I absolutely love The Last Jedi, and it might well become my favorite Star Wars film after Empire Strikes Back. That said I’m not above admitting there were a lot of problems with the film as well and because nitpicking things I love is perversely one of my favorite things, let’s pick these nits.
[Spoilers for the The Last Jedi are ahead, reader beware.]
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Amazing, Everything You Just Did Is Wrong
There were a lot of legitimate criticisms to level against The Last Jedi, some of this comes down to how JJ Abrams set up his story points in The Force Awakens. There was only so much latitude allowed by how the previous story was setup and I have a feeling that several moments in the film (the Casino Planet in particular) are there specifically to placate Disney’s market research.
How does the “War” In “Star Wars” Actually Work?
So one of the most interesting responses to my review was someone who didn’t buy the whole “the Rebel cruiser is lighter and faster than us” line from the movie. See it made total sense to me at the time, but when I read that comment I thought about why it made sense to me and what I concluded was this: that’s how it worked in the video games. Tie Fighter, my all time favorite Star Wars game featured both the minimum effective range and variable ship speeds based on size. Meanwhile Autocannons, and their shield bypassing effect, and shields only working against energy weapons was introduced in Star Wars: Empire at War.
However when Disney acquired the Star Wars IP they basically declared everything outside the film universe non-canon so I’m actually working off a faulty premise. Taking just the movies, including the prequels, Star Wars has introduced a lot of seemingly contradictory information about the mechanics of space combat.
So the Resistance Cruiser is able to keep its distance, outside of Snoke’s ship primary batteries, but then why wasn’t Princess Leia’s corvette unable to outrun Vader’s Star Destroyer in a New Hope?
Vader’s Star Destroyer destroys the primary reactor on Leia’s blockade runner which allows them to drag it in by the heels, but what about before that? It didn’t seem like they were putting any ground between them and the Star Destroyer even before the engines get knocked out. The Cruiser, larger than the corvette by a wide margin, seems like it should move even slower. Also, even assuming the Snoke’s colossal ship couldn’t catch them, why didn’t the other smaller Star Destroyers in its formation close the gap? Surely if Bigger = Slower then the smaller Star Destroyer escorts should have been able to outpace Snoke’s flagship.
Even ignoring the ship speeds, we see that a mere three close range fighters (albeit one piloted by a dark Jedi), were able to all but cripple the Cruiser. So why did they pull their fighters back instead of launching every single fighter they had? We see literally dozens, if not hundreds, of fighters in the flagship’s hanger later when Finn is about to be executed by Phasma. The Cruiser’s own fighter complement was wiped out and its two escort ships surely couldn’t have provided enough cover to wipe out an entire fleet’s worth of fighters.
Once again though, that tactic didn’t work for the Empire at Endor? And why is that? Why are fighters now able to get passed a large ship’s shields where as before they shrugged off fighter attacks.
On the subject of Super Star Destroyers the suicide attack by the admiral was made to look way too powerful. It crippled not only Snokes ship but a half dozen other Star Destroyers at the same time. Cinematically this was an amazing scene and hearing the entire audience gasp in the silent aftermath of the collision means it landed perfectly. Narratively, however, this scene is problematic because it raises the question why hasn’t this tactic been used before? The next time the Resistance is fighting off a superior enemy fleet, or god forbid, a 4th Death Star, I’m going to wonder why don’t they just ram into it at lightspeed. In fact I’m already starting to wonder if, instead of starships, it wouldn’t be easier to just strap some hyperdrives on a couple asteroids and use those to wipe out the First Order. In my opinion they should have limited the damage to Snoke’s ship, because then it’s a strategic ship-for-ship trade off and the First Order will have more ships than the Resistance, but if you can wipe out a whole fleet by sacrificing one ship… that seems like a trade always worth making.
Some of these problems could have been explained a way with a little more effort. Hux, in his arrogance, might have wanted to let the Resistance stew rather ending them quickly with a swarm of fighters or sending his escort ships. Yet a lot of this is just due to the fact that I don’t believe Disney’s creative team has actually sat down and figured out the rules for their new franchise. I loved seeing some actual technological advancement in Star Wars after seemingly thousands of years of stagnancy. The introduction of electronic warfare, cloaking fields and what is essentially the Star Wars equivalent of the invention of Radar, is especially exciting.
However, unless they sit down and hammer out at least a basic rule set for how Interstellar warfare works in this world, then it won’t mean squat. New technology in war is a game changer, but if the audience doesn’t know the rules of the game, they’ll never notice it change.
The Casino Planet – And What Could Have Been Done Instead
Let’s talk about everyone’s least favorite part of the film: Finn and Rose’s journey to the Casino planet. It felt completely out of place, to the point where I wonder if Disney has some kind of “unique world” count it requires for Star Wars movies. Worst than that, it reminds me of a story about dragons I wrote for a creative writing class once. I too had the main characters leave their home in order to find a magic Macguffin, and the biggest complaint everyone raised with it was that they didn’t understand why they had to leave. There easier and more obvious options available to the characters that would have allowed them to stay. So why did they have to leave? Because I wanted them to travel to a cool new location and instead of coming up with a plausible reason, I just got lazy and contrived a flimsy reason for them to leave.
I got the same impression with all the Casino Planet scenes; why did they have to go find this hacker in person? They contacted Maz easily enough, couldn’t she have just passed on his phone number? Or couldn’t we have just called the Casino and paged him? It seemed like there should have been better ways to accomplish this or, failing that, at least pay for the parking ticket and avoid having to smash most of the city. That being said, I did appreciate some of what was introduced during these scenes.
Weapons dealers selling to both sides, morally ambiguous hackers who defy Star War’s “rogues have hearts of gold” trope, and the introduction of electronic warfare. Yet all of these ideas could have been better served had they taken place on the cruiser. Instead of having them fly off to find the hacker, the hacker should have just come to them and with Del Toro’s hacker on board, many of the rough edges around the cruiser storyline could have been smoothed out.
One of the other problems I had with the film was Admiral Holdo’s refusal to just tell Poe what the plan was. Why was she willing to risk mutiny rather than just tell him the plan, just to drive home some kind of point about having faith? That really doesn’t seem like it’s worth the risk. Now if Benicio Del Torro’s hacker was on board, suddenly her reluctance makes sense because she can’t trust him. She allows Poe to pursue this idea, but keeps Poe in the dark as to their escape plans precisely because she doesn’t trust the loyalty of the hacker he’s working with.
Then when Benicio Del Toro finally betrays the resistance to save his own skin, Admiral Holdo’s caution would have been vindicated, where as now she just seems petty. It wouldn’t have been perfect but overall the story would have been much better served had all the characters remained on the cruiser rather than visiting the Star Wars equivalent of Monte Carlo.
Had the Casino planet been left out there might have been more time to spend on the many overlooked characters.
Secondary Characters Were Ignored
As I pointed out in my review, Star Wars: The Last Jedi featured some of the most complex characterization we’ve seen from Star Wars. Unfortunately that only extended to the primary characters: Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke. Everyone else was ignored or, as is the case with Finn, left to replay the same character arc as the first movie. Poe got some development but thanks to Admiral Holdo’s weird refusal to reveal her plans, his evolution doesn’t feel organic. Still, at least he got something, unlike poor Rose.
Rose could have been a fascinating character, and while she does have her moments, I feel like so much more could have been done. She gets some characterization with her sister’s death and talking about her home being strip-mined and destroyed. Unfortunately instead of delving deeper into her character, the movie instead wasted its time showing Rose and Finn running around the Casino planet like the freaking Roadrunner. Had Rose been allowed to have a few more lines and less time chasing a nonsensical subplot around the hamster wheel, her kiss with Finn might have been the emotional climax of her character arc rather than just a weird “huh?” moment in the film.
The only characters treated worse than Finn and Rose were the villains. General Hux remains a painful caricature openly flirting with the idea of being a straight up parody. In fact when the captain of the Dreadnought shows up, a man with actual gravitas and presence, I was hoping General Hux would be killed off in exchange for him. Unfortunately it turned out to be the other way around.
On the one hand I’m glad “Supreme Leader” Snoke was killed off, he was a boring villain with no personality that was just a blatant attempt by JJ Abrams to recreate the Emperor from the original trilogy. Yet on the other hand I was hoping that, instead of simply killing him, they did something interesting with the character. Reveal to the audience the origin of his wounds, his past, something, anything that might give him some substance. Instead he dies, in an incredibly satisfying way mind you, but it still feels like the easy way out and that more could have been done with the character.
Even worse was the return of Captain Phasma; on the bright side we finally got the boss fight between her and Finn that we’d been waiting for, but it also wasn’t worth dragging down the pace of the narrative just to fit that in. Phasma, despite having armor that is actually capable of resisting laser blasts, is as thin as a cardboard cutout. We know nothing about her or what drives her. Why is she so fiercely loyal to the Empire and why does Finn’s betrayal enrage her so much? Why does she take it personally?
If we’d known the answers to those questions, the final fight between Phasma and Finn might have meant something. Imagine if, as a counterpoint to Rose’s revelation of her tragic past, we find out someone close to Phasma died in a rebel attack? Imagine if her father had been killed on the Death Star, or aboard the Executor during the Battle of Endor. Then we could understand why she was fighting and why she hates Finn so much. Instead what we got was a fight that was just visually interesting and lending nothing to the story at large.
You could swap Phasma for Hux in this scene and, aside from missing out on some cool visuals, nothing would change for the story at large.
And since I couldn’t figure out where else to put this critique: the final scene of The Last Jedi also didn’t quite land with me. A child slave looking like a Dickensian chimney sweep holding a broom handle like a lightsaber wasn’t quite the symbol of hope I think they were hoping it would be. I get what they were going for, that the oppressed like those child slaves, will rise up and take their place in the resistance. Perhaps because the whole casino planet section felt out of place, but it fell flat for me and thus felt like such an odd note to end on.
Speaking of odd notes to end on…
On Luke Skywalker and Ben Solo
There is one criticism I want to tackle that I don’t agree with: that Luke gave up on Kylo Ren. On the surface this criticism makes sense. After all, Luke never gave up on Darth Vader and he was worse by a pretty large margin (we’ve yet to see Kylo Ren murder a subordinate in cold blood) and yet at the end of the film he says he can’t save Kylo Ren. However, you have to pay attention to how he says it and the context in which he says it.
“I have to face [Kylo] and I can’t save him.”
Luke to Leia
Earlier in the film, when Kylo first connects with Rey via the force, he comments that Rey couldn’t be projecting herself because the effort would kill her. Luke, in his final confrontation, is doing exactly that and he’s knows it’s going to kill him. So when he says that he can’t save Kylo, he means he can’t save him. From a certain point of view, what Luke is saying is true.
However, he also tells Leia something else.
“No one is ever truly gone.”
Luke never gave up on Ben Solo. In a moment of weakness and fear he almost killed his own nephew and it haunted him the rest of his life. The fact that his last words are to remind Ben of his father, and quote Han’s favorite phrase back to him, proves that he still thinks someone can reach him. He just knows it won’t be him.
“This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing!”
It took Luke his whole life, but he finally stopped looking away to the future and focused his mind on what was in front of him.