The Last Jedi: A Mirror, Slowly Cracking

[Warning: deeper into this review, you will be walking onto the muddy streets of lawless SPOILERTOWN. Ye have been warned.]

This will be less a review of The Last Jedi (Episode VIII) than it will be… my thoughts? An analysis? Me opening my head like a flip-top Pac-Men and seeing what globs of brain-goo I can grab and hastily smack into the screen?

If you want my review, it’s this:

WOOOOOO

YAAAAAAY

OH WHOA

WAIT

WOW

AHHHHHH

*pant pant pant*

NO WAY DID THEY JUST

THEY DID

AND NOW

BUT THEN

OH HOLY SHIT

WAIT BUT THAT MEANS

*gesticulates wildly*

And, close.

I fucking loved it.

That’s it. That’s my review. It’s mostly just a series of excitable sounds with the occasional twirling around until I’m dizzy. But I’d rather look past my gibbon-like hoots and my strange, erotic dances and see what lies within. What lurks deeper. What do I see when I enter the DARK SIDE CAVE to have the truth revealed to me?

Your Expectations Will Not Be Met

Fandom is a tricky bear to wrestle. We love a thing so deeply, we entwine ourselves within it. We thread a little bit — sometimes a lot — of our identity into the thing. And we come to believe we own that thing, and further, we join a tribe of fellow owners who all have threaded themselves into it both intellectually and emotionally. We feel excited by what this thing can bring us. We develop pet theories. We craft and conjure the path we would take if we were ever handed the keys to the Thing We Love. We become excited and obsessive, a little bit. Sometimes a lotta bit.

But here’s the thing:

Stories can never be written for the fans.

Fan service isn’t a bad thing, per se, but it is sometimes a fairly lazy thing — it’s a comfortable signal, a soft chair, it’s Norm from Cheers where everybody knows his name. It’s to say, “You’re lost here, but look, here is a familiar friend to help you through. It’s to let you know that despite all the strange flora and the eyes glowing in the dark, you’re still a known quantity in a known land. This is a safe place.” When done overmuch, fan service does more than just introduce a few friendly faces. It burns down the trees. It lights up the dark. It slides a jukebox over and slams the top of it like it’s fucking Fonzie and suddenly, the Greatest Hits begin to play, just as you love them. Maybe in an order you don’t know, but still the songs you know and you adore.

The Last Jedi is not without its fan service moments, but they are few and far-between, and even when they exist, they exist to challenge you more than they do to bring you succor.

The Last Jedi will not meet your expectations.

Oh, it knows them.

It is well-aware of them, in fact, and is well-aware that you have them. And it willfully… I don’t want to say disregards them, precisely, but in a sense, it has weaponized them against you. It knows you’ve seen all the movies. It knows you know the narrative beats, the tropes, the rhyming couplets of George Lucas, and then it gently puts them all in a magician’s hat, and then it reaches into the hat, and instead of pulling them back out, it pulls out a porg.

And then the movie hits you with the porg.

Whap.

That metaphor may have gotten a little out of hand, but I think you grok me.

The Last Jedi cares very much about your expectations.

It’s just not going to meet them.

You, a fan, have explicit ideas about what a Star Wars movie can and should do, and it’s going to use that against you. And it’s going to play for a larger audience, as it must. It can’t work just for you, dear fan — never mind the fact that fandom is not a singular, globular entity, like a giant amoeba with one set of desires to be met. It has to go bigger. It has to please a wide variety of viewers while trying to make new fans along the way.

This message is clear within the first 20 minutes of the movie.

[Once again, turn back, for HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.]

We expect Luke to take his old lightsaber — really, Anakin’s old lightsaber — and regard it as the way one should regard something that was last seen in your pre-severed hand. I mean, if last time I saw a Hummel figurine was in my hand that got lopped off, and then decades later you traipsed up to me on my creepy hermit island and handed me that very Hummel figurine, I’d look at you like you were Jesus Christ Himself, because, what the fuck. But that’s not what Luke does. He regards the lightsaber and instead, chucks it behind him, where a couple of porgs try to murder each other with it.

We expect Poe’s half-wit fly-boy hero plan to work, because in these movies, the dimwit hero plan always works — Han Solo always gets them out of a scrape by doing something very Han Solo, for instance, and so we trust that Poe is living by his instincts, and those will save the day. Except that’s not what happens. His efforts fuck it all up. Arguably, much of the film is based on his gigantic fuck-up. Lives are lost because of Poe Dameron.

We expect Vice Admiral Holdo doesn’t know what she’s doing, and that the snappy man who demands the plan is in the right. But he’s not. We expect incorrectly. She’s right. He’s wrong. She doesn’t owe him shit. And yet he, the demanding man, is assured that he is right and must be told the plan, and his Sexist Hero Man routine gets people killed.

We expect Rey to turn. Or Kylo to turn. They don’t.

We expect Snoke to be a grand puppetmaster, the Emperor Palpatine of the trilogy, and that he’ll — ooh, oops, he’s now cut in half? Or more than half? Was that a hand still sitting on the arm of his throne room chair? Somebody get some antibacterial ointment in that joint, post-haste.

We expect that our heroes must be chosen ones, that they come from special families, that they have been born of destiny — not that they are the children of drunken junkers, not that they once mopped a star destroyer, not that they are a lone mechanic weeping over the loss of a sister.

Often, our expectations are based on what we know of the former films — we know that the big AT-AT battle means a scrappy band will take some of those AT-ATs down and they’ll escape, but this escape is not so plucky, nor does it begin the film. It ends it. And it nearly ends the resistance. The heroic sacrifice of Finn — an expected moment — is thwarted by Rose, who kisses him. (We expected that to be Rey, didn’t we?)

In the throne room, we expect it will go like it did in Return of the Jedi — and it does, a little. Snoke is ultimately the Emperor, in that he’s a Sinister Puppetmaster with a lot of buildup but not a lot of meat on those bones. (Remember: Palpatine/Sidious only gets those deeper character beats much, much later, long after ROTJ left theaters.) The dark apprentice does turn on his master to save another, but Kylo’s turn is not the sacrifice of Vader but rather, a Sith-like move to eradicate the master and take on a new apprentice: Rey. Kylo does not turn to the light-side. He simply turns against Snoke. He fulfills the Dark Side’s wishes. (And then promptly begs and negs Rey when she won’t take his hand. “You’re nobody,” he tells her. “Please.”) And all of this happens in the second film of the trilogy, not the third — another subversion.

And that’s the word to note.

Subversion.

Another word:

Mutation.

Chaos theory.

Butterfly effect.

Ripples from thrown stones.

Or —

A Mirror, Slowly Cracking

It goes like this:

The Force Awakens was a little bit comfort food. It needed to be. It needed to play off our nostalgia. It needed to have the cut of A New Hope’s jib. We needed a reminder that we know this thing, that we love this thing.

But to go back to the jukebox metaphor, it didn’t play The Greatest Hits only. Or rather, it played them, but they were played by a new band, or performed live, or remixed, or played in a different key. The Force Awakens was comfort food, but with a few odd ingredients thrown in — “Wait, what the fuck is shiso? Is this bison? Are persimmons a real thing? Is this a persimmon or are those fruits you get in Narnia?”

The Force Awakens birthed mutations into the narrative code of Star Wars. It threw rocks into water. It chipped the mirror into which we were all staring — introducing just a few small cracks in the reflective glass. When Kylo Ren faces down Finn and Rey at the end of that film, he tells them, “It’s just us, now.” He’s telling us that the baton has been passed. “It’s not their story anymore. It’s our story.”

And then, The Last Jedi continues that.

The mutations are passed down, and the monster evolves.

The rocks in water created ripples, and now we’re seeing those ripples move toward the shoreline, some of them becoming waves.

The cracks in the mirror are growing bigger, distorting the image we expect to see reflected back at us, ruining the comfort of a mirrored image and breaking our assumptions into shards and islands of glass.

Every time we, as viewers, reach out to touch the mirror — as Rey does, in the cave — we only make more cracks. We don’t resolve the image. We don’t save the mirror. We further the breaking of the glass through our clumsy, monkey-handed expectations.

The comfort food of the Episode VII has become the molecular gastronomy of Episode VIII — ingredients we thought we knew, resolved into new forms: foams and suspensions, gelees and pancakes and cocktails, a thing we expect to be sweet is suddenly sour and salty, another thing is disassembled and deconstructed, a third thing isn’t supposed to be edible but somehow, it is.

The Last Jedi is not our comfort food.

It is not going to let your nostalgia be enough.

It’s A Fucking Mess, This Movie

The movie’s a mess.

And it needs to be.

love that it’s a mess.

It’s not a formless mess. It’s not without purpose or shape.

But it’s a mess.

Let’s switch gears for a second.

Go to this link and watch the video — no, it’s not porn, it’s a brief clip from A Chef’s Table, featuring chef Grant Achatz talking about — well, you’ll see.

I, as a writer, take a lot of inspiration from this show, A Chef’s Table, not just because I like to watch pretentious chefs plate pretentious food pretentiously (though my word, I do love it!), but rather because I really appreciate seeing how each chef comes to the kitchen and to the plate and to the very idea of food differently. They are each singularly obsessed with their craft, but each in a wildly different direction — how they do it, why they do it, their ethos behind doing it, how they treat their staff, how they frame a plate, how they invent and reinvent themselves and their work? It fascinates me. And it inspires me.

Achatz in that clip says, to paraphrase, that he doesn’t want to be defined by the traditional margins of… well, preparing and serving food. He takes inspiration from modern art and for a dessert, removes the plate from the equation and lets the tablecloth serve as canvas:

That, an image of said dessert at Alinea, his restaurant.

That dish is a mess, in the literal sense of the word.

A wonderful mess. An elegant, articulate mess.

But a mess, just the same.

Now, I don’t want to give the wrong impression that The Last Jedi is quite so avant-garde — it’s not a shattering of the mold, it’s not giving us some David Lynchian view of the Star Wars franchise, but it is giving us a Rian Johnson view. And I’d argue, without knowing Rian Johnson’s precious and weird and wonderful heart, that he — like Achatz — did not want to be bound by the rigors of the plate. Because he did not make a film that followed the bouncing ball. It does not follow the classic narrative Hollywood blockbuster beats. (Nor, for the record, does Empire Strikes Back, by the way. I talk about how that film subverts the pattern in my book — plug alertDamn Fine Story.) Johnson does not make a film pinned to the corkboard by the tropes of the Star Wars universe. It sees them. It uses them. And then it willfully discards them, locking eyes with you so you see that it’s doing it. And it results in a messy, bumpy, strange film.

One that needs to be messy, bumpy, and strange.

Because then, only then, are we truly free from the pattern.

I explained to my wife that The Last Jedi is like The Matrix Reloaded, if The Matrix Reloaded was actually good. That second film of the Matrix trilogy is a fucking mess, and it tries very hard to look into its own heart and challenge the assumptions you have about it — but it was too soon, and it too easily betrayed what the first film was without understanding why it was doing it. And it did it all in a haughty, nose-in-the-air, intellectually-elite way. (As with all things here and everywhere, YMMV.)

This film tries and messily succeeds.

And the resultant mess — the splatters, the ripples, the broken glass, the unfolding mutations — changes our understanding. It frees Episode IX from fitting a known pattern. It frees us from knowing what’s to come — we are gloriously, wonderfully lost. Just as the characters are themselves lost. I pondered that this film could’ve just as easily been called The Lost Jedi, because that’s how it feels. Luke is wayward. Rey is lost to her own powers and place in the world. Kylo is lost in his rage, fallen into the chasm of his heart and spirit. Poe is unmoored from his heroism. Finn is pinballing between his cowardice and his own heroism. Rose is lost without her sister. Leia is lost without Han and the Republic. The Resistance is lost under the might of the First Order. Everyone is lost. Everyone is failing. The entire movie presents us with failure after failure: characters trying to do the right thing and missing a step, every damn time.

But it presents failure in the way that the dessert table of Grant Achatz is a failure: it’s broken, yes, but into new shapes, new tastes. It’s failure in the way a mirror is broken: one image becomes many, distorted and new and beautiful in its way. It’s failure as the butterfly effect. It’s failure as Yoda tells it: the greatest teacher, failure is.

This failure of Luke, of Rey, of the Resistance, of all the characters, leads to a resurrection — the Phoenix Firebird of the Rebellion — rising anew.

This failure of these characters is a success for the film.

It’s a mess in the best way. Because in that mess, the patterns are lost, the expectations are destroyed, the tropes are broken and bent. For the first time in a long time, I had literally no idea what was going to happen, and that felt like madness in the best way.

This is a mythic remix. A resetting of the game board.

In being lost, we have become found.

That Coda, At The Ending

At the end of the film, we see the fathier stable-boy gently summon a broom to his hand and look to the night sky, a Resistance ring on his finger, the music of Luke Skywalker rising. It’s an odd coda in that none of the Star Wars films give us anything like that — but it’s beautiful to me in several ways. It’s beautiful because:

a) It continues the theme of Rey, Finn, Rose, where power and rebellion and heroism needn’t come from special bloodlines — it’s in all of us, all the way down to this one stable-boy.

b) It serves as a refutation, in fact, of the wealth and spectacle of Canto Bight, full of people who think they’re special but who are decidedly not.

c) It continues what for me is one of the chief themes of Star Wars, in that the actions of a small group can change the galaxy — Rose and Finn meet a boy who one day may become the face of the new Resistance; they have inspired him, they were the spark.

d) It makes me think of our own time, and the need for resistance against a rising autocratic regime, and it tells me that there’s a whole other take waiting on The Last Jedi, showing how it (and Episode VII) are telling us a lot more about our current political climate than we’d like. The film flirts for a while with an angle of Whataboutism, with Bothsidesism, where Kylo tells us that he wants to kill the past, where DJ the slicer tells us that all sides are bad, Luke hates the Jedi — but the movie concertedly, decidedly tells us that’s not true by the end. Rey picks her side, as does Kylo. Finn refutes DJ’s assertion. No Grey Jedi exist. Evil is evil, oppression is oppression, and the light will rise to meet it — here, now, with this young boy and his FORCE-BROOM.

and finally

e) Because my son loved that part. My son is six years old and responded to that kid by wanting to be that kid. HE HAS THE FORCE, my son said immediately after leaving the theater, DID YOU SEE THE BROOM OMG THE BROOM. This storyworld has long been generational: each generation now getting a trilogy for them, unique to them, and this is that, here. I love that. I love that this trilogy is more for him than it is for me. It doesn’t kill all the old stuff, it doesn’t shutter the past entirely, but it does break it apart, and remake it for kids my son’s age — and kids who aren’t just my son, either, kids who don’t look like him, kids who don’t have to look like Luke Skywalker but can instead look like Rose or Finn or Poe or Rey.

The Challenge

The challenge comes for the viewer is this:

Do you need need your Star Wars to be comfort food? No harm, no foul if you do. Some look to Star Wars and need it to be the perfect mirror it has been — they don’t want that mirror broken so that other stories can be told, so that other people can see themselves in the shared shards. Some want the tropes. They want the familiarity. They need nostalgia.

And this movie burns it all down.

A lightning strike setting fire to a sacred tree.

It’s okay if you didn’t like it.

But it’s worth appreciating what it did, and why, even if you don’t.

Me, I loved it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to my wild gesticulations of joy.

See you around, kid.

(A few complaints and concerns about the film will be in the comments.)

164 comments

  • Quicky complaints/concerns:

    a) The Canto Bight sequence played better on my second viewing, and it is ultimately the thematic heart in the film, but I needed more there, I think, for it to deserve its place in the movie —

    b) DJ the slicer is one of my least favorite characters in SW history. The stuttering, the Jughead vibe, the “doesn’t really contribute much,” the randomness, meh

    c) The boy at the end shouldn’t have been a little white boy, fight me

    d) Once again, a failure to present LGBT characters on-screen — Holdo is arguably one from the books, but that’s just coded, and not on-screen, and then, well, her fate doesn’t help that and falls into its own terrible trope (which I’ve fallen into once upon a time myself)

    • a) Don’t know that I agree. I liked that the obligatory “hive of scum and villainy” and excuse to put crazy aliens on display was very different. I feel like Rose’s reactions needed either more or less backstory to really work, though. None of the explanations she gave really explain why Canto Bight in particular got under her skin.

      b) I’m trying to figure out if he was another brilliant bit of subversion, or if I’m giving Johnson way too much credit. The fact that he *didn’t* come blasting away at the First Order on Crait screaming “Yahoo!!!” was a subversion. But too much of the rest of the character felt lazy and only partially formed.

      c) Can’t fight you on that one. Especially as the kid looked entirely too much like Jake Lloyd.

      d) Agreed.

      • a) The explanations Rose gave did make sense to me… She is looking at Canto Bight through her own experiences. She and her sister were slaves there, tending the stables. She experienced first-hand the abuses that went on behind the lights and glamour of the casino, the things that made it into a “hive of scum and villainy.” As pretty as the wrapping paper may have been, it was still a crap place to be.

    • b) I loved DJ. Well, I love Benicio del Toro. I thought he’d swoop in at the end, Han-style, but again – expectations not met. Gloriously. I still hope to see him pick a side at some point (my son pointed out that he might end up more Lando than Han), but really … some people don’t. Some folks, no matter how much we want them to be something else, are just mercenary fucks. We’re not supposed to like him, and we don’t. And he doesn’t care. I sort of love all that.

      I also have a stutter, so I don’t hate seeing “me” included. 😉

      d) When I first saw Rose crying, I assumed she was crying for a lost romantic love, and was a bit disappointed to find out that the other half of the medallion was held by her sister. I’m straight myself, but do siblings ever give themselves necklaces? I’ve only ever seen those worn by boyfriends/girlfriends/whateverfriends. Anyway, I thought “FINALLY”. And then was sad. I still love Rose a LOT, though. And she & Finn are cute together. Oh well.

    • December 18, 2017 at 12:01 PM // Reply

      Black guy here. (c) I have no probvlem with a white boy at the end. We can’t forget that white boys have a place in Star Wars too and they dont just have to be the villains. SW’s new mission statement is about finding the hero in all of us.

      Now if dude shows up in Episode IX and he’s the leader of the Rebellion, I’m gonna be bitter.

        • I can understand the concern, but consider: In the current generation, the heroes are a young white woman, a black guy, an Asian woman, and a man of Hispanic or Mediterranean appearance. The white guys are the villains.

          Last generation, the white boys were the young heroes. Before that, again, white men were the villains (Vader and Palpatine) or the mavericks whose nonconformism helped (unintentionally) bring the system crashing down (Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan) or both (Dooku).

          Having the boy at the end be white is a bit of symmetry, and plays to the cyclic nature of the saga even as the rest of the movie deconstructs that same thing.

          Now, all that said – if he’d been a different color, or female, or androgynous, or trans, or a nonhuman species, I’d have been just as happy with it.

    • a. I took the Canto Bright scene not as a standalone, but part of the larger narrative of DJ. By themselves, neither does their job, but together, it felt like a complete statement about greed and not trusting motives based on actions.

      b. Aside from that, I think it was part of breaking the mold. He was not a criminal with a heart of gold. He was just a criminal (so far).

      c. I didn’t think it was that big of deal, but then again, I understand that I am coming from a group that doesn’t need to see more representation. I would have had no qualm with any of the children being that small boy/girl/alien gender analog.

      d. This bugged me. I never completely bought in to the whole Finn/Poe ship, but it felt like the final few scenes were put in to stake the hetero flag firmly where it wasn’t needed. I get the Rose/Finn part. It made sense, but Sexy Flyboy doing Joey’s “How you doing?” at Rey didn’t fit. He finally showed the leadership he was supposed to find in himself just to stop getting his people settled to hit on Wizard Girl?

      Overall, great movie. It felt like they were very aware of fan expectations and tropes, as you said. I loved Mark Hammil playing Luke channeling Mark Hammil. I was also near tears half a dozen times as it felt like many of Space Mom’s scenes were her saying goodbye in the most perfect way possible.

      • December 19, 2017 at 6:27 AM // Reply

        “It made sense, but Sexy Flyboy doing Joey’s “How you doing?” at Rey didn’t fit.”

        I can see why you’d read the scene that way, I did briefly wonder if that’s what they were going for (and cringed internally at the thought). But ultimately, I liked the scene because it was a funny acknowledgement of the fact Rey and Poe haven’t actually met yet – basically, I’m currently reading it as a cute little meta joke, and not an attempt to tease a romance (though I could be proven wrong, and would be disappointed if they do end up trying a Poe/ Rey Romance in episode IX. Though I’d take Poe/ Rey over Reylo, any day).

        • His answer when she says “I’m Rey” is “I know”. There was another famous time someone uttered the words “I know” in Star Wars. I think it was a callback to Han.

          But then again, the entire point of this movie appears to be that if you expect something, we’ll do the opposite of it. So, it could be there to set up expectations for the next movie so they can subvert that as well.

    • December 19, 2017 at 8:43 AM // Reply

      What’s the deal with these sacrificial gestures? Why is it always the most experienced/valuable people who must be sacrificed?

    • I have to disagree about your evaluation of Holdo. She didn’t owe it to Poe to explain the plan–she owed it to the entire crew. Lives were at stake, their beloved and trusted leader was out of commission, and it’s just basic Change Management 101 to overcommunicate as a new boss, especially in an organization with a decidedly non-authoritarian organizational culture like the Resistance, which, although it has a defined hierarchy and chain of command, relies on trust and cooperation rather than fear and obedience to execute its goals.

      So either she didn’t tell ANYONE beyond the senior leadership what the plan was–which is a bad way to establish trust with the crew when everyone’s lives are at stake–or she somehow told EVERYONE EXCEPT POE. Which is petty and spiteful. So as much as folks want to read this as a lesson in coping with female leadership, it’s actually a textbook example of how a lack of adequate communication between leadership and the team (or a troublesome employee) can lead to sometimes disastrous consequences. None of this excuses Poe’s actions–he fucked up mightily–but Holdo did too. Nobody was free of failure in this movie, and that was hers.

      *By the way, Luke’s refusal to communicate with Rey and deny her access to the Jedi texts is largely what motivated her to take some of the rash actions she did to answer her questions, too.

      • There is no evidence she failed to tell the other actual officers, who seem to know full well what’s going on. All we see in the movie is him noisily demanding answers, and her denying him those answers and asking him to follow orders. The other officers seem to know what’s going on. They know she’s fueling up the transports, they help her regain control.

        • Yeah, but Poe is likely a canary as it were for the rest of the crew. If he’s freaking out because he doesn’t know anything, then there are other crew members who are freaking out just as much who just haven’t had the guts to ask.

          That’s when, as a good leader, you stand up and you put everyone’s fears to rest.

          But her response wasn’t “I have a plan, I just can’t share it right now”. It was “Shut up and get out of here. You aren’t important enough to know the plan or demand answers from me.”

          It was petty and mean.

        • This, yes, and I’ll do you one better: not only was Poe JUST demoted for unwise use of Resistance assets, but here he was demanding info on their next move loudly despite the glaring flaw in the fleet: Holdo knew the best explanation for fleet hyper tracking was that they had a mole.

          Sure, it turned out to be a space radar McGuffin, but she didn’t know that. Even if she suspected, the simpler explanation is that there was a mole onboard with a tracker or open comm channel. You had to know the chase was also to buy time to sweep the ship and vet the crew. The last thing Holdo needed was the rash flyboy singing their plan at the top of his lungs, audible to every spy and hidden mic in the place.

          In point of fact, this exact thing is what compromised the escape plan and resulted in so many transports dying. That it was a source Holdo didn’t anticipate does not obviate her very wise, if ultimately compromised, attempt at information hygiene.

        • Yeah. There were literally people next to her shooting blasters. She wasn’t arrested completely on her lonesome. Other officers knew the score and were fine with it. Poe just got demoted for suiciding a bomber fleet for little gain — he literally had zero standing to demand answers.

          *We* obviously side with *him* because he’s one of the Star Wars Main Trio, so he *must* be right. (Narrator: He wasn’t.)

          Except he wasn’t. And before Leia was knocked out of commission, she was in the process of teaching Poe how to be a leader. Clearly Holdo was also in on that, because she’s upper leadership — and he isn’t.

          A Vice Admiral is not going to give away the big plan to a commander recently busted down for insubordination that literally got people killed, especially when that plan 100% involves her dying aboard the ship everyone else gets to evac.

  • No complaints, no concerns, don’t care about spoilers because I’m a writer. One comment. Change is always hard to swallow and we tend to resist it as much as possible. And this kind of change, I would resist as a SW fan, but there is more to it than meets the eye and your words put it into perspective. Comfort food/zones/whatever are not a thing I subscribe to. So let the change come. Happy to follow the mess as you call it. Haven’t seen the movie yet, but now I really want to. Thank you so much for this post!

  • December 18, 2017 at 10:03 AM // Reply

    A terrific rant, Chuck! Now I’m looking forward to seeing this movie, where previously (I read spoilers) I thought I was going to be disappointed. Thanks!

  • I agree completely! This isn’t the story I would have told, but it is absolutely the story I needed to see. The themes of casting aside the past (“Kill it, if you have to”), the assertion that you don’t have to be born special to do special things, no matter what Darth Emo says about you having “no place in this story,” and the idea of strength from failure. Failure can inspire and teach. Everyone is stronger after this movie.

    What breaks my heart is I can see where the next movie would have likely gone if we hadn’t lost Carrie Fisher. I have some ideas for what they could do next, but knowing Episode IX was to have Leia in the forefront is painful. I picture Braveheart in space.

    Honestly, they could have made this the last Star Wars movie. It’s a beautiful ending. Closing out on hope.

  • Sigh. I don’t know, man. I think it’s okay to be disappointed. Overall, despite the sloppy timeline and my wish that SW writers would understand that it’s okay for a movie to extend beyond a 24 or 48 hour period, I enjoyed it very much.

    I just… I really, in my heart, feel that Luke deserved a stronger, more physical finale. I really think that discovering what we had about the Force in this movie, even after his exertion at the end, his finale should have been more swashbuckling, or more flyboy.

    • I didn’t say it’s not okay to be disappointed. I think it’s perfectly okay to hate the film with all your viscera (though one supposes there are better uses of your viscera). I just don’t agree, and a lot of the disappointment stems from our expectations, which is so say, we have chosen the story in our heads, and grow upset when what’s on screen fails to match it.

      • I certainly didn’t hate the movie, but perhaps my disappointment comes from knowing that filmmakers are able to accomplish ANYTHING on screen now. I feel like it just… fell short. So yes, I had expectations, and while they were not specific, there was some let down.

        I have always viewed Star Wars as history, and that what we read in books and comics, see on screen, and play in games are all part of a story that’s already happened, so I accept that. But the realist in me knows that these stories are being created as we age in real time. With that, it’s where my disappointment comes with some of the tying up of the older characters.

        There is a LOT to love with TLJ, and that lot outweighs my disappointment. I could have watched a whole hour of Poe jockeying that X-Wing, and in so far as discovering these new avenues of the Force, I’m all about it. It’s that new avenue, though, that makes me feel like the filmmakers stopped short.

        I felt the same way about Force Awakens, and how Han’s death (while driving the story forward) left me feeling unresolved.

    • I’ve got some different feelings about that.

      I’d have expected young Luke to have a big physical confrontation (or even a showy display of Forciness like the AT-AT face-off from Dark Empire that the movie echoes, where he outright crushes an entire walker with just a gesture after tanking a barrage from its cannons).

      I feel like the less showy but no less powerful display of grizzled Luke sending a projection from all the way out in the space-boonies to the other end of the galaxy was in keeping with the evolution of his character we’ve gotten from TLJ. His arc wasn’t about getting over his emo-hermit funk to beat up the bad guy, but coming to grips with his own actions and dogma; how instinctively trying to lay the smack-down the moment he sensed the Dark Side was what set off this whole thing in the first place.

      He knew that facing off against Kylo would only reinforce the mistake he made all those years ago in the mind of The Sith Formerly Known As Solo, so he chose a different way. I think it was pretty fitting the way it played out.

      Obviously, this is just how I feel. But I think we can both agree on one thing: There’s definitely a “from a certain point of view” joke to be made here somewhere 😉

    • December 19, 2017 at 6:36 AM // Reply

      I’ll be honest, I don’t know how Luke’s finale could have been more perfect – it was simultaneously swashbuckling and heroic (I mean, he literally holds off an entire army with an astounding feat of Astral projection) and entirely fitting with the way he completes his hero’s journey in the original trilogy. He redeems Vader by choosing not to kill him when he had Vader at his mercy, and here, he holds off Ren in an act of resistance that is, once again, as non violent as possible.

  • I love that you can take a movie review and shatter my expectations by making it a lesson in writing. As I go through the future books in my series I’ll be looking for ways to crack the mirror slowly… Thanks for that!

  • Canto Bight was very under-served. The recent four novella collection showed it to have a wonderfully layered social structure and very little of that seemed to make it to the film. I’d have liked Rose and Finn to have fallen foul of the local arms dealers and gangsters rather than just end up in nick and have all that info dumped by DJ

  • In 1977, on a second date, I saw the first “Star Wars,” and haven’t seen any since. But I LOVED THIS REVIEW SO MUCH. And this, from your review: “It frees us from knowing what’s to come — we are gloriously, wonderfully lost.” Chuck Wendig, you are my President of the United States of Writers. Thank you. (Thank you even more, you and the boy’s mother, for giving the entire SW story evolution a new generation.)

  • I was entertained by the space romp, but I got questions.
    Why didn’t the First Order just tell another one of their ships to jump through hyper space and cut off the Rebellion ship?
    How were they able to track them through hyper space if that wasn’t, ya know, a thing?

    • 1. Because institutional incompetence in leadership is enshrined pretty hard in the First Order. Also plausible technical reasons like “It’s probably really hard to make really short-distance lightspeed jumps accurately without [SPOILER THAT LATER HAPPENS]”.

      2. Finn indicates that hyperspace tracking was new, relied on the lead ship tracking them (for reasons?) hence the entire mission-debacle.

    • For pretty much the same reason the 5 or 6 Star Destroyers did nothing but sit and watch while the Dreadnought was attacked: Because Hux really, really sucks at tactics. Which was illustrated by the Dreadnought’s commander making the “five minutes ago” quip.

      I actually really liked the way the tracking thing played out. Management and non-tech people were like, “What? That’s unpossible!!!” And the tech people were like, “Oh, yeah, I totally read about that breakthrough in Hyperspace Monthly three, four months back. I thought it was still just a prototype, but the First Order has never really been patient, huh?” It was a nice nod that information is not disseminated smoothly, and allowed for the audience to be brought up to speed.

      • Tangentially, it looks like we’re going to see some First Order infighting. In the first trilogy the Empire’s leadership fell in lockstep with Vader. Hux and Ren are clearly at odds. That could create some interesting complications.

    • I still have no idea why the Rebellion Ships didn’t just all jump to different destinations, rather than wait to run out of fuel and be ‘ploded.

      They could only follow one, right?

  • I *really* liked Holdo in the Leia book, she pressed my Luna Lovegood buttons something fierce, and if you have ever talked to me about Harry Potter you know that it’s the Luna and Neville show ALL DAY ERR DAY.

    I want MORE of her, all over the timeline. That was the one big disappointment for me.

    I GET why DJ couldn’t be Lando, but the master codebreaker absolutely should have been.

    • #Luna&Neville4evr I want to see a whole series of films from just their perspective (you know, the proper Chosen One), like Disney did with Timon and Pumba in “Lion King 1.5”.

  • I agree that it was a fraught choice for the boy to be white, considering the message this movie and TFA were sending vis-a-vis diversity and representation. But to be fair, there are other marginalized groups this boy could belong to that aren’t apparent in his appearance. (He could be a she, for example, or a they.)

    What I am glad of, though, is that none of the marginalized groups lost their representation. Rey could have turned evil, but she stayed with the light side of the Force. Finn could have performed a heroic sacrifice, but he lived. Rose could have died saving Finn from that same sacrifice, but she lived. (I think. I’ve only seen it once, and I was pretty much losing it over Luke.) Poe could have had a “redemption equals death” moment, too, but he didn’t.

    But I totally agree that Star Wars needs some on-screen LGBTQ+ representation. It’s overdue. Maybe we’ll get something in the Han Solo movie.

  • One thing I keep going back to when I think about it is how much I want them to be building to the idea teased ALL through this film, that the balance Luke was trying to hammer into Rey’s head about the force isn’t just *waves hand vaguely* nature-y nature, but within every person. She seemed to grasp something he (and arguably, the other Jedi and def not the Sith/Darksidey folks) can’t or won’t–that balance comes from understanding both dark and light, and rather than pushing one or the other away so hard that you inevitably slip and fall in it, it’s possible to acknowledge and engage with the parts of us we are afraid of.

    I reeeeeeally hope Ep IX goes there. Luke’s “YOU WENT STRAIGHT TO THE DARKAJSLJLDSNWQBDA” panic was really telling–whereas Rey looks right into it and sees nothing she can’t handle and knows it doesn’t hold any answers she needs. She’s got those herself.

    • I was just talking about Light vs. Dark with my son last night… It’s interesting that the Sith Code (if it is still canon anyway) has no inherently evil ideas in it.

      Peace is a lie, there is only passion. (this part is the most questionable for me)
      Through passion, I gain strength.
      Through strength, I gain power.
      Through power, I gain victory.
      Through victory, my chains are broken.
      The Force shall free me.

      Now from the Jedi point of view, most of that is a Bad Idea ™, but as long as you aren’t doing evil things with your passion, or strength, power, victory, etc., why is it inherently evil? Anakin’s love for Padme was his undoing, but only because of the rules placed on anyone choosing the Jedi path and his lack of control. Romantic love isn’t wrong in any sense of the word, but because it forms attachment the Jedi can’t have it and remain impartial. I get that totally, but it is telling that the Jedi eschew it so vehemently. It gets you instantly ejected from the Order.

      This movie stressed balance. While the idea above starts shaky, it is how the Sith pervert those ideas that make it harmful to those around them.

      That said, I think what we’re going to see if anyone is taught anything Force-related is not the Jedi way, but something stressing balance instead. Sure, you can be in love and have children, but you still need to be aware of your responsibilities to the rest under your protection and aware that it can be used against you. You can win that lightsaber duel with your friend, but you don’t have to behead him to do it and you don’t have to hold it over him next time you talk about it. Jedi have the power to throw around petulant gingers without even trying, but they don’t have to use it to do so (except with Hux – he deserves it) or use it on subordinates who make a mistake, no matter how horrible. What if Leia decided to pop Poe’s head off like a champagne cork?

      Oh and about Leia……. She’s a Force user, a Skywalker AND had YEARS to embrace her abilities. Why is anyone surprised she could not only survive for a short time in space (Force users have done that, though what I recall it was in the EU, so… *shrug* If a Force user can create life with the Force, why couldn’t one carefully suspend death – best way I could quickly describe it – in a time of extreme stress?) but then pull herself back to the ship (Force users can accelerate themselves while running, jump crazy heights safely, lift rocks, X-Wings, etc. Why is her pulling a tiny body like herself back to the hatch in any way odd? Because we haven’t seen her do it in the thirty minutes we’ve seen her since RotJ?).

      Anyway, I’m all over the place here. Just some thoughts.

      • >Peace is a lie, there is only passion. (this part is the most questionable for me)

        I may have spent a *little* too much time working on Sith philosophy for RPG campaigns and such, but what I’ve worked out for the Sith Code is that the ‘peace’ there is the Jedi ‘peace’ from the Jedi Code.

        >There is no emotion, there is peace.

        The first listed antonym for ’emotion’ in every thesaurus I’ve checked isn’t peace, it’s *apathy*.

        Therefore, the ‘peace’ in the Jedi Code is a lie, there is only the passions the Sith have that drive them (which could be positive emotions like love).

        Just my two credits

      • The key thing is that the movies have always portrayed the Jedi as emotionless. Well, not emotionless per se, but the idea that one needs to be completely at peace to access the Force. They need to not be worried, not be scared, and not be angry. The idea being that if you access the Force while you are having emotions, you will instinctively reach for the Dark Side of the Force.

        Yoda said that a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and protection, never for attack. That was quickly forgotten about in the prequels when they use it to attack people. But it can be argued that all they did was push people around, that was never going to hurt them. They weren’t using the Force to attack people directly, like Force Lightning.

        The point is that the Jedi Order teaches that you should calm your emotions, you should clear out your intentions and just LISTEN to what the Force wants, not what you want. You need to be completely selfless.

        The Sith Code is the opposite of that. It says to use your emotions. It says to do what YOU want, embrace your passions, get personal strength, use that personal strength to defeat your enemies.

        The Force has a bunch of its roots in Buddism and the idea that the Universe itself has desires and we are all part of the Universe and therefore need to do what it wants in order to become one with it. Our own desires are unimportant.

        So acting selfishly IS Evil from that point of view.

  • Excellent work here, son. As you pointed out, the movie knew what my expectations were and totally fucked me over with them AND I LOVE THAT! (This is why The Good Place is my favorite TV show.) Who wants to ride a rollercoaster when you know where the ups and downs are? I want to be surprised! Better, yet, subverted! Second best Star Wars movie (only “A New Hope” is better).

  • Loved the rant and you’re spot on. But listen, I didn’t love the movie. And I didn’t NOT love the movie because of all the plot points you mention. They were zigs when maybe we expected zags and THAT I liked.

    What I didn’t like was the jumbled up mess that attempted to connect it all together. The dialogue and editing felt extremely stunted. And I’m not going to even get into the obvious humor built-in for the masses.

    I’m disappointed that my questions weren’t answered (who is Snoke? who were Rey’s parents? etc.) but I can live with not knowing until the next movie or even NOT KNOWING AT ALL.

    But there were plenty of “oh, come on” moments that ruined it for me.

    Leia being frozen in space and willing her way back to the ship?
    Rey launching herself in a handy little flying coffin to go save Kylo Ren?
    Yoda burning the Jedi tree?
    THE ENTIRE ISLAND?

    I’m not a megafan by any means and I tend to have a more critical eye than others. But the writing felt sloppy and was only made worse by the editing which made it feel like a jumbled up mess. 6 out of 10 for me.

    • The only thing that made me be able to swallow the “oh, come on” moments is agreeing with the way that author John Scalzi views the whole SW universe – as mythology, rather than history; fantasy rather than science fiction. Much mythology comes from stories passed down orally from before written language was developed, or before writing was such a chore that you really didn’t bother when you could just make it someone’s job to memorize it all. Of course, like a game of “telephone”, the stories evolve, with a lot of heroic and magical elements creeping in. It used to be a thing here in our mythologies to give real heros a parent who is a king because reasons.

      This is the only thing that didn’t make my throw my popcorn at the screen during the Magic Space Leia scene. Great Crispy Cheezus. It still kinda pisses me off.

    • The Leia space scene bothers me less than most since I’ve done some research and it turns out it takes about two minutes for someone to die in space (of being frozen, not of the bends, which is slower-acting).

      So, the fact she can use the force that well is a surprise, to be sure, but after all, it’s a zero-G environment, you don’t have to be that strong.

  • I generally agree with your assessment of this moving and your thesis about expectations, event though it doesn’t apply to me personally; I was quite happy this movie wasn’t just a copy of The Empire Strikes Back. Though, that whole thing where Leia flew through space like a frozen Jesus was just…ugh.

    And I most definitely agree with your “second thoughts” comments.

    That being said, can we all admit just how awful The Force Awakens really was?

    How misplaced the comedic beats, how ridiculous the naming (seriously…if you’re a government sanctioned military force you don’t get to be The Resistance. You just don’t.), how cardboard a character Poe Dameron really was when we met him (Yeah, I’m going to go all Cinema Sins on the number of times his dialogue was a straight cliche)? Can we please do that now?

    There’s a lot to recommend The Last Jedi even when you don’t hold it up against The Force Awakens. Like someone else said, Carrie Fisher’s death changes everything, both narratively and in the real world. The next one could have been so much more. So much. I am interested to see what Rian Johnson does with them now that he’s got his characters up a tree in front of the rock throwing machine.

    • “That being said, can we all admit just how awful The Force Awakens really was?”

      I adore TFA, so sadly I cannot join you in this. It’s not a perfect movie, but it hits all my buttons.

      • Thank you for the review and for the last sentence of this commentary. Sometimes, that’s all you want in a piece of entertainment. Especially one that’s a big part of one’s childhood, as Star Wars was for me.

    • The Resistance wasn’t actually an officially sanctioned government force. At best, they were quasi-sanctioned. They were an off books operation that Leia got the Republic to fund through a lot of backroom deals and finagling. There’s an entire plotline that got cut from the film about her representative begging the Republic for help. You see the representative when the Republic is destroyed by Starkiller Base, she’s the woman they zoom in on meaningfully without any context.

      Poe was supposed to die in the TIE crash, but Oscar Isaacs was too damned charismatic, so they brought him back. A lot of his early scenes were probably shot with that in mind, sadly.

      • Right, and the seeds of the Resistance are planted in AFTERMATH, when Leia takes it on herself to begin supporting resistance movements across the galaxy in places where the New Republic will not sanction official aid.

        • Aren’t we functioning in a Star Wars universe where TFA and TLJ exists as if no canon was generated between Return and The Force Awakens? Or has there been too much beer for me to be remembering the “OMFG, Disney bought star wars!!!!!” fanboy hand wringing correctly?

          There are parts of TFA that are amazing, and there are parts as a viewer that throw me right out of it and remind me I’m watching a movie. I’m glad you enjoyed it but I find it deeply, deeply flawed.

          • Yes, the Legends line was clarified to be completely non-canon (It was never really canon in the first place, it was “good enough” until or unless Lucas established his canon in the films. But now there are a number of books, like Chuck’s Aftermath trilogy, that establish chunks of canon post RotJ. There are also a number of canon Marvel comics, like the Poe Dameron and Phasma ones, that flesh out the area directly surrounding the movies.

  • I agree with the idea that it’s okay to not like this movie. None of the SW movies are perfect, and we all have our opinions.
    What bugs me is that so many of the “critiques” of this movie seem to just be flat out wrong. Like the people didn’t even watch the same movie I did. They harp on things for being out of character or unexplained when they are CLEARLY explained. Or level accusations about moments that don’t belong when they are almost direct parallels to previous installments.
    It’s just annoying.
    It’s almost as if they can’t stand the idea of a movie with a diverse cast and a message that fighting for what you love is better than destroying what you hate. But they don’t want to come out and say that, so they look for reasons that sound smart.

    • You hit the nail on the head. I think people were stewing at something they didn’t like, and then missed the explanation that would’ve calmed them or made sense to them.

  • It’s funny, we went into this with no expectations, we saw it on Friday, and by then the “I didn’t like its” had already begin to snake up also from people where that opinion really surprised me. I was drawn in right away and I stayed there. It hit all the right buttons for me and more importantly it made me feel- a lot. I was angry and disappointed, I was in love and I was hopeful, I was sad and I was aching for more. Feelings are always where I go first, once they have been digested I go on to logic…like how do bombs drop in space? minor logic in the StarWars world but you know..niggles.

    I was ready to hate the porg things but they were funny and having lived on an island that claims the puffin as its bird yeah I get that. I love that in this universe people get critters and critters get people, there’s an energy between them, a language no one actually speaks but yet they do. I’m staring at a whole shelf of Star Wars books that are waiting to be read but I was waiting for TLJ first, now I can begin and devour. This film has made me so hungry for more because now there are so many questions, it’s not the same old same old. I loved that men were NOT the big deal heroes and that women actually stood up to them, but yet understood, the way we often do.

    I’d still like to know wtf Snoke is / was and where he came from because every bad dude should have some sort of story and I’m nosy like that but more so I want to know about Holdo and Rose and her amazingly brave sister.

    This film opened a whole new galaxy up. Anything is possible and not all of it goes how you plan nor do the people. He is not the plucky hero….and that’s not incense….yeah.

    This review sums up exactly how I feel, and also why I feel sad when my die hard sw friends didn’t like it because they should. This is the film we all needed. Let the past die. Kill it if you must. only when you let all that clutter go can you free up for the new to come. so yeah bring it on I’m so ready for more.

  • My husband and I both saw the first movie as kids. He was disappointed with TLJ and I wasn’t surprised because it wasn’t for him. I agree it was for a new generation of fan, but it was also for me and the other fan-girls. We’ve been waiting 40 years for this.

  • Friend Who Hated It: “OK, fine. Explain to me why it was good.”
    me: “Um. All right, what the hell. So, a big part of what’s great about TLJ is how it tears down the whole Star Wars Skywalker family CHOSEN ONE mythology. Like, TFA left us hanging for Luke to take Anakin’s lightsaber, and then when he does, he just tosses it over his shoulder. Because it doesn’t matter.”

    FWHI: “UGH! That was so DISRESPECTFUL!”

    me: “I think we’re probably done here.”

    • That was a HUGE thing for me – the CHOSEN ONE shit. I loved me some Star Wars when it first came out (yes I’m old, lol), and though I’ve never cared for whiny-bitch Luke, who only joined Obi-wan after his family was killed & he had nothing else to do, but I loooooved the movie, and I loved Empire as well. RotJ lost me, though.

      I was looking forward to the prequels. I sat there willing it to get better, but then … wait, the Force is controlled by particles that you have to be BORN with? Suddenly, “Jedi” wasn’t something that any scrappy kid from a backwoods planet could train to become, it’s a hereditary aristocracy? One that’s doomed to die out because Jedi can’t marry I guess? (I didn’t see the third prequel, so maybe I’m wrong).

      Burn it all, Yoda. That’s the best thing for us all.

      • The explanation is a bit more convoluted than that. The “particles” (stupidest thing to ever get put in a Star Wars movie) choose you at birth, but you don’t inherit them genetically. No one is sure why one person gets more than another.

        So it’s not an aristocracy in the normal sense. But being strong in the Force can run in the bloodline. Much like being a great artist, singer, or athlete can run in the bloodline. But that doesn’t really make it a genetic trait. And there are bits here and there that make it clear that the Skywalker line is a *CRAZY* outlier where that’s concerned.

        I’m still not sure if other Jedi typically have children. They don’t marry, but that’s not a prerequisite for pregnancy (as I hope everyone here knows?). I’ve often wondered if the infant children are taken from the Jedi before they can form emotional attachments and put into common nurseries. The Jedi don’t even know which children are theirs.

        • That’s not true. There’s lots of references to the fact that midichlorians (and therefore power in The Force) is passed down biologically.

          Luke mentions that the Force is strong in his family. Obi-Wan pretty much assumes that Luke can use the Force because his father could.

          The reason Qui-Gon seemed so surprised about Anakin’s Midichlorian count was that his family didn’t seem to have any history of Force power. Which is why he suspected that the prophecy about someone who would literally be conceived by the Force was coming true.

          I haven’t seen anything at all in any of the movies that would lead me to believe that it ISN’T hereditary up until The Last Jedi.

  • This made me feel better so thanks for posting. I’ve been struggling a bit to figure out how I feel about it all. I enjoyed the movie in the moment but later became confused by my let-down feelings after it was over. Accepting that this is not Luke’s story (he had 3 episodes of his own!) seems to help. I need to go see it again, I think.

  • Love this review.

    My one questions still, coming ou of the film, was why Holdonwluldnt tell the rest of the Resistance where they were going. As far as I could see, they all thought they were going to die. The hope line is pretty, but a ship full of terrified people who have just watched so many people they love die is a place just begging for idiot heroes to try something drastic to save everyone. I think withholding that info from the group was a big mistake, and fell into the “she stayed silent either out of plot needs or pettiness”. You could argue she was afraid of a leak, but, like…the people on that ship were the last of the Resistance. They needed the hope more than they needed the stanching of a leak.

    Poe still needed a sound beating with the chain of command, but I don’t think he and Rose and Finn were completely to blame for trying to save everyone. Because they’re dumb heroes, who work best when all seems lost. Or work dumbest, one could argue.

    I still ducking love Holdo. I just hate it when I can’t figure out a major character choice for a reason that serves character and not plot.

    • My guess, beyond a simple “because plot”, is because she honestly didn’t know if it was going to work. At least, not for the first several hours. And she knew that a failed plan would be more poisonous to morale than an unknown plan.

      Why she didn’t come clean when Poe chose mutiny is still baffling, though.

      • I think Poe’s actions explain it pretty well . . . first thing he does is blab it on an insecure line and inadvertently alert the enemy to the plan.

        • I still maintain that she could have allayed the fears of the crew without revealing the plan. She could have said “We have a plan. Trust me. I just need some time to implement it. We’re going to get out of this”.

          Instead she looked around super paranoid like “Oh crap, he’s figured out I’m working on a plan to save myself while sacrificing everyone else” or “I have no plan whatsoever, but I can’t let on that I’m incompetent”.

          The way she was acting, I’d assume she had no idea what she was doing.

          • I could be misremembering, but I’m pretty sure the first thing she says is, “Don’t worry. There is a plan.”

            And I think that it’s later implied that it’s not even her plan. It’s Leia’s, and she’s just carrying it out. In which case, she might have had trouble actually explaining or arguing for the plan when she’s essentially just carrying out orders herself and unused to being the plan-maker.

            I mean, she’s a vice admiral. Her actual job isn’t to lead: it’s to manage, by converting orders from the top into more specific instructions for her underlings. Some such people are good at initiative and creative solutions, but if they aren’t, that’s probably as far as they’ll ever rise in the ranks. …until someone rips through the chain of command above them.

            But all of that is supposition on my part.

        • He should’ve been. Failure of leadership and humiliation to watch the female leaders he subverted all but giggle about how much they liked him anyway. That was an unforgivable moment for me.

  • I’m feverish and strung out on Theraflu at the moment, but I’ll try to be coherent.

    I liked this movie. I didn’t love it. It was a good sci-fi movie. It wasn’t a great Star Wars movie, and it honestly didn’t have much to do with my expectations. I didn’t go into it thinking ANY plot point was going to happen. I didn’t sit there waiting for Kylo to be redeemed or Rey to be turned. The only thing I knew for sure was going to happen was that the Rebellion would get beaten to a pulp but somehow survive, because it always does. In no Star Wars movie ever has there been an untainted, unPyrrhic Rebellion victory. They get ass-whooped left and right but, scrappy little guys that they are, somehow never quite die. They always lose the battle, but end up winning the war.

    That was my sole expectation and it was met. Resoundingly.

    Though I do have one other expectation of a Star Wars movie, and it was not met. And it’s where my sadness over this comes from. What was missing was something ephemeral: epicness. Is that a word? It sounds like it oughtta be a word. the thing that made the original trilogy an epic. The thing that made the LotR movies epic. Star Wars should be epic. This was just a good sci-fi movie.

    Like Rogue One, in that regard. Rogue One was not an epic tale. It was a gritty, in-the-trenches movie about what those Pyrrhic victories cost the rebellion. It’s the “many Bothans”, and the fanfic writer in me squirmed in utter delight at filling in the blanks. I loved Rogue One.

    But I want my main trilogy stories to be epics. To have that grand sense of scale and depth and wonder. For me, this movie did not have that. That’s the expectation that got subverted, and that’s why it makes me sad. It’s a good little movie, but since it’s the only movie I can afford to go see for quite some time, I’m really, really wishing I’d saved my money for Black Panther and not seen this. It could’ve waited for my living room. It didn’t need the big screen.

    It wasn’t epic enough.

    • For me, it was epic . . . it was just epic more in the third part of Beowulf sense.

      Although, perennial Luke fan that I am, I am so invested in Luke’s arc that that’s where I got my scale and depth most of all: moving from the depth of failure, still looking to the horizon, and coming to an epic act of true mastery and oneness with the Force, with a bit of trollery in the spirit of Han and Yoda.

  • One of the tropes I hate most in the world is the “lost parents as backstory/consuming personal tragedy” bit. Like it’s the key to a person’s whole soul. I resented it like crazy in Guardians 2, where the whole movie became a vehicle for Starlord’s man-pain, I wanted Harry Potter to shut the hell up about it and get on with life, and I was glumly waiting for the big reveal that Rey’s a Skywalker or Mace Windu’s third cousin or whatever. The hero is always anointed before birth by genetics, nobody is ever allowed to really come from nowhere.

    I was SO GLAD her parents were nobody. THANK YOU, TLJ. I really needed that. (My parents are lovely people, for the record.)

    And yes, because it’s a Sith saying it, it’s delivered in neg form, but the fundamental premise that you may have come from nothing but you matter to US is basically the theme of the last two movies—the great and anointed fail* and it’s the janitor and the scavenger and the mechanic that rise.

    *Except Leia, because Leia.

  • I had no Star Wars expectations. I don’t actually consider myself a fan, and I haven’t see all the movies. But I did see the last movie with Rey and liked it, so I went to this one with pretty high hopes that honestly, were disappointed.

    Rey’s character arc appears to be “I can make this guy be good” — talk about a gendered mistake. Talk about a *boring* gendered mistake. So stereotypically stupid girl. She went from a great and interesting character to a female cliche.

    Rose was awesome, my favorite character, so seriously she has to kiss Finn at the end? Why? Because girls need romance? Because setting up a romantic triangle for Finn is nice for him? Yuck.

    The purple-haired admiral was great, but why in the world does she not just tell Poe what her plan is? I get that he has no “right” to know, but keeping it from him is lousy people management. And that little scene with her and Leia at the end, where they’re both admiring bad boy Poe — um, why? Are they supposed to be moms there, loving their rebellious sons, even when their sons get people killed and lead mutinies against them? It felt so fake to me. Such a guy’s idea of the unlimited forgiveness women have for badly behaved men.

    And hey, in a movie with great gender and racial diversity — which was absolutely terrific, I don’t wish to disregard that, it was amazing to see a media world that came closer to reflecting the real world — but in a movie with great diversity, who is the character who gets the real character arc? Who is the character that grows, makes mistakes, takes the lead, learns something and changes by the end of the movie, not to mention saving the day by realizing that there must be a way out… well, obviously, that would be the white guy.

    I don’t think it was a bad movie. But speaking as someone who went to see Rey, I walked away mostly glad it was over.

    • I think boiling Rey’s arc down to “I can make this guy be good” is a bit unfair really. What I took away from that whole subplot was that it was more along the lines of “If I can make him turn back to the light, that means I’m not predestined to become a monster myself”. They kept driving home the point that her potential and inclinations are so similar to Kylo’s, that they’re mirrors of each other. And with that comes her fear that it’d take just one terrible moment to send her spiralling down the same path as him with no way to come back.
      Her wanting to bring back Ben Solo is as much to prove to herself that she’s not going to become another Kylo Ren as it is for his sake.

    • December 19, 2017 at 6:59 AM // Reply

      “Who is the character that grows, makes mistakes, takes the lead, learns something and changes by the end of the movie, not to mention saving the day by realizing that there must be a way out… well, obviously, that would be the white guy.”

      Poe isn’t white, though?

    • If Rey’s story stood alone there then I might agree with you, but this isn’t a standalone film, and Rey’s actions are a direct foil to Luke’s in Return of the Jedi. Which takes it right out of being a gendered stereotype, because Luke does “make this guy be good”. And that’s not just the plot we know, it’s the legend she knows. Not only that, though, she skedaddles when she realizes he’s set in his darkness and it doesn’t play out like the expectation.

      (Incidentally, it’s been a pretty big deal that Oscar Isaac is Latino, full name: Óscar Isaac Hernández Estrada.)

  • One of the most epic parts of this film, for me, which no one is talking about (likely due to spoilers, but is it really?) is the Yoda scene. His talk of failures and shortcomings helping flesh out what a master is was sound advice for Luke, and hell, for everyone. I really liked that part. Also, Yoda being a puppet and not CGI was also grand.

    • I loved that part so much. That’s definitely going in the top 10 Star Wars quotes.

      Speaking of, I noticed something *fascinating* the second time around. Do you remember the bit when Yoda blew up the tree, and Luke was all, “But the books!” Yoda said, “There is nothing in that library that the girl does not already have with her.” And, in classic Jedi doubletalk, that was LITERALLY TRUE. Because the library was empty, because Rey had already stolen the books and had them on the Falcon. I kind of think that Yoda specifically blew up the tree so that Luke wouldn’t know that.

      • Yes! I noticed that too. On the first viewing, it went by fast, so i wasn’t sure what I was looking at. On the second viewing, I made sure to be on the lookout for it, and sure enough she did take the Jedi text. Something that’s going to help her and she moves along. I’m curious, if there is a Time gap between episode 8 and episode 9, and Leia helps Ray with some training. Would be very interesting. It could also lead to an interesting opening sequence in the next film, where kylo attacks the new Jedi Temple, and that’s where Leia is killed.

    • Yes!

      I’m beginning to develop a head canon that Jedi mastery doesn’t truly happen till one becomes one with the force, and that Yoda didn’t really get it till after he died in Return of the Jedi either. So Luke’s sojourn on Ahch-To was like Yoda’s hiding on Dagobah, and neither’s story has ended. A true Jedi Master is an annoyingly truthful force ghost.

      (And yes, that means Vader is as much a Jedi Master as Yoda and Obi-Wan and I fully expect luminous beings Luke and Yoda to bicker constantly and Luke to train Rey more and troll the heck out of his nephew.)

  • So. I’ve been depressed this year. Like, not leaving the house except to drag my behind to work depressed. The only movies I’ve seen are Wonder Women (three times, though), and Thor. I didn’t even know for sure when TLJ was coming out until last week, which is crazy since i used to be completely obsessed with SW. So I was totally spoiler free, and had zero expectations.

    I LOVED it.

    From the time Luke tossed that saber over his shoulder until the end (which was perfect in so many ways), I was smiling with tears in my eyes (mainly bc of Carrie Fisher). It was just… almost perfect. Only one scene jarred me out of the film, but, well, no one’s perfect.

    I don’t understand the bad fan reviews. Sigh.

  • The Last Jedi is Spinal Tap Mark II. The band got together to play the songs they wanted to play – arguably better music, technically spectacular music, but the fans rightly booed them off the stage. It doesn’t change the fact that the music was good, but the fans aren’t required to like it.

  • As one who saw the original Star Wars 6 times in the theater (a lot for a 10 year old who did not live in the States at the time), I understand the overarching purpose of this movie and agree that the teardown was needed. However, the actual construction of that destruction was poor – it was not a well made movie and that is what saddens me. Story pacing was really uneven and there was so much dreck in between the scenes that moved the story forward, I found myself disappointed in the whole. Too many weak characters (Laura Dern was awful) diluted the cleansing effect of the director’s mandate. Again, we find ourselves in the fans’ dilemma of papering over the basic flaws of this movie, despite the noble intent. Oh well, there is next year…

  • I think I agree with this post. I have to see it a second time still. I really liked the film a lot but I do have reservations. It has nothing to do with what I was expecting, I like seeing new things and story twists. So while I really love how Snoke was handled and the way Luke was portrayed, I am not sure where this fits with the overall saga. Maybe it’s more of a personal problem with TFA in that film had so many mystery boxes where I didn’t feel like I got to know the characters that well.

    I think in TLJ, I got to know Poe quite a bit but I still don’t know that much about Finn. I get it that he was a stormtrooper and wanted to defect. I didn’t need for him to be someone’s son or any of that. But what is he feeling or what are his motives? Maybe that’s more of my problem with TFA as I felt that Finn and Rey’s relationship, while fun to watch was underdeveloped.

    But with someone like Snoke, I know what you are saying. Yes, we didn’t know that much about Palpatine. But in the case of the originals, it was a simple story with the galaxy is run by the Empire and the Emperor is the evil ruler. However, in the new films, I felt that there should have been more explanation. I don’t want it to be a long expository thing but something that feeds the larger context.

    I guess, if you are going to set up a big mystery box like it is a big reveal, you are allowing fans to speculate and wonder who is who. But I don’t think you can have it both ways. This is not at all anything against RJ

    So I think TLJ is a great addition to the SW universe and I think it works better on its own terms but as part of the 9 part saga, I am still reserved. But then again, I may change my mind on second viewing.

    Does that make sense?

    Really random but if they decide that Kylo was lying about Rey’s parents and make her a Skywalker. The only way that would work without undermining this film’s theme is that Rey wouldn’t care that she is one and she realizes, unlike Ben that being of a bloodline doesn’t define you.

  • On the Rose/Finn angle, there may be one thing some of you are overlooking: Rose kissed Finn, but Finn didn’t really kiss back. It’s obvious that he cares for her, but he isn’t necessarily in love with her — at least not as in love as she appears to be. This type of disparity in how they feel toward one another could play out in the next movie — especially if Finn gets into a relationship while Rose is in a coma and then she wakes up.

    Just a possibility.

  • Years and years ago, I wrote some Star Wars fanfic and in the story, a girl from a nowhere planet who has only ever heard of the Skywalkers/Solos and is in awe of them, meets them all. And she exclaims to Luke, “You are heroes!” as they try to “aw shucks” their way out of it. She tries to tell them that they are so much more than her, a no one from nowhere.

    And Luke tells her, “No, we’re all ordinary people, who chose to do extraordinary things.”

    To me, that is the crux of the Star Wars universe and always has been. Sure, Luke was the next coming of the Jedi, but he didn’t know that and he could have stayed on Tatooine and denied his destiny. He was a farmboy from nowhere. Leia was the child of a Senator; Han was a smuggler and an Imperial Academy drop-out. None of them was necessarily poised to save the galaxy, but they did it anyway.

    I have many, many thoughts about TLJ and I will probably put them into a coherent narrative somewhere, but the last thing I’ll comment on here is Leia and her “space flight.” To be honest, I feel that Episode IX was meant to be Leia’s movie (7 was Han’s, 8 was Luke’s) – and I’m pretty sure RJ or KK has confirmed this somewhere – and I think what the survival bit was about was demonstrating that she had more Force ability than anyone thought. I think in 9 she was going to be the one to finally confront Kylo. But Carrie died and now that can’t happen. I think we were finally going to get the pay-off from the end of Empire, “There is another.” I think Leia was finally going to come into her own.

    If that is the case, they could have cut the space walk to lessen any confusion, but I think Leia deserved a bit of a Force miracle. After losing her husband, being unable to find her brother and pretty much knowing her son has chosen the wrong path, I think she needed a break. And of course, the story needed her. It’s also possible that RJ could have simply killed her when the bridge exploded, but I’m guessing they didn’t film enough Adam Driver as Kylo reactions for that to emotionally pay off. Plus, it was nice to see her and Holdo interacting together.

    My final thought is this – I don’t understand the fans who have so much animosity for this movie. You can not like something, that’s fine, but as Chuck mentioned, fandom doesn’t owe anyone anything. And if you love something, you love it. In my opinion.

  • I’ve learned to approach Star Wars with cautious optimism. I know I’m either going to get a train wreck (Episodes 1 and 6), an endless nostalgic callback orgy (Episode 7), or an amazing fucking movie. This time I got an amazing fucking movie.

    Now that they got the obligatory “reintroducing the franchise” bug out of their butt they could go on and actually tell a good story. The old chills and thrills are back, but for different reasons, and I’m loving it.

    And I’m personally a huge fan of new Human, Fallible Luke. Perfect Archetype Luke was fun, but as they aged the character, I appreciated that they rounded him out some more.

    All in all a good, solid Star Wars fun-fest. I’m sorry, but it feels like anyone who’s mocking the franchise at this stage in the game just goes to movie franchises they don’t like purely to complain about it on the internet.

  • This review…man. It shoves into words what I was at pains to describe myself.

    I was initially frustrated by the failure of Finn and Rose’s mission – it all seemed like a wasted storyline just inserted to take up space. But then I thought about it, and it’s another subversion – blowing up the generator on Endor succeeded, but this *doesn’t* – and learning from one’s failures seems to be a big theme in the movie.

    Thanks for writing this!

  • I am literally hungry for spoilers (I’m weird that way I don’t mind knowing the destination in advance it’s the JOURNEY that interests me) and so I read the review and thank you for that – I am now really intensely anticipating my viewing of this thing, which won’t happen until tomorrow. I may well have more to say then. But for now, here’s a thought. This has been an unexpectedly polarising movie. I’ve seen “I fucking LOVED it” and “I fucking LOATHED it” in equal measure. TO me, this means that the movie has succeeded in one thing – love it or hate it the thing is making you REACT. And that’s a successful story.

    I bought my tix for it yesterday, and while I was at the box office a showing came out of the theater and one girl came out with tears streaming down her face but a huge grin underneath it all and I think that encapsulates it well. This particular movie – for better or worse – has an unexpected undercurrent because LEIA, dammit, there’s no escaping that. I want to see how they dealt with her BEFORE it was a thing that she wasn’t coming back. I want to see how the knowledge that she isn’t coming back shifts my perceptions of what they’re doing with the story.

    Thank you for your review. I can’t wait to see it.

  • First, thank you for this article. I’ve been outspoken with friends, coworkers, and random people on Twitter that I did not like TLJ. Your article is the first to hit on why many true SW fans don’t like it (hint: it has nothing to do with character demographics, empowering non-white characters, or even generational target audience issues).

    The movie was a mess. Where you saw a glorious mess, I saw halfway developed plots. Where you saw brilliant storytelling, I saw shock for shock value. Where you saw innovation, I saw twists without surprise. While I didn’t like TFA, I could respect the (messy and disjointed) groundwork it had laid out. Yes, that groundwork led to expectations, but when absolutely no expectation is met and the movie ends as essentially a zero-sum for the heroes and villains, I feel cheated and like I wasted my time and money. Anyone can skip this movie and go straight to episode 9 with no confusion as to what is happening. The Resistance is damaged. The First Order is in charge. There are no grand heroes. They will only wonder why shiny Captain Phasma or the mysterious but ultimately inconsequential Snoke aren’t around anymore.

    (Also, I didn’t like Porgs. They defy the laws of physics, don’t appear to have a functional anatomy, and you just know they smell terrible.)

    This movie wasn’t comfort food, but it wasn’t high cuisine either. It was pretentious without substance. It was langostino pretending to be lobster. I want a filling meal that leaves me wanting more. This movie wasn’t that.

    All of that being said, your article does make me think. Maybe, maybe, I’ll go see it again, considering what you wrote, and reflect on it a second time.

    • December 19, 2017 at 7:11 AM // Reply

      “Your article is the first to hit on why many true SW fans don’t like it”

      You’re allowed to not like the movie, but I feel like you could do without the “True fans” rhetoric – there are are fans who loved the movie, and there are fans who hated it, and they’re all real fans of the franchise. But there’s no need to imply that the only people who *really* care about the franchise are the people who hated the movie.

  • Thanks for this, Chuck. I share an office at school with a bunch of people who either a) have insane, unmeetable expectations of perfection, or b) expect Star Wars films to be written specifically with their nostalgic asses in mind. Trying to speak up for this film leads to being treated like an imbecilic leper,as if saying I enjoyed it was equivalent to saying Attack Of The Clones is better than Empire. This is the take I needed to read. This is what I’ve been trying to tell them. Gonna steal your words and force-choke the fuckers with them.k

  • I am completely in love with TLJ, so that might be why I feel this way, but hey:

    I have little to say, but I just want to let you know that this is one of the best things I have ever read – about stories, about movies, about writing, about frickin’ life, about Star Wars, and of course, about The Last Jedi.

  • I came out of the cinema reasonably satisfied, understanding of what was going on (mostly), and in many ways impressed. And yet I mostly just felt…..confused(?). I don’t know, I’m really struggling to describe it.

    I’m 39, so I’m an original fan, but I’m also a moderate. I quite liked TFA and RO which I think easily outshone the prequels. I like the feel of the younger cast in both TFA and TLJ; it definitely has that baton pass vibe, so much so that I’m happy with both Finn and Poe sharing arcs between plot and character between them (Finn got the former, Poe the latter) rather than getting full ones for both. So I’m definitely not coming in with a prerequisite for what a “Star Wars” film should be. I mean, just the different technology and tropes in modern ‘blockbusters’ meant it was going to be so very, very different from Star Wars (fine, Episode IV) anyway.

    Yet I can’t help but feel like it was a good plot with loads of great themes and poignant comments about modern society and the Star Wars mythos……executed really badly. The theme of failure was great; I loved that Poe and Finn failed to turn off the tracking device/save the fleet. The constant bait and switch of Kylo Ren’s motives and emotions was excellent, the action and visuals were top notch, the clever use of silence and cinematography impressed. Hell it even didn’t screw up too badly on the scourge of modern action movies: comedy. I mean, they were still bad jokes that felt like self-contained moments rather than the background theme tune of character, but it wasn’t unwatchable.

    And with all that going for it, it still felt clunky and underbaked. Poorly put together through choice, rather than lack of skill. Even taking the eye-gougingly annoying plot trope of withholding information, even accepting that Canto Bight had to be that book-ended and shallow and rushed due to time constraints, even accepting Huq had to be that bland and dumb, even accepting that if the resistance had an army of BB-8’s they’d have crushed the First Order by now – and I’m not even going to discuss that the bad guy now has to have a dick-measuring contest in terms of how big their spaceship is…….given all that I still think I could have loved it. But instead it felt like watching a massive, impressive machine taking careful, deliberate steps – one after the other – all contained and precise. I’d have loved it if it was a dance, with all these big ideas and themes flowing through each scene – instead it felt like a series of neat and tidy blocks, all there to do the thing it needed to, lined up in order from start to end.

    And yet I don’t feel frustrated, or disappointed really – and I thought it was likable and fun. Like I said – I feel weird and I can’t adequately describe why….

  • I enjoyed the part where Luke was about to set the whole Legends continuity on fire, couldn’t do it, then Yoda did it for him and told him expectations were meant to be smashed for the sake of new stories….

    … or was that just me?

  • “No Grey Jedi exist. Evil is evil, oppression is oppression, and the light will rise to meet it”
    Wanted to talk a moment about how I saw the light and dark thing very differently. In the last two movies they have distinctly not equated light with good and dark with evil. Light and dark are supposed to be in balance, both are meant to exist. Just as both life and death, cold and heat, creation and destruction, are meant to exist. I do not hold the opinion, and think it should not become an assumption, that the same applies to good and evil.
    I loved how Luke spoke against the Jedi because the Jedi have some serious toxic masculinity problems with their scorn for emotions and fear of anything dark. It is an extremely unhealthy and straight up harmful way to exist for anyone who cannot control their emotions enough because they experience them more strongly (like Kylo).
    I think Rey and Kylo represent a return to balance for the force because they both contain both and we get to know that. Rey is a Jedi but she isn’t afraid of her emotions or the dark side. You can only be afraid of turning if you don’t know who you are. Rey knows who she is, her turning was never a worry. Kylo doesn’t know who he is, he still doesn’t. He fit poorly with the light because he feels too strongly, he has darkness in him. But he doesn’t fit on the dark side either because he has light in him. He is miserable partly because he’s never been able to accept himself, he’s constantly trying to reject half of his identity.
    As a bi-gender trans person I see a strong analogy here between masculinity and femininity.
    In society there is such a strong doctrine that you cannot be both. I think the return to balance for the force is going to be that the balance is inside of each person. Not that there are equal numbers of people who are light and who are dark. Ying and yang stuff here, not good and evil. There is evil, but it is not because they use the dark side, it is how they use it. I think a better equation would be light is logic and dark is emotion. However this is also too simplistic which brings me back to what I really wanted to point out, that sometimes making things a simple equation can be not only wrong but harmful.

  • So my husband and I play Star Wars RPGs and so much of this film felt exactly like those games. Rolling and failing miserably. The Slicer/Thief/CodeBreaker was straight out of one of my character sheets. Pointing out that good guy is not 100% straight forward. Sure the First Order is a vile force but why should he sacrifice his life for either side? He is straight up chaotic neutral. I was so very annoyed that a character who must have survived Palpatine and Vader’s rule was defeated so quickly. To be as old and powerful as he clearly was it was….unlikely he would be dispatched that easily but Ive played that game too. Overconfidence is a killer. I agree I was disappointed that every force user in the last 2 movies has been white. Diversify please. But I did so love the movie. Some issues but nothing is perfect.

  • Let me start by revealing that “tcinla” is a produced screenwriter with multiple credits, who has written my share of space opera. With that revealed…

    Here’s my review:

    This 10th-rate collection of talentless hackery, this waste of two and a half hours of my life is proof Roger Corman was right when he told me 30 years ago “I don’t have a million dollars’ worth of special effects to hide the fact there’s no ‘there’ there.”

    What derivative crap. You don’t have to be a Star Wars fan to dislike this hackery. All you have to be is smart enough to distinguish good from crap. This is CRAP. I finally had to leave the theater and go throw up in the men’s room over that line “I know what you’re going to say – I’ve changed my hairstyle.” I’m amazed I actually forced myself to stay that long.

    AHHHHHHHHHHHRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!

    It proves my 25 year old theory of Hollywood: give people dog kibble and tell them it’s steak long enough, and don’t let them near any actual steak, and people will come to believe dog kibble is steak.

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