Star Wars: The Last Jedi - An Angry Codger's Rant
Warning - spoilers abound here. Never mind what happens elsewhere in this node, I'm going to discuss the plot, scenes, decisions made, lines, etc.
I went to see this movie the opening night, like I have literally every other Star Wars movie save the original (and fuck you, it's not 'Episode 4: A New Hope' because when it was released none of that bullshit had been tacked onto it yet). That one I saw the day *after* it was released, because it took that long for a friend of mine to see it and then tell me that I had to get my parents to take me to see it, like, right now.
I saw it with my brother, and with a group of younger, serious Star Wars enthusiasts. We had to take the LIRR out into the sticks to find a place which had opening night tickets at a time we could reach.
I had fun. A lot of it. But that's not what this review is about.
This review is about the following days, where I thought about the movie I'd watched. And what I thought when I saw it again, a few days later - this time with some of the same friends I'd seen the originals with.
I like Star Wars. Quite a bit. It's a huge part of my formative years, and it's informed a lot of my opinions on sci-fi, fantasy, movies, and entertainment in general. I liked this movie when I first watched it. I was entertained; I felt it had a decent balance between action and plot with a few lighter moments, and the crowd was enthusiastic. It wasn't until I got out of the theater and started thinking it that I really began to get angry.
But first, what's good about it? Why did I enjoy it at first blush? I think a huge chunk of it was nostalgia, and just seeing Mark Hamill on screen in Star Wars again was a kick. Seeing a proper puppet version of Yoda, as opposed to jumping-spider-CGI version, was great. It was wonderful to see Carrie Fisher, one last time as a human actor. The one main 'whoa' special effect shot - the equivalent of the Death Star explosion in Star Wars, or the complex's destruction in Rogue One - was extremely well done.
There were comedy touches that were balanced. The porgs, specifically - they were kept to a limited visual gag, which made them work, and made them funny - and in fact were apparently a clever hack to cope with a real physical problem. Namely, the island of Skellig Michael - the real island where the Jedi retreat of Skywalker was filmed - is inhabited by a large number of puffins. These somewhat silly birds were impossible to physically keep out of the outdoor shots, and fully erasing them digitally in post-production was a bunch of work. So instead, most of the porgs you see in the movie are errant puffins, digitally modified.
But, really, what was wrong with it began to overwhelm what was right with it - because what was wrong with it mostly involved thought, and thus stuck with me, as opposed to what was right with it which was all tugging on in-the-moment responses.
Let's start with the easy, lighter stuff. There are some really, really, really cringe-inducing lines in this movie. I'm not sure if they're Disney-influenced, or just Rian Johnson really having no fucking idea what he was doing vis-a-vis the tone and characters, or the actors not being given enough guidance and riffing on things badly. But to hear Luke Skywalker use the term 'laser sword,' even in sarcasm - or to hear Finn call Captain Phasma 'chrome dome' - was jarringly out of place, and honestly terrible.
That's not the real source of my anger with this movie, however. The real source of my anger is the utter lack of care with which this film wastes, ignores, trashes or otherwise ruins a myriad of character and plot threads, some of which involve stories going far back in both the movie series and the internal universe history. Let me give you the one main example I give when people ask me to explain this in person.
The bridge of the Republic cruiser is destroyed. We will ignore, for now, the Leia-Superwomans-through-space bit, and instead concentrate on something the movie entirely fucking ignores, save for one later offhand remark.
Admiral Ackbar is killed.
Now, the fact that they killed him isn't a problem. He's a serving military officer, after all, and his fleet is being systematically destroyed. No, what bothers me is this: who the fuck is Admiral Holdo and why the fuck should I care? There are only two reasons that character is there - one, to give Laura Dern a role in the series, and two, to have a 'strong woman' character at the top who isn't Leia. Now both of those motives are perfectly fine. The problem is this - they utterly fucking waste Ackbar's death in order to do this. When Holdo kamikazes the cruiser, it had nearly zero emotional impact on me, because I'd just met her, I didn't really like her (by design), and I had no idea who she was or what she was supposed to have done. She was an utter puppet. She didn't matter to me as a character, at least not compared to Ackbar.
Who they had just killed. Without mentioning it. Despite the fact that he made so, so, SO much more sense as the kamikaze. I would have been fine if Holdo went with him (I wouldn't have cared). But think about it. This is a man (well, squid. Er, Mon Calamari) who we have watched give his life to the cause of the Rebellion and then the Republic. A man who had watched his fleet grow from a ragtag group of Rebel ships, to the fleets of the New Republic. A man who had then watched his force dwindle until nothing was left but the ship he stood on, and the few beings riding it. This is the perfect character to take that death ride. His death has meaning. His life arc is complete. He is already a hero of the Rebellion, and he'll be a legend of the New Republic (or New New Republic or whatever).
Why the fuck didn't Ackbar end up the kamikaze, versus dying with nary a goddamn mention?
...never mind the fact that the kamikaze does horrible damage to the Star Wars saga plot. I mean...if hyperdrive kamikazes are a thing, why was the Death Star a problem at all? Why couldn't you just build a big massive thing with a hyperdrive on it, and then kamikaze it? This is a problem along the same lines as 'visible hyperlight Starkiller weapons' or 'everything in Star Wars seems to be 10 minutes apart in hyperdrive.' While you can have fantastic things happen - this is, after all, a Space Fantasy movie - there needs to be internal consistency to your flights of fancy, otherwise your plot falls right apart. Like this one sort of has done.
That's one example. There are others. Maz Kanata - a fascinating character, whose introduction in Star Wars: The Force Awakens gave us someone with a mysterious but clearly important past, connected intimately to the story we know and love. She knows Han and Chewie, clearly of old - enough to call Chewie (only partly in jest) her boyfriend. She has Anakin and Luke's lightsaber, for pete's sake! Just the story of how that item found its way from the depths of the Tibanna gas mine Cloud City, on Bespin, into her tavern's basement storage room, is a tale I really want to see. The fact that she could tell, looking at Rey when she touched it, that something special was happening - this is a mystic, and a power, and wise character. Also, clearly, a scoundrel. Which is amazing! The big problem with the Jedi? They're frigging boring. They're saccharine do-gooders. The Sith and their Imperial/First Order lackeys? Boring. One-dimensional evil. Mia Maz, now - this is someone like Han, someone who lives in the gray area - but who is nevertheless critical.
This movie uses her only for a shitty sight gag ex machina phone call, to provide expository lumps, and to set up the stupidest subplot of the film. We never even see her except through the damn holophone.
Supreme leader Snoke. Who the hell is he? We don't know! Between the two recent films, much speculation was to be found on what his story was - almost as much, if not more, than on who the hell Rey is. Where did he come from? Did he possibly even predate Palpatine? Who was he? What is his Big Bad Plan, which clearly anchors the entire trilogy?
Nope. Just kidding. He'll die from a quick cheap trick, and worse, with no explanations whatsoever, in favor of basically a really annoying whiny nihilistic kid - in essence, every surly male teenager ever, but with powers.
This is what pissed me off. Not only is there no nuance, no gray area, but the two sides are utterly flat and there are huge quantities of the rich lore and universe that is Star Wars WASTED, storylines closed off, questions answered with careless bullshit trivia, never to be developed.
That's what makes me angry whenever I think about it.