash of them all colliding into each other. Snoke thinks he’s going to complete Kylo’s training by having him extinguish his light side equal. Rey thinks she can redeem Ben (somehow) and they can take down Snoke. It’s Kylo Ren who mostly wins out by killing his master and assuming the role of Supreme Leader. Rey rejects joining him because this sequence can only be so awesome!
– The problem with Snoke getting killed, though, is that the film doesn’t tell us who he is other than “Kylo’s Sith teacher.” We don’t know how he rebuilt the First Order to challenge the Republic. We don’t know how he got a hold of young Ben Solo and turned him to the Dark Side of the Force. He’s just a plot device who looks like Goldmember in that bathrobe. That’s the main criticism of the film: Nothing has any meaning or substance, it’s all plot devices to excuse what’s happening.
+ Let’s skip the majority of the film’s climax (the battle on the abandoned Rebel planet), since it’s all a plot device to show how desperate the Resistance’s situation is. Instead, let’s focus on what matters: Luke projecting himself as a Force hologram to duel Kylo Ren while the Resistance escapes on the Millennium Falcon. It’s a pretty awesome sequence…
– Although I’m not sure why Luke becomes “one with the Force” at the end. Why he would use a Force technique that would kill him? He even tells Kylo, “I’ll see you around, kid.”
+ But I don’t think Luke’s really dead. He just became “one with the Force” and I feel like he could reappear if Disney wants him to. In fact, they’ll probably have to because Carrie Fisher’s death probably screwed up plans for Episode IX.
– Speaking of Episode IX, The Last Jedi does a pretty terrible job at hyping people to see it. The Resistance is all but over (forget Leia’s words, if your entire band can fit on the Millennium Falcon, it’s over) and all the character arcs have been fulfilled. Kylo Ren is Supreme Leader without any self-doubt. Rey’s embraced she is no one. Finn’s fully on-board with the Resistance. Poe Dameron could become less of a brash pilot but he’s not as interesting as the other three.
With a pretty even number of positives and negatives listed, it’s easy to see why The Last Jedi is so polarizing. There’s a lot to like and a lot to hate. It’s a better film than The Force Awakens but only because it didn’t try to do The Empire Strikes Back beat-for-beat. But it doesn’t really matter what people think of The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson is handling the new trilogy whether people like it or not and people will go see them because the Star Wars brand is all that matters.