This isn't as cut-and-dry as Jurassic World or Alien: Covenant. Star Wars: The Last Jedi has really torn a rift in the fan-base, and I number myself among those torn. It should not be surprising that I am having more difficulty that originally expected coming to terms with my opinions on this film. That is why I decided to write a second article, rather than amend my original. I want those original thoughts to still exist, as they are important. But there are other things I need get down, other conclusions and discussions had around this film that have altered my views.
I started overwhelmingly positive, and then turned fairly negative when I wrote my last article. And then I went positive again, and now I'm... Well, not as different from my first article as I expected.
Oh, and this article will have TONS OF SPOILERS. The last article was fairly ambiguous, almost to its detriment. So be prepared to have The Last Jedi spoiled if you read on.
The Last Jedi has three main stories that begin branched as we move into it from The Force Awakens and end up all converged on the Millenium Falcon by the end of the film's 2.5 hour run time. I have very different, very conflicted, feelings about each of these. And since I want to end this article on a high note, let's from the one I generally see as the worst to the one I generally see as the best.
Finn and Rose: Hey, We're Here Too
After the opening act, attempted-deserter Finn and super-fan Rose fly off to a casino world in order to find a master code-breaker to free the remaining Resistance fleet from the First Order. That's fine. It feels a little forced on the outset but it's fine. Let's see where it goes.
By the end of that story this is what we get out of it: good character development for Rose, an interesting cameo from Benicio del Toro, an awesome fight with Captain Phasma, and... that's it.
This side plot is the easiest to cut and rework, in my opinion. It simply existed to give Finn something to do, and to characterize Rose (which we could've easily done elsewhere). Benicio was a fun addition but ultimately unnecessary as he betrays the characters in the end, and Captain Phasma was pure, transparent fan-service.
Ultimately this story is far and away my least favorite thing about The Last Jedi, as it had no bearing on the plot as a whole and just felt like a waste of the audience's time.
Holdo, Poe, and Leia: Just Talk, People
While Finn and Rose are off playing Casino Royale, the main collection of our heroes are dealing with the primary threat of the First Order. They are locked in a sub-light pursuit through space, as the First Order has crazy new technology that can track targets through hyperspace, and the Resistance is swiftly losing fuel.
After suffering a devastating blow to its command bridge, we see the death of Admiral Ackbar and Commander Leia falling into a coma for most of the film. This leaves control to Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), who is confident and determined, but also oddly reluctant to share her plans, even when faced with straight-up mutiny. Poe becomes so desperate at what he views as blundering leadership that he convinces his pilots to hold the commanding officers at gunpoint and attempt to take the ship over (to limited success). It creates tension and excitement, sure, but why would Holdo not take a moment, when she begins to see things spiraling out of control, to say "Hey, I've got a plan, dummy. We're going to take the transports to this abandoned Resistance base. So back off"? I get the whole 'I'm in charge, he needs to respect that' angle, but come on. Holdo is a smart enough woman to know when to avoid her own pilots turning against her.
So what do we gain from this story? Poe gets to be a hothead. We get the awesome character of Holdo culminated by her epic sacrifice. And this also serves as the focal point to which all of our stories will return. It felt strong, if there were some contrivances that we're forced to adhere to.
Rey, Luke and Kylo: The Real Deal
Now is where the film gets really interesting. Rey's training with Luke is everything I wanted it to be and more. The backstory reveal behind Luke and Ben felt like it connected all of the Star Wars movies in one single moment of Skywalker conviction, and the connection between Rey and Kylo - while questionable once we learn it was engineered by Snoke - offered nice breaks to remind us what was ultimately at stake.
Then Rey is brought back in to the main plot as she and Kylo stand before Snoke. Kylo betrays Snoke, and the ensuing fight between Rey, Kylo and the Royal Guard is very exciting and well choreographed. However, what we get from this are two strange turns in the story:
1. Kylo betrayed Snoke in order to become the Supreme Leader himself. Does this fit his character? Sure. I can get behind it. It was disappointing to see Snoke die before we ever really got any inclination of who he was. I understand the film's desire to break our expectations, but at the same time it makes promises of the previous film ring hollow. It basically just comes down to - what I would consider - is bad storytelling. More on that to come.
2. Kylo has 'learned the truth behind Rey's parents'. He claims she comes from nobodies, from scavengers at the ass-end of space who sold her for drinking money. While I doubt this is true, considering it came from Kylo, if it ends up being the case it will be incredibly frustrating.
And then the film culminates in our heroes reconvening for a truncated ground battle against Imperial Walkers, a final confrontation between Kylo and Luke, and the Resistance being reduced to about a dozen individuals all on the Millenium Falcon.
On Consistency and Expectations
Now is the time for me to return to my tried and true discussion of Hollywood redoing itself. I've talked about it with Alien, Jurassic Park, and even previous Star Wars films. But this argument takes on entirely new context in the wake of The Last Jedi.
The argument has been pushed forth that The Last Jedi is all about subverting our expectations as Star Wars fans. A particularly eye-opening article I read was even titled "The Last Jedi doesn't care about your relationship with Star Wars." I totally respect Rian Johnson and the rest of the crew behind this film taking such a hardline stance on this franchise. It's bold and it's admirable.
But it's wrong.
Perhaps this is what happens when we start getting Star Wars movies where George Lucas's concepts of storytelling are no longer the driving force, for good or ill. For the first time in my life, I'm watching Star Wars movies that aren't telegraphing their story from the outset.
But the series as a whole is established on certain principles of storytelling that, when you suddenly break those principles and try to establish a new identity, it needs to be done with the utmost of care. This is a franchise that is pushing 50 years old now, and while it definitely has its ups and downs, it also has an undeniable framework from which it tells its cinematic stories. The Force Awakens copied that framework without being different enough. The Last Jedi shattered the framework and tried to build a new one from the remains.
I respect the decisions made with this film (mostly), but at the end of the day I don't feel like The Last Jedi handled its bold, new stance in the setting well-enough to overshadow its own faults. The plot has its fair share of hole and unnecessary loops, of trivial threads and contrivances. If it sought to reinvent what we knew to be Star Wars, it should have done so with rock-solid execution. But what we got was a deeply flawed execution, which would have been fine and acceptable for a normal Star Wars film. But for one with as ambitious designs as this one, it wasn't enough. Now, where many of its flaws could have been excused, they are instead magnified, turning what should have been the most important movie in the saga to one that feels utterly disingenuous.