First and foremost, my critique of “The Last Jedi” comes from the angle of a storyteller with moderate knowledge of the lore. It should be noted that my own familiarity with supplemental material is fair to middling at best. This does not dismiss or disqualify my findings from the perspective of a storyteller, nothing more.
Let us proceed.
Issue the First: Failures of military command logic in the opening sequence. Time and again it has been pounded upon by bloggers and reviewers that Poe Dameron is responsible for the loss of the Resistance’s bomber fleet, but this can be argued instead as the first of numerous storytelling missteps by the writer and director of the film. In ‘The Force Awakens’, Leia is established as a trusted and revered leader of the Resistance. She is held up as a wise and knowledgeable woman. Therefore, it makes zero sense to not have her issue the retreat command to the bomber fleet herself, thus overriding any input from a character we already know to be impulsive and reckless. This flies in the face of character establishment and contradicts previously developed lines of logic. This is sloppy narrative perpetrated, it would seem, for no other reason than to give audiences ‘the feels’ when the final bomber pilot, Rose Tico’s sister, is slain in the effort.
Issue the Second: Excessive reliance on nostalgia and emulation of atmosphere. The film’s score and numerous visual touches seem to be present only for the purposes of trying to establish a ‘welcome home, this is Star Wars’ feel. This subtle kind of appeal to nostalgia is never given a free pass in other genres or series, so why should it be accepted here? While the iconic strains of the Halloween film theme are mercilessly mocked for being peppered throughout those films, why is a similar practice ignored, or worse still, actively praised in the Disney-owned Star Wars films? Additionally, this runs counter to the ‘This ain’t your parents’ Star Wars’ message hammered into audiences faces with the subtlety of a plane crash when Luke absently tosses his offered lightsaber over his shoulder at the opening scene between himself and Rey.
Issue the Third: Massive imbalance of storytelling scene type. This film has a lot of things going on within its runtime. A LOT. Much of these happenings are battles and frenetic chase sequences, most of which take place at a high enough speed to accurately portray the intensity of such events, but are carried off with a great deal of technical problems, from Uncanny Valley occurrences to the presence of multiple ‘petit deus’, which, briefly, are a minor form of Deus Ex Machina.
If you are unfamiliar with what that is, open another tab on your browser and look it up quickly. Got it? Excellent, let’s move on.
Because there is so much emphasis on these action sequences, the scenes where we have a chance to see true plot development or character interaction and growth are scattered and, often, severely hampered by time constraints. Even characters worthy of our time and attention in ‘The Force Awakens,’ like Finn and Rey, are stunted in service of filling the screen with a lot of activity.
And when one character does manage to achieve development, it is by means of plot compulsion, rather than any sort of genuine growth as a person. Mind you, this is also a character who should be dead as a doornail, but we’ll come to that later.
Issue the Fourth: Two Glaring and Unforgivable Deus Ex Machina. The first of these two instances is going to take a while, so get comfy. Those of you who have seen the film likely know what I’m going to address here. Those of you who haven’t seen it, what the fuck are you doing here? This is Spoiler Territory, and you are not safe here!
The Princess Leia Mary Poppins Miracle Float of Give Me a Fucking Break.
I have seen numerous bloggers try their damnedest to defend this scene with a vigor akin to a cokehead doing a line of pure China White, then asking the gang repeatedly what they should do tonight.
Perhaps the most laughable defense came to my attention from a friend who linked her friendslist to the blog of bittergertrude.com, specifically the entry entitled “Why So Many Men Hate The Last Jedi But Can’t Agree On Why”. The blogger quite rightly and smartly points out that Leia is the twin sibling of Luke, one of the most powerful Force adepts in the galaxy. It is reasonable to suggest she’s an adept in her own right, since she ‘heard’ Luke calling out for help at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back” and somehow ‘knew’ he’d escaped the destruction of the second Death Star.
Here’s where Gertrude’s defense falls apart utterly, however. She says, quote,
‘The Last Jedi is careful to show her taking a breath to prepare the moment before the bridge is shattered, and the effort nearly kills her.”
This is folly, pure and simple, and we know that thanks to data from accidents in space, test chambers, and the animal experimentations of the 1960’s. This data is readily available to the public from NASA and Johns Hopkins University, to just name two credible resources.
We know that it could take a healthy young person up to 15 seconds to lose consciousness if they didn’t hold their breath. Mark those two words: Healthy and Young. We know Leia is older at this point, and have little knowledge of her state of health to this point in the film. Now, onward. We also know that if one DID hold their breath, the loss of external pressure would cause the gas inside their lungs to expand, thus RUPTURING THE LUNGS.
And all of that stands outside of the explosive force of te weapon impact, the miraculous avoidance of thousands of pieces of shrapnel and debris flying around, and the demonstrably impossible return to consciousness WHILE SPINNING IN THE VOID OF SPACE. This was the use of Deux Ex Machina, plain and simple, in service to the plot, and perhaps even more inexcusably, in service to the fanbase. This is piss-poor narrative, and no author this side of reality would be given a pass on it under standard circumstances. As such, the screenwriter and director of The Last Jedi deserve the same flames held to their collective feet.
Now, moving onto the next obvious use of this tried-and-true bit of narrative fuckery, the melee between Finn and Phasma. The combat between these two is not bad in and of itself. Indeed, I actually found it more engaging than some of the lightsaber duels in other films. At one juncture, audiences are treated to a quickdraw shot from her sidearm when Finn seems to have been felled and Rose tries to take a quick sneak attack opportunity on her. This was a small thing, but superbly executed.
The problem here is that we had just seen Finn dropped off screen, presumably to his demise since an overhead shot moments before failed to show any way he could possibly survive the fall. Yet moments later he rises on a floating platform that had not been there before, to land a decisive blow against the fearsome officer. No disrespect is meant when I say this, but Finn should logically be dead.
Issue the Fifth: Porgs. This is a much milder issue for me, since they are apparently tech skin covers of the actual puffin birds the production was not legally allowed to mess with during filming on Skellig Michael. The Irish island, on which the reclusive Skywalker’s hideaway had been filmed, is a native habitat for these critters (the puffins), and conservation laws state that they could not be moved or manipulated by the crew. So, they re-skinned the birds with some computer graphics and incorporated them into the scenery, which is clever, cute, and seems to work. Where I take massive umbrage, however is their presence in so many places other than the island, since they are clearly little more at this point than an advertising and merch cash cow for the House of Mouse in their appearances elsewhere.
Issue the Sixth: The inexplicable survival of Poe Dameron ‘because reasons’.
The Resistance is shown in ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’ to be an unflinchingly loyal group to Leia, to trust in her judgment. This is exemplified well in their acceptance of Vice Admiral Holdo as their commanding officer. I take no issue with this, especially since I find Laura Dern to be a very talented if underappreciated actress.
Yet when Poe draws a weapon on her in an act of mutiny, not a single Resistance soldier does the logical thing and shoots this half-wit in the head. It isn’t like he’s in an impregnable position, folks, and regardless of how chaotic the shuttle bay was, in any military or paramilitary outfit, it is standard operating procedureto have at least two capable soldiers in defensible positions near the Officer In Charge specifically to handle shmucks like this. If the writer of the screenplay overlooked this, they either committed a severe faux pas of understanding command and operations procedures, or wanted to make Holdo look incompetent for overlooking this basic safety protocol herself.
Regardless of which it is, the point remains, someone should have shot him dead if they actually trusted Leia’s order of succession as established. He remains alive for what I can only assume is plot armor, at the expense of narrative cohesion.
Issue the Seventh: There are several other points of contention I had with “The Last Jedi”, but anyone still reading or listening to this has likely already neared the end of their attention span for this particular naysayer, so this will be my last issue to raise. This one is a doozy, however, as it addresses a problem in genre storytelling that is and has always been a mortal sin in fantasy, sci-fi, and horror:
Massive and unexplained contradiction of rules/laws established in the world-building phases of the narrative.
I speak here of the astral projection of Luke Skywalker in the final stretch of the film. I am not in the slightest perturbed by the reveal of this previously never-seen or mentioned Jedi power.
Luke is a Master, who had a LOT of time to study and meditate, after all.
I am not put off by the self-sacrifice involved in the cost of using such an ability.
Luke is a Master, and understands the concept of sacrifice for the greater good.
What I am pent-for-leather opposed to, however, is the fashion in which this power contradicts previously established observations. Firstly, every single assault vehicle the First Order is driving toward that base would be equipped, I assume, with sensors, yes?
Yet nobody reports, “Hey, that spot you ordered us to fire on? Yeah, there’s no lifeform readings on my equipment,” do they?
Luke himself states that Ren and Rey are the most highly-tuned Force adepts he has ever come across, EVER. If this is so, then how did neither of them realize from the jump that Luke’s life essence was not there? This breaks the mechanics of all of the lore established to this point, and with not a scrap of explanation or defense.
Anyhow, all of these issues are just the most obvious storytelling problems, as several more litter the cinematic marketing tool that is “The Last Jedi”. An honorable mention belongs to the complete lack of subtlety the writer and director used in conveying the message that in war, caution and retreat are sometimes the only sensible and survivable courses of action, especially when confronted with a vastly superior force. Guts and courage alone are not always enough, and this is an important subtext to deliver. It’s just a shame they did so with all the grace of a bull in a china shop.
These factors all, on their own, are more than enough for me as a storyteller to say that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a nearly unforgivable narrative train wreck that relies on nostalgia and forced action sequences, as well as a fair amount of pandering, to rake in box office numbers that it does NOT artistically deserve.
The Force is no longer with us.