With The Rise of Skywalker coming out soon, the debate over the merits of The Last Jedi resurfaced on the internet because of comments made by JJ Abrams. Twitter algorithms seem to support the side that says Rian Johnson is a genius for subverting our expectations and creating the most progressive Star Wars movie yet. The core Star Wars fan base felt as though the movie was a giant middle finger to their devotion, and that is putting it mildly. I was late to watching The Last Jedi, to my shame. So I recently watched it for the first time knowing to some capacity what already happens and fully prepared to make an unemotionally invested decision as to whether The Last Jedi can be considered a good film. Spoiler alerts: it is an objectively bad movie.
The criticism of the movie I never heard before watching it, though since have seen a few memes about was that the story was in a loop. This is opposed to an arc, a line, or even a circle. It’s a loop. The movie begins with the so-called Resistance under pursuit by the First Order. And through a costly mission, they escape. Only to find out that they haven’t really escaped. They are now once more being chased. Thus concludes the first loop.
The second loop was the longest. One would have thought the movie would end here, But nope! The Resistance escapes again… only to still be chased by the First Order. And so we enter the third loop where we are to believe that the Resistance finally escapes in the Millennium Falcon. Instead of a cause and effect, a constant chain of quests, or even a generic Hero’s Journey, we are on repeat for two and a half hours. The movie can most concisely be summarized as “The First Order chases the Resistance to no avail.” This is a very boring plot, so boring that the writers invented useless story arcs to pass the time. OJ Simpson’s low-speed chase was far more exciting.
In a well written story, every details should matter. Every scene should serve a purpose. Every character should serve one as well. A well written story is by no means what The Last Jedi could be called. I want to highlight three useless story arcs featured in The Last Jedi
First, the Casino Planet. This was forty minutes where Star Wars got its SJW on with the black male character and the Asian female character going on an animal rights quest to the “capitalist paradise” that is a Casino Planet. In theory, our “heroes” were supposed to go to the Casino Planet to meet with a “code breaker” to infiltrate the First Order’s capital ship so that they can sabotage the tracking device.
This plot doesn’t even make sense, in theory. The writers seem to have forgotten that Finn is a defective screw-up Storm Trooper. Him knowing the inner workings of any spacecraft would be like a pot smoking army private knowing the inner workings of a navy aircraft carrier. Nonetheless as we follow these characters on their journey, we are given twists where they incidentally run into a different code breaker who sneaks them on board only to sell them out to the highest bidder. Turns out, he’s the galaxy’s Switzerland. So Finn and Rose Tico end up on the ship and accomplish nothing only to escape with the other characters who coincidentally were on the ship at the same time. If we took out the entire Casino Planet, we have the same exact loop of a movie, just in less time.
Secondly, the purple hair Vice Admiral and her conflict with Poe was a useless story. It first necessitates the death and then undeath of Princess Leia. But she’s incapacitated. So the Resistance goes from one bad leader to the next. The purposely purple haired woman immediately asserts her power over the experienced pilot by ordering what completely comes across as the brain child of the Charge of the Light Brigade raised by the Book of French Military Blunders. The do nothing Vice Admiral enables Poe to conspire a mutiny and organize an escape of sorts. But then we learn that the purple haired Vice Admiral was good all along at her job and was going to kamikaze herself in order to buy time for everyone else to escape, ending only the second loop.
This sudden twist revealing that she was deeply committed to the “rebel” cause was completely out of character for the previously indifferent commander who seemed more concerned with petty power struggles and secrets than effective leadership. But instead the movie wants us to believe that she’s some great hero, even though her actions put everyone at greater risk and ultimately failed because the movie needed to have its third act.
A great leader is allowed a mutiny or two as in the case of Alexander the Great of Macedon. But his mutinies were from his grandiose ambitions, not commanding what comes across as Pickett’s Charge. So I guess the lesson in this arc was to always trust the people in power, especially if they are women? I find it difficult to believe that Poe learned a lesson from this experience, because once more he returns to ineffective leadership. We’ll talk about the lesson he actually learned later. the conflict with Poe and the feminist Vice Admiral was entirely contrived to fill time in the movie. If we remove this conflict, she still gets her Japanese pilot’s license and temporarily saves the day which unfortunately undermines her sacrifice. This arc served no purpose other than stalling for the other plots to catch up.
With useless plots comes useless characters. Rose Tico should come to every fan’s mind. She is a bomber pilot that is talented though mourning the death of her sister. She takes it upon herself to capture rebels trying to save themselves from the sinking ship. She then goes on two useless story arcs. The first one being the aforementioned Casino Planet. The second one being the third act which barely serves a purpose, but she is hardly relevant to that. Removing her would have been a major improvement.
Finn likewise is also useless. Throughout the movie we see the hesitant coward we saw in the first movie. He wants Rey but is stuck with Rose Tico the whole time going on a useless journey. And him fighting Brienne of Tarth is by no means a climax. It was a contrived conflict that I suppose was intended for fan service, but there was no real attachment to Brienne of Tarth as a villain. So if we remove Finn, we basically have the same movie, exemplifying his uselessness.
And then we have the Hitler General who only serves as a quite literal punching bag for the other characters.
Incoherent or lack of arcs
Kylo Ren was the most compelling character in the movie, by far. The viewer wants to follow his journey, solve the mysteries surrounding him. The movie does a lot with Kylo Ren, so much that it’s incoherent. Rian Johnson needed a determined outcome for one of the decade’s most anticipated villains. Since he was bested by Rey in The Force Awakens, it would have been wise for The Last Jedi to have set up Kylo Ren to be a credible threat to Rey. But the movie fails to answer an underlying question. Is Kylo Ren supposed to get stronger or weaker? The answer is muddy. Sure he achieves power. But he begins the movie conflicted and ends the movie conflicted. A coherent arc would have been he begins the movie sure of himself and end conflicted or starts of bad ends good. Or he becomes Emperor and the movie ends after that. The third act took the rug right out from the triumph of the villain which would have had a more Empire Strikes Back feel that Rian Johnson erroneously claims. This lateral move shows that the writers have no real direction for the series’ most compelling character.
Rey also has no real arc. But this is because she has no character flaws, no threatening challenges, and no interesting mysteries.
A lot of people didn’t like Snokes dying, but I did. He was too one dimensional to take seriously, and I like what I thought was the direction they were taking Kylo Ren in, only to have to watch the movie’s third act. The movie should have featured him more so that his death while shocking would have meant more.
Now Poe is the one character who had a compelling and coherent story arc that featured a lesson he can take with him into the next movie. In the beginning of the movie he is willing to take giant risks to achieve mild gain as we saw when he led the bombing mission. But by the end of the movie, in the questionable third act, he learns that a Pyrrhic victory is not worth pursuing. This development in his character is a lesson learned that can make him a great leader in the next film. Unfortunately his character is undermined by useless arcs and bad leaders hailed as heroes in the film.
There is much debate over Luke’s character arc, however this is more subjective territory than the previous objective standards in which this movie is terrible. We could sit around and say that the movie was completely disrespectful to Luke’s character who risked everything to save Darth Vader. It comes across as out of character and disrespectful to the lore to have Luke try to kill Ben Solo. However this is premised with the new trilogy being respectful to the canon. Have we forgotten the death of Han Solo in The Force Awakens? Or how this movie is a plagiarized version of A New Hope? At least JJ Abrams in his unimaginative hackery otherwise created a good movie. So with Han Solo’s death, we should have all seen the disrespect of Luke coming. Quite honestly, the Luke thing could have been worse. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t Game of Thrones level of lack of character understanding. It wasn’t even as bad, unreasonable, let alone unoriginal as they did to Han Solo.
The Last Jedi is a movie with a myriad of moving parts and plots. But these plots never converge into one climax or even a few. The movie would have been improved perhaps by removing the last act of the movie where they recreated the beginning of Empire Strikes Back among my other critiques. Instead of good writing, Rian Johnson pursued subversion. The easiest way to subvert your audiences’ expectations is to write non sequitur scenes that take up screen time because the next surprise isn’t ready yet. This low hanging fruit is relentlessly pursued.
Not all “art” is art. And not all art is good. There are objective standards to which art can be measured. In the case of writing we ask ourselves: does it make sense? Was the ending foreshadowed? Are there any plotholes? Or even more basic questions like does every scene serve a purpose in the story?
The Last Jedi fails basic script writing with useless scenes, useless characters, and lack of coherent character development because the movie keeps trying to surprise the audience. For this reason, it is objectively bad.
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