I promised myself I wouldn’t write a review of The Last Jedi until I saw the movie a second time. I didn’t go to see it again in theaters, and I haven’t gotten it yet on Blu Ray, so I haven’t seen it twice.
But, here I am, almost three months after seeing the movie, and I’m finding that my memory is remarkably sharp, even after all this time. And my opinion, previously vitriolic, has mellowed to the point where I feel like I can talk about the work in a reasonable way.
While thinking about The Last Jedi, I realized that it closely resembles another movie that I really like, Interstellar. By which I mean that they share the same problems.
They’re chimeric movies, containing a complete good movie, perhaps a great movie, and a complete bad movie, perhaps a terrible movie, within. The two parts of the movie live in an uneasy tension with each other that never quite resolves. It’s hard to talk about these movies because they’re not good movies with bad parts or bad movies with good parts but contain a healthy enough portion of each to the point where neither outweighs the others. They’re not average, but they have high highs and low lows, and the middle ground is largely forsaken.
They also plod along at times where they really need to be moving the plot, which gives the audience time to dwell on the parts that aren’t working, which can be very deadly.
I’m going to try my best to not be prescriptive, to not tell you what the movie should have been, but rather talk about the movie in a descriptive manner, and judge it based on what was there.
So, I’m going to violate the rule immediately by telling you something that I’m disappointed didn’t get much screen time. There were a lot of relationships in The Force Awakens that don’t get built upon in the follow-up. Rey-Finn, Finn-Poe, and Rey-Han are all mostly absent, which is sad because their interactions are arguably the best part of the previous movie. Obviously, one of the relationships can’t continue, but one has to wonder why the decision was made to radically depart from what was working.
And, I can tell you who made that decision: Rian Johnson. At this point in time, I’m increasingly having problems with movies that were written and directed by the same person. The movies just seem to have imminently-fixable problems so often, but those making the movie lack the objectivity over the script that is needed to see the problems, as the same person is writing the script and moving it to the screen.
So, I think it’s safe to say that this movie lives and dies by Rian Johnson’s decisions. The buck stops here.
He chose to make the movie as dark as he did, and while it’s possible that there could be a good, dark, Star Wars movie, so far, we’re 0 for 2. Rogue One is terrible, and The Last Jedi is chimeric.
It’s going to be hard to do it right because there’s no blueprint for that kind of movie in the Star Wars canon. The original Star Wars is a space opera based on old Flash Gordon serials.
This is super important when establishing how the conflict in a space opera works.
Protagonists in these kinds of works tend to be paper-thin, which is okay as the plot doesn’t need them to have depth in order to work. This isn’t House of Cards, where the plot is driven by the protagonists’ moral shortcomings, but instead, space opera creates its conflict by stacking overwhelming odds against the heroes. The question it asks isn’t “Can the heroes overcome themselves?” but rather, “Can the heroes build themselves up enough to overcome overwhelming odds?”
The answer is inevitably, “yes.”
I think the reason that so many people came away from the movie saying that it “didn’t feel like a Star Wars movie,” is because Rian Johnson’s answer to that question is “no.”
The heroes cannot build themselves up enough to overcome overwhelming odds.
In fact, they would have lost completely if it were not for what essentially amounted to divine intervention in the form of Luke.
The movie is so very dark, but it never justifies itself. As so many have pointed out, it seems to be a reaction against The Force Awakens, going out of its way to denigrate expectations set up in that movie.
It goes on what I’m jokingly calling the “screw you” tour.
Screw you for thinking Rey was someone important.
Screw you for thinking that Snoke was someone important.
Screw you for thinking that Luke would save the day.1
Screw you for thinking that the rebellion stands a chance.
Screw you for thinking that the Force is special.
Screw you for having hope.
And that really hurts the movie.
At times, it feels like Rian Johnson has a personal vendetta against people who like space operas.
“You’re stupid for wanting to believe that things will work out,” he seems to be saying.
And for the life of me, I just can’t figure out why he feels he has to say that. If you’re like me, or Matt Colville, you walked out of the theater feeling like you got punched in the gut.
Everything else, all the movie’s other flaws and tics seem really unimportant compared to that.
The fact of the matter is that you can’t kinda, sorta, do space opera halfway. You can’t spend a movie having characters tear not only each other down, but themselves as well, and fit that nicely into a genre that focuses on building characters up so that they can beat impossible odds.
In order for this to have worked, it would have had to not be a space opera. Instead, it landed somewhere in the soggy middle. Sad!