As with my first reactions post, this entry will be filled with spoilers. It can’t be any other way. All I can say is that the film is divisive among fans in the extreme, perhaps as much or more so than the prequels. It also raised some highly complex thoughts and emotions within me, so I’m still giving things plenty of due consideration. You see, after 40 years of dedication through the Dark Times and the prequel era, I find it very difficult to simply pack up my toys and go home. I want — need — to understand what’s going on, both behind the scenes and within the Galaxy Far, Far Away. And I need to check in and see how I truly feel about it all once I understand it. This blog is a step along the path, certainly not the final word. If you care to read on, the discussion continues after the logo.
After Return of the Jedi, it wasn’t “cool” to be a Star Wars fan. The ride was over in the minds of the general public, and the Saga dried up. Many of us tipped our toes into Star Trek to help fill the void, but the desire was always there. When the novels and comics started gearing up in the early 90s, we all thought it was the on-ramp to the Renaissance. And of a fashion, it was. Most people read Timothy Zahn’s “Thrawn trilogy” with nostalgia goggles. “It’s just like the movies,” people said. Yes, because it recycled all of the dialogue. I didn’t like them then, and I don’t like them now. Just because I don’t like something, that doesn’t mean I thought the franchise was doomed. Not yet, anyway. It’s a question of the story’s identity, of the identity of the characters. I’ve been party to more than my fair share of abysmal reboot failures over the years, where stories and characters lost their ways completely, backed themselves into a corner, shot off both feet, died, resurrected, became utter mockeries of themselves, and continued to make money hand over fist in spite of themselves. I know intimately what that looks like. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly in the last few decades.
Star Wars isn’t there. Not yet.
Right now, the GFFA is at a precipice. A lot of what I’m seeing from those who enjoy this film, as well as from Lucasfilm insiders who are a part of crafting it this way, is that the first Star Wars film gave us the possibility that anyone would be a Force user. Anyone could learn. That was the appeal. Yes, it was. I absolutely agree to that idea. I was there when it started. I certainly felt that way.
These same people, however, are telling us that the creator, George Lucas, took that entire concept away from us, that the Force is all about bloodline and how special you are. No. No, he didn’t. I’ve been screaming myself hoarse since 1999 that this isn’t at all what he did. Yes, the Skywalker bloodline is special. Why? Because now we know Anakin Skywalker was the Chosen One, a manifestation of the Force. Of course that got passed to his kids. Now look at how many Jedi and other non-aligned Force users there have been over the course of “a thousand generations” before Skywalker got there. Kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Episodes I-VI did nothing to kill any notion that anyone could be a Force user. Again, listen to what George Lucas told us: midichlorians are not the Force. They are simply the radio transceiver that translates the Force for the user. It’s an edge, not a requirement, and certainly not the last word on how something like this plays out. It was a plot device so that Qui-Gon Jinn — an outsider himself — could present Anakin to the dogmatic Council and say “this boy needs proper training and guidance so he doesn’t hurt himself or others.”
So, yes, Luke is powerful, like his father before him, just as was established in 1977. And the possibility that others could be trained still exists, save for the fact that after Return of the Jedi, there’s only one Jedi left to teach. Kind of limits the options. We can assume that Darth Sidious and Snoke both picked off more than their fair share of non-Jedi competitors as well. If Snoke is all that powerful, the bigger question becomes, why didn’t he pick off Sidious too? Distraction? If the galaxy is looking at Sidious, nobody sees Snoke amassing the wealth and power in a galaxy of finite resources? Or is he the reason the galaxy had finite resources? That’s the kind of plot hole The Last Jedi has presented me with. These are the questions I have.
But it leaves me with the original question to discuss first. Was it necessary to wipe the slate clean and tell us that all that back there didn’t matter in order to move forward? That’s not a challenge to an entrenched audience. That’s simply lazy. That’s the current reboot mentality talking. The powers that be misinterpreted everything Lucas gave us, decided it wrote them into a corner, and they gave up and burned everything to the ground. By what I’ve understood all along, the answer is a firm “no,” it wasn’t necessary at all. It didn’t challenge the audience to do this. A challenge would have been to have Master Skywalker present this point and its explanation to Rey in some “I’ve surpassed the Jedi” level teachings. But, no. Missed opportunity. So what do we have out there? Rey has the original Jedi texts that Luke wanted to destroy and Yoda let him believe he did. I have to believe Yoda knew better. She’s out there, untrained, a danger to herself and others as Luke was for a while, but with a heart of gold and some texts that she apparently doesn’t need because she already has the abilities unlocked. I still contend she’s Anakin Skywalker or a similar Force-created being based on the notion that the lightsaber called to her, but the powers that be will never give us that answer. She may never know it herself, and maybe that’s the point, though I think if that’s the case, then she’s clearly not as powerful as anyone thinks. The Force is knowledge. So she has drunken parents who sold her for beer money. It doesn’t erase or undermine the idea that the Force needed her out there to teach because Skywalker turned out to be a disappointment.
Which brings us to that missed opportunity. Luke is in exile having come to a crossroads in a moment of weakness. The man who saved Darth Vader was confronted with the possibility of killing the next Darth Vader before he could rise up and be that level of hatred, causing the hatred to exacerbate in the process. This is our defining moment for Skywalker. This is where The Last Jedi has failed us all, as a character, and as a film. For better or worse, we can’t undo this. Why did it happen? Because Abrams put Luke on an island, away from everyone, and Johnson needed to explain it. That’s how he chose to do so. For an actor, it’s a complex role, something to chew on. For a younger audience who doesn’t really know the character, it’s not a big deal, just part of the story. For an audience who grew up with this character? This is a very big deal. It’s a sucker punch to the gut. Instead of learning from Kenobi’s mistakes, and indeed all of the mistakes of the Jedi Order as intended, he has now been written in as having repeated them. Skywalker is now Kenobi 2.0 instead of his own man. See, it’s not that Luke failed that’s the problem. It’s that the creators of this film lacked the vision necessary for him to do otherwise.
It’s easy to point fingers, Troy, but let’s see you do better! Why did Luke take himself out of the fight? Why was he on that island?
Ok… here’s an idea for you. We saw how incredibly powerful Snoke was. Let’s forget that we got no explanations as to why, how, or even who he was, let alone how he was allowed to amass that power or how he or Maz Kanata escaped Sidious’ notice when Obi-Wan and Yoda had to hide. If you want Luke to be despondent and in exile of his own choice, why not let him believe that the galaxy burned around him? Snoke is clearly powerful enough to give Luke this imagery that his friends, his cause, and his very reason to exist all burned. So when Rey shows up with the lightsaber… “Wait, what? They’re alive? The Rebellion is still going? The galaxy needs me after all? Hey, is this why it took 30 years for Yoda to show up and tell me I was being stupid, because Snoke was blocking me from seeing him? Or is my old master really just a big jerk too?”
But the powers that be said that this was the problem, that hero Luke took away from Rey. Why? Luke certainly didn’t take away from Obi-Wan or Yoda. We’ve seen how powerful Kylo Ren had to be to subvert Snoke, so there’s no dishonor in having Luke be beaten, narrowly escape, and realize, “Hey, if we’re going to defeat this guy, I need to train Rey properly and pass on all the lessons the Jedi failed to learn.”
Let’s talk about the other Skywalker. What in the freak happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens that not only would Leia lose all credibility with the entire galaxy, but that the entire galaxy would just throw up their hands like Jar Jar Binks and say, “Mooey, mooey, the First Order is the new Empire? My give up!” Seriously?! I can defend Jar Jar. I can’t defend this amateur hour level of writing. From my perspective, I saw the galaxy rise up against the original Empire and celebrate when Palpatine died. I saw the First Order build a Starkiller Base, but nobody was really terrified of either one. That’s why the New Republic and the Resistance were two different entities. Leia kept fighting because they wouldn’t. Seems to me after Starkiller Base, Leia’s credibility only went up. The First Order is not only a real threat, their power makes the original Empire look tiny. This is a giant plot hole. And again, where did Snoke hide all this power and resource that he had all this time that nobody noticed? If he had all those ships, he didn’t need Starkiller Base. If he had all that Force power, he certainly didn’t need that star fleet. Reach out and pick off your enemies one at a time or en masse. Crush whole planets or whatever. From a writing perspective, once you unleash a genie of that magnitude, how do you put it back in the bottle so things don’t disintegrate into ridiculous? Is this why the galaxy gave up? Because they knew Kylo Ren was an even bigger threat?
The galaxy that’s unwilling to rise up against its oppressor deserves Kylo Ren and his Empire. Rey is hope. At this point, in rejecting Leia, they don’t deserve her, not if they’re all so easily cowed into submission.
These are my big points. It doesn’t change a lot of little things I touched on in the first reactions blog. I won’t bother rehashing most of it. My thoughts still stand. And there are things about this movie that, the more I think about them, the dumber they get.
I grant that humor is subjective and it’s always had a place in the GFFA, but do we really need Poe’s brand of awkward? “I’m holding for General Hux.” Really? It was bad enough in The Force Awakens with the whole, “Who talks first? Do you talk first? Do I talk first?” But let’s move on to better questions.
Why did they need a slicer like DJ when R2 has been far more than capable of such missions long before DJ was a character?
If a heavy cruiser can go through hyperspace and use the moment of jump distortion to take out the First Order flagship, given that hyperspace is the threat and not the mass of the flagship itself, why not just send a handful of transports and save the cruiser? Why did the transports need to be fueled up first before they could escape? Being that they’re escape transports, why are they not already pre-fueled given that Rebellions always have to escape at the last minute? And where did they get the fuel to do so if the cruiser and the larger fleet around it had none? Why did the First Order have to chase the cruiser and the fleet instead of hyperspacing in from the other side in a classic pincer maneuver? Not to put a fine point on this, but the Cylons did this back on the old Star Wars knock-off series, Battlestar Galactica.
Ok, enough punching holes. My point is this. The Last Jedi is not an intelligent movie. It’s a bunch of handwaving and distraction that will not hold up under the kind of scrutiny that Star Wars always gets. George Lucas and his themes were never a problem to be solved. They were a legacy to be embraced and expanded upon as merely being part of an even greater whole that is the Force. From where I’m sitting, the audiences are divided with just cause. This film is a galactic sized misstep. There are many who will never forgive what was done to Luke. It’s too late to correct that now. I can offer alternative story ideas as I’ve done, but I don’t know that I can offer solutions to what was put in place. Not yet, anyway. Give me some time, and it may happen. The Lucasfilm Story Group, which has a history of being inconsistent at best with its material since the new “everything is canon” was put into place, is simply not up to the task put in front of it. If this is the best they can do, well, the best isn’t good enough.
I don’t blame Disney for this. Disney did not make these decisions, just as Marvel makes theirs for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like the MCU, there’s no law saying I have to love every Star Wars film. Unlike Marvel, there’s not a lot of wiggle-room to play with here. In Marvel, one bad movie means they can keep going with other characters and let that one character stumble and recover. The greater whole is still served. In Star Wars, as things are right now, a blaster blot in the foot affects everything in the story from here on. This is an internal Lucasfilm problem that must be mitigated and not allowed to bleed out. Episode IX, for better or worse, is going to be a soft reboot whether we like it or not. That ship has sailed, and there’s no going back to fix this. All we can do is move forward in the hopes that the same mistakes will not be made.
And if they are, then I’ll come back and reassess whether or not Star Wars is following in the footsteps of so many other franchises who felt the need to redefine themselves needlessly.
EDIT: I keep forgetting to point this out, but… giggly Yoda. Did no one on the at movie understand that Yoda stopped giggling in Empire the moment Luke revealed him to be Yoda? It’s minor, but that’s been really bugging me.