The Most Painful Words I’ve Ever Written: A Movie Review (Sorta)

Hello. My name is Jason Walker, and I’ve been a loyal and dedicated Star Wars fan since the age of 6 when I saw the original Star Wars movie (A New Hope) at the Chateau Theater in Irving, TX. What follows are the most difficult words I’ve ever spoken or typed. The level of pain I’m experiencing as I write them cannot adequately be expressed in any known language…

I finally saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and …. I didn’t like it.

To understand what it means; to understand how agonizing it is for me to type those words, you must understand the depth of my love for this saga. I can say with complete certainty that since May of 1977 when I saw the movie the first time, a day has not gone by when Star Wars, or something Star Wars related hasn’t crossed my mind. I own all of the movies in multiple formats. I own all of the soundtracks. And, although my collection of Star Wars memorabilia is not what it once was and not what I’d like it to be, it is a constant presence in my life. So, yes, I am a real, true, no-questions-asked Star Wars fan.

Miniatures on my desk.
Vader Bank
The force is with me even when I sleep.

It’s important to note, I think, that I was not one of those Star Wars fans who cringed when I heard the news that George Lucas sold the rights to Star Wars to Mickey Mouse & Co. In fact, my first thought was, “GREAAT! Now we’ll get more movies!” And, when I heard that JJ Abrams was going to direct Episode 7, I jumped for joy. His reboot of Star Trek has been nothing short of miraculous, and despite the last two indescribably confusing seasons, I love Lost. When I saw The Force Awakens at midnight in a theater with 200 of my closest friends, I was not disappointed. Abrams did a masterful job of returning the saga to its once great and near-lost glory. Then, last year, when we finally learned what happened just before Princess Leia was captured by Darth Vader while attempting to recruit Obi Wan Kenobi to help save the rebellion, Rogue One became my second favorite Star Wars movie of all, just behind The Empire Strikes Back. Finally, the story of how rebel spies got their hands on the Death Star plans and beamed them to the rebel fleet. Finally, a Star WARS movie that was a real war movie; and what a fantastic one! Plus, we got to see Darth Vader being a total Sith Lord BADASS!! The Star Wars saga reboot was, in my mind anyway, beyond successful.

Aside: don’t argue with me that The Force Awakens was just a rehash of A New Hope. A) A brand new audience needed to know what Star Wars is about, and B) it just wasn’t…okay?!

So, I was ready for The Last Jedi! I was ready to find out who Supreme Leader Snoke really was. I was ready to find out who Rey’s parents were. I was ready to find out why Luke had been hiding himself away on that isolated island for so many years. I was ready to find out why Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren, was so mad at momma and daddy. I was ready to watch Po and Finn risk it all for the sake of the resistance. Alas, none of that was to be. I didn’t like this movie, and now I’m (finally) going to tell you why.

There were a number of things “wrong” with this movie, so rather than bore you with a start to finish play-by-play, I’m going to list out what I consider to be its major flaws (in no certain order of importance):

Flat Characters & Unanswered Questions
One of the great things we got in Empire Strikes Back, the second installment of the first trilogy, was good character development. Irvin Kershner, the director of Empire, was tapped by Lucas to helm the follow-up to A New Hope specifically because he was well-known for his focus on character development. Lucas wanted his characters to have more depth than they did in Episode 4, and “Kersh” gave him (and us) just that. Empire had plenty of action, but a deliberately slower pace than A New Hope–we learned more from it. So, I hoped that after the huge hit that The Force Awakens had been, Rian Johnson would slow the pace a bit and tell us just exactly who Rey, Finn, Po, and Kylo are.

We need to know who Rey’s parents are. Why is she, at the least force-sensitive, or more likely, naturally adept in the Jedi Arts? Did that come from her family? (God help us, please not the midichlorians again!) How did she end up orphaned on Jakku? Please, for the love of all that is still good in the galaxy tell us who Rey is! But, no. We still don’t know…unless Kylo is right and her parents were just deadbeats who left her there only to die penniless in the Jakku desert. That can’t really be true, can it?

We need to know (more) about how Ben Solo became Kylo Ren. How did Snoke get into his head and snatch him away from Luke’s reformed Jedi Order? Okay, sure, we got a little bit of the story, but not enough. Did Ben Solo just have too much of his grandpappy’s (Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader) blood in him? Is that how Snoke sensed his presence on the Dark Side? And, who the hell is Snoke? Is he Darth Sidius reincarnated? Is he Darth Vader reincarnated? Is he Darth Tyrannis? Is he Darth Sombodyelseius? Or, is he just a really, really beat up old guy who is sensitive to the Dark Side of the Force? These are questions that need to be answered, but now I guess they never will be because Snoke is beside himself thanks to Kylo, who had a Vader-esque moment and saved Rey from certain death, but was, in the end, not redeemed like grandpa.

Those are story elements that we actually need to know, but still don’t. In the want to know category we have the following: where did the First Order come from? Are they Empire leftovers who are still just really pissed that they lost the war? Are they rebellion rejects who just really like to fight? I want to know this. Why did the reconstituted Republic not have an army and fleet of its own to keep peace? Surely they knew these guys (the First Order guys) were still around? Why was there only a resistance force that was (or wasn’t) sort of part of the Republic, but not really….? And, why is Leia only a general now and no longer a princess? I don’t know, but I want to know.

And, finally, Captain Phasma….why? Just, why? I mean, supposedly Phasma is this ruthless hardass Stormtrooper commander/trainer–so awesome that she gets silver armor and a cape; but in the two movies she appears, she’s on screen for a grand total of, what, 5 minutes? And, she doesn’t really do anything particularly fearsome. She just kinda walks around and tells people they’re about to die. Then, in the end, her training methods are so spectacular that her own troops are persuaded in like 15 seconds to turn on her. Interestingly, in this scene we are treated to some pretty remarkable and utterly un-Stormtrooperlike marksmanship by Phasma…right before she dies. *shrug*

Chaotic Storytelling & Unnecessary Additions
Kathleen Kennedy, who I give mad props to as producer on MANY great movies, says that part of the reason she chose Rian Johnson to direct Episode 8 is because she liked his storytelling style (that’s a paraphrase, of course). I haven’t seen anything else that Johnson did, so I can’t say how I’d feel about those movies, but if they’re anything like this one…well, I’ll just leave it there.

This story was complete chaos. When I described the feeling I experienced when I watched it the first time, I said that it reminded me a lot of seeing a shirt covered in fringe and not having the faintest damn clue why all that fringe was there. It was all just too much. The Last Jedi is a collection of disparate storylines flailing around in the wind, not really connected to one another, but precariously stitched to the big picture…a shirt with unnecessary fringe. I couldn’t keep up with where I was, and where I was going. I mean, I really wanted to go with them, but I’m not 100% sure they knew where they were going. It’s not that I can’t follow complex storylines and plots. I teach students how to do that, for goodness sake. But, these were too complicated; too chaotic; underdeveloped; and some of them were completely unnecessary.

You can’t track through hyperspace. Wait a minute, yes you can! The Empire did it in A New Hope when a homing beacon was placed on the Millenium Falcon, and allowed them to find the hidden rebel base. Oh, well, whatever…anyway, you’re not supposed to be able to track through hyperspace, but the First Order has figured out a way to do it without a tracking device on the other ships but they can only track from their lead ship. So Finn, Rose, and Po get on a Skype video chat with Maz Kanata, who is busy fighting someone (we don’t know who), and find out that the only way to disable this device, that looks something like the dilithium crystal that killed Spock in The Wrath of Khan, is for Finn and Rose to go to Las Vegas (give me a break, I can’t remember the name of the planet), find a guy wearing a red brooch on his lapel, and convince him (oh yeah, he’s a codebreaker) to come back with them and break the code on the tracking dilithium crystal thingy so that the resistance fleet can get away, but they have to be quick about it because the fleet is running out of fuel, and eventually the First Order ships will catch up to them. But, while Finn and Rose are on the casino planet making political statements about weapons dealers and child labor and animal cruelty and Rose’s childhood as a slave to a gang of ruthless weird-horse-looking-thing trainers /slash/ weapons dealers (wait….was that it? God, I’m so confused…), they get caught and don’t get the fancy man with the brooch, and have to settle for a rather swarthy codebreaker they meet in jail who assures them that he can help, but first Rose has to hand over her half of the locket thingy that she and her sister, who died in the first 5 minutes of the movie, shared. She reluctantly does it, and they head back to the fleet. Are you tired yet? I’m exhausted, and we’ve only just begun!

Are we cloaked or aren’t we? Throughout the movie, various characters talk about things being cloaked. Now, we know from The Empire Strikes Back that cloaking devices exist in the Star Wars universe because Captain Needa exclaims, “No ship that small has a cloaking device,” just after he loses track of the Millenium Falcon as they emerged from the asteroid field. But, in The Last Jedi, it seems that a lot of things can be cloaked, and that some things you would think could be cloaked can’t…or something. Some time before Rey left to go find Luke, Princess…errr General Leia gave her a fancy bracelet that was a tracking device, only I think it was cloaked (Finn said it was, maybe) so that the First Order couldn’t track the tracker. Also, contrary to Captain Needa’s claim in Empire, the very small resistance transports had cloaking devices on them because they couldn’t be seen heading toward the salt planet until the swarthy codebreaker that Finn and Rose picked up broke the cloaking code (is that what he did?) and revealed them to the First Order, who promptly started picking them off one at a time even though the fleet was supposedly too far out of range for the Star Destroyers’ canons. I guess small ships can have cloaking devices after all (in your face, Needa), but the big cruisers and medical frigates didn’t, or if they did their commanders chose not to use them? I really don’t know for sure.

Yoda’s still making a mess. Luke decides that it’s time for the Jedi Order to be destroyed once and for all, so he heads up the hill to this big tree/cave where the ancient Jedi texts are kept intent on wiping it all out. But, then he has a change of heart and decides not to do it. Just then, out of nowhere, Yoda appears in the form of a Force Ghost and basically taunts Luke for still being that kid on Tatooine looking toward the horizon. Then Yoda, in a move reminiscent of Charlton Heston’s “Moses” in The Ten Commandments, calls down lightning which strikes the tree and sets it ablaze, destroying those ancient texts. Then he harangues Luke about being a failure and then he disappears and we don’t see him again for the rest of the movie.

The Curse of the Prequels: Too Much CGI
Okay, I get it. We can do anything with computers these days. But, part of the charm of the original trilogy was that it was all real. Nothing, or very few things, were computer generated. Almost everything was filmed “in camera” as they say. That was also part of the problem with the prequel trilogy. George Lucas relied way too heavily on CGI, and by the time we got to Revenge of the Sith it looked more like an animated feature with a few real people in it than it did the opposite. One of the reasons I liked The Force Awakens so much is because JJ Abrams shied away from using too much CGI, and filmed most of the movie in camera–real sets, real props, real characters. But, Johnson slipped backward and brought too much artificial back into the movie. The first scene was cartoonish, and so was a lot of what followed. Not to be cliché, but…

I could go on, but I won’t.

It was all just so confusing, and so disappointing, and so heartbreaking. I desperately wanted to like this movie. I wanted it to be as good as The Force Awakens, and I wanted it to be as great as Rogue One. Hopefully this is just a blip, and the Solo movie, Episode 9, and the upcoming, as yet unnamed non-Skywalker trilogy will be better.

In the end, I’ll probably watch it again, and I’ll definitely buy it on Blu-Ray, and I’ll buy the soundtrack because that’s what fans do. They stick around even when times are tough. But, as far as letting Rian Johnson put his mark on another Star Wars movie, I’ll let Queen Amidala, Ruler of the Naboo have the last word.

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