By now, it is safe to assume that most of the nation has seen what was the most anticipated movie of 2017, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Since then, reactions to the movie have been divisive to say the least. While media critics largely praised it, fans have been far from unanimous in their opinions. It currently has a 91% certified fresh rating on media aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes however as of 2/24/2018, its audience score sits at 48%, lower than Attack of the Clones and The Phantom Menace, which are widely considered to be the worst Star Wars movies by comparison.
Since its opening weekend, various media sites, most notably IGN, have written several articles seemingly defending their stellar review of The Last Jedi, including most recently Opinion: In Defense of Luke Skywalker by Paul Verhoeven. Even Rian Johnson, in a series of tweets and post-release interviews, seemed to be clarifying and explaining controversial scenes in the movie in an effort to quell the “haters” and general fan outcry.
But the question looms, if the movie was as good as the critics say it is, does it warrant such massive damage control from the media and the director? Why is there such a need to defend if the movie truly stands on its own legs? Allow me to take the side of the “haters”, defending the main points that leave the Star Wars fanbase as a whole divided by this movie.
The Resistance Plot Line
For me, the Resistance was severely underutilized in this movie. While their situation was indeed dire, and believably so, their side of the story seemed to be marred by a menagerie of errors, both in the story and the filmmaking. The decision to have the Resistance and First Order essentially engage in the slowest chase scene in the galaxy was simply not engaging. Of course most of the drama was happening on the ship, but I couldn’t help but note that this chase was still happening for well over the half the movie. Nothing moved externally, and to me, this was a lost opportunity to showcase some Rebel ingenuity to at least make the slow burn more exciting as well as tense.
Additionally let’s talk about Admiral Holdo. While her sacrifice and loyalty to General Leia is notable, her communication skills for an officer are sorely lacking. We know the First Order can track through hyperspace and we know the Resistance is running low on fuel. No one knows if they are going to get out of this alive and when Oscar Isaac’s Poe rightly confronts Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo to elaborate on what the plan is, her first move is to belittle Poe. Now I understand within the chain of command that a superior doesn’t have to tell their subordinates anything, but in such a life-or-death situation she could have at least assured Poe that she had a plan. Moreover, Poe wasn’t the only one who wanted to know, it seemed like no one other than Holdo’s entourage knew anything and I question even that. Because of her lack of judgment in at least informing the crew of her escape pod plan for Crait, Poe inadvertently launches a plan with Finn and Rose that ultimately gets more than half of the Resistance killed. She’s depicted as a hero due to her hyperspace sacrifice, but I believe she could’ve saved even more lives had she just communicated her intentions.
This brings me to Boyega’s Finn and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose. If a character is involved in a movie, they should grow either mentally, spiritually, or morally within said movie. Finn has no such growth in The Last Jedi. He’s essentially the same character he was in Force Awakens. Still on his own agenda, he has not committed, even partially, to the cause of the Resistance, at first opting to drop them simply to find Rey. Rose Tico, though endearing in her own right, simply contributes nothing to this movie. Even Jar Jar Binks, often cited as the most hated character in Star Wars, was integral to persuading the Gungan army to fight the Trade Federation in Phantom Menace. Rose is simply there for the ride while continuing Star Wars tradition of roping in tertiary characters who eventually contribute to the heroes’ cause.
Rey and the Force
I want to start this out by saying I like Rey. Daisy Ridley’s portrayal of her is magnificently done and I really want to see how her character arc concludes in Episode IX. However I must be blunt, when it comes to Rey and her feats, I often find myself asking “What can’t Rey do”? Unlike Luke and even Anakin before her, everything she seems to touch, from piloting, to lightsabers, to even wielding the Force she has taken to with astounding prowess. When others cried Mary Sue in Force Awakens, I was willing to forgive her because of Luke’s Death Star Trench run and Anakin’s Podrace win and piloting skills. However, Anakin goes on to lose against Count Dooku and Luke loses also against Vader. Rey has yet to fail at anything. Throughout the entire movie, she never has trouble with anything serving as a literal savant of everything Force related even with the meager lessons of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. She needs to fail. I know she’s a role model to many young girls in a time where the appreciation of femininity is on the rise, but to be human even with the Force, she needs to show that she is capable of losing and losing bad. No one is perfect in this world and neither should she be.
The Heart of Star Wars
If Darth Vader is the mascot of the Star Wars franchise, Luke Skywalker is its heart. In this movie, Luke, in my opinion, was mishandled in a variety of ways. Now I expected Luke to be hostile to Rey upon her arrival and I figured it would be hard for Rey to convince Luke to train her given his past failure. However what I did not expect, and was saddened by, was when Luke told Rey “I came here to die”. I had surmised after failing to establish a new Jedi Order that Luke would retreat to go back to the origins of the Jedi, but to say that Luke walked away not only from the order, but from his friend Han and sister Leia to me was unfathomable. The same Luke who proudly proclaimed that he “was a Jedi, like his father before him” had now turned into a man full of excuses and indifference that willing to let the galaxy be consumed in his wake. That’s not Luke Skywalker. I could swallow the scene where Luke for a moment wanted to kill his nephew Ben and the guilt that followed when Ben destroyed everything he created. I could buy that as Luke has struggled with the Dark Side before, but it’s what he did afterwards that troubled me so. Even Obi-Wan, after losing Anakin, Yoda and his entire Order to Darth Sidious, ran and hid like Luke did. But the main difference in their hiding was that they had a plan, Obi-Wan looked after Anakin’s son, Luke, while Yoda waited for the right time to strike back. Neither of them ran away just to die.
Additionally, while the last confrontation between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker was certainly impactful, I believe Rian Johnson missed a crucial opportunity with Luke in those moments. Whereas Mark Hamill himself lamented that the old gang never got the chance to get together again since Han’s death in Force Awakens, Luke also never shares a moment with his sister Leia again in person. Luke also mentioned that he had decided Kylo’s fate before Kylo had the chance to decide himself which led to Kylo’s dark path. How poetic would it have been if Luke had “given” that chance back to Kylo all those years later, to let Kylo, through an epic lightsaber battle and force display, let out all of his anger, frustration, and sorrow out on Luke who would have taken it in stride all the while still loving his nephew. Though Kylo would have more than likely chosen the Dark Side again, at least it would have been his decision.
Though Luke’s Force hologram was certainly visually impressive, I wonder the impact it will have many years from now.
There were many things I liked about The Last Jedi. However, when considered as a whole, I feel Rian Johnson’s deliberate stance to make things as different as possible has alienated more fans than brought them together. With that said, I happily await Episode IX.