**Spoiler Alert, yada-yada**
As I wrote my review of The Last Jedi, it became clear that my opinion of the latest Star Wars film makes the most sense in the context of the overall state of Star Wars. Since Disney took over the franchise, Star Wars has been dying many deaths. The three big deaths of Star Wars are similar to the deaths of Han, Luke, and Leia as portrayed in the new films.
Growing up I read every single expanded universe Star Wars novel and comic out there. So when I heard that a new Star Wars book was coming out, I couldn’t wait. Like so many others, I pre-ordered it a year in advance before the title was even determined. They made bank before a single word was written, and clearly didn’t feel a need to do much more than that. The first installment in the new canon, “Star Wars: Aftermath,” is a whole new level of bad. It was written in 40 days, and the writing and story show as much. It was so bad that I didn’t bother reading the next two books in the Aftermath series. This is Leia’s (likely) death: a quickly thrown together, poorly executed, unsatisfying event.
Growing up I also played every Star Wars video game out there. Dark Forces, Mysteries of the Sith, Jedi Academy, Battlefront – so many excellent games! So when EA announced that they were going to reboot Battlefront, I was all in. Yet EA’s Battlefront was a huge letdown. Thinking that of course EA would have learned from its mistakes, I pre-ordered the follow-up game with hesitant excitement. Infamously, Battlefront 2 was not only a letdown, but a downright betrayal of the Star Wars fan base and the larger gaming community. It was so bad that I forfeited my pre-order money and boycotted it. A painful decision that I still feel tempted to reverse, but know that I must stay strong. This is Han’s death: a dark side lightsaber to the gut from something I loved so dearly and thought could be saved.
And then there’s The Last Jedi. I expect that the vast majority of the audience will love this film, and I understand why. There were parts of The Last Jedi that I liked. The throne room scene in particular was excellent. But I’ve rated it overall at about 4/10. I fear that I’m landing in the same place with the films as I have with the books and games: this is the end of the road for me.
First, the premise of the Resistance storyline is lame and ridiculous: a 2-hour-long slow-speed chase through the vacuum of space. They hatch a plan to find a code breaker who can help them disable the First Order tracking system long enough for them to escape. This is lamer than dragging out a podrace to get credits to repair a ship hyperdrive. And then there are the plot holes. If Finn and Rose can somehow just leave the Resistance fleet undetected and go to another planet to have a joyride with a herd of cats, why not just go back and forth shuttling people? Why not have one of their ships do the light speed kamikaze on Snoke’s ship at the beginning? Why not have some First Order ships jump in front of the Resistance to cut them off? Or either side call on reinforcements from pretty much anywhere in the galaxy?
Second, it fails to answer, or even attempt to answer, some of the biggest questions we had from The Force Awakens:
Who is Snoke? Who trained him? How did he seduce Ben Solo to the Dark Side? How did Phasma survive?
These losses are more disappointing than watching the most awesome villain in the galaxy get cut in half and clatter down a bottomless shaft. The one question that Rian does answer – who are Rey’s parents? – is a huge letdown, intentionally delivered to be deflating. (Not to mention the travesty that is the off-screen death of Admiral Ackbar!) And this isn’t just about deep-rooted die-hard fan theories. These are questions that Abrams invited us to ask. These are storylines that could be deep, interesting, and compelling. I’m willing to embrace the unexpected twists and new directions, but Rian abuses the Star Wars fanbase in the way he carelessly wields the franchise.
The failure to answer these questions is a consequence of a larger failure: this movie isn’t concerned with storytelling or deep character development. The script failed the cast. Phasma is killed off with no development – again. Snoke has so much mystery and potential, yet is killed off with very little screen time or backstory. Instead we get a long, awful, meaningless subplot of Finn and Rose riding giant cats through a casino and forest. (Seriously, that subplot was so bad that even the brilliant John Williams couldn’t get around it! The Canto Bight score sounds like something from the Little Mermaid.) I’m glad that Disney is adding ethnic and gender diversity to the cast. Representation is important, and in that sense, The Last Jedi takes a step in the right direction. But having a diverse cast without giving women and characters of color fully-orbed, compelling storylines ultimately does a disservice instead of advancing the cause. Rose is a bundle of cliches, including an out-of-nowhere kiss just for kicks. Her subplot felt more like a scene from the Hunger Games. Speaking of The Hunger Games, purple-haired Laura Dern’s performance as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo is stiff, cold, and forced. I wasn’t sad to see her go.
Worst of all, Rian doesn’t seem to know about indirect, artistic communication. He does, however, know how to beat a theme to death with cliches and blatant references rammed down our throats. Bambi had more subtlety to its message. I don’t want to be spoon-fed lessons about success and failure, light and dark, good and evil, poor and rich, women and men. I want to be shown a story that invites me to discover those themes and lessons for myself. My awareness of Rian’s worldview being forced upon me repeatedly broke the spell and pulled me out of the galaxy far far away back into my cold theater chair. Neither the story nor the theme were done well thanks to Rian’s Disney-esque style and delivery.
I’m in scary, unfamiliar territory. What is this new world where I don’t love everything Star Wars?
It’s great that Disney is trying to bring new life, characters, and style to Star Wars. I was so excited that Star Wars was being revived once again. There will be a new generation of fans of whatever Star Wars becomes. Perhaps J.J. will heed the words of Rian’s Yoda: “The greatest teacher, failure is.” It’s possible that Abrams can redeem this trilogy with Episode IX, but I don’t have much hope. Sadly it seems that Star Wars is going down a path that I cannot follow. I will always love what Star Wars was at the beginning. That will have to be enough as my speeder comes to a halt. This is Luke’s death: after holding on for as long as I could, it’s time to move on and let the next generation do the Star Wars fan thing.
Here are 2 articles that I appreciate and say it better than I: